of Alternative Medicine
A UMDNJ-Eagleton poll of New Jersey residents shows that 56 percent have used at least one of 11 different alternative or complementary medicine approaches over the past year. About half of these are men and half women. With the exception of chiropractic, many who have used these therapies were not trying to prevent or treat a specific medical condition.
Among the 11 approaches suggested to respondents who have tried some form of alternative medicine during the last year, herbal medicines were used by 19 percent, relaxation techniques by 15 percent, megavitamins by 15 percent and chiropractic by 13 percent. Among this same group, the most common medical conditions for which alternative therapies were sought were: back or spinal problems (25 percent), heart problems or high blood pressure (13 percent), colds, flu and respiratory ailments (10 percent), arthritis (7 percent), stress and anxiety (7 percent), and injuries or pinched nerves (6 percent). Among the alternative approaches used to treat these conditions were: chiropractic (58 percent), acupuncture (48 percent), herbal medicine (36 percent), commercial diets (36 percent), biofeedback (33 percent), lifestyle diets (31 percent) and homeopathy (31 percent).
Less than one third of New Jerseyans who have used alternative approaches have sought a doctor's advice before beginning treatment, and only 15 percent of all those polled have ever talked with their doctors about the potential use of alternative medicine.
Twenty percent of respondents feel their own doctors have a great deal of knowledge and another 34 percent think they have some knowledge about nontraditional medical approaches, while 21 percent feel their physicians have little or no knowledge of alternative medicine and 25 percent are not sure.
"Given that only 20 percent of patients feel their physicians know a great deal about these approaches, it is imperative that we teach health care professionals, students and practitioners more about alternative and complementary medicine therapies so they can be proactive in discussing them with their patients," says Riva Touger-Decker, Ph.D., assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the UMDNJ-School of Health Related Professions, who will serve as acting director of the University's newly launched Center for the Study of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.
Eighty percent of respondents said they thought conducting research to study the effectiveness of alternative therapies was very or somewhat important; and 84 percent said that it was very or somewhat important to study the safety of these approaches.
"Alternative medicine does not mean alternative science," comments Samuel C. Shiflett, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry, and physical medicine and rehabilitation at UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School. "The same rules of science should apply for evaluating all medical interventions, including alternative therapies. Some therapies, such as acupuncture, and some herbs have been clinically tested for certain conditions and have been shown to be effective. But we have a lot more work to do."
Shiflett says there are more than 300 alternative treatments. He and his team have been conducting research into alternative and complementary therapies to treat neurological conditions for the past five years, and have garnered two multi-year grants, one from the NIH, and one from the Department of Education.
The University will step up its research activity on the safety and efficacy of various alternative and complementary therapies at its Center for the Study of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, officially launched on November 17.
The UMDNJ-Eagleton Poll was conducted by the Eagleton Institute's Center for Public Interest Polling, which interviewed a random sample of 803 New Jersey residents by telephone. It was funded by the Foundation of UMDNJ.