Use of Alternative Medicine on the Rise

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Writer

A new nationwide government study has found that approximately 38 percent of adults in the United States and nearly 12 percent of U.S. children under age 17 use some form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).

Tens of thousands of Americans were interviewed for the study which was conducted by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), a part of the National Institutes for Health. The survey monitored use by adults and children of a diverse group of medical and health care practices and products such as herbal supplements, meditation, chiropractic and acupuncture.

Overall use of CAM among adults has remained relatively steady—36 percent in 2002 and 38 percent in 2007. However, there has been substantial variation in the use of some specific CAM therapies, such as deep breathing, meditation, massage therapy, and yoga, all of which showed significant increases.

Adults tended to use CAM most often to treat pain such as back, neck or joint pain or stiffness, arthritis, and other musculoskeletal conditions.

Women comprise the majority of CAM users with 42.8 percent reporting usage compared to only 33.5 percent for men. Persons aged 60-69 had the highest usage and more than 55 percent of people with higher levels of education such as masters, doctorate or other professional degrees said they used CAM.
The study also found that about one in nine children use CAM. Among children surveyed who said they used CAM in the past 12 months, the therapies used most often were nonvitamin natural products such as Echinacea, fish oil/omega 3/DHA, combination herb pill, flaxseed oil or pills, and prebiotics or probiotics.

Chiropractic methods, deep breathing exercises and yoga were also among the methods most often used on children to treat back or neck pain, head or chest colds, anxiety or stress, other musculoskeletal problems, and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD).

“These statistics confirm that CAM practices are a frequently used component of Americans’ health care regimens, and reinforce the need for rigorous research to study the safety and effectiveness of these therapies,” said Josephine P. Briggs, M.D., director of NCCAM. “The data also point out the need for patients and health care providers to openly discuss CAM use to ensure safe and coordinated care.”

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