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Keywords:

  • ayurvedic medicine;
  • diabetes mellitus;
  • guar;
  • Gujarati;
  • karela;
  • methi

The aim of this small study was to explore the extent to which traditional beliefs about diet, health and diabetes, as described in the classics of Ayurvedic medicine, are held by Indian (Gujarati) diabetics in Britain. This was undertaken to give insight into the patients' perspective on appropriate management of their condition and to identify and possible areas of conflict between traditional remedies and western treatment of diabetes. In addition, eating habits were examined in order to assess the extent to which the dietary modifications advocated by either medical system were being followed.

Patients satisfaction with the advice given by doctors and dietitians and its appropriateness to their eating habits was also investigated.

The results indicated that the traditional belief in the value of bitter foods and bitter herbs in the management of diabetes was common amongst Gujarati patients attending the diabetes clinics at two London Hospitals. The majority ate karela, guar, tindora or methi leaves once a fortnight or more frequently as part of a meal. But only a small minority (18%) used bitter foods or bitter herbs therapeutically, giving rise to little conflict between traditional and western medicine.

Findings also indicate that despite their generally poor understanding of English, patients were aware of the principles of the diabetic diet advocated by doctors and dietitians. These were not however always put into practice. This might be due in part to a lack of specificity in advice, possibly arising from a lack of detailed knowledge concerning the foods, eating habits and beliefs of these patients.