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Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Techniques for Disease Management

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Complementary and Alternative Medicine Techniques

Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Techniques for Disease Management

January 25, 2009


By: Laurie Edwards for Diabetes1


While most experts agree that more research into complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is necessary, many people with diabetes are turning to healing methods and techniques that work in conjunction with or instead of conventional medicine. Learn more about what CAM is and how it is believed to help manage diabetes before discussing options with your physician and embarking on a CAM program.


CAM and the Diabetic Community

A landmark study performed by Harvard University’s Dr. David Eisenberg found that more Americans see CAM providers than they do their primary care physicians, which is a testament to its increasing popularity.

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  • Discuss any CAM approaches with your physician, especially given how many different types of CAM exist and the varying amounts of research available to support them.
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  • You should never stop any prescribed medication, and since some CAM approaches can interfere with medications, it is doubly important that you consult with your healthcare team before starting any CAM program.
  • Interested in learning more about the types of CAM out there? Check out the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)
  • Among people with diabetes, CAM is even more widely utilized. In fact, in a follow-up survey to his much-cited study, Eisenberg and his colleagues found that diabetics are twice as likely as healthy people to use CAM, and that people  over the age of 65 are three times more likely to engage in CAM than younger people.


    Common Types of Complementary and Alternative Medicine

    There is a huge variety of treatments, techniques and herbal remedies that fall under the umbrella of CAM. While some may have harmful or negative consequences for patients, the following approaches are among the most popular and recommended for people with diabetes.


    Massage Therapy. While massages are often associated with stress relief and relaxation, for people with diabetes there are more specific health benefits to massage therapy. Studies suggest that massage may be helpful in controlling blood glucose and minimizing pain, though more long and short-term studies are necessary to ultimately define its benefit.


    Biofeedback. Biofeedback utilizes relaxation and stress-reduction techniques like guided imagery to help people become more aware of their bodily response to pain. For people with diabetes, positive, calming images of controlling their disease may make it easier to deal with pain and promote self-care.


    Acupuncture. Acupuncture is a therapy in which tiny needles are inserted into specific places in the skin, which is thought to trigger the release of natural painkillers. For people with diabetes suffering from diabetic neuropathy, it has been shown to be effective in relieving pain.


    Reiki. Reiki is a process of therapeutic touch. It is based on the belief that trained practitioners can access the body’s bio-energy field and in doing so, alleviate the pain or disabling consequences of painful diabetic neuropathy. 


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