Herb Supplements Are the Most Common Complementary Medicine in US

herbal, vitamins
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Herbs and other dietary supplements besides vitamins are the most commonly used type of "complementary medicine" (also called alternative medicine) in the United States, followed by visits to chiropractors, yoga and massage, a new report finds.

In 2012, nearly 18 percent of American adults said they took herbs or other supplements that were not vitamins and minerals. Other types of complementary medicine were less common: 8.5 percent said they were treated by a chiropractor or osteopathic physician, 8.4 percent said they did yoga, 6.8 percent said they had a massage and 4.1 percent said they meditated.

People in the West and Midwest used complementary medicine more commonly than people in other regions, according to the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. [Wishful Thinking: 6 'Magic Bullet' Cures That Don't Exist]

For example, 16.4 percent of adults in the central northern United States (including North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri) said they went to a chiropractor or osteopathic doctor for a manipulation treatment, compared to about 6 percent of adults in the South.

The use of herbs and other non-vitamin supplements was highest in Mountain region, where 28.7 percent of adults said they used the supplements, followed by the Pacific and central northern regions, in which about 23 percent of adults said they used supplements.

About 12 percent of adults in the Pacific region (California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Hawaii) practiced yoga, compared to just 5 percent in the part of the United States that includes Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky.

Other studies show that about half of Americans take some type of dietary supplement, most commonly multivitamins. The researchers did not include vitamin and mineral supplements in the new study because use of these supplements has become very common, said study researcher Tainya Clarke, of the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.

The new report cannot say why use of complementary medicine differs by region, but these differences may be related to cultural, economic and environmental factors, the researchers said.

For example, previous studies have shown that studios that offer yoga are more common in cities than in rural areas, and Southeastern states also tend to have fewer people in their cities compared to cities in other regions, Clarke said.

The report is published today (April 16) by the NHCS.

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Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.