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A library of integrative health books

I love reading books on integrative health—treatments that blend the best of conventional and alternative medicine—because they give me some semblance of control.

It's my body; I'm the one who should take care of it. And by researching my ailments, I've learned preventive health, simple nutritional remedies and how to nourish my body's natural healing ability.

Of course, books and Web sites shouldn't replace standard medical care. But as an ancient Chinese saying goes, "The superior doctor treats the disease before it occurs."

To start your own self-care library, look for books written by credible professionals and practitioners. Books with references are helpful. And because health information is constantly changing, they should be relatively current, or have an accompanying Web site where the information is updated.

Here are a few of my favorites. Post your own suggestions on my blog at chicagotribune.com/julie.

•"The 24-Hour Pharmacist" (Collins, $14.95) by Suzy Cohen. dearpharmacist.com

Written by a practicing pharmacist who believes medication should be taken only as a last resort, "The 24-Hour Pharmacist" recommends natural options for a variety of conditions. I especially liked the chapter "Drug Muggers," which explains how some medications deplete essential nutrients from your body, worsen arthritis, cause hair thinning or weight gain and interfere with sex drive.

Philosophy: "Fast food, fast infirmity. Medications can be valuable to your health but you must keep your mind open to all options."

Try this for ... a headache: If you're taking birth-control pills and get migraines or any other type of debilitating headache around your period, it's possible that the pill is wiping out riboflavin, said Cohen. Try about 400 daily milligrams.

You might also like: "Best Choices From the People's Pharmacy" (Rodale, $14.95) by Joe and Teresa Graedon. peoplespharmacy.com

•"1,000 Cures for 200 Ailments" (Collins, $34.95) by five authors, edited by Dr. Victor Sierpina, associate professor of family medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch.

"1,000 Cures" is one of the only books I've seen that offer professional advice from experts in five different fields: conventional medicine, homeopathy, traditional Chinese medicine, herbalism and naturopathy. It's designed to let the reader compare Western medicine with the four alternative approaches. Though broad by topic—it covers everything from anxiety and colds to carpal tunnel—the treatment suggestions include specific instructions on preparing teas, infusions, poultices and compresses.

Philosophy: "Home remedies are truly the first line of primary care."

Try this for ... a hangover: Eat one banana before and after drinking alcohol to help replace potassium, magnesium and Vitamin C. If you overindulge, eat a slice of bread or some crackers spread with honey or any food high in fructose to help the body burn off alcohol faster, said naturopath Dr. Geovanni Espinosa.

You might also like: "Your Best Medicine" (Rodale, $23.95) by Mark Goldstein, Myrna Chandler Goldstein and Larry Credit.

"Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child" (Avery, $21.95) by Janet Zand, Rachel Walton and Bob Rountree.

Written by a medical doctor, a naturopath and a registered nurse, "Smart Medicine" offers both conventional and natural approaches to the most common infant and childhood disorders. The authors consider what works: Sometimes that's an herb, sometimes it's an antibiotic and sometimes it's both. "It is just as significant that a particular therapy has been used effectively for hundreds or thousands of years as it is that a scientific paper substantiates a particular approach," they write. The book's first section details the nuts and bolts of treatment. Part 2 discusses how to treat the disorders—from acne to whooping cough. And Part 3 shows parents how to implement the treatment options which include conventional medicine, nutrition, herbs, homeopathy, Bach Flower Remedies and acupressure.

Philosophy: "Children's bodies are wonderfully responsive. When your child's body is supported with thoughtful integrated care, the best of natural and conventional medicine, it works quickly to attain full health."

Try this for ... a common cold: Don't force food but encourage liquids, especially camomile tea, chicken soup and a soup made with the Chinese herb astragalus and vegetables (omit the astragalus if there's a fever), the Smart Medicine authors suggest. "To calm a restless, fussy child, prepare a soothing herbal bath with camomile, calendula, rosemary and or lavender. Keep the water comfortably warm and encourage a long, lazy soak."

You might also like: "The Holistic Pediatrician" (Quill, $22.95) by Dr. Kathi Kemper.

"Prescription for Natural Cures" by James Balch and Mark Stengler (Wiley, $24.95)

Though the authors—a physician/surgeon and a naturopathic doctor—suggest some evidence-based treatments, they also pass along tips from previous generations of doctors and natural health-care practitioners from other cultures or advice they learned firsthand through patients. Organized by problem from A to Z, the guide features natural prescriptions that might include supplements, herbal medicine, aromatherapy, Chinese medicine, nutritional advice and other remedies.

Philosophy: "The body functions best when we ingest substances that are as close as possible to the natural state. ... Non-emergency conditions and most chronic health problems should be dealt with by using holistic therapies whenever possible."

Try this for ... muscle aches and cramps: Take 250 milligrams of magnesium a day. Magnesium is a muscle relaxer and a deficiency contributes to cramping, aching and tightness.

You might also like: "Prescription for Nutritional Healing" by James Balch and Phyllis A. Balch (Avery, $24.95)

"Yoga as Medicine" by Timothy McCall (Bantam, $20). drmccall.com

McCall, a practicing yogi and western-trained physician, uses science to show how yoga postures, breathing techniques and meditation can help treat conditions such as arthritis, heart disease, insomnia and obesity.

Philosophy: "Yoga is not a panacea, but it is powerful medicine indeed for body, mind and spirit. Above all, yoga is a path. The longer you stay with it and the more heart you put into the journey, the farther it can take you."

Try this for ... insomnia: Practice "legs-up-the-wall" pose for 10 minutes or longer. To do it, lie on your back with your butt as close to the wall as possible. Swing your legs up so that your heels are on the wall and your thighs are as close to vertical as possible. If you have tight hamstrings, it will be more difficult to get into a 90-degree position.

You might also like: "Yoga for Wellness" by Gary Kraftsow (Penguin Compass, $24.95)

jdeardorff@tribune.com

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