- The Washington Times - Friday, May 28, 2004

Prayer is the most commonly used “alternative medicine,” according to a survey of more than 31,000 adults released by the National Institutes of Health yesterday — more popular than acupuncture, chiropractic care, yoga, vitamins and other complementary medical therapies.

The survey was conducted as part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2002 National Health Interview Survey, which charts the nation’s health behaviors.

According to NIH, prayer is considered a “mind-body therapy,” a category that also includes biofeedback, meditation, guided imagery, hypnosis and even deep breathing exercises.

The survey also lists 20 other alternatives, including folk medicine, homeopathics, massage, naturopathy and ayurveda.

Prayer is the most popular of them all.

The survey showed that 55 percent of Americans have used “prayer for health reasons,” 52 percent “prayed for their own health,” 31 percent had asked others to pray for their health, 23 percent had prayed for health in a prayer group and 5 percent had used a healing ritual.

Overall, 75 percent have used complementary or alternative medicine (CAM) at some point.

The public may “not be getting relief from conventional medicine,” said Richard Nahin of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of NIH, during a press conference yesterday.

These alternatives can be both complex and highly individualized, offering “treatment of the ‘whole’ person by addressing their physical, mental and spiritual attributes rather than focusing on a specific pathogenic process,” the survey said.

“Over the years, we’ve concentrated on traditional medical treatment, but this new collection of CAM data taps into another dimension entirely,” said Edward Sondik, director of the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.

“What we see is that a sizable percentage of the public puts their personal health in their own hands,” he said.

Beyond prayer, Americans favor other alternatives.

“Natural products” such as echinacea or ginseng followed in popularity, used by 25 percent. Chiropractic care was next, used by 20 percent, along with deep breathing exercise (15 percent), meditation (10 percent), massage (9 percent), yoga (7 percent) and diet-based therapy (6 percent).

Back pain was the health woe most frequently treated with CAM, followed by colds, neck pain, joint pain, anxiety or depression, and arthritis.

The majority of CAM users — 55 percent — used alternatives combined with conventional medical treatments. Just more than half used them because they thought it would be “interesting” while 28 percent said they opted for alternatives after conventional methods failed. More than a quarter had tried CAM at the recommendation of a medical professional.

Just more than 13 percent said they tried CAM because conventional means were too expensive.

The researchers still advise the public to pursue “conventional treatments that are proven safe,” said Dr. Stephen Straus, director of the NIH alternative medicine center.

“People are making individual decisions to neglect those therapies, and we have concerns about those choices,” he said.

“Untested CAM therapies might have unanticipated negative results,” the survey stated.

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