Middle-Age People More Likely to Use Alternative Medicine

October 26, 2005

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Middle-age people are more likely than younger or older adults to use complementary and alternative medicine, according to researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

“Current use of CAM among adults was likely shaped by the relative availability of CAM and prevailing public health policies in place when adults began making their own health-related decisions.”

But the researchers added that the middle-age adults are more likely than either young adults or older adults to use CAM for prevention rather than for treatment of specific conditions.

“This study provides the first estimates of notable age-related differences in whether CAM is used to treat an existing health condition or for illness prevention and health promotion,” he said.

Grzywacz, assistant professor of family and community medicine, said the researchers got their results from data for 31,044 people who participated in the 2002 National Health Interview Survey. The survey is a national sample of Americans that has been conducted annually since 1957 by the National Center of Health Statistics, an arm of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The survey included questions on 20 types of complementary and alternative medicine, which Grzywacz and his colleagues grouped into four categories:
• Alternative medical systems, such as acupuncture, homeopathy and naturopathy.
• Biologically based therapies, such as chelation therapy, folk medicine, herb use, special diets, or megavitamins.
• Manipulative and body-based methods, such as chiropractic or massage.
• Mind-body interventions such as relaxation techniques (meditation), movement therapies (yoga) and healing rituals.

In each case, the survey asked participants whether they used it for treatment, for prevention, for both, or not at all.

“Some types of complementary and alternative medicine, such as alternative medicine systems, are used primarily for treating existing conditions,” Grzywacz said. “Others, such as mind-body interventions are used primarily for illness prevention and health promotion.”

But the biologically based therapies are used almost equally for treatment and prevention.

The study, which was paid for with a grant from the National Center on Complementary and Alternative Medicine, also looked at differences by race and ethnicity. The data showed that use of the biologically based therapies, such as folk medicine and herb use, rose steadily by age group among Hispanics until old age, while use by whites and blacks peaked in middle age.

Among the other members of the large School of Medicine research group were Thomas A. Arcury, Ph.D., professor of family and community medicine, and Ronny A. Bell, Ph.D., associate professor, Wei Lang, Ph.D., assistant professor, and Sara A. Quandt, Ph.D., professor, all of the Department of Public Health Sciences.


Dr. Grzywacz’s name is pronounced Gree-vach

Media Contacts: Robert Conn, rconn@wfubmc.edu, Shannon Koontz, shkoontz@wfubmc.edu, or Karen Richardson, krchrdsn@wfubmc.edu, at 336-716-4587.

Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center is an academic health system comprised of North Carolina Baptist Hospital and Wake Forest University Health Sciences, which operates the university’s School of Medicine. U.S. News & World Report ranks Wake Forest University School of Medicine 30th in primary care, 41st in research and 14th in geriatrics training among the nation's medical schools. It ranks 32nd in research funding by the National Institutes of Health. Almost 150 members of the medical school faculty are listed in Best Doctors in America.

Media Relations