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How Alternative Medicine Scores In Real Life

A survey from Consumer Reports magazine sheds new light on what people are trying in the way of alternative treatments from herbal remedies to meditation to massage therapy, and their views on what works and what doesn't. Dr. Bernadine Healy tells us more.

More than 46,000 readers of Consumer Reports magazine were asked what kinds of alternative therapies they have used, and for what conditions. They were also asked to rate effectiveness. It's a useful report because even though it's not scientific, in the absence of clinical data on a lot of therapies out there it showed that a lot people actively use them. Almost 35 percent said they had used some form of alternative therapy.

The survey covered everything from manual therapy like chiropractic treatment, acupuncture, and massage, to mind-body techniques like meditation, visualization and relaxation, to herbal remedies and supplements like St. John's wort and melatonin.

The survey covered ten common but difficult-to-treat problems like insomnia, back pain, arthritis, allergies, colds and depression and because very few people had only tried alternative medicine. Most had tried conventional drugs and surgery as well, they were able to compare the two. In fact, the majority still prefer drugs over all other treatments, but there were some surprises.

High Scores

Among the high scorers were exercise, diet and meditation for depression, avenues which should be pursued anyway before anti-depressant drugs as a first therapy. Deep tissue massage and meditation were voted as effective as drugs for neck and back pain, surprising given the effectiveness of pain relievers.

Low Scores

The public voted down a lot of therapies we've heard a lot about: magnet therapy for pain, saw palmetto for prostate problems, melatonin for insomnia, garlic for high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and St. John's wort for depression.

There is research back up the public's opinion on garlic, which hasn't been shown to be an effective therapy for blood pressure or cholesterol. But St. John's wort has been shown to be effective for depression in some studies.

Keep in mind htat this was a consumer study, not a scientific study. The first thing you should always do is consult with your doctor about your condition and get professional advice. The survey showed that many doctors are aware of the alternatives and did not disapprove of them, so you shouldn't be afraid to ask about them. In fact, what was once an area of medicine that researchers stayed away from has received a lot of government funding recently.

Related articles on CBSHealthWatch:

  • Herbal Medicine
  • Considering Alternative Therapies?
  • Increasingly, Alternative Goes Mainstream

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