A large number of diabetics are risking their health by using over the counter nutritional supplements and herbal medicines without discussing their pros and cons with the health professionals managing their conventional treatment.
Annie Chang, a doctorate candidate in Griffith's School of Nursing, says that though some complementary and alternative therapies may benefit patients, they can also have side effects or interact with conventional medications.
"Fenugreek for example, used as a supplement, may affect blood sugar levels but patients are already on other blood sugar lowering medications as well," she said.
The researcher carried out a review of international health literature, and found that nutritional supplements and herbal medicines were the most commonly used complementary and alternative therapies in diabetes.
Although the prevalence of use varied from 17 to 72 per cent between different countries, the review suggested that nearly half of diabetics supplemented their conventional medicines with some form of alternative therapy.
Elderly women who had been living with diabetes for longer, and people interested in self management of their condition were the most likely to use alternative therapies, said the researcher.
"People will tell their alternative practitioners that they are using Western medicines but the vast majority will not discuss their alternative therapies with a doctor or other healthcare professional," she said.
Chang, who has surveyed more than 300 diabetics in Taiwan, also observed that people feared that doctors would not be interested in discussing alternative medicines, or that they might 'get into trouble' for taking them.
"The evidence is that patients are using these products and may even reduce their conventional medicine doses and modify the timing of doses so they aren't taking both together," she said.
"While it might be impossible for Western medicine to learn all about complementary and alternative therapies, healthcare professionals do need to be included in discussions about them so we can document their use and be aware of any potential problems for our patients," she added.