Massey University researchers are calling for people who use alternative medicines or dietary supplements to participate in the final phase of a three-year study.

Researchers from the university's School of Psychology in Albany are aiming to find out why people used alternative treatments and if they were "life-saving or life-styling".

The study arose from lead researcher Professor Kerry Chamberlain's observations that the role of medication in people's lives had become increasingly complex.

Direct advertising of pharmacological drugs, an influx of over-the-counter medications, internet-based medical advice and a wealth of alternative remedies and dietary supplements had changed the way people viewed and used different medications, he said.

"The study is primarily interested in discovering the meaning that all varieties of medications hold for people today.

"A more social approach to understanding attitudes and behaviour in relation to taking medication is important, given the huge investment by the health system."

Prof Chamberlain said the study would also look at misuse and storage of medication.

Initial findings from 20 households - which used a range of prescription medication, traditional remedies, dietary supplements and "enhanced" foods - showed personal identity, history, memories and family bonds were all associated with medications and their use.

- NZPA