A $30 billion industry – the growth & trends of alternative medicine

Over the past few decades, alternative medicine has caught up with conventional medicine, at least in terms of popularity.

According to a report by the National Institutes of Health, Americans spent over $30 billion on alternative therapies in 2012. These included expenditure on homeopathy, acupuncture, supplements, yoga and meditation. The report also reveals that 59 million Americans sought out some form of alternative therapy. Out of this $30 billion, $28 billion was spent on adults while only $1.9 billion was spent on children.

It is estimated that one in five Americans spent money on at least one type of alternative therapy. Data also suggests that lower income families that make less than $25,000 per year spent approximately $314 per person on complementary medicine and $380 per person on natural supplements as compared to high-income families earning $100,000 or more who spent an average of $518 per person on alternative treatments and $377 on supplements.

Many people today are unhappy with conventional medicine and seek alternative methods of treatment. The growth in alternative medicine is not an American phenomenon but a global feature. Judging by its growth over the past two decades, it is evident that alternative medicine is here to stay.

While not as organized as conventional medicine, alternative medicines are becoming popular among people of all ages mainly because they are less expensive, are easy to access and offers natural cures with minimal side-effects.

Nearly 30% of the American population seeks alternative medicine for treatment and prevention of a variety of disorders. These numbers are a gross underestimate because unlike conventional medicine, one of the biggest weaknesses associated with alternative healthcare is poor documentation. In addition, many professionals and non-healthcare professionals practice alternative healthcare making it is hard to get accurate numbers. In any case, surveys indicate that as conventional medicine gets more bureaucratic, expensive and difficult to access, more Americans are expected to seek alternative medicine as their sole form of healthcare in the next decade.

The biggest increase in alternative medicine is the sale of healthcare supplements like herbs, minerals and vitamins. Because of lower regulatory control by the government, there are thousands of healthcare supplements in the market, many of which have never been tested in randomized clinical trials. Consumers tend to purchase these herbs and supplements because they are affordable and do not require a prescription. Plus, these supplements and herbs are sold both in grocery stores, pharmacies and can even be bought online.

Some of the top selling alternative healthcare products for maintenance of good health include probiotics and prebiotics, which are used to treat gastrointestinal maladies like constipation, diarrhea, bloating, irritable bowel syndrome and colitis. One sleep aid that has seen an exponential increase in use is melatonin. The use of melatonin for sleep has skyrocketed among people of all ages – not only is it cheaper than most prescription sleep medications but it is devoid of serious side effects. Other billion dollar supplements in the healthy supplement industry include fish oil, coconut oil, omega 3 fatty acids, garlic, turmeric-curcumin supplements, glucosamine, ginkgo biloba, echinacea and St John’s wort.

Another area of alternative medicine that is showing rapid growth is relaxation and stress relief. Millions of people regularly practice meditation, yoga, spiritualism, deep breathing exercises and mind-body control. Most people find these exercises relaxing and soothing.

Yet another popular area of alternative medicine is acupuncture. Today, many people regularly seek acupuncture for the treatment of pain and non-pain syndromes.

Finally an up and coming art form in alternative medicine is Reiki. Also referred to as energy medicine, it involves the use of hands to heal all types of disorders. Because of its ability to relieve stress and ease pain, it is often sought out by cancer patients.

With conventional medicine in a state of flux and with outrageous costs of prescription medications, it is anticipated that alternative medicine will continue to grow in the next decade. While much of alternative healthcare benefits are based on anecdotal reports, people who seek this type of treatment remain satisfied and content with the outcomes. It is hoped that clinical trials evaluating the efficacy of some of the common supplements will be done in the near future, as this will help make alternative medicine a valid form of healing. Finally, most experts suggest that there is no harm in seeking alternative medicine for care but it should not be the sole therapy. One should always use this type of alternative healthcare as a supplement to conventional medicine.

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