New Report Shows Nearly a Third of Americans Use Alternative Health Treatments

Almost a third of Americans use alternative medicine, according to new report released by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) earlier this month. This includes visiting alternative practitioners, taking supplements, and practicing disciplines such as yoga.

The joint report, which was compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics and the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, used data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), which is administered every five years. The findings discussed in the report are based on how survey results changed in 2012 compared to 2007.

As of 2012, fish oil had become the top natural product taken by both adults and children. Interest in yoga also increased dramatically, and about 20 million adults and 1.9 million children were treated by a chiropractor or osteopath.

“As information becomes more available to people, they’re increasingly looking for more effective and less dangerous alternatives to standard medication and surgery — and I don’t think this trend will be going away anytime soon,” said Skylar Gemmer, clinic director at Life Force Chiropractic. “If people are in an emergency situation, they should go to the ER, but if the issue isn’t life threatening, then they should start with alternative methods.”

The top reasons people say they seek alternative care are to relieve chronic pain, improve general health, and relieve stress.

Perhaps because of the reasons people seek alternative treatments, it’s quite rare for patients to rely solely on alternative practitioners, with only 5% of people using alternative medicine alone.

“People turn to complementary and alternative medicine for pain,” Josephine P. Briggs, M.D. and NCCIH director, said at a press conference. “They are not used as alternatives to standard, proven therapies but as a complement to standard care.”


More Effective Alternative Medicine

While the overall number of people using alternative medicine has stayed mostly the same since 2007, with only a 2% decrease, the new report does suggest that people may be turning to alternative treatments with more scientific backing.

“While NHIS does not assess why shifts in use occur, some of the trends are in line with published research on the efficacy of natural products,” Briggs said in a news release.

For example, the use of melatonin has risen since the last time the survey was administered, and was in 2012 the second most used natural product for children. The increase in use mirrors the publication of several studies showing its effectiveness in promoting healthy sleep. Conversely, the use of echinacea — once thought to shorten colds — has dipped at the same time research has called its beneficial properties into question.

“This reaffirms why it is important for NIH to study these products and to provide that information to the public,” Briggs concluded.

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