Aug 18, 2009


Tai Chi Master Hoping His "Moving Medication" Cuts Health-care Costs

The Kansas City Star, Mo.


KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Bill Douglas has two words for a country desperate to cut its skyrocketing health care costs.

Tai chi.

He's not kidding.

"If you look at a Kaiser Permanente study that says that 70 percent of illnesses are caused by stress, you're talking about a potential savings of trillions of dollars, year after year if we teach our citizens effective stress-management techniques on a massive scale."

For decades Douglas has believed that the regular practice of the Chinese martial art, meant to unblock the flow of energy though the body, can be used to treat and even prevent a wide range of illnesses.

The medical world is beginning to agree with him.

In a few weeks, Douglas will give a presentation to the National Institutes of Health focusing on tai chi as a modern health solution, the first ever. And thanks to what he calls a "groundbreaking tectonic shift in health care," he's taking some persuasive ammunition with him: a stamp of approval from Harvard Medical School.

The May 2009 Harvard Health Publication said that tai chi, often described as moving meditation, should more aptly be called moving medication.

Douglas is the 52-year-old tai chi instructor who started World Tai Chi Day 11 years ago in Kansas City, Mo.; the celebration is now observed in more than 65 countries. He has written the country's No. 1 selling book on the exercise, "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Tai Chi." He teaches a tai chi class at the Landon Center on Aging at KU Medical Center and has been a national source on the ancient art for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Reader's Digest.

"There is growing evidence that this mind-body practice ... has value in treating or preventing many health problems," it said. "And you can get started even if you aren't in top shape, or the best of health."

The Harvard publication included the latest research on how tai chi could benefit patients with arthritis, breast cancer, heart disease, hypertension, Parkinson's disease, stroke, even sleep problems and low bone density.

"This is big," Douglas said. "It's like riding a tsunami wave into Washington, D.C."

Douglas thinks tai chi should be taught in hospitals, senior centers, even public schools. He's working on a grant to take tai chi classes to seniors around the city.

His students have felt the benefits.

Josephine Hicks, 57, of Kansas City, Mo., says tai chi has greatly reduced her pain.

"I've had arthritis in my knees and shoulders, and it has helped me be able to move easier," she said.

Nan Bowers of Shawnee, Kan., is also a tai chi fan.

"It's wonderful," she said. "I'm 82 years old, and it's helped me with balance and breathing. It just makes me feel relaxed. When Bill was giving the lesson it was almost like I was floating above myself looking down. It was just that I was in so much comfort."

There are other benefits. One study showed tai chi could boost immune system resistance to viral infection by 50 percent and improve sleep quality.

"Everything goes back to the fact that we are accumulating stress in our lives," Douglas said. "Instead of trying to treat the sick leaves on my tree, I decided to go to the root - the stress - and treat that."

For Douglas the struggle to get tai chi's full potential recognized is a personal one. He remembers when doctors dismissed it and remembers his mother and father, who both died in their early 50s from stress-related heart attacks. He plans to avoid a similar fate.

He tried to share tai chi with his parents, but there was no validation of its effectiveness at the time, and they didn't stick with it.

Douglas gave his mother a book on Chinese philosophy a day before she went in for a balloon angioplasty.

"Apparently she had a premonition of her death because after she passed away in surgery my sister found the book I had loaned her and there was a note in it that said, 'I wish I could go back a few years and learn the arts of relaxation junior had tried to teach me. I so would have loved to see my grandchildren grow up.'

"That note has steeled me to take tai chi into the halls of medical power when some people were kind of laughing at it."

Douglas began doing tai chi 30 years ago.

"I was going through a lot of what people are going through today - job changes, job stress and insomnia," he said. "I was feeling overwhelmed. Today on all levels of our life we are being pushed through faster and faster change, and that change is stressful - even good change."

Tai chi helps him cope.

"What tai chi is designed to do is to cleanse all the stress static out of the mind, the heart and the body," he said.

Douglas says he has found his peace and his power and has taught it to as many people as he can. Now he wants to make sure the medical community understands the full benefits of the ancient martial art, so that even more people can experience them .



At Bill Douglas' World Tai Chi Day Web site ( visitors will find a medical research library where they can look up almost 100 common health conditions and find the latest medical research on how tai chi may help treat or prevent those conditions.

Aug 11, 2009


Studies associate Mediterranean diet with lower risk of Alzheimer's disease, cognitive decline

Studies associate Mediterranean diet with lower risk of Alzheimer's disease, cognitive decline

Studies published in the August 12, 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reveal a decreased risk of Alzheimer's disease (AD) and cognitive decline among individuals who report greater adherence to a Mediterranean type diet. The diet includes high amounts of fruits, vegetables, legumes, cereal, fish, and monounsaturated fats, lower amounts of saturated fats, red meat and poultry, and moderate alcohol consumption.

In one article, Nikolaos Scarmeas, MD, of Columbia University Medical Center and his associates evaluated data from 1,880 elderly men and women who did not have dementia upon recruitment into the Washington Heights-Inwood Columbia Aging Project. The subjects received neurological and neuropsychological testing every 1.5 years for an average 5.4 year follow-up period, during which 282 participants were diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

Greater physical activity alone was associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease, with a 25 percent average reduction in risk associated with some activity compared to no activity. Those who were categorized as participating in "much" physical activity experienced a 33 percent average lower risk.

When adherence to a Mediterranean diet was considered, those in the middle third of participants had an average 2 percent reduction in the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, while those in the top third had experienced a 40 percent reduction compared to those in the lowest third.

Having both high levels of physical activity and adherence to the diet were also associated with a protective benefit. “Compared with individuals with low physical activity plus low adherence to a diet, high physical activity plus high diet adherence was associated with a 35 percent to 44 percent relative risk reduction," the authors write. “In summary, our results support the potentially independent and important role of both physical activity and dietary habits in relation to AD risk. These findings should be further evaluated in other populations.”

In a second study published in the journal, greater adherence to a Mediterranean diet was associated with a reduction in cognitive decline.

Catherine Féart, PhD, of the Université Victor Ségalen in Bordeaux, France, and colleagues evaluated data from 1,410 participants aged 65 years and older in the Three-City cohort, a study of vascular risk factors and dementia. Participants were assessed for cognitive performance during 2001-2002 and were re-examined at least once over the following 5 years. Dietary questionnaires were scored from 0 to 9 for Mediterranean diet adherence.

Although greater adherence to the diet was associated with fewer errors over time on one neuropsychological test, indicating a reduction in cognitive decline, the risk of developing dementia was not associated with diet adherence.

“A variety of approaches to mitigating cerebrovascular disease in midlife exist, including diet, exercise, treatment of hypertension, treatment of diabetes, avoidance of obesity, and avoidance of smoking," writes David S. Knopman, MD, of the Mayo Clinic in an accompanying editorial. "The findings of Scarmeas et al and Féart et al fit into a larger and potentially optimistic view of prevention of late-life cognitive impairment through application, at least by midlife, of as many healthy behaviors as possible, including diet. Based on these 2 studies, diet may play a supporting role, but following a healthy diet does not occur in isolation.”

“The scientific value of these studies cannot be disputed, but whether and how they can or should be translated into recommendations for the public is the question.”