More Americans Using Yoga, Fish Oil, Probiotics for Health Alicia Ault February 10, 2015

Americans’ love affair with yoga may be more than just a passing fad. New data from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) show that from 2002 to 2012, the use of yoga doubled among adults.

Overall, 34% of adults used any complementary approach in 2012, of whom about 21 million, about 10% of the population, reported using yoga, according to the most recent complementary health questionnaire, conducted by the National Institutes of Health’s NCCIH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. Herbal supplements, fish oil, meditation, and acupuncture are also being embraced by Americans.

Just more than 11% of 18-to-44-year-olds used yoga in 2012, up from 6.4% in 2002. Fewer older Americans used yoga (7.2% of those 45-64 years old and 3.3% of those older than 65 years), but the increases among those ages were also significant, said NCCIH and National Center for Health Statistics researchers in a February 10 briefing with reporters.

“The changes in yoga are very striking,” said Josephine P. Briggs, MD, director of the NCCIH. The researchers did not analyze the reasons for the increase, but the prevalence of yoga studios may be a clue, said Dr Briggs. “It’s a clear and not totally surprising finding,” she told reporters.

Recent studies have shown yoga can be beneficial for health and wellness, and some healthcare providers are incorporating the practice into treatment, especially for back pain, said Dr Briggs.

Yoga is also being taken up by more children. Just under 2 million children practiced yoga in 2012, which is an almost 1% rise. Yoga was most popular among better-educated non-Hispanic whites, as were most complementary or alternative practices. The majority of children who practice yoga did so in conjunction with deep breathing or meditation; fewer did it as part of a class.

“Natural” Supplements Still Most Popular

Herbal supplements (nonvitamin, nonmineral supplements) are the most popular complementary or alternative modality, with almost 18% of adults reporting use in 2012. The supplements were the most popular therapy among children as well.

For both adults and children, fish oil was most commonly used. Dr Briggs said it was unclear why children would be taking fish oil, and that more research was needed in that area.

The researchers reported significant increases among adults and children in use of probiotic and prebiotic supplements (along with rising sales), as well as of melatonin, but there was a decrease in the use of glucosamine/chondroitin, Echinacea, and garlic.

Those numbers suggest that use has risen or fallen, with the publication of studies either confirming or questioning the benefits of a particular supplement, said the researchers.

Because many of these products can interact with traditional medications, and previous studies have shown that patients generally do not disclose use to their physicians, “it is very important for health care providers to ask,” said Dr Briggs.

However, patients also have some responsibility, she said. “The need to talk to your primary care physician about all practices is good medicine and results in better integrative care,” she said.

A Complement, not a Substitute

Previous survey data have shown that most of those who use complementary or alternative modalities do it as an adjunct to traditional medicine, said Barbara Stussman, BA, a statistician with the National Institutes of Health, in the briefing.

The overall use of complementary and alternative modalities has not changed significantly over the three periods the complementary health questionnaire has been incorporated into the National Health Interview Survey for adults: 2002, 2007, and 2012. It has continued to be about 32% to 35% of the adult population.

The same is true for children, with about 12% of 4-to-17-year-olds using alternative therapies at this time. Overall, 45.6% of children used complementary approaches to treat a specific health condition, which is a slight rise from 2007, when children were first incorporated into the survey. Acupuncture was used most often to treat a health condition, with 70% of respondents saying it was the modality of choice.

Other popular modalities included deep-breathing exercises, whether alone or in combination with other approaches. That was the second most-used treatment after supplements. Equally popular was chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation, with 20 million adults and 1.9 million children using the modality. Eighteen million adults and just less than 1 million children practiced meditation.

Participants were surveyed about acupuncture, Ayurveda, biofeedback, chelation therapy, chiropractic care, energy healing therapy, special diets (including vegan, Atkins, and Ornish), traditional healers, guided imagery, homeopathic treatment, hypnosis, naturopathy, herbal supplements, massage, meditation, progressive relaxation, qi gong, tai chi, and yoga.

The complementary health questionnaire is given every 5 years as part of the National Health Interview Survey. The 2012 data are based on surveys of 88,962 adults and 17,321 interviews with adults about children aged 4 to 17 years.

On the basis of these data, analyses of cost and effectiveness of complementary and alternative therapies will be published later, said the researchers.

The survey is part of the annual National Health Interview Survey. Data are collected by the US Census Bureau and analyzed by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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