Complementary and alternative medicine: Higher use among college students

Yoga is one form of complementary and alternative medicine therapy. (Credit: dapino-colada)

Yoga is one form of complementary and alternative medicine therapy. (Credit: dapino-colada)

College students use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) more than the general public, studies show. The most common therapies are acupuncture, homeopathy, vitamins and supplements, massage therapy, Reiki, and yoga. Good research paper topics for medical students in various disciplines might be to discuss the different forms of CAM, their efficacy, their acceptance in the young adult community, acceptance or reluctance by other groups (well educated, elderly, religious), or the expected growth of complementary medicine therapies in the future. A majority of young people believe that good student health includes some form of complementary and alternative therapy.

What is CAM?

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine defines CAM as “a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine,” reported by Cathy Wong, ND in “What Is Complementary and Alternative Medicine?” posted August 11, 2006 on CAM therapies:

• Are based on an individualized and comprehensive approach to healing

• Are based on the body’s innate ability to heal itself

• Do not rely on prescription drugs, surgery and other conventional medical procedures

• Focus on preventing disease rather than treating an already occurring disease or illness.

In addition to the list above, other forms of CAM include herbal remedies, aromatherapy, colonics and cleanses, Chinese medicine, chiropractic therapy, naturopathic medicine, integrative medicine, and nutritional and diet therapies.

CAM use and higher education

Discussing population samples that utilize CAM therapies, researchers Amy L. Nowak, et al. published the study, “Prevalence of Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use among U.S. College Students: A Systematic Review,” in American Journal of Health Education, March-April 2012 found on Researchers found that “use rates for specific CAM therapies among college samples are consistently higher than the percentages found in the general adult population.” The study of CAM use supports National Health Interview Survey findings that CAM use is higher among people with more education, “CAM users have increased awareness of the perceived benefits of CAM use,” and have a positive attitude toward CAM. The researchers hypothesize: “Perhaps there is a connection between a liberal education that helps students understand complex phenomena and the ability for them to make informed decisions about CAM use.”

College students more comfortable with CAM

Another study published in the American Journal of Health Education found that 66% of the general population of college students have reported using CAM, and older college students and female college students used CAM more often.

College students generally:

• Are more familiar with the various types of CAM

• Know other students, friends, parents, or family members who use CAM

• Are more open to unconventional forms of medical treatment

• Are more comfortable asking healthcare professionals for CAM treatment or references

• Are more satisfied with the CAM treatments they received and believe it enhances their life

• Are more likely to recommend CAM to others

Researchers have suggested that campus healthcare providers include more CAM services and education to help students navigate their medical treatment choices.

Medical students advocate for CAM safety and efficacy

In the study “Alternative Medicine Attitudes and Practices of U.S. College Students: An Exploratory Study” by Roland Lamarine, et al., published in Californian Journal of Health Promotion, 2003, researchers found that 90% of study respondents (medical, nursing, pharmacy, and biomedical science students) reported that scientific evidence was somewhat or very important in their decision to support an alternative therapy, while 91% “noted that it was usually or absolutely essential that all new therapies be scientifically tested.”

In other studies of college students: Users of CAM are more likely to believe that conventional medicine is expensive, ineffective, and disease- rather than health-oriented. Among the students surveyed, 78% had used CAM in the past year. Medical and pharmacy students, compared to students in other health professions, more often support the need for scientific evaluation before acceptance of CAM therapies.

For more information on complementary or alternative medicine, check out Questia’s Alternative Medicine page in the Health and Medicine section.

Have you used complementary or alternative medicine therapies? If so, would you recommend them to others?

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