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Helpful or Hype?

From ear candling to yoga to aromatherapy, learn which health tips are helpful and what's hype from experts at The University of Kansas Health System in Kansas City.

Should neti pots be used to clear your nose?1. Neti pot to clear your nose

It might look like a genie bottle, but can neti pots and other nasal irrigation systems make all your sinus wishes come true? The teapot-shaped devices are said to alleviate allergy symptoms, soothe sinuses and help you breathe easier. But just how safe is it to pour water in your nose?

According to the Food and Drug Administration, a consumer update states that neti pots and other nasal irrigation symptoms can increase your risk of infection. That's because plain tap water isn't filtered enough to be used as a nasal rinse. Tiny organisms that can be safely ingested (because stomach acid destroys them) can live in the nose and potentially cause infections. This includes the deadly Naegleria fowleri – also known as the "brain eating" amoeba.

However, according to Keith Sale, MD, otolaryngologist at The University of Kansas Health System, "There is a good body of literature that supports the use of nasal irrigations in a variety of settings. The risk of water borne contaminants causing life-threatening illness is relatively low."

Dr. Sale emphasizes proper hygiene and sanitization practices are important to avoid infection.

"I recommend that my patients use distilled or boiled (and cooled) tap water for their nasal irrigations. I also recommend following a regular cleaning plan according to the manufacturer's recommendations for their equipment."

2. Acupuncture for pain

Acupuncture is an ancient form of traditional Chinese medicine that involves placing very thin needles (about the circumference of a strand of hair) into specific points on meridians in the body. It is widely used for chronic pain – including everything from joint pain to back pain to headaches. While it isn't without skeptics, studies show the effects of acupuncture aren't just the placebo effect at work.

"Acupuncture is beneficial for pain due to many mechanisms – one of which includes modulation of endorphins and neurotransmitters, such as the feel-good chemical serotonin," says Ana Esparham, MD, pediatrician and acupuncturist at The University of Kansas Health System. "When a needle is inserted into the acupoint, an electrochemical signal travels through the spinal cord to the brain and back to inhibit pain."

Needle shy? Accupressure, or needle-less acupuncture, can also be used to stimulate acupuncture points.

3. Tomatoes for varicose veins

Some sources recommend putting sliced green tomatoes on varicose veins as a home remedy to help them heal naturally. It's hard to say where this logic originated, but it's easy to say that it's not true.

"This is 100% a myth," says Satish Ponnuru, MD, plastic surgeon at The University of Kansas Health System. "There is no scientific proof to support the efficacy of using tomatoes to resolve varicose veins."

Varicose and spider veins are largely hereditary, Dr. Ponnuru says, and are the result of improper blood flow caused by faulty or damaged valves and veins in your body. Varicose veins are usually more common as you age, but they can occur at any point in time. They are also more frequently seen in those who are overweight or obese, have a sedentary lifestyle or whose job requires prolonged standing. Varicose veins are not only a cosmetic problem, they are a health issue that can result in serious complications if left untreated.

"Your best option is to see a board-certified vascular or plastic surgeon about treatment," says Dr. Ponnuru. "There are plenty of minimally invasive options available now that are quick, safe and effective."

Can collagen give you flawless skin?4. Collagen for flawless skin

Consuming collagen has been touted as the secret to wrinkle-free skin, but is it? The research is divided. Some say it helps your body rebuild collagen from within, but others want more hard proof.

Our take? It can't hurt.

"Collagen is a good source of protein – containing about 5.5 grams of protein per heaping tablespoon," says Leigh Wagner, PhD, clinical dietitian at The University of Kansas Health System. "Protein is an important part of skin, hair and nails, as well as enzymes, muscles and our brain. I often add collagen powder to coffee, but you can mix it in smoothies or stir into foods."

Dr. Wagner advises choosing powders over pills to get the most out of your supplement.

"It would be difficult to get any significant amount through pills. Powders are probably more efficient and economical."

5. Meditation to manage stress

"I don't think there's debate among the scientific community anymore about whether or not meditation offers significant calming benefits," says Moira Mulhern, PhD, co-founder and executive director of Turning Point, a community resource of The University of Kansas Health System. "Research has proven meditation can lower stress, reduce anxiety and improve symptoms of depression, among other things."

A 2016 study in Biological Psychiatry showed that mindfulness meditation can actually change the brain and reduce the risk of inflammatory diseases. Participants who practiced mindfulness meditation showed more connections in the part of the brain that manages emotions and attention – suggesting they were "rewired" to better manage stress.

Can ear candling remove wax buildup?6. Ear wax candles (ear candling)

If you're considering putting a burning gauze tube in your ear to remove ear wax, you might want to reconsider. In addition to being a fire hazard, ear candling (also called ear coning) was long ago denounced by both doctors and the FDA as "unproven, false and misleading." In fact, the FDA recently issued an alert stating that "there is no validated scientific evidence to support the efficacy of the product for its intended use."

So how can you remove ear wax for good?

"I generally think of the ear canals as self-cleaning," says Dr. Sale. "The old adage, 'Nothing should go into your ear that is smaller than your elbow,' is a great guideline."

However, if you have symptoms of ear wax accumulation, called cerumen impaction, you may want to make an appointment with an ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT).

"When you do have ear canal fullness, pressure or drainage, it may indicate your ear wax is clogging the canal," Dr. Sale says. "There are many home remedies that I would consider far safer than ear candling. When these are ineffective, a visit with an ENT may be required to clear the blockage."

7. Local honey for allergies

To bee or not to bee? That is the question for allergy sufferers. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America reports that allergies are on the rise – affecting as many as 30% of adults and 40% of children in the United States.

Consuming local honey has been touted as a homeopathic remedy to help reduce allergy symptoms. The theory is similar to vaccination: By exposing yourself to small amounts of pollens in the honey, you build up an immunity to local allergens over time.

It sounds good, but there's a catch – pollens in honey come primarily from flowers. And many people are allergic to the pollen of grasses, weeds and trees. Additionally, the types and amounts of pollen present in local honey can vary by batch, meaning you aren't guaranteed relief. To complicate matters, research on consuming local honey is also conflicting.

Your safest bet? Enjoy local honey, but don't let it be your only preventive action. Make an appointment with an allergist who can properly assess your needs and recommend a course of treatment.

Is yoga good for your heart health?8. Yoga for a healthy heart

You already know yoga can give you a healthy body, but research conducted at the University of Kansas Medical Center also found that yoga can give you a healthy heart.

The study tracked patients with an irregular heart rhythm – called atrial fibrillation (AF) – as they practiced yoga. Results revealed that yoga improved AF symptoms, arrhythmia burden, heart rate, blood pressure and anxiety and depression scores. It also improved quality of life.

Not sure about the state of your heart health? Take our online quiz to learn your risk.

9. Aromatherapy for depression

Can you sniff your way to happiness? Aromatherapy uses aromatic essential oils from plants to promote health. It's often used for preventive purposes as well as a treatment for physical ailments and mental health issues, like anxiety and depression.

In a 2010 study, oral lavender capsules used over a 6 week period were shown to relieve anxiety in those with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) as effectively as benzodiazepine (lorazepam), a common anxiety medication.

However, a different research article that summarized system reviews of aromatherapy for depression, pain relief, hypertension and dementia found that there was not sufficient evidence to prove that aromatherapy was effective for these conditions.

There's certainly no harm in adding essential oils to your repertoire of healthy habits, but keep in mind that combining psychotherapy and medication is the gold standard in treating depression.

Can cryotherapy relieve your pain?10. Whole body cryotherapy

If standing in a freezing chamber at -250 F for 3 minutes meant you could burn 800 calories, boost collagen, relieve aches and pains and be happier, would you do it? These are the claims being touted about whole body cryotherapy.

The treatment involves standing partially or fully unclothed in an enclosed, can-like tube for 2-4 minutes while liquid nitrogen blasts frigid temperatures between -200 F to -300 F. Whole body cryotherpay is said to relieve everything from back pain to anxiety to rheumatoid arthritis.

Unfortunately, none of these claims have been approved by the FDA. But using cold therapy to treat pain is nothing new. Using ice or cold temperatures helps lower swelling, inflammation and pain. By cooling the joint, you shrink the blood vessels, which reduces swelling and inhibits inflammation-causing chemicals from entering the blood stream. It also affects the nerves and their ability to sense pain, thereby bringing relief.

Cryotherapy may be appropriate for the right person. But there are serious risks to consider, and it is not recommended for those with a heart condition or other serious medical issues.

Final verdict: Talk to your doctor first.