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The Economy Is Tanking. Is This Good News for Herbal and Natural Meds?

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A recent report in the Wall Street Journal said that healthcare spending grew at its lowest rate in nearly a decade in 2007, yet it swallowed an ever bigger portion of our country’s gross national product, not to mention the budgets of American families. Because of a trend toward generic medications, prescription drug spending was sharply lower, and while overall healthcare spending continued to grow, it grew at a slower rate—the growth rate was 6.7% in 2006, but only 6.1% in 2007. That’s still $2.2 trillion, or $7,421 per person.

What does that mean to healthcare consumers? Changes in health insurance coverage have increased monthly premiums, shifted costs to consumers, and caused more than one consumer to look at how best to practice cost-effective care. Whole Foods Market, Inc., has reported increased sales of nutritional supplements and herbal products. The recent data trends include:

• “For the three months that ended Dec. 28, nationwide retail sales of vitamins and supplements totaled nearly $639 million, up almost 10 percent from the same period in 2007. That includes a nearly 6 percent increase in sales of herbal supplements alone, according to Information Resources Inc., a Chicago-based market research firm. Its numbers do not include Wal-Mart or club stores.”

• “Nationwide herbal and botanical supplement sales totaled $4.8 billion in 2007, when the recession began, up 4.3 percent over 2006. That was a marginally higher increase compared with the previous year, according to Jason Phillips of the Nutrition Business Journal, an industry-tracking publication. Sales of animal oil supplements—mostly fish oils—were up 29 percent from 2006. While that was a decline from the previous year, both categories continued to show strong growth in a faltering economy.”
• “A government survey released in December said concerns about the cost of conventional medicine influenced Americans’ decisions to try alternative remedies. ‘Nonvitamin, nonmineral natural products,’ including fish oil and herbal medicines, were the most commonly used alternatives, taken by almost 18 percent of Americans in 2007, the report said. Among those users, roughly a quarter said they delayed or didn’t get conventional medical care because of the cost.”
Many have considered integrative medicine to be cost-effective medicine. Consumers are now voting with their pocketbook. Is Washington taking notice?

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