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Older Women & Complementary & Alternative Medicine

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If you think acupuncture, music therapy and yoga are only for twentysomethings, think again. A 2006 survey of 1,559 people aged 50 and older conducted by the AARP and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) found 63 percent of respondents had used one or more CAM therapies.

The top choices? Massage therapy, chiropractic, spinal manipulation or other bodywork (used by 45 percent of respondents), closely followed by herbal products or dietary supplements (42 percent of respondents). The study also found that most people chose CAM to treat specific conditions or maintain wellness, and 45 percent chose it to supplement conventional medicine.

Other studies analyzing data from the 2002 National Health Interview Survey on 10,572 respondents with cardiovascular disease and 2,474 with diabetes found 36 percent of those with heart disease and 38 percent of those with diabetes had used CAM (excluding prayer) in the previous 12 months.

There's a good reason older people turn to alternative therapies and integrative medicine: Studies suggest such approaches can help with many medical conditions associated with aging. For instance, taking a daily calcium/magnesium/vitamin D supplement can help slow bone loss, preventing falls. Prevent falls as you age, and you prevent one of the major reasons behind disability in the elderly.

The herb saw palmetto has a pretty good track record in improving symptoms of enlarged prostate, with an analysis of 21 clinical trials involving more than 3,000 men finding it worked about as well as the most widely prescribed medication, finasteride (Proscar).

Meanwhile, studies investigating the use of vitamin C hint that it may significantly reduce the risk of Alzheimer's in healthy people, likely due to its antioxidant effects. And an analysis of more than a dozen studies on acupuncture finds it works as well if not better than conventional medications at relieving the pain and disability of osteoarthritis—with a far lower likelihood of side effects.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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