part one

Alternative medicine, or the new buzz word, "complimentary medicine," is becoming as mainstream to our lives as today’s high tech world of western medicine. It’s certainly more than just buzz and it will be around to prove itself in the decades to come. The name may change ñso may the focus to meet our changing health needs.

These changes are fueled by a wave of discontent running through our country over what traditional medicine doesn’t have to offer. And this is only one of several forces that is changing the face of how we view our health care system and ourselves.

Today many Americans are faced with the fact that they cannot obtain health insurance due to prohibitive cost or those two nasty little words "pre-existing condition." which forces them to look to new ñ or rather old ñ ways of staying healthy. Maybe this isn’t such a bad thing after all. Albeit a painful but necessary shift.

Example, Cuban medical doctors now attend green pharmacy school ñ the use of herbs and plants to maintain health and treat disease. Following the embargo they had fewer and fewer western medicines to prescribe for their patients. Forced into this change they find they turn more and more to the plants that surround them to treat illness and sustain health. Very little is known as to how they are doing with the use of botanical medicine as their first line of treatment. Hopefully it will be interesting and practical information in the use of herbs on a larger scale.

I don’t believe anyone thinks we should start over; western medicine has so much to offer but where do we go from here? Nature has let us have our way for now but as with all things there must be some balance sooner or later. Nature ignored becomes nature out of control. Drug-resistant strains of bacteria, viruses that mutate, and opportunistic fungi abound ñ proving our over-dependence on drugs that mask symptoms while we ignore the root cause of illness.

When we rely only on these kinds of treatments we further push ourselves into more serious kinds of illness and move further and further away from health and balance. To begin to correct this we must move away from our over-dependence on medications, especially over-the-counter medications that will lead to deeper imbalances and yes, more pills.

We still need our physicians and their guidance, but we need to partner with our doctors in the care of our health. A truly caring physician will welcome your interest in the care and feeding of your health.

Stay tuned next week. I’ll look at some simple first line defenses that may help you stay healthy and out of the medicine cabinet.

Part two

In the first pat of this article, I looked at what we now call complementary medicine, and found it actually has been around some time. I found it to once have been the mainstream of medicine until the explosion of technology changed the face of western medicine. I also looked at the need to stop suppressing the sometimes natural process of illness with a quick fix of drugs and make the kinds of lifestyle changes that are more conducive to balance and health. Now let's look at how you can make wise natural food and herbal choices for your family and yourself.

Although now wiser and more educated about our health, a trip to the health food store can still be confusing. The number of new products entering the market is phenomenal and it would be a daunting task for anyone to keep abreast of all that is new. Therefore, before you go shopping, do your homework! Invest in a quality reference book on herbals and natural food supplements or go online for good reference material. Don't be afraid to ask questions but don't wait until you're in the store to decide what it is you're after either. Manufacturers cannot label products claiming health benefits.

Instead of finding help reading labels you'll only become more confused. Buy only the purest brands -- preferably from the health food store or from a holistic practitioner familiar with the products you'll need.

Some other very important things to remember when shopping. Please, please do not mix high-powered herbals with medications! Don't try several new things at once. Start with one product and see how you feel; then add new things. Remember natural supplements work more slowly and with the body, and may cause cleansing reactions as your body heals. And finally, good supplements should be affordable. Don't buy into total programs that can cost upwards of $100-300 monthly. They are really not superior in quality.

With these things in mind, here are some old-time favorites -- and some new ones -- you may want to consider:

For high cholesterol try a combination of flaxseed oil gel caps and garlic tablets. The flax oil actually helps reduce bad cholesterol while boosting up the good. Garlic works to cleanse off fatty accumulations and lower total cholesterol counts.

For the pain and inflammation of arthritis, try some of the natural anti-inflammatories available. Curcumin or as we know it, tumeric has once again become very popular. New studies show this ancient spice to have analgesic as well anti-inflammatory properties. Digestive enzymes such as bromelain work well to relieve the pain of inflammation as well.

Mild depression can many times be treated with the old standby, St. Johns Wort, or in combination with 5-HTP. This new amino-based supplement has been shown to enhance the uptake of seretonin, a brain chemical important to a sense of well being and health.

Looking to help prevent bone loss? Yes calcium is important but the calcium you take will not be utilized without proper magnesium supplementation. Vitamin D abounds in the food chain and has been linked to joint aches and pains when used in supplement form. Forget the vitamin D, remember the magnesium.

Feverfew, an old-time favorite for the treatment of migraine headache, has appeared in a new spray. The delivery system makes it very fast acting and can be used repeatedly until the headache comes under control.

The recent growth in the business of herbal supplements and the natural foods market reflects the interest of the consumer to live not only a longer life but also a healthier more productive one. I can hardly wait to see what they come up with next.

Till next time, Rebecca