Indian Health Service Online Submission, Consultation, and Reporting (OSCAR) System for Evidence Based and Promising Practices, Local Efforts, Policies and Resources. (logo: A Circle of Healthy Initiatives for American Indians and Alaska Natives)

University of New Mexico Department of Family and Community Medicine

Program Type: Promising Practice -Programs not formally evaluated (or formal evaluation is not yet complete) but identified by experts as programs with results suggesting efficacy and worthy of further study in broader pilot implementation efforts.

Native Americans value the ability to integrate traditional and western medicine for the treatment of chronic diseases such as diabetes. Healthcare professionals have been concerned that herbal treatments might be harmful or lead patients away from evidence-based therapies and self-monitoring of blood glucose also, the data is limited from clinical trials about the efficacy of herbs.

Between 2001 and 2003, 203 participants were recruited during a randomized clinical trial on the Navajo Nation. Participants were asked about their use of traditional medicines for diabetes and their blood glucose monitoring practices. One hundred ninety five (96%) of the 203 participants responded to the question about herb use. Of the 195 (30%) 58 reported that they used herbs, some used multiple herbs. Twenty seven different herbs were identified by the participants. The most frequently named herb was sage (15%), next were cedar and juniper both at 10%.

Nineteen percent of the participants used insulin to control their diabetes (21% were herb users and 19% were nonusers). There were no significant differences in performance (P=0.88) or frequency (P=0.44) of self-monitoring of blood glucose. There was no significant associationbetween herb use and sex (P=0.72), age (P=11), level of education (P=0.92), ability to speak or understand English (P=0.84). How long it took for participants to get to the clinic was associated with the use of herbs (P=0.02). Those traveling more than or equal to 60 minutes for healthcare were more likely to use herbs than those traveling less than or equal to 30 minutes (22 and 41%, respectively). The observations of Kim and Kwok, who found that alternative medicine is widely used by different cultural groups for common diseases. The sample that participated in the study may not have been representative of all Navajo people with diabetes, it is still important that the use of traditional medicine in this group of patients was not associated with diabetes control.

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Scientific research

Name: Melvina McCabe, MD
Site or Location Name: University of New Mexico
Department of Family and Community Medicine, MSC 09 5040,
1 University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, NM 87131
Phone: (505) 272-2165