Complementary medicine used by one-third of adults

February 12, 2015

Results from a national survey show that one-third of American adults use complementary medicine practices or products, including yoga, fish oils, massage therapy and ginseng.

Approximately one-third of American adults use complementary medicine practices or products including mind practices, body practices or natural products, according to a National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). The findings are similar to NHIS survey results from 2002 and 2007 that showed a steady market for complementary medicine.

Survey results show that, out of a total sample of 34,525 adults and 10,218 children between four and 17 years of age, 33.2% of adults and 11.6% of children use complementary health approaches. Mind and body practices include chiropractic manipulation, massage, meditation and yoga, and natural products include ginseng, melatonin, echinacea and fish oils.

The NHIS first included a section on complementary medicine and integrative health approaches in 2002. In 2007, the first year in which children were included in the survey, 12% of respondents reported using complementary health approaches.

Mind and body practices are described as those that “improve health and well-being or help manage symptoms of health problems.” For adults, yoga is the most popular mind and body practice, with 9.5% of respondents reporting that they practice it, up from 6.1% in 2002. Another 8.4% of respondents reported practicing chiropractic/osteopathic manipulation, while 8% report using meditation. In addition,  6.9% reported using massage therapy, down from 8.3% in 2007.

Other forms of mind and body practices used by respondents include guided imagery, progressive relaxation and acupuncture.

The survey found that the most popular natural product for adults is fish oil/omega-3/DHA, EPA fatty acids, with 7.8% of adults reporting utilization. Fish oil use has shown a steady rise since 2002, when only 2.2% of respondents reported using it. 

The other top natural products in the survey were glucosamine and/or chondroitin (2.6%), probiotics/prebiotics (1.6%) and melatonin (1.3%). Echinacea, garlic supplements, ginseng and ginkgo biloba were all  used by less that 1% of those surveyed.

Fatty oils and fish oils are also the number one natural product used by children, but all natural products are used at much lower rates than for adults, with 1.1% of children using fatty or fish oils, 0.7% using melatonin, 0.5% using probiotics/prebiotics and 0.4% using Echinacea.