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Int J Clin Pract. 2012 Oct;66(10):924-39. doi: 10.1111/j.1742-1241.2012.02945.x.

Prevalence of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) use by the general population: a systematic review and update.

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Cardiff School of Health Sciences, Cardiff Metropolitan University, Cardiff, UK.



To update previous systematic reviews of 12-month prevalence of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) use by general populations; to explore trends in CAM use by national populations; to develop and apply a brief tool for assessing methodological quality of published CAM-use prevalence surveys.


Nine databases were searched for published studies from 1998 onwards. Studies prior to 1998 were identified from two previous systematic reviews. A six-item literature-based tool was devised to assess robustness and interpretability of CAM-use estimates.


Fifty-one reports from 49 surveys conducted in 15 countries met the inclusion criteria. We extracted 32 estimates of 12-month prevalence of use of any CAM (range 9.8-76%) and 33 estimates of 12-month prevalence of visits to CAM practitioners (range 1.8-48.7%). Quality of methodological reporting was variable; 30/51 survey reports (59%) met four or more of six quality criteria. Estimates of 12-month prevalence of any CAM use (excluding prayer) from surveys using consistent measurement methods showed remarkable stability in Australia (49%, 52%, 52%; 1993, 2000, 2004) and USA (36%, 38%; 2002, 2007).


There was evidence of substantial CAM use in the 15 countries surveyed. Where national trends were discernable because of consistent measurement, there was no evidence to suggest a change in 12-month prevalence of CAM use since the previous systematic reviews were published in 2000. Periodic surveys are important to monitor population-level CAM use. Use of government-sponsored health surveys may enhance robustness of population-based prevalence estimates. Comparisons across countries could be improved by standardising approaches to data collection.

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