Research: RYAN and colleagues, D

Listed in Issue 69


RYAN and colleagues, Department of Medicine, Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Muttart Diabetes Research, and Training Centre and Perinatal Research Centre, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada,, surveyed the usage of prescribed medication, over-the-counter (OTC) supplements and alternative medicines in diabetic and control subjects.


Despite enormous advances in [allopathic] medical care, increasing numbers of people are still using herbal or other alternative remedies. People with chronic conditions such as diabetes may turn to alternative remedies purported to improve glycaemic control .


This was a prospective, case-control study. 502 diabetic subjects and 201 controls were contacted in person or by telephone and asked to provide details about themselves, their diabetes (for diabetic subjects), and their use of prescribed medication, OTC supplements and alternative medications. Subjects were asked to rank their assessment of the effectiveness of each medication. Costs were calculated on a per-month basis from average prices obtained from five alternative health stores and five chemist shops.


78% of diabetic subjects were taking prescribed medication for their diabetes, 44% were taking OTC supplements and 31% were taking alternative medicines . 63% of control subjects were taking prescribed medication, 51% were taking OTC supplements and 37% were taking alternative medicines . The most common OTC supplements were multivitamins, vitamin E, vitamin C, calcium and aspirin . The most common alternative medications were garlic, echinacea, herbal mixtures and glucosamine . Chromium was only (and rarely) used by diabetic subjects. Alternative medicines purported to have hypoglycaemic effects were little used by diabetic subjects. The effectiveness of alternative medicines was rated significantly lower than that of prescribed medications, but subjects still thought them efficacious . Diabetic subjects spent almost as much money on OTC supplements and alternative medications as they did on their diabetic medications.


A third of people, both diabetic and non-diabetic, were taking alternative medications they considered efficacious. Money spent on alternative and OTC supplements nearly equalled that spent on prescription medications. Evaluation of these remedies and their merits is thus long overdue .


Ryan EA et al. Use of alternative medicines in diabetes mellitus. Diabetic Medicine 18 (3): 242-5. Mar 2001.


I wonder what would happen if suddenly all health professionals from all sectors – allopathic and complementary – would start working together toward improving the health of their patients instead of trying to prove that patients were either wasting their money or potentially harming themselves by eating garlic or taking herbs such as echinacea. Can you spot the agenda for this research?

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