Herbal Supplements Are Top Complementary Medicine in the US

Megan Brooks

April 17, 2014

Nonvitamin, nonmineral dietary supplements, chiropractic manipulation, yoga, and massage therapy are the most common complementary health approaches among US adults, but rates of use vary by area of the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health, defines complementary health approaches as "a group of diverse medical and health care interventions, practices, products or disciplines that are not generally considered part of conventional medicine."

Jennifer A. Peregoy, MPH, from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, Hyattsville, Maryland, and colleagues analyzed data for 34,525 US adults aged 18 years and older who provided information on complementary health approaches as part of the 2012 National Health Interview Survey.

Nonvitamin, nonmineral dietary supplements were the most popular complementary health approach in 2012, reported by 17.9% of adults, more than twice that of all other approaches, the researchers report in a National Center for Health Statistics Data Brief published online April 16.

Chiropractic and osteopathic manipulation was used by 8.5% of adults, yoga by 8.4%, massage therapy by 6.8%, meditation by 4.1%, and special diets by 3.0%.

Regional Variation

The use of nonvitamin, nonmineral dietary supplements was highest in the Mountain (28.7%), Pacific (23.3%), and West North Central US (23.1%); the Mid Atlantic, West South Central, and South Atlantic regions had the lowest use rates (all around 13%).

Use of practitioner-based chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation was nearly twice as high in the West North Central region (16.4%) as in the US overall (8.5% national average). The East South Central US (6.5%), South Atlantic (6.2%), and West South Central regions (5.9%) have lower rates compared with the national average. Rates in the Pacific (9.3%) and East North Central (9.5%) were on par with the national average.

"The use of yoga with deep breathing or meditation was roughly 40% higher in the Pacific [12.1%] and Mountain [11.5%] regions than the national average [8.4%]," the report states. The East South Central (5.1%), West South Central (6.0%), South Atlantic (6.8%), and Mid Atlantic (7.1%) regions had lower yoga use rates than the nation as a whole.

The use of massage therapy was higher in the Pacific (9.4%), Mountain (9.4%), and West North Central (8.4%) regions than the national average of 6.8%. The East South Central had the lowest use of massage therapy in the United States, at 2.5%.

Previous research has demonstrated regional differences in use of complementary health approaches, Dr. Peregoy and colleagues note in their report, "and this report reveals that those regional differences persist across a wide range of complementary health approaches."

They note that environmental and cultural factors unique to towns, regions, and economic factors have long been linked to differences in health behaviors and general health measures in the US population. They say similar environmental and cultural factors may also be at play in the regional differences seen with complementary health approaches.

"Regional Variation in Use of Complementary Health Approaches by US Adults." National Center for Health Statistics Data Brief 146. Published online April 16, 2014. Full text

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