Statistics on Complementary and Alternative Medicine

By Christine Cupaiuolo — December 15, 2008

OK, who hopes to get well soon with goldenseal? Does assuming pigeon pose keep you grounded?

Approximately 38 percent of U.S. adults age 18 years and over, and approximately 12 percent of children, use some form of complementary and alternative medicine — including meditation, massage and herbal supplements — according to a nationwide government survey released this month. The survey doesn’t address whether the methods work, but just whether they are used.

The survey is the first update since 2002, when 36 percent of adults (2 percent less) reported some CAM usage. The survey found significant variation in the types of therapies used, however; deep breathing, meditation, massage therapy, and yoga all showed significant increases. There was a significant decrease in the use of the Atkins diet during that same period.

Some key findings concerning the most commonly used CAM therapies among adults:

  • 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)

CAM use was greater among these groups:

  • Women (42.8 percent, compared to men 33.5 percent)
  • Those aged 30-69 (30-39 years: 39.6 percent, 40-49 years: 40.1 percent, 50-59 years: 44.1 percent, 60-69 years: 41.0 percent)
  • Those with higher levels of education (Masters, doctorate or professional: 55.4 percent)
  • Those who were not poor (poor: 28.9 percent, near poor: 30.9 percent, not poor: 43.3 percent)
  • Those living in the West (44.6 percent)
  • Those who have quit smoking (48.1 percent)

According to the survey, adults used CAM most often to treat pain, including back or neck pain or problems; joint pain or stiffness; arthritis; and other musculoskeletal conditions.

Between 2002 and 2007, far fewer adults used CAM therapies for head or chest colds — 9.5 percent in 2002 to 2 percent in 2007. I wonder if the drop-off is due at least in part to less people using echinacea to prevent or reduce the duration of colds. There was a lot of conflicting information about echinacea’s efficacy during that five-year period. I was skeptical myself until I read this this New York Times story last year about a Lancet study that found it highly effective. I still don’t remember to use it consistently, though.

Anyone want to share what’s worked well for them?

For the record: The survey was conducted as part of the 2007 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), an annual study in which tens of thousands of Americans are interviewed about their health- and illness-related experiences. It was developed by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a part of the National Institutes of Health and the National Center for Health Statistics, a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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