Done anything alternative lately? If so, you have a lot of company. When we surveyed 45,601 Consumer Reportssubscribers online, we found that three out of four were using some form of alternative therapy for their general health. More than 38 million adults make in excess of 300 million visits to acupuncturists, chiropractors, massage therapists, and other complementary and alternative practitioners each year in the United States.
Despite the hoopla over alternative treatments, when we asked respondents how well the therapies they used worked for 12 common health problems, results showed that they were usually deemed far less helpful than prescription medicine for most of the conditions.
Even widely used dietary supplements ranked far below over-the-counter medications in many cases. But hands-on treatments such as chiropractic and deep-tissue massage, as well as the mind-body practice of yoga dominated the lists of helpful alternative treatments for discomfort from conditions such as back pain, neck pain, and osteoarthritis.
Carola Hamann, 42, of San Francisco said she has found that yoga, combined with monthly chiropractic adjustments and some exercises her physical therapist recommended, has helped a lot to relieve pain in her hips from osteoarthritis and other concerns. She keeps her medical doctor informed about therapies she has tried but notes that her chiropractor "sees how everything's connected."
Of alternative treatments used for general health, mainstream vitamins and minerals were the most widely used, with 73 percent of respondents taking them. But 57 percent said they used dietary supplements other than vitamins or minerals. And about one in five reported using mind-body therapies such as yoga or hands-on therapies such as massage.
A total of 30,332 survey respondents gave us their perceptions of the helpfulness of treatments for their most bothersome conditions over the past two years. The respondents were Consumer Reports subscribers, and our findings might not be representative of the general population. Respondents based their opinions on personal experience, so the results can't be compared with scientific clinical trials. And our results do not take into account the power of the placebo effect, the tendency of people to find even simulated or sham interventions helpful.