Background: The use of classical natural therapies and alternative medicine is becoming increasingly popular in Germany and other European countries. Only few population-based studies in Germany have investigated the use and acceptance of a variety of classical and alternative methods, including their possible determinants.
Methods: Cross-sectional survey of a nationally representative sample of men and women aged 18 to 69 years, applying a standardized self-administered questionnaire, that included questions on 21 different healing methods, on personal reasons for use, on individual attitudes to natural therapies, and on the socioeconomic background.
Results: Overall, 70% of women and 54% of men had used at least one classical natural or alternative healing method (including homeopathic and anthroposophic medicine) during the 12 months preceding the study. The most frequently used methods were classical therapies such as exercise therapy (32% of women, 26% of men), herbal medicine (33% of women, 20% of men), hydrotherapy (24% of women, 17% of men), and medical massage (22% of women, 15% of men). About 20% of women and 10% of men had applied homeopathic therapies, and about 9% (11% women, 6% men) had used acupuncture. In multivariate logistic regression analyses gender and education were the best predictors of classical and alternative medicine use. Women and persons with at least high-school education used these methods significantly more often than men and persons with lower education. Age-stratified analyses revealed that the age-group of the 40-49-year-old people used classical and alternative methods significantly more often than younger or older age-groups. The most frequently reported health problems for which natural therapies had been applied were back pain (57%), cold (29%), headaches (19%), strain (15%) and gastrointestinal ailments (12%). Overall, the efficacy and usefulness of natural healing methods was evaluated positive by the majority of the study population. 58% would appreciate it if physicians would more often prescribe such therapies, and 48% would like to have more information about the benefit of natural healing methods.
Conclusions: The prevalence of use of natural medicine varies substantially across different types of healing methods. The observed overall acceptance together with the marked need for more information should be used more intensively for the development of health promotion strategies and underpins the necessity of reinforced research activities in this field.