Pulse diagnostic with hand on a tibetan medicine, close-up

Justin Nolan on the Growth of Alternative Medicine and Where the Industry is Heading

Alternative medicine is a constantly growing field. More than 30 percent of all Americans have used some type of alternative medicine, with acupuncture, yoga, massage, herbal preparations, and hypnosis being some of the most popular. Alternative medicine is able to coexist with conventional medicine, creating better health for patients and reducing costs when compared to traditional therapies.

Justin Nolan, an Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Arkansas, examines the growth of alternative medicine and how this field is expanding year by year.

Alternative Medicine Statistics
According to the National Health Interview Survey produced by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, the number of adults using complementary healthcare measures rose between 2012 and 2017. The percentage of adults using yoga as a complementary healthcare practice rose from 9.5 percent to 14.3 percent. The percentage of adults using meditation increased dramatically from 4.1 percent to 14.2 percent. Finally, the percentage of adults using chiropractic care increased from 9.1 percent to 10.3 percent. This represents the adoption of alternative and complementary health care methods across a greater segment of the population.

Women were more likely to use these types of therapies. In general, non-Hispanic white adults used these services more than other ethnic groups.

Types of Alternative Medicine

Acupuncture is another important member of the alternative medicine community. Acupuncture has been found to be effective for chronic pain patients, according to a study published in the May 2018 edition of the Journal of Pain.

The study found that the effect of acupuncture on chronic pain is greater than the comparable effect of a placebo. While the treatment remains controversial among some health care providers, medical science suggests that all physicians should pay close attention.

Herbal and Natural Medicine
Many patients use herbal and natural medicines as part of their treatment for diagnosable conditions. For example, many patients use melatonin as a sleep aid. Others may use St. John’s Wort for depression or echinacea for the common cold. While these treatments have varying levels of proof according to medical science, they have been time-tested in traditional medicine for thousands of years.

Visiting a certified herbalist or naturopath, rather than starting treatment on your own, has been found to be the safest course of action. Unfortunately, not all herbal medicines are properly labeled and not all of their components are known.

Yoga is originally from India. As a spiritual practice, it has existed for 5,000 years. In addition to its spiritual and meditative benefits, yoga can help to increase strength, flexibility, and weight loss, as well as strengthening muscles and joints to help prevent injury. Studies are underway which aim to compare the various types of yoga practice and explore how effective they are for different kinds of physical and mental conditions.

Chiropractic Care
In recent years, the public perception of chiropractic care has been enhanced. While chiropractic care had been considered a purely complementary therapy in the past, current research suggests that it can be as effective as standard treatments. It is especially useful for individuals who have been involved in car accidents or other trauma.

Understanding Alternative Medicine
When a patient wants to try alternative medicine, they should carefully consider the risks and benefits, just as they would with any other type of therapy. It is best to work with a certified provider rather than attempting to treat yourself. This will help to enhance the safety of your treatments. Justin Nolan encourages all patients to seek treatment from a certified alternative practitioner.In a nutshell, Justin Nolan has found that alternative and complementary medicine is thriving in different cultural regions of the US, and for different reasons.  The most traditional, and purely herbal-based medical systems of health delivery were found to exist in the remotest mountain regions of the interior US, including the Ozarks of Arkansas and Missouri.  Elsewhere, the more esoteric and integrative forms of alternative healing (e.g., reflexology, naprapathy) were also found to be thriving in the rural Mountain South, but in more accessible locations where day trippers and “medical tourists” from nearby larger cities can easily visit within a few hours’ drive.  Many patients from larger cities, dissatisfied with so-called conventional biomedicine, find hope, promise, and success by accessing these less-orthodox, more exotic health belief systems found deep in these pristine countryside communities. Thus, the social geography of alternative medical systems in the US, and the cultural forces sustaining them, is now more precisely understood as a result of these field studies.