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Research Snapshot: Complementary and Alternative Medicine use in Diabetic Adults

Diabetes is a growing concern for people in the United States — over 29 million Americans suffer from this chronic disease today.

“Diabetes is a complicated chronic condition requiring intensive self-care management,” said Greg Rhee, Ph.D., M.S.W. The adjunct assistant professor at the College of Pharmacy believes complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) could be the key to maintaining the healthy lifestyle needed to combat diabetes.

Rhee has conducted CAM-related research on maintaining health and well-being in diverse populations, including racial/ethnic disparities issues. More recently, he found individuals who used acupuncture for both wellness and treatment had “higher odds of disclosing self-reported benefits.” This led him to wonder how CAM may have influenced the health and well-being of diabetic adults.

The national study, published in the Journal of Diabetes, interpreted self-reported data from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey on CAM usage. Rhee found that 26 percent of diabetic adults reported using some form of CAM in the past year. Of those adults, over half of them used CAM for both treatment and wellness. 28 percent used CAM for wellness only, and 15 percent used CAM for treatment only.  Rhee noted the adults who reported using CAM for both treatment and wellness had a “higher likelihood of reporting a better sense of control over this health.”

The study also covered the types of CAM used by diabetic adults. The most commonly used CAM types — regardless of reason for use — found in the study were herbal therapies, chiropractic care and massage therapy.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use in U.S. Adults with Diabetes. 56.7% used for wellness and treatment, 25.3% used for wellness only, and 20.2% used for treatment only. Most commonly used therapies: Herbal therapies at 56.7%, Chiropractic at 25.3%, and Massage at 20.2%.

The results of the study show promise for CAM in the aid of diabetic adults. Because of the growing diabetic population, however, future studies need to be done to assess healthcare disparity issues related to CAM.

Diabetes is a serious condition, and while CAM shows promise as a support, it is important individuals with diabetes seek routine treatment with a primary care doctor, Rhee said.

“All patients should have conversations with their care team about complementary and alternative medicines they are using,” Rhee said.

Some therapies could affect blood glucose levels.  In addition, previous studies have shown some herbal medicines can interact poorly with certain medications.

“We need to continue studying this trend,” Rhee said. “Future research could help improve self-care management strategies among individuals with diabetes.”

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