New technologies don't replace proven remedies

Want proof? Try apple cider vinegar

What’s the point of progress? It’s to improve our quality of life. This is a push-me, pull-you process, balancing the frustration of the inevitable glitches of new technology as compared with the comfort of the familiar. Sometimes the time is ripe for a new way of looking at things, and other times we find there are excellent old-fashioned solutions to be revisited. This yin and yang of new and old progress applies to two intriguing ideas I came across recently in the parallel laboratories of the university and the household.

In the past few years, scientists have been experimenting with ways to relieve chronic pain at the source, with miniature wireless devices implanted under the skin.

“Most people don’t even achieve 50 percent pain control,” according to David Clark, a Stanford professor of anesthesiology and pain management. “And the two most common treatments have significant drawbacks: narcotics are addictive and surgery is costly and carries considerable risks.”

To improve upon that percentage, Dr. Clark is collaborating with Scott Delp, Stanford professor of bioengineering and mechanical engineering, to develop a microchip that would be embedded under the skin in a sufferer’s body. The solution involves a way of using light to control the activity of neurons that transmit pain. It takes advantage of a technique called optogenetics. Researchers use one color of light to stop the nerve from firing, preventing pain. Another color causes the nerve to fire.

The chip is not something we can order yet. The current research involves genetically engineered mouse nerve cells. The lab’s goal at this stage is to design therapies that could be taken to clinical trials. But this progress points to a not-too-distant future that most chronic pain sufferers would find miraculous.

Cider: Simple, natural, effective

At the mundane end of the complexity spectrum is a household item being revisited as a miracle worker: apple cider vinegar. Every decade or so I chuck all the household cleaning products I’ve accumulated and return to solutions such as baking soda and vinegar. I was ripe for such a clean out when I came across an article on the uses of apple cider vinegar everywhere from the kitchen to the bathroom to the garden.

Vinegar knows its way around the kitchen. I was surprised to see it touted as a means to lower blood sugar and cholesterol. One study from Arizona State University found that when insulin-resistant patients drank apple cider vinegar before a meal, their blood sugar tested lower afterwards. A different study of people of type 2 diabetes found that drinking vinegar at bedtime resulted in a four to six percent drop in blood sugar level.

In a dosage of a tablespoon or two daily, it’s a natural cure-all that can substitute for drugs and pharmaceuticals for minor aches and pains. My pregnant niece was prescribed apple cidar vinegar for headaches and said it worked very well. It is also a good gargle for sore throat, mixed with a bit of warm water and used every few hours or so. Apparently the acid in the vinegar coats the throat and creates a germ-resistant environment.

I’m told it can help with weight control since it helps you feel full. I won’t mention its possible cancer applications, since they haven’t been proven on anything except isolated cells.

I was familiar with some applications. As a non-toxic cleaner, apple cider vinegar with equal parts water helps kill some types of bacteria, including E. coli. Other cleaning and freshening uses include foot odor, bad breath and dandruff.

The great outdoors is greater with vinegar. Jellyfish stings and poison oak are soothed with apple cider vinegar. Apply it to the skin with a cotton ball to relieve itching from these or bug bites. In higher doses it is apparently an effective and safe weed-killer. The recommended mix is an ounce of apple cider vinegar per gallon of water; less on plants that don’t like acidic soil. I plan to try it this fall when the rains come.

In Girl Scouts we used to sing about “making new friends and keeping the old. One is silver and the other’s gold.” New remedies and old solutions each have a place. If the microchip thing doesn’t work out for chronic pain, maybe we can turn to the wisdom of our grandmothers, improving our quality of life with apple cider vinegar.

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