Report: Alternative Medicine Growing in Popularity in the U.S.

Report: Alternative Medicine Growing in Popularity in the U.S.
Science & Medicine

Many Americans embrace alternative medicine, and are willing to spend big bucks annually to treat their conditions in a more natural way.

A report compiled by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that, in 2012, American adults spent $30.2 billion out of pocket on complimentary health approaches. Approximately $1.9 billion of that was spent on treating children.

The trends survey listed such alternative approaches as meditation, chiropractic care, herbal supplements, and yoga. These alternative methods represent 9.2% of all out-of-pocket spending by Americans on healthcare, and 1.1% of total healthcare spending.

NCCIH director Dr. Josephine P. Briggs said in a news release:

“With so many Americans using and spending money on complementary health approaches, it is extremely important for us to provide the public with evidence-based information to help inform decisions. This underscores the importance of conducting rigorous research to know whether the products and practices being used are safe and effective.”

According to the same release, Americans spent $14.7 billion out of pocket on complementary practitioners, including chiropractors, acupuncturists, and message therapists – about 30% of what they paid out of pocket to traditional doctors.

Americans were also found to have spent $12.8 billion out of pocket on natural health supplements – approximately 1/4 of what they spent on prescription drugs. 

Additionally, in 2012, Americans spent $2.7 billion on self-care approaches such as books and CDs.

Lead study author Richard L. Nahin, Ph.D., NCCIH’s lead epidemiologist, said in the release:

“We did an earlier study on cost data from the 2007 NHIS, which was not directly comparable to this one because of differences in survey design. However, globally, in both years, substantial numbers of Americans spent billions of dollars out of pocket on these approaches, an indication that users believe enough in the value of these approaches to pay for them.” [1]

The majority of health insurers don’t cover the costs of supplements or visits to alternative practitioners, which can cost upwards of $100. For this reason, higher-income families tend to use this type of healthcare more often, the researchers found.

Of course, alternative treatment methods are neither approved nor regulated by the FDA, drawing the ire of some traditional physicians and health experts.

Chief of infectious disease at Children’s Hospital Philadelphia Paul Offit said:

“You are putting a lot of faith in something you shouldn’t have much faith in. They don’t have to test for safety and usefulness as long as they don’t make a serious medical claim.”

Daniel Fabricant, executive director and CEO of the National Products Association and former director of Dietary Supplement Programs at the FDA, says dietary supplements do not claim to cure or mitigate disease, but argues that they are regulated the same way as prescription drugs.

He explained dietary supplements require Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) and compliance with the FDA’s adverse event reporting and recordkeeping requirements, among other things.

(Supplement companies are responsible for providing evidence that supports their label claims, but they are not required to share that information with the FDA before putting their products on the market.)

He said:

“People are fed up with the type of care they get from primary physicians that is covered by insurance. Across the board, people are looking for ways to stay healthy on their own.” [2]

Fed Up with Pharmaceutical Companies

big pharma money

Sometimes prescription drugs are necessary, but many Americans have gotten fed up with the constant recalls – and the FDA’s slowness in recalling some drugs – and the side effects associated with them that are often never shared with the public.

According to a watchdog report issued by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Health and Human Services, the FDA is unsatisfactorily slow in recalling products, and these delays can lead to risk of death and even death in the general population.

And Americans are done with drug companies lying to them to make a buck. This was the case with some drug manufacturers who gave bogus information about the effectiveness of antidepressants to line their pockets.

People have good reason to “think outside the box” and turn to nature and ancient remedies to treat their ailments.

Other finds in the report include:

  • About 55 million adults had at least one expenditure for some type of complementary health approach, compared to about 4 million children.
  • While adults had higher average expenditures for visits to complementary practitioners than children, no real difference was observed between adults and children for expenditures on natural product supplements or self-care approaches.
  • Complementary health care users four years old and over spent an annual average of $510 dollar on complementary health care approaches.
  • The average out-of-pocket expenditure for visits to a complementary practitioner was $433, compared to $368 for purchases of natural product supplements and $257 for self-care approaches. [2]


[1] Fox News

[2] USA Today