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A Head-to-Toe Pharm-Free Tune-up

We asked Dr. Woodson Merrell, chairman of the Department of Integrative Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center, to suggest non-prescription remedies for every inch of the body.

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NECK
Osteopaths and chiropractors can often soothe neck pain with craniosacral massage. The gentle manipulation of the bones of the head helps alleviate muscle tension without yanking or cracking, says Merrell, “though how it works has not been fully explained.”

HEAD
Biofeedback is a relaxation technique recommended for the early onset of migraine headaches. Electrodes attached to fingers measure brain-wave activity, which is translated into sounds broadcast back to the patient via headphones. “As you relax and the spasming of blood vessels lessens, you can hear the pitch deepen and feel the headache receding.”

SINUS
Try simple home remedies like aromatherapy if you’re dealing with sinus congestion. Swirl a couple of drops of rosemary oil in a neti pot, then use the skinny-spouted vessel to flush the scented water in one nostril and out the other. Or a less gross option: Take a steam shower with some Vicks VapoRub, which contains natural oils that actually help kill microorganisms.
INNER EAR
Got tinnitus? Try hypnosis. “If a person is hypnotizable (and not everyone is), the brain can be trained to essentially ignore the nerve impulses that signal the ringing.”

HEART
Fatty acids from fish oil have been shown to significantly reduce the likelihood of heart attacks, but most people don’t get enough in their diet. “Omega-3 is the most important nutrient anyone can take,” and it’s widely available in liquid and gel-capsule form.

LUNGS
Controlled breathing, like the kind taught in Kundalini yoga classes, can strengthen lungs weakened by asthma. “Breathing mindfully relaxes the bronchial muscles and makes them less susceptible to spasm.”

ELBOW
Homeopathic arnica pellets, when placed under the tongue, can help reduce swelling and bruising for any muscle, ligament, or tendon strain short of a large tear. “Nearly one-third of plastic surgeons recommend arnica as a healing tool,” says Merrell. “It’s something everyone should have in their kit at home.”

INTESTINES
Irritable bowel syndrome can be alleviated by taking acidophilus capsules, and even simpler, chewing your food completely. “Throwing large chunks of undigested food into the stomach makes the intestines work harder,” says Merrell. “If food hits the stomach as predigested mush, it makes a tremendous difference.”

LIVER
Milk thistle has been shown to “ramp up the liver’s detoxifying machine,” says Merrell, especially when it comes to cleaning out alcohol and residue from industrial chemicals such as dry cleaning fluids.

LOWER BACK
Silly as it seems, peaceful mental imagery, like the picture of a cool, calming river flowing through the body, can help decrease back pain. “Whether you call it a placebo effect or not, it appears to quiet spasms and relax muscles that pinch nerves.”

PELVIS
A cocktail of vitamin B6, magnesium, and evening primrose oil “can reduce menstrual cramping by lowering prostaglandin levels and spasms.” Take the vitamins once a day for five days prior to your period.

KNEE
Magnet therapy, only a few decades old, isn’t nearly as accepted in medical circles as acupuncture. Still, Merrell believes that wearing a brace embedded with magnets can relieve knee pain. “And there’s no downside short of spending a few dollars.”

ANKLE /FOOT
Acupuncture, according to Merrell, is “like aspirin—it can be globally effective.” But it can be especially helpful in treating chronic foot pain from ailments like plantar fasciitis.

Resources: For information on accredited alternative-therapy practitioners, go to the resources section of healthandhealingny.org. Therapeutic magnets are available at Nikken.com. Herbs and oils can be found at Wilner Chemists (100 Park Ave., at 40th St.; 212-682-2817).


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