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Alternative Medicine Gains Huge Following: Researchers

By    |   Friday, 10 April 2015 08:46 AM

What will the neighbors say? Probably nothing if the subject being discussed is health supplements and whether alternative or complementary medicine works.

“Far more people than you’d think put their faith in out-of-the-mainstream therapies,” says Jon Adams, who heads the Australian Research Centre in Complementary and Integrative Medicine at Sydney’s University of Technology, where he’s a professor of public health.

“But doing so is often hidden, even with treatments used successfully for many centuries,” Adams told Newsmax Health. “People fear others will ridicule them. They’re embarrassed.

“Why? Well, this area is highly under-researched. Additional studies must be done. We need more evidence because evidence is king these days, affecting people’s choices.”

One peer-reviewed study — among many co-authored by Adams — confirmed almost half (49.4 percent) of women consulted alternative-therapy practitioners at the same time as maternity-care providers for pregnancy-related conditions.

Another study, again co-authored by Adams, found that 40 percent of women with back pain consulted complementary therapy practitioners as well as their regular healthcare providers.

Adams also found rural women more likely to use alternative medicine than those in cities. In addition, the more educated a woman, the more likely she is to use alternative medicine.

Although his studies involved Australians, Adams notes results are similar in most medical situations in all developed countries, including the United States and Canada. “There’s no reason they’d be different.”

Research indicates more women than men use complementary and alternative therapies.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, defines “complementary” as out-of-the-mainstream treatments used in conjunction with conventional medicine.

“Alternative” medicine, the group says, involves shunning conventional treatments — though it observes distinctions often are blurred.

It describes “integrative” medicine as complementary or alternative therapies integrated into mainstream medicine. An example cited by Adams is massage, which now is used in some hospitals for pain management.

According to NCCAM, “many Americans, nearly 40 percent, use healthcare approaches developed outside of mainstream Western or conventional medicine.”

Commonly used alternatives include massage, yoga (with breathing and meditation components), acupuncture, Chinese therapies such as tai chi, hypnotherapy, and health supplements.

NCCAM reports the most common health supplement taken by Americans is fish oil, swallowed by 37.4 percent of adults who use natural products.

Adams says “most patients trying alternative or complementary medicine use it in combination with conventional medicine.”

But a problem in finding out which treatments work is that people prefer to pop their supplements privately.

“People often don’t even tell their doctors they’re taking health supplements,” he says. “They just pick them off drugstore shelves or toss them into supermarket carts. There’s not much data available.”

And, because many health supplements are combinations of different ingredients, researchers often bypass such studies as “too difficult.”

“While studies show more women than men use natural therapies, research suggests the difference isn’t all that great,” says Adams. “Certainly, if health supplements are included, it’d be well over 50 percent for both sexes.”

The full version of this article appeared in Health Radar newsletter. To read more, click here.


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More people are putting their faith in out-of-the-mainstream therapies that have been used for centuries, new research shows. Yet alternative medicine remains under-researched, for a variety of reasons.
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