Alternative therapy use documented in new survey

Participants are asked about 36 types of treatments including herbal supplements and meditation. Children are included for the first time.

By — Posted Jan. 13, 2009

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Nearly 40% of adults and 12% of children in the U.S. use herbal supplements, meditation, chiropractic services or acupuncture, according to a nationwide government survey. These alternative therapies were used most often for back or neck pain.

Questions about complementary and alternative medicines were included in the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, an annual event in which tens of thousands of Americans are interviewed about their health- and illness-related experiences.

The findings confirm what many physicians suspected. Many of their patients are turning to unproven treatments and there is a need to discuss this use to avoid possibly dangerous conflicts with prescribed treatment.

The fact alternative therapies are in such common use also reinforces the need for rigorous research to study their safety and effectiveness, said Josephine P. Briggs, MD, director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health.

NCCAM developed the survey questions with the National Center for Health Statistics.

Survey participants were asked about 36 types of complementary and alternative therapies commonly used -- 10 types of provider-based therapies, such as acupuncture and chiropractic services; and 26 others, such as herbal supplements and meditation.

The survey for the first time included questions about children's use of these techniques and substances. The treatment targets cited for children up to age 17 were back and neck pain, head or chest colds, anxiety or stress, other musculoskeletal problems and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

The survey found adult use of the techniques and substances has remained relatively steady since 2002. However, the use of deep breathing, meditation, massage therapy and yoga have shown significant increases.

Regarding some of the specifics, nearly 18% of adults reported using fish oil/omega 3 DHA, glucosamine, echinacea, flaxseed oil or pills and ginseng. Nearly 13% practiced deep breathing exercises, more than 9% meditated, nearly 9% used chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation, 8% received massages and 6% practiced yoga.

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