Almost as many people use alternative treatments as use pharmaceuticals to treat arthritis and osteoporosis, according to new Australian research.
The first population-wide study to look at the use of complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs) in people with chronic illness is published Tuesday in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.
"We looked at five conditions — asthma, diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis and heart disease," co-author Professor Laurie Brown of the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling at the University of Canberra, tells the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
The study of more than 7,800 adults found that approximately 24 per cent used complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs).
The CAMs included in the study were vitamin or mineral supplements and natural or herbal remedies, including homeopathy.
The highest use of CAMs was by women over the age of 60 years, who had osteoporosis and arthritis.
For example, says Brown, around 40 per cent who had osteoporosis were using CAM products, either on their own or with prescribed medicines.
Approximately 21 per cent of people with osteoporosis used only CAMs, whereas around 24 per cent used only pharmaceuticals, and 19 per cent used them in combination.
In the case of arthritis, 22 per cent used only CAMs, 22 per cent used only pharmaceuticals and 16 per cent used a combination.
Watch for interactions
Brown says the findings show a significant number of people are using CAMs to treat chronic illnesses, and often in combination with pharmaceuticals.
"If they are using it in combination with prescribed medicines you have to be aware of potential interactions and side-effects," she says.
Dr. Vicki Kotsirilos of the Australasian Integrative Medicine Association in Melbourne urges patients to discuss their use of CAMs with their doctor.
She says there is a large database of information on interactions between CAMs and pharmaceuticals that doctors can use to advise patients.
For example, says Kotsirilos, if someone is taking Aspirin, they should be careful about taking white willow bark, which is a CAM often used for pain relief in arthritis.
Patients with seafood allergies should also take care to avoid glucosamine sulphate derived from seafood.
Kotsirilos welcomes the new study, but says it has some limitations.
She says one problem is that some of the treatments classified as CAMs are actually quite mainstream and should not be described as alternative therapies.