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The Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the United States


In December 2008, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) and the National Center for Health Statistics (part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) released new findings on Americans' use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). The findings are from the 2007 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), an annual in-person survey of Americans regarding their health- and illness-related experiences. The CAM section gathered information on 23,393 adults aged 18 years or older and 9,417 children aged 17 years and under. A similar CAM section was included in the 2002 NHIS, providing the opportunity to examine trends in CAM use, too.1

About CAM

CAM is a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not generally considered part of conventional medicine. Complementary medicine is used together with conventional medicine, and alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medicine. Integrative medicine combines conventional and CAM treatments for which there is evidence of safety and effectiveness. While scientific evidence exists regarding some CAM therapies, for most there are key questions that are yet to be answered through well-designed scientific studies—questions such as whether these therapies are safe and whether they work for the purposes for which they are used.

How Many People Use CAM

In the United States, approximately 38 percent of adults (about 4 in 10) and approximately 12 percent of children (about 1 in 9) are using some form of CAM, shown in figure 1.

Who Uses CAM Most

People of all backgrounds use CAM. However, CAM use among adults is greater among women and those with higher levels of education and higher incomes. Figure 2 shows the percentage of people using CAM by age. Figure 3 shows CAM use by race/ethnicity.

Percentage of persons in 2007 who used complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) during the past 12 months, by age. CAM use is greatest among those aged 30 - 69.

Figure 2: CAM Use by Age (2007)

Percentage of adults in 2007 who used complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) during the past 12 months, by race/ethnicity. CAM use is greater among American Indians/Alaska Natives, whites, and Asians than among blacks and Hispanics.

Figure 3: CAM Use by Race/Ethnicity Among Adults (2007)

CAM Therapies Used the Most

Nonvitamin, nonmineral natural products are the most commonly used CAM therapy among adults. Use has increased for several therapies, including deep breathing exercises, meditation, massage therapy, and yoga. Figure 4 shows the percentage of people using the most common CAM therapies and therapies with significant increases between 2002 and 2007.

Percentage of adults in 2007 who used the 10 most common complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies. The most commonly used CAM therapy among adults in 2007 was nonvitamin, nonmineral natural products. Box shows therapies with significant increases in use between 2002 and 2007: deep breathing, meditation, massage, and yoga.

Figure 4: 10 Most Common CAM Therapies Among Adults (2007)

CAM Therapies Included in the 2007 NHIS

  • Acupuncture*
  • Ayurveda*
  • Biofeedback*
  • Chelation therapy*
  • Chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation*
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Diet-based therapies
    • Atkins diet
    • Macrobiotic diet
    • Ornish diet
    • Pritikin diet
    • South Beach diet
    • Vegetarian diet
    • Zone diet
  • Energy healing therapy/Reiki*
  • Guided imagery
  • Homeopathic treatment
  • Hypnosis*
  • Massage*
  • Meditation
  • Movement therapies
    • Alexander technique
    • Feldenkrais
    • Pilates
    • Trager psychophysical integration
  • Natural products (nonvitamin and nonmineral, such as herbs and other products from plants, enzymes, etc.)
  • Naturopathy*
  • Progressive relaxation
  • Qi gong
  • Tai chi
  • Traditional healers*
    • Botanica
    • Curandero
    • Espiritista
    • Hierbero or Yerbera
    • Native American healer/Medicine man
    • Shaman
    • Sobador
  • Yoga

An asterisk (*) indicates a practitioner-based therapy. For definitions of any of these therapies, see the full report (PDF) or contact the NCCIH Clearinghouse.

Use of Natural Products

The most popular natural products are fish oil/omega 3, glucosamine, echinacea, and flaxseed. Figure 5 ranks the top 10 natural products used among adults in 2007 and 2002 (note that the 2007 survey asked about use in the last 30 days, whereas the 2002 survey asked about use in the last year).

Among adults who used nonvitamin, nonmineral natural products in the last year - percentages for the top 10 natural products used in last 30 days among adults in 2007 and and percentages for the top 10 natural products used in the last 12 months for 2002. In 2002, the most popular natural products were echinacea, ginseng, ginkgo, and garlic supplements. Among adults who used nonvitamin, nonmineral natural products in the last year - percentages for the top 10 natural products used in last 30 days among adults in 2007 and and percentages for the top 10 natural products used in the last 12 months for 2002. In 2007, the most popular natural products were fish oils/omega 3, glucosamine, echinacea, and flaxseed.

Figure 5: 10 Most Common Natural Products Among Adults (2002, 2007)

Health Conditions Prompting CAM Use

People use CAM for an array of diseases and conditions. American adults are most likely to use CAM for musculoskeletal problems such as back, neck, or joint pain. The use of CAM therapies for head or chest colds showed a substantial decrease from 2002 to 2007. Figure 6 ranks the top 10 conditions prompting CAM use among adults for 2007 and 2002.

Percentage of adults in 2007 and in 2002 who used complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) during the last 12 months by specific disease and condition. In 2007 and in 2002, problems such as back/neck, and joint pain and arthritis were some of the most common reasons for CAM use. Percentage of adults in 2007 and in 2002 who used complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) during the last 12 months by specific disease and condition. In 2007 and in 2002, problems such as back/neck, and joint pain and arthritis were some of the most common reasons for CAM use.

Figure 6: Diseases/Conditions for Which CAM is Most Frequently Used Among Adults (2002, 2007

CAM Use Among Children

The 2007 NHIS asked selected adult respondents about CAM use by children in their households. Overall, approximately 12 percent of children use some form of CAM. Use is greater among:

  • Children whose parents used CAM (23.9%)
  • Adolescents aged 12-17 (16.4%), compared to younger children
  • White children (12.8%), compared to Hispanic children (7.9%) and black children (5.9%)
  • Children whose parents had higher education levels (more than high school: 14.7%)
  • Children with six or more health conditions (23.8%)
  • Children whose families delayed conventional care because of cost (16.9%)

Figures 7–9 show survey findings on CAM use by children, including top therapies, natural products, and diseases/conditions.

Percentage of children in 2007 who used the 10 most common complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies. The most common therapies among children were natural products, chiropractic and osteopathic manipulation, deep breathing, and yoga.

Figure 7: 10 Most Common Therapies Among Children (2007)

Percentages for the top 10 natural products used in last 30 days among children who used nonvitamin, nonmineral natural products in the past 12 months. The most common were echinacea, fish oil/omega 3, combination herb pills, and flaxseed oil/pills.

Figure 8: Most Common Natural Products Among Children (2007)

Percentage of children in 2007 who used complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) during the past 12 months by specific disease and condition. Conditions such as back/neck pain, head or chest colds, anxiety/stress were the most common reasons for CAM use.

Figure 9: Diseases/Conditions for Which CAM is Most Frequently Used Among Children (2007)

Additional Reports

NCCIH plans to collaborate with NCHS on further analyses of the survey findings. Among the areas of interest to the researchers are CAM costs and spending, dietary supplements, and reasons for CAM use. Future reports will be published by NCHS and posted on the NCCIH web site.

Footnote

  1. Unless noted otherwise, the statistics are for CAM use during the 12 months prior to the 2007 survey. Comparisons from the 2002 NHIS are indicated.

About NCCIH

The mission of NCCIH is to define, through rigorous scientific investigation, the usefulness and safety of complementary and integrative health interventions and their roles in improving health and health care.

To Obtain the Report

The report's citation is Barnes PM, Bloom B, Nahin R. CDC National Health Statistics Report #12. Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use Among Adults and Children: United States, 2007. December 2008. It is available, along with a press release and graphics, at nccih.nih.gov/news/camstats/. People who do not have access to the Internet can contact the NCCIH Clearinghouse for a copy.

For More Information

NCCIH Clearinghouse

The NCCIH Clearinghouse provides information on NCCIH and complementary and integrative health approaches, including publications and searches of Federal databases of scientific and medical literature. The Clearinghouse does not provide medical advice, treatment recommendations, or referrals to practitioners.

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Date Created: 
December 2008

This page last modified December 02, 2015