Holistic Point of View

For centuries humans have looked to the power of nature to soothe and heal. And some healing methods go beyond the medical to include complementary, spiritual and natural remedies. Such treatments are increasing in popularity in Germany.

August, 2016

Traditional systems have developed over time that take a holistic view of the healing process by considering not only the physical but also the psychological and spiritual levels. Popular examples include traditional Chinese medicine, homeopathy, osteopathy, and acupuncture.

The efficacy of many of these practices has not been proven according to the standards of evidence-based medicine. Nevertheless, complementary and alternative medicine have enjoyed remarkable popularity in Germany for a number of decades. With stress-related issues and chronic conditions becoming increasingly common, Germans are looking ever more to traditional alternatives.

Acupuncture model.

© pixabay

Sixty-three percent of the German population have used complementary medicine, according to a study by the Bertelsmann Foundation. The most common users are between 40 and 59 years of age, female, and have high levels of education and income. The most popular treatments were found to be natural remedies and plant-based medicines used mainly to treat temporary illness, followed by homeopathy.

“Experts have estimated that Germany’s traditional Chinese medicine market alone is worth more than 3 billion euro annually,” says Melanie Wiegand, healthcare market expert at Germany Trade & Invest. “It is clear that the TCM market here is booming,” she says.

Germans are estimated to have spent an incredible EUR 0.5 billion on homeopathic substances in 2013 alone. Eighty percent of these substances were purchased directly from pharmacies without a prescription – so-called out-of-pocket purchases.

Nobel Inspiration

Interest in complementary alternative medicine was piqued last year when Tu Youyou was awarded the Nobel prize in physiology. In the 1960s, with chloroquine and quinine no longer proving as effective at treating malaria, Tu looked to traditional herbal medicine for inspiration. Her broad study of old Chinese remedies suggested that the plant Artemisia annua – or qing hao – could contain an effective active substance. Her study of ancient texts guided her to extract what was later named artemisinin, which is used today in standard medical treatments for malaria.

According to a Roland Berger study, every adult in Germany spends an average of  EUR 900 on their health each year in addition to monthly insurance contributions. “Many alternative and complimentary practices and products are paid for by patients out of their own pockets,” says Wiegand. “The country’s out-of-pocket market as a whole is estimated to be worth more than EUR 40 billion. Growth has been extremely promising at a rate of four percent per year for more than a decade.”

Germany offers investors in complementary and alternative medicine a number of unique advantages. Nine out of ten Germans are covered by one of many public health insurance funds, with the remainder insured privately. German law requires certain complementary and alternative procedures to be covered by public insurers, such as acupuncture for chronic lumbar pain or osteoarthritis of the knee. However, many public funds now provide additional cover for other complementary and alternative treatments.

An interesting factor is that there are around 16,000 medical doctors in Germany who have completed extra training courses in complementary and alternative medicine. They may use the title Arzt für Naturheilverfahren, meaning doctor for naturopathic treatment, in addition to their medical title. Furthermore, in Germany non-medical practitioners known as Heilpraktiker may carry out complementary and alternative medicine. It is estimated that there are 35,000 Heilpraktiker in the country.

“The German market for complementary and alternative medicine is of growing interest for international companies,” says Wiegand. “The out-of-pocket healthcare segment, in particular, offers huge opportunities.”