Hindu Dietary Practices: Feeding the Body, Mind and Soul

Hindu Dietary Practices: Feeding the Body, Mind and Soul

A love of nature and the importance of living a simple, natural life are the basis of Hinduism, a faith that originated in India and is generally acknowledged to be the world’s oldest and third largest religion. Like Buddhism, the Seventh-day Adventist Church and other religions that promote a vegetarian lifestyle, the Hindu faith encompasses a number of health beliefs and dietary practices arising from the idea of living in harmony with nature and having mercy and respect for all of God’s creations.

Followers of the Hindu religion, which is practiced primarily in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, believe that the body is made up of natural elements: earth, air, fire, water, etc. The proper balance of these elements indicates good health, while an imbalance indicates the opposite. Hindus believe self-control and meditation is the path to health, with prayer to the Almighty God being the last resort. For many Hindus, yoga is a means by which to bring the integration of the body, mind and intellect together in order to achieve perfect harmony or alignment.

The four Vedas (which means “the Wisdom and the Knowledge”) are among the most important of the Hindu holy books. For devout believers, these sacred texts address every aspect of their lives that are controlled by their faith, including their daily practices, their yearly calendar and their use of water in acts of worshipping. For Hindus, water is believed to be a purifier and a rejuvenating agent for religious acts, as evidenced, for example, in the traditional practice of bathing in sacred rivers during pilgrimages.

The Hindu Dietary Code

Devout Hindus believe that all of God’s creatures are worthy of respect and compassion, regardless of whether they are humans or animals. Therefore, Hinduism encourages being vegetarian and avoiding the eating of any animal meat or flesh. However, not all Hindus choose to practice vegetarianism, and they may adhere to the religion’s dietary codes in varying degrees of strictness. For example, some Hindus refrain from eating beef and pork, which are strictly prohibited in the Hindu diet code, but do eat other meats.

Like Buddhists, Hindus believe that food affects both body and mind. Food is considered to be a source of the body’s chemistry, which affects one’s consciousness and emotions. Thus, expression of the soul depends on the body, which depends on the food. A proper diet is considered vital for spiritual development in Hinduism. The Hindu diet code divides food into three categories, based on the food’s effect on the body and the temperament:

  • Tamasic food is leftover, stale, overripe, spoiled or other impure food, which is believed to produce negative emotions, such as anger, jealousy and greed.
  • Rajasic is food that is believed to produce strong emotional qualities, passions and restlessness in the mind. This category includes meat, eggs, fish, spices, onions, garlic, hot peppers, pickles and other pungent or spicy foods.
  • The most desirable type of food, Sattvic, isfood that is non-irritating to the stomach and purifying to the mind; it includes fruits, nuts, whole grains and vegetables. These foods are believed to produce calmness and nobility, or what is known as an “increase in one’s magnetism.”

Hindus believe that for true service to God, purity of food is necessary to maintain the desirable state of mind that leads to enlightenment. Food is consumed not only to survive but also to stay healthy and maintain mind/body equilibrium. By eating a purer quality of food, such as a Sattvic diet, and regulating food consumption, one can ensure a pure heart, long life, cheerful spirit, strength, health, happiness and delight. Good and pure food promotes a peaceful—not agitated—mind, which is needed to see the Truth as the Truth. Sin, or an agitated state of mind, prevents the journey to moksha (divine supreme knowledge, which leads to freedom from the cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth).

Some specific Hindu dietary customs and practices include the following:

  • A true devotee will refuse to accept any food that is not offered first to God. Gaining God’s blessing before consuming the food is essential. Hindus may do this is by placing their daily food before the particular deities they worship and by reciting shlokas(prayers). Once the food is offered to God, it is eaten as prasador blessed food.
  • Before starting any daily meal, a devout Hindu first sprinkles water around the plate as an act of purification.
  • Five morsels of food are placed on the side of the table to acknowledge the debt owed to the devta runa (divine forces) for their benign grace and protection.
  • For a child’s birthday celebration, the sacred symbol “OM” is added onto the birthday cake along with “Happy Birthday.” Also, a lamp is lit instead of having the child blow out the candles. In the Hindu faith, lighting a lamp is symbolic of new life, a new beginning or the spreading of knowledge.

The Practice of Fasting

Some Hindus practice the tradition of fasting during special occasions, such as holy days, new moon days and festivals. As is also the case in a number of other religions, fasting is seen as a way of staying close to God and attaining a close mental proximity to Him. Hindus fast in various ways, depending on the individual: They may choose to not eat at all during the fasting period, or to eat only once, eat only fruits or restrict themselves to a special diet of simple foods.

Fasting is believed to help reinforce control over one’s senses, squelch earthly desires and guide the mind to be poised and at peace. Hindus also believe that when there is a spiritual goal behind fasting, it should not make the body weak, irritable, or create an urge to later indulge. Rather, rest and a change of diet during the fasting time is considered to be very good for the digestive system and the entire body. The idea is that every system needs a break and an occasional overhaul to work at its best.4

Health Considerations of the Vegetarian Diet

There is a myth that vegetarians suffer from vitamin deficiencies. The truth is that all needed nutrients are found in vegetables, fruits and nuts when eaten in sufficient amounts; the only exception is vitamin B12. To overcome this potential deficiency, which can cause anemia and other disorders, vegetarians need to markedly increase their protein intake. According to the recommendation of the American Dietetic Association (ADA), vegetarians should increase their consumption of rice milk, soy milk, yeast extracts and breakfast cereals to ensure a sufficient intake of vitamin B12.

Some vegetarians refrain from eating meat, fish or fowl but do consume eggs and/or dairy products. In contrast, a vegan diet is a total vegetarian diet that excludes any and all animal products (i.e., no meat, eggs and dairy). Therefore, vegans generally have a lower calcium intake than non-vegetarians, but they may have lower calcium requirements as well. Vegans are advised to increase their intake of Omega-3 fatty acids found in flax seed, walnuts, soybeans and dark green vegetables.

The ADA is just one example of a major health organization that recognizes that a well-planned vegetarian or vegan diet can reduce the risk of many chronic conditions, such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure and cancer. Because vegetarians are less susceptible to major diseases, they can live healthier, longer and more productive lives, with fewer visits to doctors, fewer dental problems and lower medical bills.

Here are some additional health benefits of the vegetarian diet:

  • Food is easier to digest, provides a wider ranger of nutrients and requires less effort to purify the body from its wastes.
  • Vegetarians’ immune systems are stronger, their skin is less flawed and their bodies are more pure and refined.
  • Finally, because meat is expensive compared to fruits, vegetables, etc., a vegetarian diet can also have financial benefits for low-income populations. Unfortunately, lack of sufficient access to food stores that sell good quality fresh produce continues to be a serious health problem in disadvantaged communities.

Editor’s Note: Previous articles in the culturally competent dietary assessments series, including “Meeting Jewish and Muslim Patients’ Dietary Needs” and “Understanding Buddhist Patients’ Dietary Needs,” are available online.

Nurses, Culture and Cancer

Nurses, Culture and Cancer

Among the many challenges of trying to promote cancer screening and early detection in American Indian and Alaska Native communities is the reluctance to speak about it. Some Native people consider cancer to be an automatic death sentence, and some believe talking about it could invite the disease into one’s body.

So when DeAnna Finifrock, MSN, RN, PHN, a trusted public health nurse who for many years has worked on the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Reservation in Cloquet, Minn., was diagnosed with breast cancer 11 years ago, she saw an opportunity.

She told people in the community how she had almost missed getting her annual mammogram that year because she was so busy with her job and family, but that fortunately she did make it to the appointment. She openly shared news of her diagnosis and treatment. And she talked about hope and gratitude.

“I said, ‘I want to be there to rock my great-grandbabies. If I had skipped the mammogram that year, I wouldn’t be here talking to you.'”

Her powerful story helped raise awareness about cancer screening and treatment in the community, and today it adds validity to her work managing a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cancer control and prevention grant for the reservation.

“I’ve traveled the cancer journey,” she says. “I know what it’s like.”

Finifrock is an example of how culturally competent nurses can make a major impact in eradicating cancer disparities in minority and medically underserved communities.

Disparities by the Numbers

Although scientific breakthroughs have led to better treatment and survival rates for many types of cancer, these advances haven’t brought equal hope for everyone. Racial and ethnic minorities bear a disproportionate share of pain, suffering and death from the disease compared to the U.S. population as a whole. Consider these statistics:

  • African Americans have the shortest survival and highest mortality rates from cancer than any other racial or ethnic group. In 2005, the death rate for all cancers was 33% higher in African American men and 16% higher in African American women than in white men and women, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).
  • Although Hispanics get cancer at lower rates than non-Hispanic whites, they are more likely to be in the advanced stages of the disease when they are diagnosed. Even disregarding age and stage of the disease, the ACS says Hispanic men and women have lower survival rates for most cancers than Caucasian men and women.
  • For many years, research had showed lower rates of cancer among American Indians/Alaska Natives (AI/ANs) than in other ethnic groups, but incidence was vastly underreported. Newer figures show cancer incidence rising in this population, with AI/ANs carrying a disproportionate burden from the disease and facing many barriers to treatment. For instance, the average amount of time between cancer diagnosis and treatment is six months for AI/AN women and nine months for AI/AN men, according to Native American Cancer Research (NACR), a community-based non-profit organization headquartered in Colorado.
  • Asian Americans are the only minority group in which cancer is the leading cause of death. They experience a disproportionate share of cancers with an infectious origin and a growing number of cancers resulting from such factors as smoking and unhealthy diet, according to research published in the American Cancer Society’s journal, Cancer.

Efforts to end these disparities through culturally appropriate research, prevention programs, education and cancer care have increased in the last decade. But there’s obviously much more work to be done.

Making Community Connections

“You see the disparities and you ask why,” says Sandra Millon-Underwood, PhD, RN, FAAN, a professor at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee College of Nursing. “That’s a good question to ask, but maybe the more important question to ask is: ‘What can we do about it?'”

Millon-Underwood, who was recently inducted into the National Black Nurses Association’s Institute of Excellence, has conducted many research projects on cancer education, prevention, early detection and cancer risk management for at-risk and underserved populations. Her focus for the last 30 years has been on getting the word out in plain language to people right where they live.

For instance, a program she designed to promote breast health among African American women addresses the misconceptions and fears that often prevent women from getting mammograms. In this intervention, nurses present culturally specific breast cancer screening, early detection and follow-up programs to groups of women in the places where they work and worship. Audiences have included housekeeping, custodial and dietary staff at hospitals and colleges; childcare attendants at daycare centers; alliances of ministers’ wives; and weekly Bible study and prayer groups at tiny storefront churches, halls and mosques. More than 6,000 women have benefited from the program to date.

A key to reaching people in communities of color is connecting with them at the grassroots level, Millon-Underwood emphasizes. She cites other successful cancer outreach programs in which nurses have presented information to customers at nail salons, barbershops and even laundromats.

To make true connections with people in the community, nurses must first establish trust. “You’ve got to be engaged before you can engage [others],” Millon-Underwood says. “You’re not there just to present a program. You’re there because you care.” She encourages nurses to structure cancer awareness presentations as participatory dialogs rather than one-way lectures, and to stay after group meetings so individuals can approach with questions they may be afraid to ask in front of everyone.

Opening Doors

Personal stories from the community can be powerful dialog openers. Cancer awareness increased substantially on the Fond du Lac Reservation after the community began to participate in the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life, an annual overnight event that brings people together to celebrate cancer survivorship and raise money for ACS research and programs.

Six years ago, more than two dozen people from the reservation participated in Relay For Life for the first time, walking or running laps to raise funds. Others donated money for luminaria (small lanterns made by placing votive candles in paper bags and weighing them down with sand) to honor loved ones and friends who had experienced cancer.

“It was amazing to walk that path of lighted luminaria. It opened the door so people could start talking about [cancer],” Finifrock says. Today more than 100 Fond du Lac community members take part in the event.

Since then, Finifrock and her public health nursing team have expanded their cancer control activities on the reservation. Through its CDC grant, the reservation created the Wiidookaage Cancer Program. (Wiidookaage is the Ojibwe word for “they help each other.”) The program includes a wide variety of cancer education, screening and outreach activities, with a focus on one-on-one and small-group interventions developed by health professionals who are well known and trusted in the community.

Now Fond du Lac is advising the American Cancer Society on its revision of the national Circle of Life program, which is designed to decrease breast cancer incidence and mortality rates among Native American women through culturally sensitive early detection and screening strategies. The revision, based on the successful programs developed by the Fond du Lac reservation, also addresses other types of cancer in Native communities.

But early diagnosis can only help so much when so many barriers to treatment still remain. For many American Indians and Alaska Natives, obtaining access to the health care system is complicated, and the Indian Health Service suffers from a lack of funding.

“If I had to go through my tribe to get health care after a diagnosis of cancer, I’d first have to move back to Oklahoma and wait six months to establish residency,” says Linda Burhansstipanov, MSPH, DrPH, CHES, executive director of Native American Cancer Research and a member of the Cherokee Nation. “Then I’d have to get on a referral list.” She estimates that it could take as long as 18 months to get treatment under that scenario.

Access to anti-nausea and pain medications is limited, too, and sometimes patients don’t get any information about how to take the medications. A large percentage of patients in NACR’s database report unmanaged cancer pain.

These color-coded reference cards, developed by nurses at University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, help palliative care nurses provide culturally competent spiritual care to cancer patients at the end of life.These color-coded reference cards, developed by nurses at University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, help palliative care nurses provide culturally competent spiritual care to cancer patients at the end of life.

Cultural barriers can also contribute to pain management disparities in AI/AN patients. For example, some Indian patients may have completely different ways of thinking about, describing and dealing with pain than their non-Indian health care providers. When doctor and patient aren’t on the same wavelength, communication becomes difficult, if not impossible.

“We don’t [like to talk about our pain],” Burhansstipanov says. “Indian patients feel they’re supposed to show stoicism.”

These cultural communication breakdowns can be a problem for other racial and ethnic minority populations as well. In some cultures, a patient may be reluctant to complain about pain because it might imply disrespect toward the health care provider, says Guadalupe Palos, RN, LSMW, DrPH, an oncology nurse and assistant professor at University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, who has conducted cross-cultural research on cancer pain and symptom management.

Spiritually Competent Care

Nurses can also play an important role in providing culturally and spiritually competent care to minority cancer patients in the hospital setting. Nurses in the palliative care unit at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, for instance, work with hospital administrators to accommodate patients’ cultural celebrations, such as quinceaneras, and honor religious observances, such as Ramadan.

Cancer researcher Jennifer Wenzel, PhD, RN, CCMCancer researcher Jennifer Wenzel, PhD, RN, CCM

Earlier this year, a team of four palliative care nurses at M.D. Anderson, led by Teresa Smith, RN, MS, NP-C, CHPN, developed a set of color-coded reference cards to help nurses and nursing assistants in the medical center’s acute palliative care unit understand patients’ diverse religious and spiritual traditions, especially those involving death and dying. Because about 40% of patients on this unit are at the end of life, preparing patients and their families for death is a daily reality.

Years ago, the prevailing perception was that half of the medical center’s patients were Baptist and the other half were Catholic, Smith explains. But patients now come from all over the world. “I can count on one hand the number of patients I had who were Baptist or Catholic,” she says.

Smith began researching end-of-life spiritual practices for her master’s degree, and the cards developed from there, with input from community religious leaders. Each card covers a different religion, from Hinduism and Islam to Coptic Christianity, and includes details about that faith’s end-of-life rituals. Some Hindus, for instance, tie the dying person’s toes together with colored threads, which nurses should not cut or remove. Some members of the Buddhist faith may want the body left undisturbed for hours after their loved one has died, so they can chant and pray for the deceased person’s soul.

Nurses who lack understanding of a dying patient’s cultural and spiritual needs at this difficult time can make that person’s death an even more traumatic experience for his or her family members. Smith recalls one Hindu family who were deeply upset because a nurse read the 23rd Psalm to their dying family member. The nurse was only trying to help, but the good intentions didn’t erase the family’s pain.

Creating Support Systems

Research is still another area in which nurses can make significant contributions toward closing the gap of unequal cancer outcomes. There is a tremendous need for more minority nurse scientists who can join the ranks of those who are already investigating the causes of cancer disparities—including biological, genetic, socioeconomic, cultural and health care access issues—in order to develop interventions that will improve care for at-risk and vulnerable populations.

For example, Jennifer Wenzel, PhD, RN, CCM, assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing in Baltimore, is currently conducting a mentored research study called “Developing Cancer Navigation Support for Rural African American Elders.” The five-year pilot study, funded by the American Cancer Society, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the National Institute for Nursing Research, will test a community health worker/RN-led intervention designed to help older African American cancer patients in rural Virginia overcome barriers to obtaining quality care and accessing available support services.

Initial focus groups examined cancer survivors’ experiences with navigating diagnosis and treatment, including financial issues and strategies for support. The study is now recruiting African American elders undergoing cancer treatment and asking each of them to identify one support person/caregiver, such as a family member or friend. Community health workers will be trained to provide these caregivers with education and support to help them feel better equipped to deal with the challenges of their role.

This approach is innovative because it focuses not only on the patients but on their caregivers, too. “The health care system places a lot of burden on the person providing support for the patient,” Wenzel says. “The closer that person is to the patient, the harder the situation can be for helping [the patient make it] through cancer treatment.”

The study will look at stress measures and economic and social outcomes. In addition, half of the patient/caregiver pairs will be in a control group that will get survivorship support once cancer treatment is finished.

Palos, too, has conducted research on the impact of cancer on the caregivers of minority and medically underserved patients. Many of these caregivers are under severe financial stress, she says. Often they’re forced to choose which prescriptions to fill when co-pays outstrip their available cash. Psychological burdens take a toll, too, Palos adds. Many caregivers show symptoms of depression but avoid using the word. “They say, ‘I’m not [the one who’s] sick. I shouldn’t be depressed.'”

She has found many similarities across cultural groups in her research, such as the importance of spirituality and the commitment of family members to care for their loved ones going through cancer treatment. Understanding cultural differences is important, too, but Palos cautions nurses not to categorize or stereotype people on the basis of race, ethnicity, culture, religion or other factors. Cultural competence goes beyond broad categories and should include sensitivity to people’s individual values and circumstances, she emphasizes.

Underwood agrees that cancer care providers must never lose sight of the patient as a unique, individual human being. “Sometimes we can get so focused on the machines and monitors, we don’t see the person,” she says.

Twenty years ago, when a landmark American Cancer Society-funded study was released showing that poor people died needlessly from cancer, Cassandra Middleton, a low-income cancer patient, said the doctors who treated her for osteosarcoma of the leg made her feel unimportant because she was poor. At the news conference announcing the study’s results, Middleton told reporters: “They made me feel poor. I know I am, but they made me feel like I am.”

Those words haunt Underwood to this day. She says nurses should ask themselves: “Could that ever have been me?”

Cultural Competence Q&A

By Gihan ElGindy, RN, MSN

Imagine for a moment that you are a patient in a hospital that is unable to meet your special dietary needs. What are you going to do? Would you sign out against medical advice and go to another health care facility that can accommodate your requirements, even if its medical care is not known as the best?

The health care profession, like any other profession, has been forced to adopt customer-oriented service models. Logically, the best customer service model is to provide whatever is necessary to please every customer. In reality, of course, this model presents many challenges within the health care environment because of the many restrictions and contingencies, such as time, hospital policies, patient privacy and legal factors.

One of the biggest “customer service” challenges for nurses and other care providers is being able to meet the unique needs of patients from a wide variety of cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds. Applying the adopted customer-oriented model within the context of nursing requires advanced assessment and validation skills whenever caring for our “customers” (patients). With this notion in mind, care providers are expected to be sensitive, open, flexible and able to meet these unique “customer” needs as appropriately as possible and at all times. Remember, cultural needs are not a luxury; they are a necessity and a part of the basic patient’s bill of rights.

Performing dietary assessments is one key area where nurses must develop cultural competency skills. Being knowledgeable about the dietary needs of different cultures and religions—including preferences, customs and restrictions—and how they may impact a patient’s care plan is essential to providing customer-oriented patient care. The following recommendations for conducting a dietary cultural assessment can guide nurses in reaching the desirable level of cultural sensitivity.

The art of asking the right questions—rather than making assumptions based on preconceived notions or stereotypes about various cultural, ethnic or religious groups—is the key to conducting a culturally competent dietary assessment. Here are some considerations to keep in mind.

  • Remember that each patient is a unique individual. Just because a certain culture, ethnicity or religion has dietary traditions or guidelines, that doesn’t necessarily mean that every person who is a member of that group adheres to them. Nurses must determine whether the patient follows his/her cultural guidelines, and if so, to what extent. E.g., does he/she follow the guidelines strictly or liberally? When dealing with immigrant populations, special attention must be paid to issues such as length of time the person has been living in the United States, whether the person is first or second generation, and degree of assimilation into the American and/or other cultures.
  • Understand the significance of patients’ personal food habits and preferences in relation to cultural norms. For example, just as buttering the bread is an essential habit for Americans, so is cooking with soy sauce—which is high in sodium—in many Asian cultures. Asking Asian renal or heart patients not to use soy sauce in cooking is like asking Americans not to butter their bread. However, asking them to switch from regular soy sauce to a low-sodium brand of soy sauce can decrease their total salt intake by half.
  • When asking about foods the patient eats, keep in mind that patients who are recent immigrants to the U.S. may not be familiar with American food names or dishes. This problem can be solved by using pictures of foods. I cite this example based on my own personal experience: When I first emigrated to the America from Egypt, I felt no need to learn the American names of food until I had to study them in order to pass my NCLEX-RN® examination!
  • Investigate whether the patient’s dietary restriction is a cultural norm, a personal preference or a religious mandate. This is a vital element when serving meals and different food items.  For example: for Muslims, who religiously are not allowed to eat pork or any part of the pig cannot eat from any dish or food utensils used or touched pork and pork products.  It is considered a contaminated item and they expect to eat from a new clean dish and utensils that are completely free from any pork or pig traces.  This restriction is true for Muslims as well as other faiths such as Judaism, Hinduism, and vegetarians.
  • Being very specific when asking about a main belief system such as Christianity. This is not enough; investigate more about the uniqueness within this belief system such as Seven Day Adventist, Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, etc.  For Example; an insulin diabetic patient needs few snacks per day, which is quiet normal to many Christians.  For some Seven Day Adventist believers; they are dominantly pure vegetarians, it may be more appropriate for the care provider to suggest dividing the three main meals into five or six small ones rather than suggesting eating snacks between meals. Eating between meals is not a favorable habit for some Seven Day Adventist believers.
  • Inquiring about special habits or religious practices desired to be performed before/after a meal and/or any food item.  Facilitating such desires or practices can positively impact on the level of the patient’s compliance with the prescribed plan of care including any dietary restrictions and enhance health recovery.

Folk Practitioners or Corandero Practices

Asking about the prescribed pharmacological/herbal treatments and visits to the folk practitioners need to be an essential part of our assessments.  Being aware of the existing combination is a safety issue for both the patient and the care providers.  In fact, we need to acknowledge the hidden competition of the Folk Practitioners existence in almost every culture, including the US.  He/she is an experienced person in prescribing effective herbal treatments, home remedies, dietary management, etc. that are easy to follow and are quite inexpensive. The folk practitioner has almost a treatment for every illness, sickness, and/or all different kinds of health problems.  Their repeated home visits for the sick are one of their key strategies for gaining great success among the poor, elderly, lonely, and the disabled population.

For example, physicians prescribe expensive nitroglycerin sublingual tablets for Anginal pain that usually expires within 6 month contrasting the Corandero/Folk Practitioners who prescribe peppermint oil that never expires and costs only a few dollars.  Applying a few peppermint oil drops in the mouth has a very close vasodilatation effect on the body.  Of course the elderly, no insurance, and limited income populations will select the peppermint regime especially if it can manage their condition effectively.  Another factor for the folk practitioner’s success is teaching their patients effective complementary dietary practices such as drinking very light tea with plenty of natural mint leaves.  The constant effect of the mint leaves on the blood vessels may easily keep some patient populations free from chest pain.

Whenever discovering the mix of the non-traditional and pharmacological medications, that are widely spread lately, it is very serious to ask the patients to continue or stop taking this combination.  Especially if we do not know that much about these practices for the following reasons:

  • Keeping in mind that the patient has already made a conscious decision to take such therapy or combination of therapies.
  • What is being used may be a placebo to sooth the emotional status with no medical significant effect.
  • The patient may already stop taking the traditional pharmacological medications and is currently only using something that has a very similar effect to the prescribed pharmacological medication.
  • The patient is combining both therapies because one of them is not enough or not effective for the current health condition.
  • The patient is experiencing current side effect of one or both therapies without realizing the significance of them.

Conducting further physical and psychological assessment evaluating the effect of each therapy on the current health condition is a must before altering or stopping any of these therapies.  Logically and scientifically, if assessment reveals a healthy condition, regardless of what is being used currently, it means that it must be working right for that patient or illness and why not keeping it and wisely ask for more frequent assessment visits as needed.

The best approach in similar cases is to continue dietary/herbal cultural assessment focusing on the following issues to reach a safe, sound, and legal decision:

  • the current use, action, side effects, and the length of use.
  • any possible addiction effect whether physical or emotional, and assess the current addiction signs and/or symptoms if they exist.
  • the current combining: prescribed pharmacological medication, herbal, and the folk treatment.
  • the current health condition while using or not using this combination.

Because there is no equivalent of FDA approval for most of these folk remedies, ask the patients for any documents or sources of information to gain in depth of information for any unfamiliar herbs, un-known therapies, and/or non-traditional ones.  If nothing is available in English, there are many herbal and non-traditional books available in the public libraries, different bookstores, and university’s libraries that teach cross cultural programs. Internet searches may also be performed to reach countless English websites.  Also, we need to accept that the patient is a source of such information whether documented or not. He/she is the one who knows most about these therapies and why he/she decided to try it/them.

Editor’s Note: Minority Nurse’s cultural competence expert, Gihan ElGindy, RN, MSN, is an internationally recognized authority on cross-cultural issues in nursing. Her advice column is designed to answer your questions about incorporating cultural competence into your nursing practice and resolving cultural conflicts in today’s diverse health care workplace.