Alternative medicine attracts older Americans, study

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Alternative medicine

Over-50s are bigger users of alternative medicine than other age
groups, with 71 percent saying they turned to at least one of six
forms (herbal medicine, acupuncture, chiropractor, massage therapy,
breathing exercises or meditation) in 2000, according to a study at
Ohio State University.

"The percentage of older adults who used alternative medicine was higher than I expected,"​ said author Gong-Soog Hong.

More than one third of all US adults use complementary and alternative medicine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2002 National Health Interview Survey. Almost 20 percent of these take natural products, such as herbs or other botanicals.

Hong and colleagues used data from the NIH-funded 2000 Health and Retirement Survey, carried out at the University of Michigan.

They found that alternative medicine is particularly prevalent among people who described themselves as in poor health, 64 percent of whom said they used some form that they considered preventative or curative.

Sixty-three percent of respondents said they had tried alternative therapies because they were not satisfied with the mainstream healthcare they were receiving.

According to Gong the figures are cause for some concern:

"Many types of alternative medicine have not been tested for safety and effectiveness, and yet a large majority of older adults are using them. This tells us there is a serious need for more consumer education."

Unlike other areas of alternative medicine however, the herbal industry has taken a number of steps to ensure the safety and efficacy of products. Industry associations such as the American Herbal Products Association (APHA) and the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) have been working closely with the FDA to bring about full implementation of DSHEA, the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, especially with regard to new dietary ingredients.

Last week the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the Office of Dietary Supplements announced that they were providing five university-based dietary supplement research centers with millions of dollars in funding over the next five years to further our knowledge of their mechanisms and phytochemical constituents.

University of Minnesota's College of Pharmacy has also set up a new Center for Dietary Supplement Safety to collect, analyze and disseminate information about the safety of dietary supplements marketed in the US.

The center attracted the praise of industry body the CRN, which said it believes the move "will help rebuild consumer confidence in the safety of supplement products"​.

However Hong said believes more effort should be made across the board:

"More scientific research is needed to examine the safety and effectiveness of alternative medicines, especially about possible interaction effects when they are used along with prescription drugs"​.

Recognizing the need for further research into why older adults are using alternative medicine, Hong is currently working on a new study that will take a more comprehensive look at the type and frequency of alternative medicines people are using.

The latest statistics from the US Census Bureau show that 45 and 64 year-olds are America's largest age group, making up 23.6 percent of the population. People aged 65 and over make up 12.4 percent.

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