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Complementary and Alternative Medical Therapies

Overview

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health, defines complementary and alternative medicine as a "group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine." Complementary medicine is used with conventional therapy, whereas alternative medicine is used instead of conventional medicine.

Detailed Description

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health, defines complementary and alternative medicine as a "group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine." Complementary medicine is used with conventional therapy, whereas alternative medicine is used instead of conventional medicine.

Some people with diabetes use complementary or alternative therapies to treat their condition. Although some of these therapies may be effective, others can be ineffective or even harmful. Patients who plan to use complementary and alternative medicine should consult with their health care provider before doing so.

Some complementary and alternative medicine therapies are discussed below. For more information, talk with your health care provider.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a procedure in which a practitioner inserts needles into designated points on the skin. Some scientists believe that acupuncture triggers the release of the body's natural painkillers. Acupuncture has been shown to offer relief from chronic pain. Acupuncture is sometimes used by people with neuropathy, the painful nerve damage of diabetes.

Biofeedback

Biofeedback is a technique that helps a person become more aware of and learn to deal with the body's response to pain or anxiety. This alternative therapy emphasizes relaxation and stress-reduction techniques. Guided imagery is a relaxation technique that may also be used by some professionals who use biofeedback. With guided imagery, a person thinks of peaceful mental images, such as ocean waves. A person may also include the images of controlling or curing a chronic disease, such as diabetes. Since stress can make diabetes worse and make it harder for people to care for themselves, strategies to reduce stress may be very useful.

Chromium

The benefit of added chromium for diabetes has been studied and debated for a number of years. Several studies report that chromium supplementation may improve diabetes control – and chromium may help improve insulin action. Due to insufficient information on the use of chromium to treat diabetes, no recommendations for supplementation currently exist.

Ginseng

Ginseng is the name of several related plants, but most research on ginseng and diabetes have used American ginseng. Those studies have shown some glucose-lowering effects in fasting and post-prandial (after meal) blood glucose levels as well as in A1C levels (average blood glucose levels over a 3-month period). However, larger numbers of study participants and long-term research are needed before general recommendations for use of ginseng can be made. Researchers also have determined that the amount of glucose-lowering compound in ginseng plants varies widely.

Magnesium

Although the relationship between magnesium and diabetes has been studied for decades, it is not yet fully understood. Studies suggest that a deficiency in magnesium may worsen blood glucose control in type 2 diabetes. Scientists believe that magnesium deficiency interrupts insulin secretion in the pancreas and increases insulin resistance in the body's tissues. Evidence suggests that magnesium deficiency may contribute to certain diabetes complications. A recent analysis showed that people with higher dietary intake of magnesium (through consumption of whole grains, nuts, and green leafy vegetables) had a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes.

Vanadium

Vanadium is a compound found in tiny amounts in plants and animals. Early studies showed that vanadium normalized blood glucose levels in animals with type 1 and type 2 diabetes. A recent study found that when people with diabetes were given vanadium, they developed a modest increase in insulin sensitivity and were able to decrease their insulin requirements. Currently researchers want to understand how vanadium works in the body, discover potential side effects, and establish safe dosages.

To learn more about alternative therapies for diabetes treatment, contact the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Clearinghouse at 1–888–644–6226 or check their website at http://nccam.nih.gov. You can find NCCAM's information on diabetes by looking under diabetes at http://nccam.nih.gov/health/bydisease.htm.


Take Action

To find out more about whether alternative or complimentary medicine could be right for you, ask your doctor the following questions:

  • What alternative or complimentary medicine strategies have you recommended for your patients?

  • What are the positive and negative sides to the approaches you have used?

  • Do I need to be particularly concerned about any risk factors on the basis of my personal medical history?

  • Will this type of care be covered by my insurance? If not, is there another way to offset the cost of this care?

    If you decided to explore alternative and complimentary medicine options, you may also wish to speak with practitioners of different types of alternative and complimentary medicine. In choosing a practitioner, be sure to ask:

  • Have you treated diabetics before?

  • Have you treated people with these complications before?

  • What were the results?

  • What can I expect of the treatment?

  • Are there any risks I should be aware of as a diabetic?

    Last updated: 18-Dec-07


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