From prayer to herbs: Alternative medicine goes mainstream

March 8, 2011 - 0:0

Alternative medicine is looking more mainstream than alternative. According to a new government survey, over a third of American adults use some form of nontraditional medicine.

What the researchers wanted to know: How many Americans use complementary and alternative medicine? What therapies do they use? And why?
What they did: This is government work, so there are a lot of long titles involved. Researchers at the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (part of the National Institutes of Health) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed part of the 2002 data from the National Health Interview Survey, for which more than 30,000 adults answered questions about their health and healthcare.
The survey, which is designed to get a representative sample of Americans, has been going on for decades, collecting reams of data on the health of Americans.
What they found: Over a third of adults had used some form of nontraditional medicine in the previous 12 months. If you count people who use prayer specifically for better health, the proportion goes up to 62 percent.
Forty-three percent of adults pray specifically for their own health, and nearly 25 percent have someone else pray for them. After prayer, the most commonly used therapies were natural products (including herbs), 19 percent; deep breathing, 12 percent; taking part in a health prayer group, 10 percent; meditation, 8 percent; chiropractic, 8 percent; yoga, 5 percent; massage, 5 percent; and diet-based therapies (including Atkins and Zone diets), 4 percent.
Most people who use complementary and alternative therapies say they do so because they think that combining those therapies with conventional medicine will help; half of all people try alternative medicine because they think it's interesting to try.
Who cares: I do. Don't you? Doctors should care that nearly 20 percent of U.S. adults are taking ""natural products""—and remember to ask their patients if they're taking any dietary supplements, which may interact with prescription or over-the-counter drugs.
The caveats: The data come from a survey, so people could be lying about the treatments they've tried. Also, these data are only about one point in time; they don't say anything about how alternative medicine usage is changing over time.
Find out more: The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine ( has this study and health resources on complementary and alternative medicine.
(Source: Health.usnews)