Culture and therapy: complementary strategies for the treatment of type-2 diabetes in an urban setting in Kerala, India

Soc Sci Med. 2003 Mar;56(5):1087-98. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(02)00105-3.


There is an epidemic rise in diabetes in the developing world, with ensuing concern about the management and control of the disease. This study investigates the use of complementary therapies to manage Type 2 diabetes in an urban population in Kerala, a state in Southern India. Using ethnographic methods, it shows that the subjects' experiences of the disease and their health management decisions are closely linked to their cultural background and the environmental resources of the region. Participants in the study relied on biomedicine for treating diabetes, but frequently used Ayurvedic medicine and folk herbal remedies as supplements. They named 24 local plants and plant products that were employed to lower blood glucose levels. Knowledge of tried and tested local or regional remedies and their incorporation into individual and community health care practices are evidence of medical knowledge as cultural capital. Greater attention needs to be paid to the broader systems of the environment and culture and their interconnections to understand the use of complementary therapies by persons with chronic illnesses such as diabetes.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Complementary Therapies / statistics & numerical data*
  • Culture
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / ethnology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / therapy*
  • Diet, Diabetic
  • Female
  • Humans
  • India
  • Male
  • Medicine, Ayurvedic
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / ethnology*
  • Phytotherapy / statistics & numerical data
  • Qualitative Research
  • Urban Health*