July 21, 2011 — A new reader survey published in the September issue of Consumer Health
finds that three of four adults use some form of alternative therapy for general health.
Readers rated prescription drugs as helping the most for the majority of 12 health problems, but chiropractic, deep-tissue massage, and yoga, dominated the lists of helpful alternative treatments for discomfort from conditions such as back pain, neck pain, and osteoarthritis.
The survey also suggests that meditation, deep-breathing exercises, and yoga, are being used to treat a range of conditions including anxiety, headache and migraine, depression, and insomnia.
The report indicates that doctors are more open to alternative therapies than most people assume.
Some highlights from the report:
- Prescription drugs helped the most for nine of the 12 conditions Consumer Reports Health asked about: allergies, anxiety, cold and flu, depression, digestive problems, headache and migraine, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, and osteoarthritis.
- Meditation and yoga proved equally effective for treating anxiety (42 percent and 46 percent, respectively said these therapies "helped a lot") and depression (36 percent and 35 percent, respectively).
- Yoga did about as well as meditation for insomnia (21 percent and 24 percent) but it significantly outperformed meditation for headaches and migraine and especially for back pain. For back pain, yoga, deep-tissue massage and Pilates all rated about the same as prescription medication. Chiropractic outperformed all other treatments. Meditation was helpful to almost a third (29 percent) of those few who tried it (5 percent).
- For respiratory problems such as cold and flu and allergies, the survey found that very small numbers of readers tried deep-breathing exercises or chiropractic. Those who did, however, reported promising results. Although only 2 percent of cold, flu or allergy sufferers sought chiropractic care, more than 40 percent said it helped a lot. Similarly, 3 percent tried deep-breathing for allergies and 32 percent said it helped a lot. 3 percent also tried deep-breathing for cold and flu and 35 percent said it.
The report includes a brief user's guide for hands-on and mind-body therapy with an assessment of the evidence. People who decide to try alternative treatments should talk to their physician first to set realistic expectations for improvement.helped a lot.
- Of alternative treatments used for general health, mainstream vitamins and minerals were the most widely used, with 73 percent of respondents taking them. About one in five reported using mind-body therapies such as yoga or hands-on therapies such as massage.
- Readers are keeping their doctors in the loop to varying degrees about their use of alternative therapies. For instance, 57 percent of people who got Shiatsu massage, usually for back or neck pain, said their doctors knew about it, and so did 81 percent of those who sought chiropractic care. Sixty-five percent of those who practiced progressive relaxation said their medical caregivers knew about it, as did 68 percent of readers who meditated.
- Smaller numbers of readers said their doctors had pointed them to an alternative therapy in the first place. Twenty-eight percent of readers who used deep-tissue massage, usually for back or neck pain, said their doctors had recommended it. So did 26 percent of people who used deep-breathing exercises and 21 percent who saw a chiropractor.
Many insurers cover acupuncture and chiropractic, and some offer discounts for other treatments. In addition, some treatments might qualify for reimbursement from a consumer's flexible spending or health savings account. Consumers should check with their plans for details. Some guidance on finding a practitioner:
The Consumer Reports National Research Center conducted a survey of readers as part of its spring 2010 annual questionnaire. A total of 45,601 Consumer Reports subscribers answered questions on their use of alternative treatments. A total of 30,332 survey respondents gave CR their perceptions of the helpfulness of treatments for the 12 medical conditions reviewed in the story. Consumer Reports subscribers might not be representative of the general population.
Dr. Justin Snyder