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Consumers Spend More Than $30 Billion on Alternative Medicine

Posted: August 11, 2009

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The report is based on a 2007 survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of more than 23,000 adults nationwide. An earlier report from this survey, released in December, found that more than one-third of adults use alternative medicine. That includes a wide range of services from meditation and yoga to herbal supplements, such as echinacea and ginseng. Vitamins and minerals are not included in this report but will be addressed in a future one.

Pain was the main reason people tried massage, chiropractic care and other alternative therapies. Among supplement users, most popular were glucosamine for joint pain and fish oil to cut the risk of heart disease.

The new survey results focus on how often Americans use these things, and how much they pay for them. The numbers show that alternative medicine accounts for more than 11% of out-of-pocket spending on health care in the United States.

The study found that about 44 cents out of every dollar spent on alternative medicine was for products like fish oil, glucosamine and echinacea. Spending on these products was nearly $15 billion, or about a third of what Americans spend out-of-pocket for prescription drugs.

"I personally am pretty conservative about supplement use," Briggs said. She believes that research her center has sponsored has affected consumer use. After widely publicized studies showed the ineffectiveness of echinacea for colds and St. John's wort for major depression, their use fell; fish oil use has risen following some research suggesting it might help lower risk of heart problems.