Reviewers will determine which complementary and alternative therapies really work
Can acupuncture really get rid of a headache? Does echinacea or zinc prevent the common cold? Will fish oil help people with type II diabetes? There are lots of claims about the benefits of complementary medicine therapies, but which of them really work?
The University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine is using a $1.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to evaluate the findings of thousands of studies in the field of complementary and alternative medicine. When the evaluations are completed, the center's reviewers will translate these findings into smaller, consumer-friendly materials that summarize the important information about each condition and the complementary therapy used to treat it.
"Our goal is to offer the general public, health care providers and policy makers high quality information on the benefits and risks of these therapies," says Brian Berman, M.D., founder and director of the Center for Integrative Medicine and professor of family medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
"Scientific reviews can be extremely long with a lot of complex scientific information. We plan to take those reports and produce one or two page fact sheets that will be available to the public," explains Eric Manheimer, director of database and evaluation for the Center for Integrative Medicine.
These fact sheets will contain basic information about the alternative therapy including benefits and risks. They will also list what conditions the specific therapy may help. This information will be available on the Internet on various sites including the center's Web site.
In one of their first reviews, researchers are looking at acupuncture and low back pain. They are analyzing data from more than two dozen studies to see if this therapy can provide relief for people with this common problem.
Acupuncture is also the topic for two other reviews now in progress - for relieving post-operative pain and for treating headache. Another review currently underway looks at whether the herb "devil's claw," an African plant belonging to the sesame family, can be an effective treatment for muscle pain. Other studies to be reviewed include such topics as massage, herbal medicine, vitamins, chiropractic care, exercise, electromagnetic therapy, homeopathy, prayer, therapeutic touch, music therapy and yoga.
Some of the reviews may take more than a year to produce, depending on the number of studies that need to be evaluated for each topic. The systematic evaluations involve strict criteria and rigorous examination of data and methodology. They will be published on-line and in medical journals.
The Center for Integrative Medicine, located at Kernan Hospital in Baltimore's Woodlawn community, is doing this work as part of its involvement with the Cochrane Collaboration. The Cochrane Collaboration is dedicated to providing a scientific base of evidence for medical practice in a broad range of topics. The organization prepares and maintains systematic reviews of medical procedures and therapies to provide consumers with unbiased information so they can make the best decisions about their healthcare.
The University of Maryland's Center for Integrative Medicine serves as the Cochrane Collaboration's "Field" for complementary and alternative medicine, meaning the center coordinates and manages all reviews in this field of study. The Cochrane Collaboration Web site will publish the center's reviews and fact sheets.
The Center for Integrative Medicine also will summarize its reviews in a regular column in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, the most widely read professional journal for complementary and alternative medicine. These columns will give health care providers information on how specific complementary therapies can be applied to patient care.
"We are very excited about the opportunity to get this information to the public at a time when more and more people are interested in complementary medicine," says Dr. Berman. "The University of Maryland's Center for Integrative Medicine has always been a leader in using evidence-based research to evaluate complementary and alternative therapies. Now we're taking that research one step further by creating a system to bring that information to health care providers and the general public."
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