With More Americans Turning To Alternative Medicine, Time To Assess Its Effectiveness

On ThinkProgress, Sam P.K. Collins writes that, troublingly, “an increasing number of people are turning to alternative forms of medicine to reduce stress, relieve chronic pain, and treat other ailments, according to two studies from the National Institutes of Health.”

Researchers at NIH surveyed more than 89,000 adults and more than 17,000 children between the ages of 4 and 17 about their health habits. Their findings, released in the National Health Statistics Report earlier this month, showed that nearly one out of three people in the United States seek alternative forms of medicine, including fish oil, probiotics, melatonin, chiropractic medicine and yoga. For five percent of respondents in that group, the nontraditional methods — primarily fish oil and melatonin — served as their sole form of medication.

“While the National Center for Health Statistics study does not assess why shifts in use occur, some of the trends are in line with published research on the efficacy of natural products,” Josephine P. Briggs, M.D., director of NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, said in a press statement. ”For example, the use of melatonin, shown in studies to have some benefits for sleep issues, has risen dramatically. Conversely, the use of Echinacea has fallen, which may reflect conflicting results from studies on whether it’s helpful for colds. This reaffirms why it is important for NIH to study these products and to provide that information to the public.”

The increasing popularity of alternative medicine — defined as methods of treatment that are not a part of conventional medical training — has taken place amid growing skepticism about the medical industry. Recent surveys have shown that Americans are increasingly distrustful of doctors, which falls in line with the public’s general distrust of institutions.

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