In 2007, Americans spent nearly $34 billion out of pocket on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), according to the National Health Interview Survey, (NHIS). CAM includes many different types of healthcare practices and products that are not generally considered to be conventional or allopathic medicine.
The CAM component of this survey was developed by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).
Of the 23,393 American adults surveyed, about 38 percent used some form of CAM over the previous 12 months. Although the amount of money spent on CAM accounted for only 1.5 percent of total healthcare expenditures, it represented 11.2 percent of total out-of-pocket healthcare expenditures. These estimates do not include vitamin and mineral supplements, which account for almost $5 billion in annual sales.
The greatest amount of money (about $22 billion), was spent on self-care therapies that do not require a healthcare practitioner, such as nonvitamin, nonmineral, natural products; homeopathic remedies and yoga. More than half of this money (about $14.8 billion) was spent on nonvitamin, nonmineral, natural products, which is almost one-third of the amount spent on prescription drugs.
Additionally, about $11.9 billion was spent on an estimated 354 million visits to CAM practitioners, such as chiropractors and acupuncturists. This is about equal to 25 percent of the total out-of-pocket expenses for conventional physician visits.
As CAM therapies continue to gain popularity in the United States, information about safety and effectiveness becomes increasingly important. Many people turn to herbs, supplements and modalities to help treat and prevent various medical conditions. However, “natural” does not always mean “safe.” Like conventional drugs, herbs and supplements may cause side effects and interact with other therapies. Natural Standard Research Collaboration rigorously reviews scientific data to provide objective information about the safety and effectiveness of therapies, thereby helping people make more informed and safer therapeutic decisions.