July 21, 2011

Consumer Reports Health: Three Out of Four Readers Using Alternative Therapies; Meditation Helpful to Some Suffering from Anxiety, Depression, and Insomnia

YONKERS, N.Y., July 21, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A new reader survey published in the September issue of Consumer Reports and available online at www.ConsumerReportshealth.org finds that three of four adults use some form of alternative therapy for general health. Readers rated prescription drugs as helping the most for the majority of 12 health problems, but chiropractic, deep-tissue massage, and yoga, dominated the lists of helpful alternative treatments for discomfort from conditions such as back pain, neck pain, and osteoarthritis. The survey also suggests that meditation, deep-breathing exercises, and yoga, are being used to treat a range of conditions including anxiety, headache and migraine, depression, and insomnia.

The report indicates that doctors are more open to alternative therapies than most people assume.

Some highlights from the report:

  • Prescription drugs helped the most for nine of the 12 conditions Consumer Reports Health asked about: allergies, anxiety, cold & flu, depression, digestive problems, headache & migraine, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, and osteoarthritis.
  • Meditation and yoga proved equally effective for treating anxiety (42 percent and 46 percent respectively said these therapies "helped a lot") and depression (36 percent and 35 percent respectively).
  • Yoga did about as well as meditation for insomnia (21 percent and 24 percent) but it significantly outperformed meditation for headaches and migraine and especially for back pain. For back pain, yoga, deep-tissue massage and Pilates all rated about the same as prescription medication. Chiropractic therapy outperformed all other treatments. Meditation was helpful to almost a third (29%) of those few who tried it (5 percent).
  • For respiratory problems such as cold & flu and allergies, the survey found that very small numbers of readers tried deep-breathing exercises or chiropractic care. Those who did, however, reported promising results. Although only 2 percent of cold, flu or allergy sufferers sought chiropractic care, more than 40 percent said it helped a lot. Similarly, 3 percent tried deep-breathing for allergies and 32 percent said it helped a lot. Three percent also tried deep-breathing for cold & flu and 35 percent said it helped a lot.
  • Of alternative treatments used for general health, mainstream vitamins and minerals were the most widely used, with 73 percent of respondents taking them. About one in five reported using mind-body therapies such as yoga or hands-on therapies such as massage.
  • Readers are keeping their doctors in the loop to varying degrees about their use of alternative therapies. For instance, 57 percent of people who got Shiatsu massage, usually for back or neck pain, said their doctors knew about it, and so did 81 percent of those who sought chiropractic care. Sixty-five percent of those who practiced progressive relaxation said their medical caregivers knew about it, as did 68 percent of readers who meditated.
  • Smaller numbers of readers said their doctors had pointed them to an alternative therapy in the first place. Twenty-eight percent of readers who used deep-tissue massage, usually for back or neck pain, said their doctors had recommended it. So did 26 percent of people who used deep-breathing exercises and 21 percent who saw a chiropractor.

The report includes a brief user's guide for hands-on and mind-body therapy with an assessment of the evidence. People who decide to try alternative treatments should talk to their physician first to set realistic expectations for improvement. Many insurers cover acupuncture and chiropractic, and some offer discounts for other treatments. In addition, some treatments might qualify for reimbursement from a consumer's flexible spending or health savings account. Consumers should check with their plans for details. Some guidance on finding a practitioner:

Acupuncture and acupressure. Contact the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture (www.medicalacupuncture.org) or the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (www.nccaom.org).

Chiropractic. Contact the American Chiropractic Association (www.acatoday.org).

Massage. Contact the American Massage Therapy Association (www.amtamassage.org) or the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (www.ncbtmb.org).

Meditation. For stress-management programs, check local hospitals and nearby medical schools. Or teach yourself with a book or audiotape. The Meditation Society of America posts free instructional information at www.meditationsociety.com.

Yoga. Contact your local yoga studio or fitness center. Information about yoga therapists can be found at the International Association of Yoga Therapists at www.iayt.org.

Survey Methodology

The Consumer Reports National Research Center conducted a survey of readers as part of its Spring 2010 Annual Questionnaire. A total of 45,601 Consumer Reports subscribers answered questions on their use of alternative treatments. A total of 30,332 survey respondents gave CR their perceptions of the helpfulness of treatments for the 12 medical conditions reviewed in the story. Consumer Reports subscribers might not be representative of the general population.


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SOURCE Consumer Reports Health