New Study Sheds Light on the Rise of Complementary Health Methods

New Study Sheds Light on the Rise of Complementary Health Methods

A recent study published in 2024 found that more American adults are more likely to use complementary health approaches. This study analyzed data used from surveys done in 2002, 2012, and 2022. talks about the increase in popularity of health approaches such as acupuncture, yoga, and meditation.

These complementary health approaches or CHAs are called complementary because they are used to help supplement or add on to the usual doctor’s visit and western medicine care, an added layer of health and wellness. This term according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health is classified into three approaches: nutritional, psychological, and physical. Nutritional approaches are doing things like changing diet, using supplements, or probiotics. Psychologists are taking a more mindfulness approach and doing more meditation and breathing techniques. While physical is what this study mainly focused on, things like acupuncture, yoga, and massage therapies. This study used a survey from 2002, 2012, and 2022 and was conducted in person and by telephone. Response rates varied over the three years with the most coming in 2002 at 74% and the least coming in 2022 at 49%.

Acupuncture one of the main complementary approaches mentioned in this study witnessed a rise in popularity. Acupuncture originates from Chinese medicine and involves inserting thin needles into specific points of the body called acupuncture points to stimulate areas with a lot of nerves to help ease pain. This releases chemicals into the muscles, spinal cord, and brain. Acupuncture can help treat things from migraines to kidney disease. Brette Luck, an acupuncturist based in Ohio, affirms the rising popularity of her craft but says it is due to people sharing how much they enjoy it with others. The study credits an uptick in insurance coverage being a reason for the increase from 1% to 2% from 2002 to 2022. Luck emphasizes that interpersonal conversations and recommendations play a bigger role in bringing new clients to acupuncture clinics.

“Most new patients try it because they heard from their sister, or cousin or friend who lives out of state and not really because of new research coming out.”

Brette Luck, Licensed Acupuncturist

While the study does show acupuncture use has gone up there are still many reasons why people are skeptical. A report was done by the World Health Organization after analyzing studies looking at acupuncture as a treatment for substance abuse and addiction. The researchers found these articles had differences in study quality, and how the acupuncture methods were done. These inconsistencies can make it difficult to determine how effective acupuncture itself is. This is why studies like Nahin’s are so important to discuss and continue to expose the public about CHAs like acupuncture, so the consumer is more aware. Experts in the field are working to incorporate more rigorous clinical trials to prove acupuncture’s ability and reputation. This can help clarify what acupuncture is, and the benefits, and doctors and other physicians can have more confidence when prescribing it.

Another big complementary health method mentioned that saw a rise in usage is yoga. Yoga is known to help improve strength, balance, and flexibility. When engaging in yoga things like slow movements and deep breathing can help increase blood flow and warm up muscles. One Love Yoga in Kent, Ohio is an example of the rise in Yoga among adults as this yoga studio recently opened in 2013. According to One Love Yoga, “the studio offers a perfect setting for practicing gentle and moderate yoga as well as other specialty classes. The classes at the Silk Mill help you slow down and get in touch with your breath as well as finding gentle movements.”

According to Johns Hopkins regular yoga practice has been known to reduce levels of stress and body-wide inflammation, contributing to healthier hearts. The NCCIH study found that adults using yoga increased from 5% in 2002 and 15% in 2022 which was the highest increase for all the categories.

Adults using the approaches increased significantly because in 2002 they recorded 19.2% of participants using the approaches and in 2022 36% reported using the approach with yoga seeing the highest increase for the categories.

This study had a comprehensive analysis, but one limitation came in 2012 when the organization decided to change how to word their questionnaire. Nahin acknowledged this discrepancy and explained that it is because of evolving research opportunities and adapting to what the public needs. Nahin hopes that people who read continue to have conversations about complementary health approaches and continue to talk and discuss with their primary care physicians and remember that these approaches foster long-term wellness and not short-term. Nahin explains why this systematic approach to the NCCIH can lead to more noteworthy findings.

“This work is just part of what the NCCIH does they do surveys like this every 5 years and when things stick out that’s when they decide to dive deeper.”

Richard Nahin, Lead Epidemiologist, NCCIH

Complementary Health methods are non-mainstream approaches used together with conventional medicine or the usual Western practice. When hearing this definition, it makes sense why Nahin talks about constant contact with your primary care physician when you are using these methods so they can coexist and complement each other. These methods are to add to primary care and not to be used as a substitute. Nahin hopes with this study the conversations about these methods continue.

“The US population should learn that people are using these approaches and always be discussing it with a primary care physician, these approaches are meaningful but also long term.”

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