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Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Volume 7 (2010), Issue 1, Pages 11-28

Who Uses CAM? A Narrative Review of Demographic Characteristics and Health Factors Associated with CAM Use

1Complementary Medicine Research Unit, School of Medicine, University of Southampton, Hampshire, UK
2Complementary Medicine Research Unit, Aldermoor Health Centre, Aldermoor Close, Southampton SO16 5ST, UK

Received 13 November 2006; Accepted 25 February 2008

Copyright © 2010 Felicity L. Bishop and G. T. Lewith. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Complementary and Alternative Medicines (CAM) are used by an extensive number of patients in the UK and elsewhere. In order to understand this pattern of behavior, it is helpful to examine the characteristics of people who use CAM. This narrative review collates and evaluates the evidence concerning the demographic characteristics and health status factors associated with CAM use in community-based non-clinical populations. A systematic literature search of computerized databases was conducted, and published research papers which present evidence concerning associations between CAM use and demographic and health characteristics are discussed and evaluated. The evidence suggests that people who use CAM tend to be female, of middle age and have more education. In terms of their health, CAM users tend to have more than one medical condition, but might not be more likely than non-users to have specific conditions such as cancer or to rate their own general health as poor. The multivariate studies that have been conducted suggest that both demographic and health characteristics contribute independently to CAM use. In conclusion, demographic characteristics and factors related to an individual's health status are associated with CAM use. Future research is needed to address methodological limitations in existing studies.