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Monday, August 23, 1999 Published at 15:43 GMT 16:43 UK


Britons turning to alternative cures

Herbal medicine was the most popular therapy

The number of people using complementary and alternative medicines has doubled over the past six years, according to a survey carried out for the BBC.

The poll of 1,200 people found that one in five Britons were now opting for such therapies, spending almost £15 a month on average.

Alternative Health
The poll, conducted by ICM, also showed that 78% of those surveyed believe alternative or complementary health treatments will become increasingly popular.

The results showed that 21% have used a complementary medicine or therapy in the last year - double the number found to be using them in a similar survey six years ago.

The BBC's Sharon Alcock reports on the growing appeal of alternative medicines
The survey for BBC Radio 5 Live revealed men were less likely than women to turn to a therapist, but that two of the most popular treatments - herbal medicine and acupuncture - were used more by men than women.

The majority of people said the main reason they used alternative medicine was because it worked for them, but other reasons given included that it was relaxing and that it helped prevent illness.

Choosing an alternative

One in 10 people were referred to an alternative therapist by their doctor, but an equal number referred themselves because they said they did not believe in conventional medicine.

Clare Rayner, representative of the Doctor Patient Partnership
Others said they went to a complementary practitioner because they could not obtain the treatment they wanted on the NHS.

Many mainstream doctors remain sceptical about alternative health treatments - especially the more unusual - 1% of the survey had used crystal therapy with flotation tanks, kinesiology and magnetic therapy among the others tried.

Clara McKaye, Senior Policy Researcher in Health at the Consumers Association
The poll also revealed that the shift towards alternative therapies may be saving the NHS money.

People taking part in the poll spent on average £13.60 a month on alternatives and those aged beteen 18 and 24 spent an average £18.60 - totalling £223 a year.

League table

The most popular therapies among those who used them were:

  • Herbal medicine: 34% (37% of men, 31% of women)
  • Aromatherapy: 21% (15% of men, 25% of women)
  • Homeopathy: 17% (14% of men, 19% of women)
  • Acupuncture or acupressure: (20% of men, 10% of women)
  • Osteopathy: 4%
  • Massage and reflexology: 6% each
  • Yoga and Chinese medicine: 2% each
The poll also found that of those who do use alternative medicines, 71% use one therapy, 12% use two, and 3% use four or more.

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