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Assorted vegetables and herbs.

A new online resource from the Center for Spirituality and Healing helps people take charge of their health.

Steps to better health, online from the U

By Allison Campbell

From M, winter 2005

Scoffers may continue to make jokes about acupuncture creating human pincushions, yet the rest of us thirst to know more about nontraditional therapies. Nearly half of American adults have sought help for health issues from an herbal product, an acupuncturist, a massage therapist, or another complementary therapy. And for many of these therapies, there's solid evidence to back up their effectiveness.

To help consumers find balanced information on improving their health and well-being, the University of Minnesota's Center for Spirituality and Healing has put a new resource on the Web, "Taking Charge of Your Health".

"Once you get over the age of 50," says Nimmer, "you realize this business of your health is a little problematic and modern medicine has about half the answers."

The first in an online educational series for health-care consumers called Keeping U Well, "Taking Charge of Your Health" requires a little time and commitment, but it can help you find information you could spend hours and hours looking for on your own, like how to communicate more effectively with healthcare providers and how to find and evaluate health information on the Web. It also helps you explore options in healing, including complementary therapies.

Whatever one's health, the first step to improving it, according to "Taking Charge," is empowerment. Already, most patients no longer passively wait for their doctors to tell them what to do, says Jon Hallberg, family medicine physician at the University who appears regularly on Minnesota Public Radio.

"People want to become equal partners in their health care," says Hallberg, who talks with medical students about building relationships with patients. "I think that's going to become the paradigm for the future-physicians will help navigate and provide wisdom and experience and context."

Moreover, says Mary Jo Kreitzer, director of the Center for Spirituality and Healing and principal author of "Taking Charge," most diseases are related to lifestyle.

"Drugs, doctors, and hospitals are not the solution for the growing problems associated with lack of physical activity, poor diet, obesity, smoking, and stress," she says. The center was founded in 1995, notes Kreitzer, with emphases on educating health professionals, conducting research, and helping to develop care models that are more holistic, meaning attentive to body, mind and spirit. "Educating consumers in this way," she says, "is a natural extension of our work."

"Taking Charge" calls nontraditional therapies "complementary" because people tend to use them to complement conventional medicine, but experts often use the term "complementary and alternative" medicine. Complementary therapies especially appeal to those with chronic conditions and people who are aging, says Dave Nimmer, one-time reporter and University of St. Thomas journalism professor who was consulted early in the product's development process. "Once you get over the age of 50," says Nimmer, 64, "you realize this business of your health is a little problematic and modern medicine has about half the answers."

Clear and accurate communications also are emphasized in "Taking Charge." Not all "natural" remedies are safe-and some effective ones are not safe for certain people. Patients who wish to supplement their regular medical treatments with complementary therapies ought to consult first with their doctors.

The payoff for working your way through this intelligent and informative online tool? More understanding, better communications, and, just maybe, better health.

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