Whether you’re curious about alternative medicine, or looking for ways to lessen your dependence on prescriptions and conventional medical interventions, the following five books will provide ample food for thought. Is there a rational middle ground between a completely “natural” approach to health and the techno-medical model of care? How can we improve communication with our doctors and become partners in our care, rather than passive recipients? What kind of medicinal cures are growing right in our own backyards, or available literally at our fingertips? These are just some of the questions explored and answered by the thought-provoking books that follow.


"All Natural*: *A Skeptic's Quest to Discover If the Natural Approach to Diet, Childbirth, Healing, and the Environment Really Keeps Us Healthier and Happier"

By Nathanael Johnson

Publisher: Rodale

Why, even as technological medicine advances, are we becoming less healthy? Why are more American women dying in childbirth? Why do we grow fatter the more we diet? Why have so many attempts to save the environment backfired? How can humans be a functional, helpful part of nature rather than destroying it? These are some of the riddles that journalist Nathanael Johnson strives to solve in “All Natural.” Raised by parents dedicated to a "natural" lifestyle, and now grappling with the best way to raise his baby daughter, he lovingly and rigorously scrutinizes his parents’ all-natural mindset, a quest that brings him into the worlds of an outlaw midwife, radical doctors, renegade farmers and one hermit forester. In “All Natural,” Johnson teases apart the complicated tangle of feelings and assumptions surrounding nature, technology and control. With an open-minded, nonideological approach, he explores various perspectives on movements both for organic practices and technological advancement in diet, childbirth, healing and the environment. Readers grappling with the flood of conflicting information about how to live a healthy, nondestructive life will appreciate this book’s nuanced attitude and its often-surprising conclusions. Thought-provoking and timely, “All Natural” is a blend of reportage and memoir that offers a rousing and original vision for a rational middle ground between the natural and the technological. A great read for those alienated by the extreme, polarizing views on both sides and seeking a research-led middle ground.


"Integrative Wellness Rules: A Simple Guide to Healthy Living"

By Dr. Jim Nicolai; foreword by Dr. Andrew Weil

Publisher: Hay House

Benjamin Franklin’s famous saying “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” was actually firefighting advice, but the maxim rings true for health too. With health problems such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease continuing to plague America, looking for alternatives to mainstream diet and healthcare options makes good sense. Integrative wellness is an approach to health that acknowledges and utilizes the natural healing capacity of human beings and emphasizes prevention above treatment. Dr. Jim Nicolai, author of “Integrative Wellness Rules: A Simple Guide to Healthy Living,” is the medical director of the Andrew Weil, M.D. Integrative Wellness Program at Miraval. A board-certified family practitioner and a graduate of the Integrative Medicine Fellowship at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Nicolai has a special interest in whole-person medicine. He works with both conventional medicine and complementary and alternative therapies, including herbs and other botanicals, vitamins and supplements, lifestyle management and stress reduction when treating his patients, whom he regards holistically. With “Integrative Wellness Rules,” Nicolai offers simple, useful keys to healthier living that will guide readers in eating better, choosing the vitamins and supplements that are best for them, managing stress more effectively, and getting in touch with their spiritual sides. His quick and easy health tips are presented in a relatable, conversational style, perfect for those looking for healthy, natural, balanced strategies to better manage their fast-paced lives. Easy to follow, practical to implement, and effective when put into practice, the tips in “Integrative Wellness” can help readers begin to select a set of strategies and action steps that will take them toward their ideal selves, the health they seek, and the lives they truly want to live. In learning and implementing these integrative wellness rules, readers can take charge of their well-being and enjoy increases in energy, motivation, life resilience and, ultimately, longevity.


"When Doctors Don't Listen: How to Avoid Misdiagnoses and Unnecessary Tests"

By Dr. Leana S. Wen and Dr. Joshua M. Kosowsky

Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books

Trying to navigate, stay healthy, or heal within the contemporary mainstream, Western model of medical care can be frustrating. For some it’s so frustrating that they opt out of the system altogether, choosing to work with naturopaths and other alternative practitioners. But for those who choose to use the techno-medical model of care, taking an active role is essential. “Most of us have spent so long thinking of medical care as a passive process that it takes time to change our mindset to put ourselves in the driver’s seat,” write Drs. Leana Wen and Josh Kosowsky in their new book, “When Doctor’s Don’t Listen.” The two emergency physicians examine the doctor-patient relationship, arguing that diagnosis, once the cornerstone of medicine, is fast becoming a lost art, with grave consequences. Together, they provide a raft of anecdotal stories that double as scenarios many patients encounter: being rushed, doctors downplaying concerns, having close-ended "cookbook medicine" questions determine the course of the interaction, and other situations leading to reductive diagnoses. The doctors offer actionable steps readers can take toward being "better patients" as well as working to pressure doctors into providing better care — steering the conversation away from close-ended questions, insisting on both explanations for recommended tests and exploring alternatives, and making yourself an active partner in reaching a differential diagnosis. In addition to detailed guidance on how to avoid misdiagnosis, the doctors condense their suggestions into what they call the “8 Pillars to Better Diagnosis,” a list that they recommend patients study and practice working from before they visit the doctor’s office, emergency room or hospital. Finally, the appendices include exercises, worksheets and a glossary of key terms to further empower patients. By encouraging patients to engage with their doctors as partners in their diagnosis and giving them the tools to do so, this essential guide enables patients to speak up and regain control of their health care.


"Backyard Medicine: Harvest and Make Your Own Herbal Remedies"

By Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal

Since ancient times, people have used plants to heal themselves, and using plants to treat disease continues to be widespread in most cultures to this day. Many herbal remedies can be found growing near your home — maybe even in your own garden. "Backyard medicines" are not only cheap, they are free, and using local plants for herbal remedies saves on imports and air miles. Learning to make your own herbal remedies can be both pleasurable and practical — especially if you have the right guide. Originally published under the title “Hedgerow Medicine” in Great Britain, this popular book has been rewritten for North Americans and updated to reflect the North American distribution of the featured plants. "Hedgerows" in Britain are an integral part of the landscape, and the word conveys a sense of countryside and the often-forgotten traditional harvesting and use of plants — there are miles of public footpaths with rights of access. For the North American version, wife-and-husband authors Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal wanted to suggest the same sense of self-sufficiency in using the plants that grow "on your doorstep." All of the plants featured are found on both sides of the Atlantic, some being native in the New World and others brought over from Europe by settlers. Trained in herbal medicine, iridology and energy medicine, Bruton-Seal runs a natural health practice in Norfolk, England, where she grows and collects many of her own herbs and makes her own essences. Together with her husband, she also teaches workshops on herbal medicine making, and leads herb walks. This book provides the couple’s clear instructions about which plants to harvest to make over 120 recipes for teas, vinegars, oils, creams, pillows, poultices and alcohol-based tinctures. An excellent and beautiful guide for the budding herbalist.


"The Tapping Solution: A Revolutionary System for Stress-Free Living"

By Nick Ortner

Publisher: Hay House

Nick Ortner, creator and executive producer of the documentary “The Tapping Solution,” has written a practical reference for harnessing the healing benefits of EFT (emotional freedom technique). Slated to be published by Hay House in April, “The Tapping Solution: A Revolutionary System for Stress-Free Living” describes not only the history and science of tapping but also its hands-on applications. Ortner lays out easy-to-use practices, diagrams and worksheets that will teach readers, step-by-step, how to tap on a variety of issues. With chapters covering everything from the alleviation of pain to the encouragement of weight loss to fostering better relationships, Ortner opens readers’ eyes to just how powerful this practice can be. Throughout the book, readers will see real-life stories of healing ranging from easing the pain of fibromyalgia to overcoming a fear of flying. Tapping has been shown to provide relief from chronic pain, emotional problems, disorders, addictions, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder, and physical diseases. While tapping is still a new technique, the healing concepts that it's based upon have been in practice in Eastern medicine for over 5,000 years. Like acupuncture and acupressure, Tapping utilizes the body's energy meridian points. You can stimulate these meridian points by tapping on them with your fingertips — literally tapping into your body's own energy and healing power. The simple strategies Ortner outlines in this book will help readers release their fears and clear the limiting beliefs that hold them back from creating the life they want.

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Teaser photo: Amelia-Jane/Flickr
5 books that explore medical treatment, from conventional to alternative
From alternative medicine to dealing with conventional doctors, these five books ask important questions about how we can actively improve our health.