Ancient people used frankincense to carry their prayers to heaven, for rejuvenating facemasks, and for treating depression and claustrophobia. Now many U.S. hospitals incorporate aromatherapy -- using incense in various forms -- into programs to relieve pain and anxiety of those facing surgery, dealing with recovery, facing terminal illness, or long-term treatments.
One such program is at the Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. "There is not much basis for this in medical research," says Edward Agura, MD, medical director of the center's blood and bone marrow transplant program. But using aromatherapy -- liquid scent dabbed behind the ear or put in the outer ear -- helps cancer patients overcome pain and nausea. "It's very relaxing, and it helps their attitudes," says Agura.
Also gold is not just a precious adornment. In recent years it has been used in injections to treat arthritis. Though it's not a cure, it does help some people. However, it can cause a rash, stomach upset, protein in the urine, and a low blood count.
Doctors at the University of Cincinnati are using a byproduct of the gold-based arthritis drugs as an AIDS treatment. They believe that in the right dose, patients would be able to tolerate it without side effects that come with many of the current treatments.
Even those small red cranberries that your mother and grandmother strung on the Christmas tree or used in a fruit relish have health benefits. But experts say to avoid those drinks labeled "cocktail;" they're full of sugar, which can be harmful to diabetics and ruin dieters' dreams of weight loss. It's best to use pure cranberry juice, cranberry capsules, or cranberry relish or sauce.
"Studies show that cranberry juice has compounds that lower urinary track infections," says Donna Preston, MS, RD, LD, a clinical dietitian for the Presbyterian Hospital Senior Medical Centers in Dallas. Theory has it that cranberries make it more difficult for bacteria to grow and attach to the bladder wall, making it more easily washed out of the system.
But Preston says some other holiday treats will make the time not so jolly. Peppermint can set off heartburn if you overindulge. And licorice can raise some people's blood pressure.