The objective of this survey was to assess the prevalence and types of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) usage as well as the participants’ spirituality/religiousness in an outpatient department for endocrinology and metabolic diseases. All individuals visiting the outpatient department at a German university hospital from April to June 2009 were offered a standardized questionnaire on the use of dietary supplements and other SCAMs as well as their religiousness/spirituality. Demographic and clinical data of 428 respondents were taken from the electronic health record.
Of the respondents, 16.4% (n = 66) classified themselves to be religious/spiritual and 67.9% (n = 273) as not religious/spiritual. The results show that:
- 41.4% of the respondents used supplements and 27.4% additional therapies;
- the use of supplements and other SCAMs was more frequent in people with higher religiousness/spirituality (p = 0.005 and p = 0.01,resp.);
- there were no associations between religiousness/spirituality and the number of consultations, costs for drugs, appraisal of the physicians treatment methods, the perceived effectiveness of prescribed drugs, fear of late complications or of side effects.
The authors concluded that a higher religiousness/spirituality is associated with a more frequent use of supplements or additional therapies in individuals with endocrinopathies or metabolic diseases. As SCAM has been shown to be associated with worse outcome, addressing religiousness/spirituality which stresses the responsibility of the person for his life might offer an additional resource and should be further studied.
This survey has a dismal sample size and even worse response rate and must therefore be taken with more than a pinch of salt. Yet vaguely similar associations have been shown before. For instance, analysing data from the 1995-1996 National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States (n=3032), researchers examined the correlations between four aspects of spirituality/religiousness-i.e., spiritual only, religious only, both spiritual and religious, and neither spiritual nor religious-and six measures of SCAM. Compared with spiritual only persons, the odds of using energy therapies were 86% lower for spiritual and religious persons, 65% lower for religious only persons, and 52% lower for neither spiritual nor religious persons. Compared to spiritual only persons, spiritual and religious individuals were 43% more likely to use body-mind therapies in general; however, when this category did not contain prayer, meditation, or spiritual healing, they were 44% less likely. Religious only individuals were disinclined toward SCAM use.
There might be considerable cultural and national differences, of course, but if it is true that religiousness/spirituality is associated with a more frequent use of SCAM, we ought to ask what the nature of the link between the two might be. There are, as far as I can see, three possibilities:
- religiousness/spirituality causes SCAM use;
- SCAM use causes religiousness/spirituality;
- the two are related via one or several other factors.
I see no reason why 1 or 2 should be true. More likely there is a common denominator. The obvious one might be that both religiousness/spirituality and SCAM use are somewhat irrational, more a matter of belief than evidence, and revealing a lack of scepticism or critical thinking. In this case, religiousness/spirituality and SCAM use would simply be two different expressions of the same frame of mind.
What do you think?