Research Article| Volume 15, ISSUE 1, P5-13, January 2005

Use of complementary and alternative medicine among American women

      Introduction and background

      Although women are increasingly using complementary and alternative (CAM) therapies, a national profile characterizing women who use CAM has yet to be described. The purpose of this study is to provide prevalence estimates of recent CAM use among American women and to examine sociodemographic and other characteristics associated with use.


      Data from the 1999 National Health Interview Survey are used for the analysis. Three operational definitions of recent CAM use are employed (any CAM, type-specific, and domain-specific use). All proportions and prevalence estimates are weighted and standard errors are adjusted to account for complex sample design; weighted logistic regression (with coefficient variance adjustment) is also used.


      Overall, 33.5% of American women used CAM in the past 12 months. Spiritual healing/prayer and herbal medicine are the most commonly used, and hypnosis, biofeedback, and energy healing are the least common. Multivariate results show that women who are older, have more education, poorer health, or live in the west or midwest (versus south) are more likely to use CAM. Compared to whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians are less likely to use CAM. Foreign-born women, those with lower income, or who live in the Northeast are also less likely to use CAM. Insurance status is not independently associated with CAM use.

      Conclusions and discussion

      This study provides one of the first comprehensive investigations of CAM use among American women. Future research examining the determinants of CAM use, incorporating attitudinal and health conditions, as well as clinical efficacy, effectiveness, and health outcome studies of specific CAM therapies are warranted.


      To read this article in full you will need to make a payment

      Purchase one-time access:

      Academic & Personal: 24 hour online accessCorporate R&D Professionals: 24 hour online access
      One-time access price info
      • For academic or personal research use, select 'Academic and Personal'
      • For corporate R&D use, select 'Corporate R&D Professionals'


      Subscribe to Women's Health Issues
      Already a print subscriber? Claim online access
      Already an online subscriber? Sign in
      Institutional Access: Sign in to ScienceDirect


        • Adler S.R.
        Complementary and alternative medicine use among women with breast cancer.
        Medical Anthropology Quarterly. 1999; 13: 214-222
        • Astin J.A.
        Why patients use alternative medicine.
        Journal of the American Medical Association. 1998; 279: 1548-1553
        • Astin J.A.
        • Marie A.
        • Pelletier K.R.
        • Hansen E.
        • Haskell W.L.
        A review of the incorporation of complementary and alternative medicine by mainstream physicians.
        Archives of Internal Medicine. 1998; 158: 2303-2310
        • Bair Y.A.
        • Gold E.B.
        • Greendale G.A.
        • Sternfeld B.
        • Adler S.R.
        • Azari R.
        • et al.
        Ethnic differences in use of complementary and alternative medicine at midlife.
        American Journal of Public Health. 2002; 92: 1832-1840
      1. Botman, S. L., Moore, T. F., Moriarity, C. L., & Parsons, V. L. (2000). Design and estimation for the National Health Interview Survey, 1995–2004. Vital Health and Health Statistics, Series 2 (130).

        • Brett K.M.
        • Burt C.W.
        Utilization of ambulatory medical care by women.
        Vital and Health Statistics. 2001; 13: 1-46
        • Brown P.
        • Carney P.
        Health beliefs and alternative medicine.
        Journal of Cancer Education. 1996; 11: 226-229
        • Burg M.A.
        Women’s use of complementary medicine.
        Journal of Florida Medical Association. 1996; 83: 482-488
        • Burg M.A.
        • Hatch R.L.
        • Neims A.H.
        Lifetime use of alternative therapy.
        Southern Medical Journal. 1998; 91: 1126-1131
        • Collins K.S.
        • Schoen C.
        • Joseph S.
        • Duchon L.
        • Simantov E.
        • Yellowitz M.
        Health concerns across a woman’s lifespan.
        The Commonwealth Fund, New York1999
        • Cushman L.F.
        • Wade C.
        • Factor-Litvak P.
        • Kronenberg F.
        • Firester L.
        Use of complementary and alternative medicine among African-American and Hispanic women in New York City.
        Journal of American Medical Women’s Association. 1999; 54: 193-195
        • Druss B.G.
        • Rosenheck R.A.
        Associations between use of unconventional therapies and conventional medical services.
        Journal of the American Medical Association. 1999; 282: 651-656
        • Eisenberg D.M.
        • Davis R.B.
        • Ettner S.L.
        • Appel S.
        • Wilkey S.
        • Van Rompay M.
        • et al.
        Trends in alternative medicine use in the United States, 1990–1997.
        Journal of the American Medical Association. 1998; 280: 1569-1575
        • Eisenberg D.M.
        • Kessler R.C.
        • Foster C.
        • Norlock F.E.
        • Calkins D.R.
        • Delbanco T.L.
        Unconventional medicine in the United States.
        New England Journal of Medicine. 1993; 328: 246-252
        • Elder N.C.
        • Gillcrist A.
        • Minz R.
        Use of alternative health care by family practice patients.
        The Archives of Family Medicine. 1997; 6: 181-184
        • Factor-Litvak P.
        • Cushman L.F.
        • Kronenberg F.
        • Wade C.
        • Kalmuss D.
        Use of complementary and alternative medicine among women in New York City.
        The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2001; 7: 659-666
        • Keegan L.
        Use of alternative therapies among Mexican Americans in the Texas Rio Grande Valley.
        Journal of Holistic Nursing. 1996; 14: 277-294
        • Higginbotham J.C.
        • Trevino F.M.
        • Ray L.A.
        Utilization of curanderos by Mexican Americans.
        American Journal of Public Health. 1990; 80: 32-35
        • Hufford D.
        Folk medicine in contemporary America.
        in: Kirkland J. Matthews H. Sullivan C.W. Baldwin K. Herbal and magical medicine traditional healing today. Duke University Press, Durham, NC1992: 14-31
        • Landmark Healthcare Inc
        The Landmark Report on public perceptions of alternative care.
        Landmark Healthcare, Sacramento, CA1998
        • Murphy P.A.
        • Kronenberg F.
        • Wade C.
        Complementary and alternative medicine in women’s health.
        Journal of Nurse-Midwifery. 1999; 44: 192-204
        • National Center for Health Statistics
        1999 National Health Interview Survey, public use data release.
        CDC, NCHS, Hiattsville, MD2002
        • Ni H.
        • Simile C.
        • Hardy A.M.
        Utilization of complementary and alternative medicine by United States adults.
        Medical Care. 2002; 40: 353-358
        • Oldendick R.
        • Coker A.L.
        • Wieland D.
        • Raymond J.I.
        • Probst J.C.
        • Schell B.J.
        • et al.
        Population-based survey of complementary and alternative medicine usage, patient satisfaction, and physical involvement.
        Southern Medical Journal. 2000; 93: 375-381
        • Paramore L.C.
        Use of alternative therapies.
        Journal of Pain and Symptom Management. 1997; 13: 83-89
        • Planta M.
        • Gunderson B.
        • Petitt J.C.
        Prevalence of the use of herbal products in a low income population.
        Family Medicine. 2000; 32: 252-257
        • Pourat N.
        • Lubben J.
        • Wallace S.P.
        • Moon A.
        Predictors of use of traditional Korean healers among elderly Koreans in Los Angeles.
        The Gerontologist. 1999; 39: 711-719
        • StataCorp
        Stata Statistical Software. 2003 (8.0. College Software, TX: Stata Corporation.)
        • Von Gruenigen V.E.
        • White L.J.
        • Kirven M.S.
        • Showalter A.L.
        • Hopkins M.P.
        • Jenison E.L.
        A comparison of complementary and alternative medicine use by gynecology and gynecologic oncology patients.
        International Journal of Gynecological Cancer. 2001; 11: 205-209
        • Working Group on Definitions and Description of Complementary and Alternative Medicine
        Defining and describing complementary and alternative medicine.
        Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine. 1997; 3: 49-57
        • Xueqin G.
        Between two worlds.
        Journal of Community Health. 1999; 24: 421-437


      Dawn Upchurch is a professor of Public Health at UCLA and has a long-standing interest in women’s reproductive health. Currently, she is researching CAM use among women, with a particular emphasis on acupuncture and women’s reproductive health at midlife.


      Laura Chyu is a doctoral student in the UCLA School of Public Health. Her interests lie in women’s reproductive health and fertility trends, specifically focusing on racial/ethnic disparities and effects of nativity status.