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Americans Flock To Alternative Complementary Medicine

Posted by Jane Akre
Thursday, December 11, 2008 12:06 PM EST
Category: Major Medical, Protecting Your Family
Tags: Living Well, FDA and Prescription Drugs, Children's Health, Women's Health, Acupuncture

Alternative medicine is sought out by one third of adults this survey finds.



IMAGE SOURCE:  Wikimedia Commons/ meditation at the top of Greek town of Mycenae/ author: RaminusFalcon


Medication or Meditation?

Alternative and complementary medicine (CAM), including dietary supplements, yoga, probiotics, and fish oil, are increasingly being used by adults in the U.S., according to the largest federal survey on the issue released so far.

"It's clear that millions of Americans every year are turning to complementary and alternative medicine," said Richard L. Nahin of the National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, to the Washington Post.

Of the more than 32,000 Americans who were surveyed, more than one-third of adults and nearly 12 percent of children in the U.S. seek out alternatives to traditional medicine.

Therapies such as acupuncture, herbs, flaxseed oil, and yoga and meditation were once thought to be exotic and not part of the Western modality.

Part of the 2007 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), the research is part of an annual study on Americans health and illness-related experiences developed by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), as part of the National Institutes of Health.

The survey was conducted by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics and is part of an ongoing study.

Included were questions about 36 different types of CAM therapies. Some require a provider, such as acupuncture. 26 other therapies did not offer a provider, such as herbs and meditation. 

“The 2007 NHIS provides the most current, comprehensive, and reliable source of information on Americans’ use of CAM,” said Josephine P. Briggs, M.D., director of NCCAM in a statement.

The most commonly used CAM therapies among U.S. adults were

  • Nonvitamin, nonmineral, natural products (17.7 percent)
  • Most common: fish oil/omega 3/DHA, glucosamine, echinacea, flaxseed oil or pills, and ginseng3 
  • Deep breathing exercises (12.7 percent)
  • Meditation (9.4 percent)
  • Chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation (8.6 percent)
  • Massage (8.3 percent)
  • Yoga (6.1 percent).



Still, critics abound.

The founding editor of the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine is more direct when he tells the Washington Post, “Acupuncture is a placebo. Homeopathy is one step above fraud. It goes on and on. The fact that they are so widely used is evidence for how gullible large segments of our society are.”

Wallace Sampson says many alternative treatments have not been scientifically validated and even have been found to be ineffective. The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine (SRAM) analyzes the claims of "alternative medicine."

Sampson believes that Congress should defund the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine because he says it has not proved effectiveness for any “alternative” method.

Consumers are largely left guessing about alternatives.

This week, two studies find that vitamins E and C and selenium did not reduce the risk of prostate cancer.  Last month, the National Institutes of Health discredited ginko biloba as ineffective in reducing the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Stephen Barrett M.D., who runs Quackwatch, which monitors medical claims agrees. "That money could be used to do research on something that has been waiting in line to get money.” "There's a tremendous amount of money being wasted on this,"

Quackwatch itself has questionable ties to industry funding sources, as outlined by its critics.  


Who Is Using CAM?

Americans were most likely to turn toward alternatives for pain in the back, joints or neck. Women were more likely to turn to alternatives.  Those more educated and affluent chose alternatives more frequently.

Children receive alternatives primarily because their parents seek it out to treat colds, anxiety or stress, as well as for attention deficit disorder (ADD) and skeletal and muscular problems.

The National Institutes of Health wants to prioritize the modalities to study them for efficacy. 

"I think it's fair to say we can conclude that this is part of the steady state of medical care in the United States," said David Eisenberg, director of the Harvard Medical School's division for research and education in complementary and integrative medical therapies, to the Washington Post.

"I think the news is complementary and alternative medicine use by the U.S. public is here to stay."   #

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