Americans’ Spending More Money on Alternative Medicine

According to a survey that was conducted in 2007, $34 billion was spent by people living in America on alternative health and medicine, roughly equating to about 11% of out of pocket health care spending.

The last time the US government sponsored such a survey to estimate how many dollars are spent on alternative health care was in 1997. The amount at that time was $27 billion.

There are a wide range of medicines and practices that fall under the ‘alternative health’ category. A few of the more commonly known practices are acupuncture, chiropractic, yoga, herbalism, homeopathy, naturopathy, hypnosis, Reiki, aromatherapy and massage. Practices that are not so well known include biofeedback, Unani, Chakra cleansing, Watsu and Traditional Chinese Medicine. Just as these practices and medicines are varied so too are their histories.

Alternative health, medicine and practices can be based in whole or in part on new healing techniques that have not yet been approved by the mass medical population, folk knowledge, spiritual beliefs and traditional herbal medicines.

The Director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Dr. Josephine Briggs, explains that: “We are talking about a very wide range of health practices that range from promising and sensible to potentially harmful.”

Moreover, Dr. Briggs justified more extensive research to be done into all of the different alternative health practices and medicines, so that those that that were in-effective could be eliminated, especially in light of how much money the American consumer is willing to spend to ensure good health for themselves and their families.

Since the majority of alternative practices and medicines are easy on the pocket, the amount of American citizens who do not have health insurance will continue to rise, concluded Dr. Briggs.

Another cause of concern is the fact that the survey was conducted in 2007, a year prior to the economic recession that has ravaged the USA, and it is because of this simple fact that it is known whether or not the economic recession played a part in the increase in spending on alternative practices and medicines.

In December of 2008, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report in which they had surveyed approximately 23,000 adults across the nation and discovered that the number of adult Americans who used alternative practices and medicines was more than one third of all the people surveyed.

A report on the initial survey demonstrated that the main reason for American’s undertaking alternative health care practices and medicines was due to pain control and elimination. The most commonly used alternative practices for pain management was chiropractic care, acupuncture and massage.

In fact, for each dollar that was spent on alternative health care, almost 35 cents was spent on visits with chiropractors, acupuncturists, massage therapists and other such alternative health therapists, and with this amount adding up to be nearly $12 billion, it is representative of nearly one-fourth of spending on conventional doctors.

Regarding monetary spending on alternative health supplements, Glucosamine and Fish Oil were the most commonly bought supplements. Glucosamine is generally used for joint pain and arthritis, whilst Fish Oil is taken to reduce the risks of heart disease.

Approximately 44 cents for each alternative health spending dollar, up to $15 billion, was spent on alternative health supplements. Surprisingly, this amount is equivalent to the amount of money that American’s spend for their prescription medications out of pocket.

Dr. Briggs takes somewhat of a traditionalist approach to supplements stating: “I personally am pretty conservative about supplement use.”

Dr. Briggs also commented on how research conducted by the center actually influences the popularity level of each supplement. As an example, Dr. Briggs explained that when their research indicated that Echinacea did not necessarily prevent colds and flu, American’s stopped purchasing it and sale dropped virtually overnight. But, when their research revealed that Fish Oil could actually help decrease a person’s chances of heart risks, sales of Fish Oil increased.

Another $3 billion, according to the survey, was actually spent on paying for homeopathy sessions, supplies and supplements. By simple definition, homeopathy is a form of alternative health practices that utilizes tiny amounts of a particular remedy in order to treat a disease. Larger amounts of the same remedy would actually cause symptoms of the disease to appear in healthy people.

All in all, the survey revealed that nearly 38 million American adults saw an alternative health practitioner and paid less than $50 for each visit, averaging out to be about $122 per year per person. However, homeopathy, hypnosis and acupuncture treatment sessions cost upwards of $75. Spending on supplies, supplements and alternative health products averaged out to be approximately $177 per year per person.

Photo Credit: Wonderlane

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