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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Patterns of complementary and alternative medicine use amongst outpatients in Tokyo, Japan

Satoshi Hori12*, Iordan Mihaylov2, Joana C Vasconcelos3 and Malcolm McCoubrie2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Urology, West Suffolk Hospital, Bury St. Edmunds, UK

2 Departments of Community and Mental Health, St George's, University of London, UK

3 Centre for Applied Medical Statistics, Department of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Cambridge, UK

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BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2008, 8:14  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-8-14

Published: 23 April 2008



The use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) has been increasing rapidly throughout the world during the past decade. The use of CAM in the general Japanese population has been previously reported to be as high as 76%. This study aims to investigate the patterns of CAM use, perceived effectiveness and disclosure of CAM use to orthodox medical practitioners amongst patients attending typical primary and secondary care clinics in a busy district general hospital in Tokyo, Japan.


The authors analysed data collected during March 2002 on patients attending general outpatient clinics held at Shiseikai Daini Hospital in Tokyo, Japan. Data was collected by use of self-completed questionnaires distributed to patients in the outpatient clinics waiting area. Statistical analysis was performed using chi-square tests of independence.


515 adults were approached to participate in this study and the overall response rate was 96% (n = 496). 50% of the patients were using or have used at least 1 CAM therapy within the last 12 months. The 5 most commonly used therapies were massage (n = 106, 43%), vitamins (n = 85, 35%), health foods including dietary supplements (n = 56, 23%), acupressure (n = 51, 21%) and kampo (n = 46, 19%). The majority of CAM users (75%, n = 145) found their CAM treatment to be effective (95% CI = 68–81%). Patients who were more likely to use CAM were females (p = 0.003) and those with a high number of medical conditions (p = < 0.0001). Only a small proportion of patients reported their CAM use to their physician (42%, n = 74). There was no significant difference in CAM use for the different age groups (p = 0.85), education level (p = 0.30) and financial status (p = 0.82).


Patterns of CAM usage in the sample surveyed was high (50%). Despite this high prevalence rate and presumed acceptance of CAM in Japan, the reporting of CAM use by patients to their physicians was low (42%). It is therefore important that physicians are aware of the possibility that their patients may be using CAM and also increase their knowledge and understanding of these treatments.