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As many as one in three people in the United States reports using alternative treatments, most often for chronic illnesses such as diabetes. In fact, more than 400 herbal remedies for diabetes have been reported worldwide. Mexican Americans have rates of adult-onset diabetes two to three times those of the general population. They also show a high interest in alternative medicine, with as many as 67 percent of them reportedly using folk remedies. Yet recent interviews with 43 low-income Mexican Americans with adult-onset diabetes revealed that most of them viewed herbs and prayer as complementary to, not competitive with, conventional medical treatment of their disease, and none used curanderos (traditional healers).
For these diabetics, traditional attitudes and beliefs presented no barriers to compliance with medical care, conclude researchers at the Mexican-American Medical Treatment Effectiveness Research Center at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. Their research was supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS07397).
Patient interviews focused on the patients' views about and use of alternative and biomedical treatments for their diabetes. About 84 percent of those interviewed mentioned herbs as a possible alternative treatment for diabetes. The herbs mentioned most often were nopal (prickly pear cactus; cooked leaves are eaten alone or mixed with eggs), 39 percent; aloe vera (added raw to a drink of raw nopal leaves and water), 31 percent; and nispero (loquat or Chinese plum; leaves are brewed into a strong tea), 17 percent. However, most patients had never or only rarely tried herbs and viewed them as supplemental to—not competitive with—medical treatments. Less than a third of those interviewed had regularly used herbs in the past. The 9 percent of current users were actively involved in looking for treatments for their disease and had not discontinued biomedical treatments. About 77 percent said that prayer helped reduce stress and bring healing power to medicines. There is some evidence of the clinical efficacy of both nopal and nispero, which have been found to have notable hypoglycemic effects (they lower the levels of blood sugar).
See "Herbs, prayer, and insulin: Use of medical and alternative treatments by a group of Mexican American diabetes patients," by Linda M. Hunt, Ph.D., Nedal Hamdi Arar, Ph.D., and Laurie L. Akana, R.N., C.S., M.S.N., in the March 2000 Journal of Family Practice 49(3), pp. 216-223.
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