Quackery No More

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Alternative medicine moves into the mainstream.

From aromatherapy to vitamin therapy, 70 percent of Americans have tried, or are currently using, at least one of eight selected alternative medicines and, under the right circumstances, may be willing to try even more.

According to an exclusive survey conducted for American Demographics by market research firm Taylor Nelson Sofres Intersearch, the most popular alternative remedy is "faith healing," also known as prayer, practiced by 44 percent of the general public. Chiropractic treatment or massage, and herbal/vitamin therapy are also favorites, practiced by 33 percent and 26 percent of Americans, respectively. Respondents also admitted, albeit in lesser numbers, to engaging in these other forms of alternative cure-alls: aromatherapy (7 percent); acupuncture or acupressure (5 percent); reflexology (5 percent); magnetic therapy (4 percent); and hypnosis (3 percent).

In general, the use of alternative medicine appears to be a girl thing. The survey found that women are more likely than men to have tried each of the eight treatments. The widest gender gap is in the aromatherapy category - more than five times as many women as men (12 percent versus 2 percent) admit they've explored "scent-ual" healing powers. Also, significantly more women than men favor prayer (51 percent versus 36 percent), and herbal/vitamin therapy (32 percent versus 19 percent).

Interestingly, each region of the U.S. shares an affinity for a different alternative treatment. For instance, out West, they're on pins and needles - or at least pins and needles are on them. Residents of the Western states are 36 percent more likely to try acupuncture or acupressure than the rest of the nation. They also like a good rub down: The average Westerner is 16 percent more likely to go to a chiropractor or masseuse than the average American. Down South, you'd better have a good set of knee pads - 48 percent of Southerners engage in faith healing, 4 percentage points higher than the national average.

But for those in the East, scents make more sense. Nine percent of Northeasterners practice aromatherapy - that's 24 percent more than the national average. And as for residents of the Plains states, they seem to prefer life the old-fashioned way: Midwesterners are less likely than the national average to practice each of the treatments asked about in this month's survey.

Certain circumstances can also influence whether or not consumers choose to dabble in alternative medicine. Fifty-eight percent of respondents told American Demographics that if acupuncture, hypnosis, herbal therapy, or the like were covered by their insurance, there's a greater chance they would give it a try. Likewise, 57 percent of Americans say they would be more likely to consider exploring such remedies if they were available from their own physician.

The number one reason people say they are scared away from alternative medicine is the possibility of unknown side effects, cited by 65 percent of those polled. And 51 percent of Americans say that they are deterred by the lack of scientific proof of the effectiveness of these treatments. Households with children are almost evenly split on whether or not they would consider an alternative treatment for their kids (53 percent say they would and 47 percent say they would not).

Health status can also indicate whether or not a person is likely to seek out an alternative medical treatment. Just 32 percent of all respondents say that if they were diagnosed with an illness that was easily treated with traditional medication, they would likely consider looking into alternative remedies. Forty percent say they would be less likely to do so. However, if diagnosed with a complex, potentially fatal illness, the percentage of Americans who say they would likely inquire about alternative medicine nearly doubles to 60 percent. Only 11 percent say they would be more likely to seek out such treatments in a time of overall good health. As the saying goes: if it ain't broke...

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