Alternative antidotes

Hannah ThompsonYouGovLabs and UK Public Opinion Website Editor
September 03, 2010, 1:46 AM GMT+0

Women are more likely than men to put their faith in alternative medicine, especially when it comes to chiropracty, acupuncture and osteopathy, but the public is generally sceptical, our survey reveals.

The topic of alternative medicine has come under scrutiny as debates focus on whether homeopathic remedies should be available on the NHS. The Science and Technology Select Committee this year said that the drugs are no more effective than a placebo and should be banned on the NHS. But in an age when people are becoming increasingly concerned with the cocktail of chemicals entering their bodies, it seems for some, alternative medicines could become an increasingly appealing option.

Anyone for acupuncture?

Acupuncture, which involves placing long needles into areas of the body thought to be connected to certain complaints, was one of the most popular of the alternative remedies suggested: a respectable 18% of the population agree that it is ‘definitely an effective treatment’, and an additional 48% feel that it could ‘possibly’ be effective. A significant nine percent divides the genders when it comes to acupuncture: just 13% percent of men are convinced of its effectiveness compared to 22% of women.

Even among the most popular remedies, osteopathy and chiropracty, the gender divide emerges. While osteopathy is considered to be ‘definitely effective’ by 23% of the public, this decreases to 19% among men and rises to 28% among women. Similarly, chiropracty is generally supported as ‘definitely effective’ by 23% of the general population, but only 17% of men compared to 28% of women.

Osteopathy and old age

Interestingly, a generational gap divides opinions on osteopathy in comparison to other treatments. While one in four (25%) people over 60 thinks it is definitely effective, only one in ten of those aged 18 to 24 agree. This may be because older people are more likely to have encountered osteopathic treatment, which is commonly used to combat arthritis and other similar diseases associated with old age.

Despite the debate surrounding homeopathy and herbal remedies, however, they are given short shrift by the public: just seven percent think that homeopathy is ‘definitely effective’ compared to almost double (13%) who think it’s not, while herbal remedies also receive just seven percent ‘definite’ support. Here again though, it seems women are more amenable to alternative suggestions than men, as just three percent of men are convinced by homeopathy compared to 11% of women.

Holistic healing

Holistic treatments fare little better: while 42% think that reflexology may ‘possibly’ be effective, just eight percent are sure, and reiki, a Japanese ‘natural healing and relaxation treatment’ which involves the practitioner placing their hands in set places over someone, receives just four percent ‘definite’ support compared to three times as many (12%) who are sure it’s useless.

‘New Age’ therapies, though, are the least popular. With almost one third (30%) of the population certain that crystal therapy is ‘definitely not an effective treatment’, compared to just one percent who ‘definitely think it is’, and both sexes giving the treatment’s efficacy equally poor scores (one and two percent respectively). It looks like traditional doctors don’t need to reach for the gemstones or herbs just yet.

Survey details and full results