JHMI Office of Communications and Public Affairs

September 10, 2001
MEDIA CONTACT: Trent Stockton
PHONE: 410-955-8665
E-MAIL: tstockt1@jhmi.edu

Alternative Therapy Use by Parkinsonís Patients

In a study of more than 200 patients with Parkinsonís disease, 40 percent used at least one type of alternative therapy, such as vitamins/herbs, massage and acupuncture. Over half of the patients failed to inform their physicians about the use of alternative therapies.

"This is concerning," said Stephen Reich, M.D., associate professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins and co-author of the study. "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 attention should be directed at testing the safety and efficacy of these treatments, and also on improving physician and patient communication about the potential benefits, costs and risks of alternative therapies," said Reich.

In addition, Parkinsonís patients who use alternative therapies tend to be younger, more educated and have higher incomes than patients who donít use alternative therapies.

The researchers found no relationship between severity of disease and use of alternative therapies. "This suggests that people are not turning to alternative therapies out of desperation," said Reich.

Alternative medicine is one of the fastest growing industries in health care, with at least one-third of American adults taking some sort of alternative therapy on an annual basis. Yet many physicians are unaware of the widespread use of alternative therapies among patients, according to Reich.

"Few studies have focused on the use of alternative therapies by patients with neurologic conditions, and ours is the first to investigate Parkinsonís disease," said Reich.

For the study, published in the September 11 issue of Neurology, 201 Hopkins patients were interviewed about their current and past use of alternative treatments for Parkinsonís Disease.

Of the patients using alternative therapies, 26 percent reported using two therapies, 33 percent reported more than two, and 12 percent used five or more therapies.

Of those using vitamins and herbs, vitamin E was the most commonly used.

"This is surprising, because a well-designed, rigorous study showed conclusively that vitamin E has no beneficial effect on Parkinsonís Disease,í said Reich.

There was a strong relationship between education and income and alternative therapy use, which reflects that most alternative therapies are out-of-pocket expenditures. There was no relationship between alternative therapy use and sex or race.

Most patients, 48 percent, learned about the alternative treatments they were using from family and friends, 23 percent learned about the treatments from the media, and 11 percent of patients were referred to an alternative therapy by a health care professional, according to the study.

Other authorís of the study include Richard Thompson, Ph.D., of the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, and Pam Rajendran, B.S., a medical student at the Boston University School of Medicine. The research was funded by the Parkinsonís Disease Foundation.

Rajendran, P.R., et al., The use of alternative therapies by patients with Parkinsonís disease. Neurology.

For more information on Parkinsonís disease research and treatment at Johns Hopkins, visit http://www.neuro.jhmi.edu/MvtDis/home.html.

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