Medicine Wheel Helps Native Americans Cope with Diabetes


South Dakota State University has demonstrated that a culturally based nutrition intervention can promote small, but beneficial, changes in weight among Native Americans.

South Dakota State University research showed an intervention strategy based on the Native American spiritual concept of the Medicine Wheel brought positive changes for diabetics.

While the study was inconclusive about the strategy’s overall effectiveness in controlling type 2 diabetes, the culturally based nutrition intervention promoted small, but beneficial, changes in weight, according to a study published in the September 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

Professor Kendra Kattelmann of SDSU’s Department of Nutrition, Food Science and Hospitality did the study with the help of former SDSU graduate student Kibbe Conti, now in private practice as a dietitian, and associate professor Cuirong Ren of SDSU’s Department of Plant Science. Their journal article, “The Medicine Wheel Nutrition Intervention: A Diabetes Education Study with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe,” describes a six-month, randomized, controlled trial carried out in 2005.

Kattelmann credits Conti with developing the Medicine Wheel Model for Nutrition. The concept behind the Medicine Wheel that makes it promising as a nutritional model is the idea that everything should be in balance, Kattelmann said.

“The project was still using dietary guideline concepts but using the Medicine Wheel to interpret them,” Kattelmann said. “We were trying to see if Cheyenne River Sioux tribal members would embrace that traditional pattern that would help them control their total energy intake and also control their blood glucose levels.

“Traditionally their diets were really high in protein and low in carbohydrates because they’re hunter-gatherers. So what we tried to do with this study was not necessarily take the traditional foods but take the macronutrient pattern.”

Participants in the Medicine Wheel group were encouraged to consume a diet broadly patterned after the traditional Northern Plains Indian diet, with protein making up about 25 percent of calories, carbohydrates making up 45 to 50 percent and fat making up only 25 to 30 percent.

The other care group received standard dietary education from a personal health care provider. That education traditionally is based on standard dietary guidelines but not based on the Medicine Wheel Model of Nutrition.

The Medicine Wheel education group experienced a significant weight loss and decrease in body mass index (BMI) from baseline to completion.

“We still weren’t able to get them to the recommended levels of protein and carbohydrate that we had as our goals,” Kattelmann said.

The study is one of the first to attempt to measure the influence of the traditional Northern Plains Indians diet in controlling type 2 diabetes, Kattelmann said. Because of that reported lack of ability to make the dietary changes for consistent dietary compliance, however, the SDSU study wasn’t able to determine whether or not those traditional dietary patterns offer better control of type 2 diabetes.

Source: South Dakota State University

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