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Originally published Wednesday, February 15, 2012 at 7:26 PM

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Integrative medicine: Tips that may help avoid doctor visit

More people try to figure out their own treatment plans before considering entering the medical system.

McClatchy Newspapers

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Many people in the United States now have no health insurance, and many more are underinsured or have very high deductibles, which require them to pay significant amounts of cash for medical services before any insurance coverage kicks in. As our current health care crisis continues to unfold, more people will be using the Internet to make their own diagnoses and to figure out their own treatment plans before even considering entering the medical system.

In this light, let's look at some common medical concerns, along with some over-the-counter remedies that you can try to help you feel better without having to make a trip to the doctor:

DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY

— SAMe can work wonders for depression, and can also help to reduce arthritis pain. Start with 200 mg twice daily and slowly build up to 400-800 mg twice daily. Nature Made makes a nice SAMe product. Caution: do not take SAMe if there is a risk of manic depression or significant anxiety.

— Kava Nakamal, made by the Eclectic Institute, is a safe preparation of kava that can be used for anxiety, insomnia, and muscle pain. Try one capsule 3 times daily as needed.

— Ashwagandha is an Ayurvedic herb that helps to soothe frazzled nerves and enhance sleep. As an added benefit, it may even improve libido in women. Try 500 mg 2-3 times per day

— Holy basil is another Ayurvedic herb that can help to reduce stress and inflammation and improve mental clarity. Try 400 mg twice daily as needed.

— Rhodiola, aka Arctic root, can reduce both depression and anxiety and also improve fatigue. Start with 100-150 mg/day and gradually work up to 400-500 mg per day.

— Lemon balm and passionflower are calming herbs, and both can be taken as teas. Try a soothing cup of tea in the evening before bedtime.

— Lavender oil is very soothing for many people; you can use it in a diffuser, or put a drop or 2 of the oil on your temples.

MENOPAUSE AND PMS

— Chaste tree (aka Vitex) has been shown to reduce PMS symptoms, including breast tenderness, swelling, irritability, and headache. Nature's Way makes a nice product.

— Siberian rhubarb, sold as the product Estrovera, can reduce hot flashes and sweats in women with menopausal symptoms. Women with breast cancer or risk of breast cancer should probably avoid this however.

— Vitamin E oil, coconut oil, and calendula oil can all help to reduce vaginal dryness; apply directly to affected tissues with your fingertips.

DIABETES

— Multiple herbs and supplements can help reduce blood sugar, including cinnamon, bitter melon, and chromium piccolinate. Studies also have shown that magnesium supplements can delay or prevent the onset of adult-onset diabetes. Of course, the best way to avoid diabetes is to exercise every day, eat a plant-based diet, and maintain a healthy weight.

— Vinegar slows digestion and can reduce the blood sugar spikes that tend to occur after consuming foods with flour and other processed carbs. If you are a bread lover, try dipping your bread in extra-virgin olive oil mixed with balsamic vinegar instead of slathering it with butter — you'll help both your blood sugar and your cholesterol.

INFLAMMATION AND PAIN

— Being overweight or obese, eating the "Standard American Diet" (aka SAD), and living with a lot of stress all help to drive inflammation and chronic disease, including pain. Foods and supplements like fish and fish oil, ginger, and turmeric help to reduce inflammation. Try to eat wild fish two to three times a week or take about 1,000 mg of EPA/DHA every day, add one teaspoon of turmeric to your daily soup, and take ginger capsules or brew some fresh ginger tea from sliced up fresh gingerroot.

— Tart cherry juice is very high in anti-inflammatory compounds and can reduce pain from arthritis; studies have shown benefit with 12 oz per day. And, it may even help you to sleep better!

— For acute musculoskeletal pain from injuries, many people find relief from the homeopathic remedy arnica. Look for the product Topricin and follow directions on the label.

HEADACHES

— Many adults in the US are deficient in magnesium. Taking 400-800 mg of magnesium glycinate at bedtime can help to reduce the frequency of migraine headaches. If you develop loose stools, back off on the dose. Caution: do not take magnesium supplements if you have impaired kidney function.

— Applying lavender or peppermint oil to the temples can also help to relieve a headache.

IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME

— Enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules and probiotics can help to relieve dyspepsia, GI spasm, and bloating in people with IBS. Look for a probiotic that has a blend of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria.

COLDS AND COUGHS

— Pelargonium, also known as South African geranium, can help to reduce cough and cold symptoms. Look for the product Umcka, made by Nature's Way.

— Dark honey may also help to reduce cough; try one teaspoon before bedtime. Caution: do not use honey in children under the age of one.

— Irrigating your nasal passages and gargling with warm saltwater every day can wash out any attached viruses and bacteria, and reduce your risk of getting sick, especially during cold and flu season.

There you have it — a few things to help you stay healthy and happy. If you are taking prescription medications, please talk with your doctor before starting any over-the-counter products, as supplements can sometimes interfere with or affect the metabolism of prescription medicines. And of course, if you try some of these remedies and you fail to improve, it's time to see your doctor.

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Drs. Kay Judge and Maxine Barish-Wreden are medical directors of Sutter Downtown Integrative Medicine program. Have a question related to alternative medicine? Email adrenaline@sacbee.com.

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