Would you go to a naturopathic doctor if it would help you lower your HbA1c? A new joint study by researchers at the Group Health Research Institute and Bastyr University Research Institute has found that such an approach might help people with poorly controlled type 2 diabetes lower their blood sugar by twice as much as similar patients treated with conventional therapy alone.
More and more researchers from mainstream medicine are looking at combining conventional therapy with naturopathic care into what they call integrated therapies. Group Health Research Institute is the research arm of the 600,000 member Group-Health Co-op, a managed care health insurer in the Pacific Northwest affiliated with Kaiser Permanente of California. Bastyr University is a fully accredited naturopathic medical school that is a leader in natural health education.
The research team led by Bastyr’s Ryan Bradley, ND, MPH, director of the Center for Diabetes and Cardiovascular Wellness at Bastyr, found that patients with type 2 diabetes gained several benefits from the integrated therapy compared to patients treated with conventional therapy alone.
“The news is encouraging for those fighting the disease,” Bradley said in a press release. “Patients involved in the study cited the benefits of trying different approaches to find the best ways to minimize the effects of type 2 diabetes. In many ways, that strategy mirrors our partnership with Group Health in this research study—working together to discover the best possible solutions.”
In the study, 40 type 2 diabetes participants with an average HbA1c between 7.5 percent and 9.5 percent were counseled on diet, exercise and glucose monitoring by four naturopathic physicians in addition to conventional diabetes care from their medical doctors, including prescription medicines. In addition, many participants received stress management care and dietary supplements.
These 40 patients were compared to the medical records of a group of 329 Group Health patients with type 2 diabetes who received only conventional care. The results were published April 18, 2012, in the online journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
At the end of six months and an average of 4 visits to their naturopathic doctors, the researchers found that those in the integrated care group had dropped their blood sugar by an average of 1.0 percent compared to an average .05 percent decrease for those treated with conventional care. The difference persisted for 12 months following the study start, but was not as great and was no longer statistically significant at 12 months.
Changes in total cholesterol and blood pressure were not statistically different between the two groups, meaning the differences were not large enough to rule out the possibility that the differences were due to chance.
Nevertheless Bradley says the difference in blood sugar control were significant enough to warrant a larger comparison trial involving patients randomly assigned to each of the two treatment groups. Such a trial would be able to determine if the benefits shown in this study were due to the naturopathic counseling or whether the patients in the integrated care group were more motivated to control their blood sugar than their conventionally treated counterparts.