New Poll Shows Use of Alternative Medicine on the Rise

From the FMS Global News Desk of Jeanne Hambleton


By: Lara Endreszl 


Complementary and Alternative Medicine—commonly shortened to CAM—is often thought to be a secondary form of treatment, or fallback, when conventional medicine on its own fails to succeed. In 1990, a Harvard researcher published a poll showing that approximately one-third of Americans were using CAM treatments, and that news shocked the public. A new poll published this week shows that while alternative and complementary methods are still popular, the numbers have only increased by a small amount annually over the last few years.

Alternative medicine has gone back thousands of years and is deeply rooted in Indian Ayurvedic practices and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), believing that mind, body, and spirit are interconnected and using those beliefs to produce results through spiritual remedies, meditation, natural herbs, and oils. Complementary treatments use Western medicine in conjunction with alternative practices such as massage, chiropractics, and acupressure in order to quell pain symptoms and alleviate stress or anxiety involved in complex routine treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy for certain cancers.

The last time the government kept track of CAM records was back in 2002. The National Institute of Health (NIH)  along with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the new results Wednesday showing only a 2 percent increase between 2002 and 2007. Instead of a steadily climbing each year, it seems CAM has reached a bit of a plateau, allowing Western medicine to be considered as reliable as ever. The alternative trend seems to be waning and the definition is becoming fuzzy as more and more methods are being called CAM, thinning out its meaning.

CAM therapies include acupuncture, yoga, and herbal supplements along with chiropractics, meditation, and some simpler ideas like massage and heavy breathing exercises. The data was collected from the 2007 National Health Interview Survey involving 9,500 children and 23,000 adults. Results show that 12 percent of the children (17 years old and under) surveyed and 38 percent of adults—compared to 36 percent from 2002—are using CAM methods.

Those results convert into 1 in 9 children and 4 in 10 adults tuning into their heads and bodies in order to help solve their aches and pains. Officials say this is the first survey to include children under 18. Children seem to be frequenting the use of CAM therapy because of a wide range of afflictions. For the first year round of surveys including children, the officials admit that the risks involved are not yet clear. From anxiety and the common cold, to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and stress, children seem to be growing up quickly with more aches and pains than usual.

Ranging from lowest to highest percentage, the 38 percent of adults are turning to alternative and/or complementary procedures for the following set of ailments: insomnia, migraines or intense headaches, other musculoskeletal conditions, chest or head cold, cholesterol, anxiety, arthritis, joint pain, neck pain, and back pain being the number one cause of seeking CAM treatments.

Director of the U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) at the NIH, Dr. Josephine Briggs tells reporters of the surprising results behind chronic sufferers decisions, “As I look at this data, what I am most struck with is how much people are turning to CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) approaches as part of the management of chronic pain conditions, particularly chronic back pain, but also neck pain and musculoskeletal pain and headache,” then she continues to understand the need to seek out any form of relief, “And from my days as an internist seeing patients in my office, I know that these are conditions that are hard to manage and tough to treat.”

Even though the natural supplement and vitamin world is booming within the economy right now, the data showed that the most common types of CAM treatments that were used throughout both adults and children, were herbal medications, followed by dietary supplements, and lastly vitamins and minerals. Demographically, 42.8 percent of women were shown to use CAM over 33.5 percent of men, and those with a higher education were also shown to be more susceptible to trying complementary and alternative remedies. 

Though reaching a small plateau, CAM should not be ruled out as a way to treat certain conditions either instead of or alongside Western traditions. Though most alternative methods are not scientifically proven, side effects and risk factors are not concrete and should always be used with caution, especially when given to children. With the increasing approval for high-profile trials looking for results in CAM treatments, the numbers may continue to rise, even if they are slow.





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