Sep. 12, 2001 ST. PAUL, MN – Parkinson's patients who use alternative treatments such as vitamins and acupuncture are more likely to be younger, more educated and have higher incomes than patients who don't use alternative treatments, according to a study published in the September 11 issue of Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
Those using alternative treatments are also more likely to be married and to have developed the disease at a younger age than those who don't use them.
For the study, 201 patients were interviewed about their use of alternative treatments for Parkinson's disease. Forty percent used alternative treatments, with vitamins and herbs the most commonly used. Of those, 58 percent did not consult their physician before starting the alternative treatment.
"This is concerning," said study author and neurologist Stephen Reich, MD, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD. "While the public generally assumes that vitamins and herbs are safe, a rapidly growing number of studies shows that they can have potentially harmful effects and interactions with other drugs.
"More work needs to be done on testing the safety and effectiveness of these treatments, and also on improving physician and patient communication and knowledge about the potential benefits, costs and risks of alternative treatments."
Nearly 60 percent of those who were diagnosed with Parkinson's at age 45 or younger used alternative treatments, compared to 40 percent of those who were diagnosed between ages 56 and 65 and about 20 percent of those who were diagnosed after age 65.
College graduates are twice as likely to use alternative treatments as those who did not graduate from college, when you assume that they have the same marital status and developed the disease at the same age. And married people are 2.7 times as likely to use alternative treatments as non-married people, when you control for their education status and age of disease onset.
The study found no relationship between the severity of the patient's illness and whether they used alternative treatments. "This suggests that people are not turning to alternative treatments out of desperation," Reich said.
Of those using alternative treatments, 26 percent reported using two treatments, 33 percent reported using more than two, and 12 percent said they used five or more alternative treatments. Other common treatments included massage therapy, relaxation techniques and magnets.
Of those using vitamins and herbs, the most commonly used was vitamin E. "This is interesting, because a well-designed, rigorous study showed conclusively that vitamin E has no beneficial effect on Parkinson's," Reich said.
Patients were also asked how they learned about the alternative treatments they were using. Most -- 48 percent -- learned about them from family and friends. The media was the source of information for 23 percent. Eleven percent said they were referred to an alternative treatment by a health care professional. Three percent said they learned about the treatments from the Internet.
A study co-author, Pam Rajendran, who is a medical student, received the G. Milton Shy Medical Student Essay Award from the American Academy of Neurology for her work on this study.
This study was supported by a Summer Fellowship Grant from the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation.
The American Academy of Neurology, an association of more than 17,500 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is dedicated to improving patient care through education and research. For more information about the American Academy of Neurology, visit its web site at http://www.aan.com
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