What’s the Alternative?

In the United States, people with diabetes are 1.6 times more likely to use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) than people without diabetes, according to researchers from the Medical University of South Carolina. In addition, greater age and higher education are associated with the use of CAM, say the researchers.

Complementary and alternative medicine is defined as “approaches to health care that are different from those typically practiced by medical doctors in the U.S.,” according to the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS), a nationally representative sample of the U.S. population. CAM includes acupuncture, nutritional advice or lifestyle diets, massage therapy, herbal remedies, biofeedback, meditation and imagery, and relaxation techniques, according to the study.

Researchers analyzed data from the MEPS to study the patterns of use of alternative medicine among people with diabetes compared to use among people who have other common chronic health conditions and people with neither diabetes nor other chronic health conditions. Independent factors were considered, including age, sex, race, household income, educational level and number of health conditions.

While people with diabetes are more likely to use alternative medicine than those without diabetes, the level of use among people with diabetes was comparable to estimates of CAM use among people who have other chronic medical conditions. Diabetes was an independent factor for using alternative medicine, as was being 65 years of age or older and having received at least a high school education.

Further analysis showed that people with a college education, women, individuals ages 35 to 49 and those with a household income of more than $50,000 per year were the most likely to use alternative medicine.

The CAM treatments most frequently used by people with diabetes were nutritional advice and lifestyle diets, spiritual healing, herbal remedies, massage and meditation.

“Although nutritional counseling and lifestyle modification are essential components of routine diabetes care,” researchers observe, “it is important to recognize that in this study, such advice/diets were obtained from CAM providers.”

The researchers add that most people with diabetes use CAM to complement conventional treatment rather than as an alternative to conventional treatment.

Diabetes Care, February 2002

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