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Medical Glossary Terms

The Medical Terms are listed alphabetically.

Use the links below to navigate.

A B-C D-F G-H I-L M-O P R-S T-X

ACHENE- A dry, one-seeded fruit, without a predictable opening and formed from a single carpel. It usually one of many, like an unshelled Sunflower seed.

ACHLORHYDRIA
- The lack of free hydrochloric acid in the stomach; more broadly, inadequate or suppressed secretions. Without enough acid, proteins are not broken down, butterfats are not digested, Vitamin B12 may not be absorbed, and there is a long-term risk for the potential of food sensitivities to undigested foreign proteins.

ACID
- In our context, a substance having a pH below that of neutral water (7.0) when in solution. Most metabolic waste products are acidic. Sour. See pH.

ACIDOSIS- Specifically, the abnormal buildup of acids in the body, classically caused by diabetes or kidney disease. Broadly, the potential caused by increased protein intake or metabolism, coupled with inadequate intake (or loss) of alkali.

ACUTE
- A type of disease or disorder having a sudden onset with severe symptoms, and generally a short or self-limited duration (such as a head cold or sprain). The opposite of chronic.

ADAPTOGEN- A recent (and to me, slightly flaky) term used to describe agents, often botanical, that stimulate non-specific resistance, and that seem to decrease hypothalamus and pituitary over-reactions to perceived...not real...stress.

ADENITIS- An inflammation of one or several lymph nodes, or related lymphoid tissues.

ADRENAL CORTEX
- The outer covering of the two adrenal glands that lie atop each kidney. Embryonically derived from gonad tissue, they make steroid hormones that control electrolytes, the management of fuels, the rate of anabolism, the general response to stress, and maintenance of nonspecific resistance.

ADRENAL MEDULLA
- The inner part of the adrenals, derived embryonically from spinal nerve precursors, they secrete epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine; used locally as neurotransmitters, sensitive receptors can be mobilized totally by the adrenal medullas.

ADRENALINE- Called epinephrine in the U.S., this is a substance secreted into the bloodstream and reacted to by specialized receptors throughout the body, initiating a "code blue" or flight-or-fight response. Many receptors are a regular part of sympathetic function, and respond to their own local relative, norepinephrine or noradrenaline, in the course of normal autonomic nervous system interplay. See: SYMPATHETIC, PARASYMPATHETIC, LIMBIC

ADRENERGIC- Functions that are dominated by epinephrine (the blood hormone) or norepinephrine (local sympathetic adrenergic nerve stimulus)

ADRENOCORTICAL- Pertaining to the adrenal cortex.

ALOPECIA- The loss of hair.

AERIAL- The parts of plants growing above ground.

ALKALINE- In our context, a substance having a pH above that of neutral water (7.0) when in solution. Signified as pH (potential of Hydrogen), alkaline fluids, such as the blood (pH about 7.4), have the ability to neutralize acids (solutions below pH 7.0). Metabolic wastes are acids, and the alkaline reserve of the blood neutralizes them until they are excreted. See pH.

ALKALOID- One of a varied family of alkaline, nitrogen-containing substances, usually plant-derived, reacting with acids to form salts. Normally intensely bitter, alkaloids form a body of substances widely used in drug and herbal therapy. They are usually biologically active and have a toxic potential. The term is more pharmaceutical and medical than chemical since alkaloids come from a variety of otherwise unrelated organic compounds. (Examples: caffeine, morphine, berberine).

ALTERATIVE- A term applied in naturopathic, Eclectic, and Thomsonian medicine to those plants or procedures that stimulate changes of a defensive or healing nature in metabolism or tissue function when there is chronic or acute diseases. The whole concept of alteratives is based on the premise that in a normally healthy person, disease symptoms are the external signs of activated internal defenses and, as such, should be stimulated and not suppressed. Sambucus (Elder), as an example, acts as an alterative when it is used to stimulate sweating in a fevered state. Without a fever or physical exertion, Sambucus tea will increase intestinal, lung, and kidney secretions. With fever or exercise, the buildup of heat from combustion, and the dilation of peripheral blood supply, it takes the defense response to the next stage of breaking a sweat. You might have sweated eventually anyway, but you may be one of those people who doesn't perspire easily, and a diaphoretic such as Sambucus will act as an alterative for you by stimulating the next stage of defenses sooner than you would have on your own. The term alterative is sometimes inaccurately used as a synonym for "blood purifier," particularly by nature- cure neo-Thomsonians such as Jethro Kloss and John Christopher. "Blood purifier" is a term better applied to the liver, spleen, and kidneys, not to some dried plant.

ALTERNATE
- Having plant parts, particularly leaves, arranged alternately along a stem, as opposed to in pairs or whorled.

AMEBIASIS- Having an amoebic infection, usually in reference to amoebic dysentery, caused by the parasitic amoeba, Entameba histolitica.

AMENORRHEA
- Absence or suppression of menses. Primary amenorrhea is the failure to begin menses by age 16, secondary amenorrhea is tardy menses (from pregnancy, stress, dieting, illness or intensive physical training) in the previously menstruating woman.

ANABOLIC
- Promoting anabolism. Specifically, an agent or function that stimulates the organization of smaller substances into larger ones. Examples: making a starch out of sugars, a protein out of amino acids, or making triglycerides out of fatty acids are anabolic functions. Anabolic steroids are internal or external substances that will induce increased body size or mass. The opposite of catabolic.
ANAL WARTS Also called Condylomata acuminata. A sexually transmitted viral infection, caused by human papillomavirus. See VENEREAL WARTS.

ANALGESIC- A substance that relieves pain. (Examples: aspirin, Balsam Poplar.)

ANESTHETIC- A substance that decreases nerve sensitivity to pain. Examples: nitrous oxide, Peppermint.

ANGINA PECTORIS- A painful chronic heart condition, characterized by an oppressive sensation, difficulty breathing, and pain in the chest or arms. Attacks are often triggered by exertion or a sudden adrenergic discharge, and the underlying cause is insufficient blood supply to the heart muscles.

ANGINA, VASOMOTORIA- Like the previous, but less dangerous and more frequently caused by purely neurologic stimulus. The pain is more spasmodic and there is usually little actual blood vessel blockage.

ANGIOTENSIN- A substance formed in tissues or blood vessels when there needs to be local or even massive vasoconstriction. The primary precursor is renin, made by the kidneys, and elevated when the blood seems dehydrated or low in volume; the next substance needed for this reaction is a liver protein, angiotensinogen; when both are present in the blood, local factors can then form this pressor substance. Excess production is often implicated in high blood pressure. ANORECTIC An agent that suppresses appetite for food.

ANOREXIA- Having little or no appetite for food.

ANTIBODY
- These are immunologic proteins, usually made from immunoglobulins, that are capable of binding to, and rendering inactive, foreign substances that have entered the skin envelope and have been deemed dangerous. They may be synthesized anew in the presence of a previously encountered substance (antigen); they may be present in small amounts at all times in the bloodstream; or they may be present in the tissues in a more primitive form designed to react to a broad spectrum of potential antigens. The latter may be responsible for some allergies.

ANTICHOLINERGIC
- An agent that impedes the impulses or actions of the nerves or fibers of the parasympathetic ganglia, competing with, and blocking the release of acetycholine at what are called the muscarinic sites. Cholinergic functions affected are those that induce spasms and cramps of the intestinal tracts and allied ducts. Examples: Atropine, Datura, Garrya.

ANTICOAGULANT
- A medication or natural compound that slows or prevents the formation of blood clots. Examples: Heparin (endogenous), Dicumarol and warfarin (drugs), Melilotus (coumarin-containing).

ANTIDEPRESSANT
- Literally, substances meant to oppose depressions or sadness, and generally heterocyclic types such as Elavil, MAO inhibitors like phenelzine, or lithium carbonate. This category of substances formerly included stuff like amphetamines and other stimulants. The only plants in this program that could fit the current definition for antidepressant activity would be Hypericum, Peganum and perhaps Oplopanax.

ANTIFUNGAL
- An agent that kills or inhibits fungi, and, in my usage here, an herb that inhibits either a dermatomycosis like ringworm or athlete's foot, or one that inhibits Candida albicans either externally as a douche or internally as a systemic antifungal. Examples: Nystatin, griseofulvin, Tabebuia.

ANTIGEN
- A substance, usually a protein, that induces the formation of defending antibodies. Example: bacterial toxins, Juniper pollen (in allergies). Auto-immune disorders can occur when antibodies are formed against normal proteins created within the body.

ANTIHISTAMINE
- An exogenous agent that inhibits the release of histamine, the amino acid derivative that stimulates vasodilation and permeability under many circumstances, particularly tissue irritation. The most common type of antihistamine, the H1 receptor antagonist, produces many moderate side effects, and the H2 receptor antagonist cimetidine is even more problematic. That they are so commonly used can lull both physician and patient into trivializing their iatrogenic potential. Histamines, which are most abundant in the skin, respiratory, and GI tract mucus membranes, help heal; using antihistamines to inhibit the healing response for the whole body simply in order to lessen the acute but physiologically superficial symptoms of something like hay fever is to risk many subtle side effects.

ANTIMICROBlAL
- An agent that kills or inhibits microorganisms.

ANTIOXIDANT
- A substance that prevents oxidation or slows a redox reaction. More generally, an agent that slows the formation of lipid peroxides and other free-radical oxygen forms, preventing the rancidity of oils or blocking damage from peroxides to the mitochondria of cells or cell membranes. Examples : Vitamin E, Larrea (Chaparral), Gum Benzoin.

ANTIPHLOGISTINE- An agent that limits or decreases inflammation; an anti- inflammatory or antihistamine.

ANTISPASMODIC- A substance that will relieve or prevent spasms, usually of the smooth muscles of the intestinal tract, bronchi, or uterus.(Examples: barbiturates, Garrya.)

ANTIVIRAL- An agent that experimentally inhibits the proliferation and viability of infectious viruses. In our domain of herbal medicines, some plants will slow or inhibit the adsorption or random initial attachment of viruses, extend the lifespan of infected target cells, or speed up several aspects of immunity, including complement, antibody, and phagocytosis responses. Herbal antivirals work best on respiratory viruses such as influenza, adenoviruses, rhinoviruses, and the enteric echoviruses. Touted as useful in the alphabet group of slow viruses (HIV, EBV, CMV, etc.), they really help to limit secondary concurrent respiratory infections that often accompany immunosuppression.

ANTIPHLOGISTINE- An agent that limits or decreases inflammation; an anti- inflammatory or antihistamine.

APOCRINE- Secretory glands, especially found in the armpit and groin, that secrete oily sweat derived from shed cell cytoplasm, and which contain aromatic compounds that possess emotional information for those nearby. Examples: The smell of fear, the scent released after orgasm, the odor released by annually-frustrated Chicago Cubs fans.

APTHOUS STOMATITIS- Little ulcers or canker sores on the surface of the tongue, lips, and cheek mucosa. In adults, they are often related to gastric reflux and dyspepsia.

AROMATICS- Chemically, molecules containing one or more benzene rings, but in our usage, plant compounds which, upon contact to the air, form gases which can be smelled: volatile oils. (Examples: menthol, Peppermint oil.)

ARRHYTHMIAS- An abnormal or irregular rhythm, usually in reference to the heart.

ARTERIAL- Blood that leaves the heart. When it leaves the right ventricle, it is venous blood; and when it leaves the left ventricle, through the aorta, it is fresh, hot, oxygenated red stuff. After it has passed out to the capillaries and started to return, it is venous blood.

ARTERIOSCLEROSIS- The condition of blood vessels that have thickened, hardened, and lost their elasticity-"hardening of the arteries." Aging and the formation of blood-derived fatty plaques within or directly beneath the inner lining of the arteries are the common causes. Many of the large arteries aid blood transport from the heart by their rebound elasticity, "kicking" it out; smaller
ones have muscle coats that need to contract and relax in response to nerves. All this is compromised when there is arteriosclerosis.

ARTHRITIS- Literally, inflammation of one or more joints, usually with pain and sometimes with changes in the structure. Osteoarthritis is a chronic condition of loss in the organization of joint cartilage, with gradual calcification of the gristle, formation of spurs, and impaired function. Rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune disorder, with chronic inflammation and eventual distortion of the joints; the victim experiences a lessening of good health, worsening metabolic imbalance, allergies, and general stress (emotional, physical, and dietary).
ASCITES An abnormal buildup of serous fluid, usually in regards the viscera. Although many infections and serious metabolic disorders can induce it, the most common cause is trauma and surgery.

ASTHENIC- having little tone or strength, especially in regards the nervous system or the skeletal muscles.

ASTHMA, EXTRINSIC- Asthma triggered by pollen, chemicals or some other external agent.

ASTHMA, INTRINSIC- Asthma triggered by boggy membranes, congested tissues, or other native causes...even adrenaline stress or exertion.

ASTRINGENT- An agent that causes the constriction of tissues, usually applied topically to stop bleeding, secretions, and surface inflammation and distension. Some, such as gallotannins, may actually bind with and "tan" the surface layer of skin or mucosa. Examples: a styptic pencil, Oak Bark.

ATONIC- Having poor tone or diminished strength.

ATOPIC- A type of inherited allergic response involving elevated immunoglobulin E. Sometimes called a reagin response, it means that you have hay fever, bronchial asthma, or skin problems like urticaria or eczema. It can be acquired, sometimes after hepatitis or extended contact with solvents or alcohol, but if your mama sneezed and your daddy itched, you will probably have one form or another of the above stuff at different times of your life. Solution: since you can't change your stripes, keep in balance and avoid, if possible, the distortions of constant medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.

ATROPINE- An alkaloid derived from Belladonna (Atropa belladonna) and related plants that blocks some cholinergic or parasympathetic functions. It has been used to stop the cramps of diarrhea and is still found in some OTC cold remedies, since it dries up secretions. The main current medical use is in eye drops used to constrict the pupil.

AUTOIMMUNITY- The state of having acquired an immunologic memory that says a normal cell membrane is "other", and having forming antibody responses against it. A viral infection or organic chemical (hapten) may have started the response, but surviving healthy cells may have so close a charge pattern (epitope) that acquired immunity keeps on as if the cell was still "other". Any physical stress that causes the target tissue to become inflamed or replicate rapidly to heal can restimulate the auto-immune response.

AWN- A terminal or lateral bristle on a seed or plant organ.

AXIL- The upper angle formed by a leaf or branch with a stem. Things that pop out in the axils are called AXILLARY.

AZOTEMIA- The abnormal presence of urinary waste products in the blood.

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