Sales of alternative medicine products are booming

Wednesday, June 09, 2010 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: alternative medicine, products, health news

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(NaturalNews) Sales of alternative medical products are on the rise in spite of -- and perhaps in part because of -- tough economic times.

According to a study reported in The Daily Mail, the British alternative medicines market has grown by 18 percent in the past two years, to a yearly value of 213 million ($333 million). This value is expected to rise to 282million, or another 33 percent, in the next four years. This increase has been seen across the board, even in less well-known treatments such as traditional Indian ayurvedic medicine.

In the United States, retail sales of vitamins and supplements totaled almost $639 million between October and December 2009, a nearly 10 percent increase from the same period in 2007. Sales of herbal supplements have increased 6 percent. The true scale might even be higher, as the figures do not include sales from Wal-Mart or club stores, where people are more likely to turn when there budgets become more restricted.

This increase is particularly striking given the overall downward trajectory of spending in that same time period.

The Daily Mail reports that analysts at the firm Mintel attribute much of the growing popularity of alternative medicine to wider acceptance by both the public and by governments. In the United Kingdom, for example, acupuncture is now covered by the national health insurance plan.

Another cause might be the rise in the diagnosis of mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety. Due to the potentially serious side effects carried by psychiatric drugs, many more patients are now turning to homeopathic remedies such as St. John's wort. The herb, used primarily to treat depression, was purchased by an estimated 1.5 million people in the United Kingdom in 2008.

Another major factor driving the growing popularity of alternative medicine, at least in the United States, is its relative cheapness compared with pharmaceutical or other mainstream health remedies. According to a study by the Associated Press, "climbing sales of herbal medicines have paralleled the tanking economy."

"More people are value shopping," said Whole Foods spokesperson Jeremiah C. McElwee, noting that the store has seen a sharp increase in sales of herbal and nutritional supplements.

A U.S. National Institutes of Health study released in December confirms this claim. Approximately 18 percent of survey respondents said they had used nonvitamin, nonmineral products as health care. Twenty-five percent of these said they had also delayed or foregone conventional medical treatment due to the cost.

"I'm trying to save money," said Kristen Kemp of Montclair, N.J., editor for a social networking Web site for mothers. She notes that each prescription and doctor's visit costs her $20, "and I have three kids."

In contrast, she can spend $10 on a bottle of Chinese herbs and use them to treat colds and stomachaches, supplemented with honey. This is even less expensive than purchasing over-the-counter drugs.

"Just in case something bad happens to our jobs, I want more money in the bank," she said.

Cathy Birleffi, a self-employed bookkeeper and notary, said that changes in insurance policies have made health care costs harder for her to meet. Her insurance premiums have risen to $1,300 a month, and reimbursements have gone down.

"The doctors are so much higher [in cost], the insurance isn't paying as much," said Cathy Birleffi, a self-employed bookkeeper and notary. "Every time I turned around, it was $50 here, $75 there."

Birleffi and her husband are now using herbal remedies to treat many of their health problems.

Richard Nahin, co-author of the federal study, encouraged people who use herbal supplements or similar remedies to inform their doctors that they are doing so, as some supplements can interfere with prescription drugs or vitamin intake.

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