Every week, we’re bringing you a roundup of the latest health and wellness news to hit the wire. This week, we look at how meditation and other interventions can help reduce chronic pain, how inflammation triggers brain fog, and how a new type of apple flour could boost the fiber and antioxidants in food.

Meditation is an effective pain-reliever

New evidence has emerged that mind-body interventions such as meditation can help reduce pain in those taking prescription opioids, leading to a reduction in the drug’s dose.

A study published this month in JAMA Internal Medicine analyzed data from 60 studies with about 6,400 participants and found that mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy and clinical hypnosis appeared to be the most effective alternative therapies at reducing pain, according to this NPR story.

Wayne Jonas, a physician quoted in the story and author of “How Healing Works,” says that pain increase levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn increases inflammatory processes in the body, creating a negative feedback loop that produces even more pain.

Meditation can help counter these stress responses, strengthening your ability to control the way your brain perceives pain and in turn, the way you experience it, says study co-author Eric Garland, professor at the University of Utah.

Physicians say these interventions likely will not replace opioids for most people—the reduction in dosage in the study was relatively modest—but it could help bring opioid dosages down to a safer level. For one sufferer, Pamela Bobb, that reduction in dosage was a startling 75 percent, with meditation and anti-inflammatory plant-based diet.

Experts say that the next challenge is getting insurers to cover these nonpharmacological treatments.

This is why illness makes you feel mentally sluggish

Anyone who’s suffered from illness or a chronic medical condition knows the brain fog or mental dullness that comes along with it.

A team at the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Human Brain Health recently investigated the link, according to Science Magazine, and found that it was inflammation that had a particularly negative impact on the brain’s readiness to reach and maintain an alert state.

Study participants were given a vaccine containing a dose of salmonella typhoid just large enough to cause inflammation (as measured by blood tests), but no other side effects in the body. They were then tested for cognitive responses to visual images a few hours afterward to measure their ability to control attention and their brain activity. On a different day, they were given a water injection or placebo and given the same tests.

The results showed that inflammation especially affected brain activity related to staying alert but did not appear to affect other attention processes such as “orienting,” which involved selecting and prioritizing sensory information, and “executive control” used in resolving what to pay attention to.

The results show that even the mildest of illnesses may bring on what most people know as brain fog. Scientists hope to build on this research, testing memory and other brain functions to determine whether or not people who are dealing with inflammation-related conditions from obesity to Alzheimer’s could benefit from taking anti-inflammatory drugs to preserve cognitive function.

An apple cookie a day?

Food makers have for years been swapping out ingredients in packaged food in an attempt to make them healthier. The next big thing, Quartz says, could be apple pomace flour, a flour made from the leftover bits of apples after juicing.

This flour, made from the dried and ground core, pulp, seeds and stem, uses pieces of the plant that are typically thrown out or used in livestock feed. With the rise in gluten-free eating, experts say this antioxidant and fiber-rich flour could become a healthier substitute for wheat flour in prepared foods.

It’s not ready for the grocery shelves yet. Scientists—supported by the packaged food industry—haven’t yet been able to totally replace other flours in baked goods, as apple pomace flour holds more water. But in taste tests, they found they could replace half the flour and still produce a product that consumers liked.

Photo credit: Nikolai Chernichenko, Unsplash