A new survey of subscribers to Consumer Reports found that prescription drugs generally performed better than alternative therapies for 12 common health problems. But hands-on treatments such as chiropractic care and deep-tissue massage, as well as mind-body therapies such as yoga and meditation, held their own, especially for certain conditions. Far fewer said that dietary supplements helped a lot.
Prescription drugs helped the most for nine of the conditions we asked about: allergies, anxiety, colds and flu, depression, digestive problems, headache and migraine, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, and osteoarthritis.
But chiropractic care performed better than drugs for back pain, and deep-tissue massage beat drugs for neck pain. Massage was as also as good as drugs for fibromyalgia. Those hands-on therapies also scored near the top for osteoarthritis as well as for headaches and migraines.
Mind-body therapies such as meditation, deep breathing, and yoga are being used to treat a range of conditions. Since our last survey on alternative therapies in 2005, there appears to be a modest up-tick in the use of meditation as a treatment for depression and anxiety. And for those two conditions—as well as insomnia—it seemed to help some people a lot: 42 percent said that for anxiety, 36 percent for depression, and 24 percent for insomnia.
Dietary supplements generally did not perform very well. But about a third of people who took probiotics for digestive problems (35 percent) or irritable bowel syndrome (31 percent) said it helped a lot, as did 26 percent of those who took zinc for the colds and flu and 25 percent of those who took glucosamine, chondroitin, or both for osteoarthritis.
For details, see our full report on alternative therapies, including advice on how to find a good chiropractor, massage therapist, yoga instructor, or other alternative-medicine practitioner.