Open Access Research article

Complementary and alternative medicine use among US Navy and Marine Corps personnel

Tyler C Smith1*, Margaret AK Ryan1, Besa Smith1, Robert J Reed1, James R Riddle2, Gia R Gumbs1 and Gregory C Gray3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Defense Center for Deployment Health Research at the Naval Health Research Center, San Diego, CA, USA

2 Air Force Research Laboratory, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH, USA

3 College of Public Health, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, USA

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BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2007, 7:16  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-7-16

Published: 16 May 2007



Recently, numerous studies have revealed an increase in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) use in US civilian populations. In contrast, few studies have examined CAM use within military populations, which have ready access to conventional medicine. Currently, the prevalence and impact of CAM use in US military populations remains unknown.


To investigate CAM use in US Navy and Marine Corps personnel, the authors surveyed a stratified random sample of 5,000 active duty and Reserve/National Guard members between December 2000 and July 2002. Chi-square tests and multivariable logistic regression were used to assess univariate associations and adjusted odds of CAM use in this population.

Results and discussion

Of 3,683 service members contacted, 1,446 (39.3%) returned a questionnaire and 1,305 gave complete demographic and survey data suitable for study. Among respondents, more than 37% reported using at least one CAM therapy during the past year. Herbal therapies were among the most commonly reported (15.9%). Most respondents (69.8%) reported their health as being very good or excellent. Modeling revealed that CAM use was most common among personnel who were women, white, and officers. Higher levels of recent physical pain and lower levels of satisfaction with conventional medical care were significantly associated with increased odds of reporting CAM use.


These data suggest that CAM use is prevalent in the US military and consistent with patterns in other US civilian populations. Because there is much to be learned about CAM use along with allopathic therapy, US military medical professionals should record CAM therapies when collecting medical history data.