Many Australian women are turning to Chinese medicine to treat chronic medical conditions, and doctors are concerned.
The younger the woman is the more likely they are to bypass the local GP and turn to 'complimentary' medicine, new research has found.
A longitudinal study of 17 thousand participants found in just one year acupuncture was used by around 1 in 10 women aged 34-39 years and around 1 in 16 women aged 62-67 years.
Women with arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome and endometriosis were more likely to use Chinese medicine and acupuncture, according to the University of Technology, Sydney study.
It also found the older women who consulted an acupuncturist were more likely to have low iron levels, anxiety disorder and depression, while those who were married or in a de facto relationship were less likely to use Chinese medicine compared to their single counterparts.
Those with private health insurance were 1.65 times more likely to use the treatment compared to those without.
"This research is important in providing a first examination of the prevalence and predictors of acupuncture and Chinese medicine use amongst women in Australia," co-author Professor Jon Adams said.
Dr Tony Bartone, Vice President of the Australian Medical Association, says the study findings are concerning because it confirms anecdotal information that large numbers of Australians are choosing Chinese medicine for "hard-to-treat" medical conditions.
"It is more concerning that younger people and those with private health insurance are more likely to seek these treatments without the advice of their family doctor," Dr Bartone told AAP.
Chinese herbal medicine has a long history of use, dating back thousands of years and it continues to be used in many countries as the first and primary treatment of choice.
It traditionally involves the use of raw herbs boiled in water for a period of time, which is then consumed as a liquid tea.
There are also a range of other options for taking herbal medicine are also available.
Dr Bartone says patients should always consult their GP first because there is little evidence supporting the efficacy of Chinese medicine.
He agrees with the authors of the UTS study that much more significant research is needed on the use of alternative medicines and to find out why they are becoming so popular.
"Acupuncture has been shown that it may have a role in a narrow range of conditions," Dr Bartone acknowledged.
"However, the credible scientific studies throughout the world have failed to demonstrate robust reliable evidence that these modalities have a role to play, if any, in the management of the conditions highlighted in the study.
Dr Bartone also proposed that private health insurers only fund benefits for evidence-based treatments.