What Are the Trends in Canadian Alternative Healthcare?

alternative-medicineI decided recently to look into any research that has been done on the use of alternative healthcare treatments in Canada. The only major study I found was a survey conducted in 1997 and again in 2006 by the Fraser Institute.

In 1997, 1500 people were interviewed for the study, while in the 2006 followup, 2,000 people were interviewed. The results include all sorts of interesting information organized by age, socioeconomic status, province, and more, but I’ll just mention some of the highlights.

I’ll first name the “alternative therapies” that were listed as possible options for people to select, in descending order of popularity in 2006:
Chiropractic care, massage, relaxation techniques, prayer/spiritual practice, acupuncture, yoga, herbal therapies, special diet programs, energy healing, naturopathy, homeopathy, folk remedies, self-help group, aromatherapy, imagery techniques, lifestyle diet, spiritual or religious healing by others, hypnosis, osteopathy, high dose/mega vitamins, chelation, biofeedback.

Pretty comprehensive list if I do say so myself! So what about the results?

In 2006, 74% of Canadians had used at least one alternative therapy sometime in their lives. In 1997, the number stood at 73%. A 1% increase, nothing to write home about. In 2006, Albertans (84%) and British Columbians (83%) were most likely to have used alternative therapies, while Quebecers (67%) and Atlantic Canadians (63%) were least likely to have used them. Ontario was in between.

The researchers also asked about use of alternative therapies in the year preceding the survey. 54% had used aternative therapy in 2005/06, while 50% had used it in 1996/97, showing a moderate increase. 4% better, that’s something at least!

Of the top 7 treatments in 2006, here are the percentage of people who tried each in 2006 and 1997, in the following format – Treatment Type (2006 % / 1997 %):

Chiropractic care (40%/36%), massage (35%/23%), relaxation techniques (20%/23%), prayer/spiritual practice (18%/21%), acupuncture (17%/12%), yoga (16%/10%), and herbal therapies (15%/17%). As you can see, massage has had the most significant (12%) increase by far, with yoga coming in second at 6%. That’s not really that surprising, as chiropractic has been big for a long time, whereas yoga has certainly seen an increase in popularity recently, and massage has expanded in popularity and in the number of massage therapies available. These increases were offset but decreases in the use of some other therapies, such has prayer/spiritual practice and herbal therapies, among others.

An interesting aspect of the study was that in 1997, the breakdown of overall expenditure on alternative medicine was 52% on providers, 23% on books, classes, and equipment, 21% on herbs and vitamins, and 4% on special diet programs.

This compares with the 2006 numbers of 72% on providers, 13% on books, classes, and equipment, 12% on herbs and vitamins, and 3% on special diet programs. This shows a significant increase in payment to providers, rather than more do-it-yourself options live herbs, vitamins, books and equipment. I’m not sure if that means that people just want things done for them these days, or if providers are becoming more mainstream, or what.

The study also covered the most common health problems experienced by Canadians in 2006. Many were chronic: allergies, back / neck problems, arthritis and rheumatism. Since these sorts of conditions are likely to require wellness care rather than just treatment of symptoms, it’s heartening to know that the majority of Canadians have at least tried alternative medicines to improve their health.

Now this study was carried out in 2006, which is 7 years ago now! What’s happened in the last 7 years we can’t be sure, but I’d be willing to bet that with the ever increasing amount of information available about alternative treatments on the internet, that we’ve seen at least a couple percentage point increases in the 2006 numbers.

Edit: If you’re interested in getting into the healthcare field, I just did a post about the employment trends in the healthcare industry.


  1. Quinn September 22, 2013 at 12:11 pm #

    My mom always wanted me to get into healthcare (she’s a chiro), but I decided not to. I’ve been looking into it recently because I’ve been unemployed too often in the last 5 years and I’m looking for a change. Not sure yet though…

    • Pat Martin
      Pat Martin September 24, 2013 at 3:24 pm #

      Thanks for the comment Quinn. Good luck in making your decision, I hope what you found here was a help!

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