Four in 10 sufferers of these chronic conditions use alternative medicines either on their own or with prescribed medication.Two in 10 use complementary and alternative (CAM) treatments exclusively.
In the case of arthritis 22pc use only alternative treatments, 22pc use only prescribed medication and 16pc use a combination.
The figures come from a study of more than 7,800 adults by the University of Canberra which showed that one in four people were using complementary and alternative medicines.
A significant number use homeopathy and herbal remedies, acupuncture, chiropracty and massage, vitamins and minerals, to treat chronic illnesses, the findings show.
The study particularly looked at asthmas, diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis and heart or circulatory conditions.
Prof Laurie Brown of the University, one of the authors of the study, has warned that if people are using CAM “ in combination with prescribed medicines you have to be aware of potential interactions and side-effects,”
The study points out that “the use of complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) is now commonplace in Australian society.
“In a given year, two in every three Australian adults are estimated to use at least one CAM product (e.g. vitamin or mineral supplements and natural or herbal remedies) and one in four are estimated to use a CAM service (e.g. acupuncture, massage, chiropractic therapy).1
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.
One problem is that some of the treatments classified as CAMs are actually quite mainstream and should not be described as alternative therapies.
“They’ve bunched together calcium, vitamin D and fish oils which have got proven efficacy with other natural herbal remedies that may have less efficacy,” says Kotsirilos.