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J Fam Pract. 2000 Mar;49(3):216-23.

Herbs, prayer, and insulin. Use of medical and alternative treatments by a group of Mexican American diabetes patients.

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Department of Anthropology, Michigan State University, East Lansing 48824-1118, USA.



Clinicians are often concerned that use of alternative treatments by Mexican American patients with diabetes competes with medical treatment. We examined the use and evaluation of alternative treatments for diabetes by a sample of these patients.


Following a descriptive qualitative design, a convenience sample of 43 low-income Mexican Americans with type 2 diabetes were interviewed. We analyzed interview transcripts for alternative treatments named, patterns of use, evaluation of those treatments, and the use of biomedical approaches. We crosschecked the results for interrater reliability.


Herbs were mentioned as possible alternative treatments for diabetes by 84% of the patients interviewed. However, most had never or rarely tried herbs and viewed them as supplemental to medical treatments. Most said prayer influences health by reducing stress and bringing healing power to medicines. None used curanderos (traditional healers) for diabetes. Most actively used biomedical treatments and were less actively involved in alternative approaches. Statistical tests of association showed no competition between biomedical and alternative treatments, and alternative treatment activity tended to be significantly lower than biomedical. Most study participants emphasized medical treatment and only used alternative treatments as secondary strategies. Those patients very actively using alternative approaches also tended to be very actively using biomedical methods; they were using all resources they encountered.


Traditional attitudes and beliefs were not especially important to the patients in this study and presented no barriers to medical care. For these patients, it also cannot be assumed that belief in alternative treatments and God's intervention indicate fatalism or noncompliance but instead require consideration of individual treatment behaviors.

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