The range of alternatives medicine
therapies is huge and they are used by a large number of people around the world, either as part of primary health care or in combination with conventional medicine. Some popular alternative medicine therapies include naturopathy, hypnosis, homeopathy, traditional Chinese medicine, chiropractic, acupuncture, Ayurvedic medicines
, meditation, yoga, Unani, biofeedback, and therapies based on diet.
Also referred to as Traditional Medicine or Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM), the World Health Organization defines traditional medicine as “the sum total of knowledge, skills and practices based on the theories, beliefs and experiences indigenous to different cultures that are used to maintain health, as well as to prevent, diagnose, improve or treat physical and mental illnesses.”
The practice and use of Alternative Medicine is more prevalent in Asian and African countries than in the western world. For instance, in some African and Asian nations about 80 percent of the population gets its primary health care via Alternative medicines. Nonetheless, people in more developed nations have been increasingly making use of complementary and alternative medicines, in conjunction with conventional health care treatments. Estimates reveal that in some developed nations, close to 70 – 80 percent of the populace has received some form of alternative medicine therapy.
Growing popularity of CAM has led to a number of federal governments enacting laws regulating their use, an estimated 100 countries today have statutes to regulate herbal medicines. Further, promising reports of the efficacy of some therapies have sparked a flurry of research assessing different treatments, especially for chronic ailments and infections. An example is the development of
the anti-malarial drugs
from the discovery of artemisinin extracted from Artemisia annua L. - a plant that has been in used in China for over 2000 years.
The market potential for alternative medicines is high as is evident from the revenues generated in different parts of the world. In Western Europe the annual revenues for the period 2003-04 was to the tune of US$ 5 billion. The Chinese market registered annual sales US$ 14 billion in 2005. In Brazil revenue from use of herbal medicines touched US$ 160 million in 2007.
Owing to counterfeit, poor quality, and adulterated herbal ingredients, concerns for patient safety are high. Also, important is the fact that many people assume that since alternative medicines are derived from natural sources, they are safe.
The US Alternative Medicine Industry Overview
The use of alternative medicines in the USA is widespread and growing. Based on a national governmental survey
released in December 2008, about 38 percent of U.S. adults (18 and over) and close to 12 percent of children use some type of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Moreover, the use of alternative medicinetreatments varies with the annual income. The use of CAM increases with an annual income of $100,000 and over, and is also common among those who have a post graduate education
Many insurance companies also provide a partial cover for alternative treatments. Also, the physicians of about 66 percent patients are aware of their patients' use of alternative therapies.
In general, the most common reason cited for using alternative medicines is to promote general health. Musculoskeletal problems such as back, neck, or joint pain are among the commonest of medical problems for which these therapies are used. At the same time CAM usage has decreased for head or chest colds from 2002 to 2007.
About 12 percent children use CAM in the US such as homeopathic medicines
, herbs and yoga for addressing a number ailments. Further, the children whose parents use CAM therapies are five times more likely to use them. Some experts also believe, that in part, higher costs associated with mainstream medication are a reason for people choosing alternative treatments.
Back in 1990, just one-third of the U.S. population made use of them, today just the adults account for about 40 percent use. Complementary and alternative medicine and therapies are indeed one of the fastest growing sectors within health care.