Why Alternative Health Is Booming

Alternative Health Care

Story at-a-glance -

  • Based on a new study, Americans’ out-of-pocket expenditures for alternative health in the U.S. average out at $30 billion a year
  • “Alternative health care” costs included practitioners such as yoga instructors and chiropractors; natural supplements such as glucosamine and self-help materials such as books and CDs
  • Studies reveal that 225,000 Americans die every year as a result of iatrogenic deaths, caused by a physician's or hospital's activity, manner or therapy, making the conventional health care system in the U.S. the third leading cause of death
  • Alternative health is gaining ground not only because it’s more natural than conventional approaches, but because it focuses on prevention, as well as controlling and improving your own well-being

By Dr. Mercola

People in the U.S. spend around $30 billion every year on alternative medicine, according to a newly published federal report from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), in which 44,743 individuals in the U.S aged 4 and above participated.

The figure is astonishing, but one has to wonder why people in America would spend that much money on what one prominent drug company referred to as "eclectic" and "unconventional" health approaches instead of mainstream (read: power broker) medicine.

According to a Time article covering the National Health Statistics Report (NHSR), which liberally used the term "complementary" as a nod to the quickly growing trend toward complementary and alternative medicine (CAM):1

"Complementary medical approaches are alternative types of healing outside the realm of Western medicine, and they're fairly popular in the U.S.

An estimated 60 million Americans spend money on them each year, and 4.1 million children have used some type of complementary medicine, the report reveals. In all, the out-of-pocket costs for these types of therapies total $30.2 billion."

The study encompassed a wide range of alternative health care expressions:








Special diets


Mind-body therapies such as yoga


Energy healing

The staggering thing is, $30 billion is only around 1 percent, just the merest fraction, of what Americans spend every year on conventional health care!

Breaking Down the Dollars Spent on Health Care

Averaging the dollars spent on “complementary” health care in 2012, households with less than $25,000 annual income spent $435 a year, while families with an income of at least $100,000 spent around $590. Categorization included:2

  • $14.7 billion spent on alternative health care practitioners such as yoga instructors and chiropractors
  • $12.8 billion on natural supplements such as ginkgo biloba, glucosamine and vitamin D (about 30 percent of what was spent on prescription drugs)
  • $2.7 billion for CDs, books and self-help materials on the topic

It’s very telling that households making less than $25,000 per year paid an average of $435 for alternative health care including what they spend for natural supplements.

The interesting thing is, the money being laid out even by individuals on low incomes is not covered by insurance. They're paying for it out of their pockets. Do they know something you don't?

Why Americans Pay Out-of-Pocket for Alternative Health Care: 'They Believe in It'

Study co-author Richard Nahin, Ph.D., from the U.S. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) said the amount of money spent in the U.S. by people who disregard their lack of health care insurance coverage in pursuit of alternative health modalities shows they have a greater amount of trust in them than conventional medicine.

Part of the reason alternative health care is expanding is because of the soaring costs associated with conventional medicine, but chronic pain is often a motivation.

You could say the money spent indicates in the most dramatic way possible that people either trust alternative health care options implicitly because it's worked for them, or they've developed grave mistrust for the conventional medicine they've either seen practiced or experienced themselves.

In 2000, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published an enlightening article3 revealing that, following heart disease and cancer, the American health care system is the third highest cause of preventable death in the U.S. According to The Commonwealth Fund:

"Despite having the most expensive health care system, the United States ranks last overall among 11 industrialized countries on measures of health system quality, efficiency, access to care, equity and healthy lives, according to a new Commonwealth Fund report.

While there is room for improvement in every country, the U.S. stands out for having the highest costs and lowest performance — the U.S. spent $8,508 per person on health care in 2011, compared with $3,406 in the United Kingdom, which ranked first overall."4

Iatrogenic Causes of Death: In a Hospital, the Worst Kind

The 2000 JAMA article, authored by the late Dr. Barbara Starfield, who was a co-founder of a scientific organization devoted to addressing inequity in health care, indicated that “fatal events” from iatrogenic causes — i.e., due to a physician's or hospital's activity, manner or therapy — are responsible for the deaths of 210,000 Americans annually.

Including deaths related to diagnostic errors, errors of omission and failure to follow guidelines, the number skyrocketed to 440,000 preventable hospital deaths each year. Starfield’s article asserted:

"The medical system has played a large role in undermining the health of Americans. According to several research studies in the last decade, a total of 225,000 Americans per year have died as a result of their medical treatments:

  • 12,000 deaths per year due to unnecessary surgery
  • 7,000 deaths per year due to medication errors in hospitals
  • 20,000 deaths per year due to other errors in hospitals
  • 80,000 deaths per year due to infections in hospitals
  • 106,000 deaths per year due to negative effects of drugs"5

These numbers at that time made iatrogenic deaths third in line behind heart disease and cancer. However in 2015, CNN reported the leading cause of (unintentional) death the previous year was from drug overdoses, a 14 percent increase since 2013. Overall, since 2000, opioid drug overdoses have doubled — twice. CNN reported:

“The biggest increase in deaths was from synthetic opioids, which went up 80 percent. According to the CDC, the increase in synthetic opioid deaths coincided with increased reports by law enforcement of illicitly manufactured fentanyl.

Prescription painkillers such as oxycodone and morphine are derived from the same poppy plants as heroin. Most heroin users initially start by using prescription painkillers.”6

Another Shot of Cynicism Regarding Conventional Health: They Hide Death Data

As often happens in government-sanctioned entities, when the data becomes too bogged down with uncomfortable or potentially damaging information, the easiest thing to do is hide the statistics. Supporting that premise, USA TODAY reported in 2014:

"The federal government this month quietly stopped publicly reporting when hospitals leave foreign objects in patients' bodies or make a host of other life-threatening mistakes.

The change, which the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) denied last year that it was making, means people are out of luck if they want to search which hospitals cause high rates of problems such as air embolisms — air bubbles that can kill patients when they enter veins and hearts — or giving people the wrong blood type.

… Foreign objects may be retained after surgery twice as often as the government estimates, or up to 6,000 times a year. Sponges, which can embed in intestines, account for more than two-thirds of all incidents.

For patients who survive, the complications can last a lifetime, leading some to lose parts of their intestines."7

Whereas thousands of hospitals once made the number of "hospital-acquired conditions," or HACs (such as MRSA or foreign objects left behind after surgery), available to the (savvy) public on the Hospital Compare website, that changed with the new government directives. Eight HACs were removed from the list completely.

What You Don't Know Might Kill You or Somebody Else

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) doesn't hamper itself by publishing medical error information or making any provision for reporting iatrogenic causes for its mortality statistics.8 Those are circumvented completely, so it lists "respiratory disease" as the third most prevalent cause of death.

Not surprisingly, death certificates have no box at the bottom for coroners to designate "medical error" as a cause of death. Instead, the "cause of death" simply defaults to the patient's original complaint. Even if a doctor records "medical errors" on a death certificate, it's not included in the CDC's mortality statistics.

The upshot is, if doctors and hospital administrators are unable to see the real data regarding iatrogenic causes of death, as in so many areas, if you can't see the problem, you can't fix it.

Why Are More Conventional Doctors Opting for Alternative Medicine?

If there's any information that might reveal the U.S. health care system is deeply flawed and even dangerous, it's this: a growing number of health care workers, including doctors and nurses, are seeking alternative health care options for themselves and their families, as opposed to taking conventional routes.

Just as telling, conventional doctors are also referring more of their patients experiencing chronic pain and debilitating diseases to holistic doctors and chiropractic care, something unheard of not that long ago.

Some health care professionals, who went into the study of medicine to help people, have noticed, with concern, that the treatment for many diseases is more treatment. Rather than seeking a cure, illness is too often simply treated, which is typically called "management." Natural cancer treatments that work are suppressed by the conventional medical machine, as may be preventive measures and simpler, less expensive treatment alternatives.

Unfortunately, many health care providers will bemoan the fact that while drugs pose a serious problem, they're still seen as the only solution.

For whatever reason, the statistics regarding people who die from medical procedures or prescription drugs every year didn't count deaths at home or in nursing homes. It's a wonder statistics for seniors aren't worse, though, reading this statement from the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists (ASCP) website:

"While medications are probably the single most important factor in improving the quality of life for older Americans, the nation's seniors are especially at risk for medication-related problems due to physiological changes of aging, higher incidence of multiple chronic diseases and conditions and greater consumption of prescription and over-the-counter medications."9

The same ASCP site also reveals some rather disturbing statistics in regard to seniors, which should give you pause:

  • Seniors 65 to 69 years old take around 14 prescriptions per year; 80- to 84-year-olds take about 18 prescriptions per year
  • Among seniors, medication-related problems cost $177.4 billion a year
  • Adverse drug reactions are among the top five greatest threats to the health of seniors
  • Fifteen percent to 25 percent of the drugs taken by seniors are unnecessary or inappropriate

History tells us it can take decades before a medical truth becomes accepted as fact, but now you know. Don't let yourself become a statistic. Arm yourself with the information you need to live a long, healthy life for as long as possible, so you're more likely to end up on a cruise ship than in a nursing home.

Natural Alternatives: Make Wise Choices for Optimal Health

One of the best things you can do for yourself, whether you're in a state of wellness or suffering from an illness or disease, is to take control of your own health.

In years past, many people assumed doctors were the only ones who had any idea how to treat illness. If the doctor handed them a prescription, they would fill it and begin taking it, even if they weren't really sure what it was. If the doctor said they must have surgery or cut out salt, few people argued; they figured the doctor was the expert.

Those days are over. There's a boatload of information out there, including on this site, for every aspect of your health, such as the importance of optimal sleep, exercise, vital news about how to eat real, nutritious food and what to avoid, and yes, alternative health.

Learn for yourself about genetically modified organisms (GMOs), cancer, supplementation, aging, technology — even healthy pets. This site is tailor-made to keep you informed and help you get into the best shape you've ever been in, whatever your age.