CivicScience | Conventional vs. Holistic Medicine: Would You Take the Green Pill...or Green Tea?

Healthcare

Conventional vs. Holistic Medicine: Would You Take the Green Pill…or Green Tea?

Image Credit: Photo by Sarah Pflug from Burst

Growing up, whenever you got sick, your parents probably took your temperature and then either drove you to the doctor, who would prescribe something unpronounceable or gave you a spoonful of medicine. A headache, and maybe you got an aspirin.

Today, we have more options than painkillers and cough syrup. If you feel a cold coming on and don’t want conventional drugs, you can pick up a box of echinacea tea. Congested? You might grab a neti pot rather than a decongestant. And ginger is said to relieve inflammation and ease a throbbing head. Scientists may debate the efficacy of these treatments, but there’s little doubt that holistic remedies are more common than they used to be.

But are they popular? How many people actually turn to these treatments when they’re getting sick?

The truth is, despite recurring talking points and promotion by integrative practitioners, people still prefer traditional medicine to holistic ones when treating common illnesses—by a wide margin. According to U.S. adults, 74% go straight for prescription or over-the-counter drugs when they first get sick, while 17% opt for trying herbal or vitamin remedies.

This isn’t to suggest that holistic fixes don’t work. Almost ⅕ of adults would argue they do, and another 9% (“not sure”) find them at least as compelling as traditional drugs. This could change. For now, though, they seem to appeal to specific people.

When it comes to age and gender, the numbers are fairly even. The real differences can be seen when we look at people’s interests and education. For starters, those who show an interest in health and wellness are twice as likely to try holistic remedies when they get sick. 29% of adults who enjoy reading books about health, fitness, and dieting say they’d choose herbal or vitamin remedies to combat common ailments, compared to 14% of people who don’t enjoy reading wellness-related books.

Even more stark are the results for organic shoppers. Herbal teas and plant supplements have always sounded more natural than chemically synthesized pharmaceuticals, and people who are strict about eating clean foods may have that in mind when choosing their medicine. According to the data, the more often people buy organic food, the more likely they are to try holistic remedies when they’re sick. Of adults who shop organic every chance they get, 36% prefer holistic outright. Only 6% of people who never shop organic say they’d try holistic medicines.

Another interesting aspect of the results deals with education. Though fewer people overall prefer to try holistic remedies when they get sick, ⅔ of those who do tend to be well educated. College graduates make up the largest portion of people who opt for holistic remedies, with 43%, followed by those who have a graduate or professional degree (23%).

The most pronounced difference between people who use conventional medicines and those who use holistic medicines may be where they get their information. When we asked adults to name which media influenced them most, and crossed that with their preferred medicine, the results were practically inverted. 62% of people who prefer trying holistic remedies said social media and the internet influence what they buy most, whereas 61% of people who use conventional medicines indicated that ads on TV influence the bulk of their purchases.

This last part bodes well for the future of holistic remedies, as more and more of our lives become interwoven with the internet. If healthcare and drug costs continue to rise, things may change even faster. In a forward-thinking move, CVS has begun to redefine itself as a health and wellness store, offering more holistic remedies in addition to over-the-counter drugs.

CVS will also begin selling CBD products in eight states, which tend to dovetail with consumers of holistic medicines. These consumers are twice as likely to have already tried CBD products and are slightly more likely to want to try them (16% to 11%).

In the end, the market for holistic remedies may not be as large as that for conventional medicines, but it definitely appeals to certain people, and it’s possible things will change. Some places are already betting they will.

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