Baby Boomers and Alternative Medicine

Baby Boomers and the "Boom" in Alternative Medicine.

This group of approximately 76 million people tends to look for new solutions to treat old problems. They have a desire for wellness and they expect it. Boomers project an aggressive consumerism as well as a healthy disregard for authority and conformity.

With the Baby Boomer Generation marking its milestone 60th birthday this year, baby boomers do not wish to "grow old gracefully" and they are starving for answers to the age-old puzzle of youth extension. More than any demographic population before them, this group not only wants to hold on to their youth, but also knows it is possible to do so with alternative medicine.

A large number of boomers are developing obesity and age-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. This dominates health care delivery as the boomer population ages.

Many boomers demand alternative medicine options because of their frustration with the limitations of mainstream medicine in providing the answers they seek. Other factors include a growing body of scientific literature linking chronic degenerative diseases to nutritional and emotional factors, and a greater awareness of the medical practices of other cultures such as Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurvedic and Native American.

The more affluent and educated boomers are paying more attention to prevention, and are willing to spend a hundred a month or more on supplements. They know they have to spend at least that much to maintain their Lexus or BMW.

The most telling evidence of Americans' dissatisfaction with traditional health care is the more than $27 billion they spend annually on alternative and complementary medicine, according to government estimates. According to the NY Times, "New evidence keeps emerging that the medical profession has sold its soul in exchange for what can only be described as bribes from the manufacturers of drugs..." Boomers realize that alot of prescription medications cause impotence, low libido and other unpleasant side effects and health risks.

Statin drugs for high cholesterol are a perfect example. Statin drugs deplete the body�s stores of co-enzyme Q10, and research shows that women with low levels of coQ10 are at higher risk for breast cancer. Statins also have been linked to erectile dysfunction. See our cholesterol section for alternatives.

In 1998, a report in U.S. News and World Report referenced The Journal of the American Medical Association and the respected medical journal The Lancet to say that prescribed medications were the fourth leading cause of death -- which meant they killed over 100,000 Americans every year. The 1998 U.S. News article went on to say, 'You're more apt to die from prescription medications than from an accident, pneumonia, or diabetes.' A separate article used the same references and related that an additional 1.5 million people were injured each year due to prescription medications. But it gets worse. The July 26, 2000, issue of JAMA reported that medical and pharmaceutical errors had become the third leading cause of death in America.

A large number of Americans are involved in a kind of health-care underworld, attempting to self-treat or prevent diseases with various vitamin and mineral supplements, a new study says. More than half of Americans use vitamin or mineral supplements (or both) and, researchers say, much of this supplement use was associated with various medical conditions. The study appears in the January 2003 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"We have evidence that people are taking up to 16 supplements a day [although] on average people were taking two to three supplements," says Jessie Satia-Aboua. Dr. Jay Brooks, chief of hematology/oncology at the Ochsner Clinic Foundation in Baton Rouge, La., estimates that 70 percent of his patients are taking some kind of supplement. "There's this general feeling that the medical establishment is holding something back," he says. "There's almost this conspiracy theory."

Satia-Abouta and her colleagues analyzed information from the Vitamins and Lifestyle (VITAL) Study, in which 45,748 men and women aged 50 to 75 completed a 24-page questionnaire regarding supplement use (multivitamins plus 15 individual vitamins or minerals), diet, physical activity, medical history, and demographic characteristics.

In this round of analysis, the researchers found that 75 percent of the participants regularly took a vitamin or mineral supplement. More than half were taking a multivitamin. The most popular single supplements were vitamins E and C, calcium, folate, and selenium.

The participants who were most likely to be using supplements tended to be older, female, highly educated, Caucasian, and with a normal body mass index.

"Education correlates with income, and supplements are not necessarily cheap," Satia-Abouta says. "These people probably have more money and they know more about trends." Respondents who had medical conditions reported using more supplements than respondents who did not have medical conditions. The strongest associations were for people with or at risk for cardiovascular disease taking vitamin E, niacin, and folate, and for people with indigestion and acid reflux disease taking calcium.

Although women used more supplements overall, in certain cases men were more likely than women to use supplements. For instance, men who had been diagnosed with an enlarged prostate were more likely to take selenium. (In fact, according to preliminary studies, selenium may reduce the risk of prostate cancer but not an enlarged prostate.) Men with depression and coronary disease also used more supplements than women.

Much of the supplement use could reflect trends in the media. "Today, vitamin E is good. Tomorrow, vitamin C is good. People will buy all the ones they hear about, which is one a day in the media," Satia-Abouta speculates. "People feel that taking something 'natural' is really the way to go," Brooks says. "Well, we use natural products in medicine every day.�

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