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What Is Evidence-Based Alternative Medicine?

Dan Harkins
By Dan Harkins
Updated May 17, 2024
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Many turn to alternative or complementary medicine to battle illness and injury on as many fronts as possible. Instead of frowning on the practice, many established medical institutions encourage it, as long as evidence-based alternative medicine is used. This means patients use therapies or herbal medicines with proven track records and clinical support — not just a remedy that a few purported doctors say is effective.

The ministries of health in many nations study the efficacy of numerous treatments and medicines, and then inform medical practitioners about these findings. In the United States, for instance, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) focuses its evidence-based alternative medicine research at the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). Here, scientists collate research by the benefits and side effects of various treatments and medicines, and then present those findings so that the public can wisely and safely use what is offered commercially.

To approach treatment of various medical ailments in an evidence-based way means to research the available therapies ahead of time to make the most of all available remedies. For instance, a patient being treated for high blood pressure may be seeking help beyond the prescription medicine, dietary changes and exercise regimen his or her doctor has prescribed. He or she would research those alternative medicine treatments that have shown the most success in clinical trials, such as garlic, omega-3 lipids or cod liver oil, and then take doses at officially recommended amounts.

Some of the more respected, evidence-based alternative therapies include acupuncture, chiropractic care, massage therapy and reflexology. Many herbal remedies also have stood the test of time and scientific scrutiny. To weed out unwise providers, the NCCAM offers credentialing and training, as do government agencies in various countries.

Other disciplines and remedies are slower to make waves in evidence-based alternative medicine. These might include practices like spiritual healing, biofeedback therapy, meditation, yoga or tai chi. Many manufacturers also offer herbal or mineral supplements with astounding healing claims — some that may have merit and others that have none at all.

This is where evidence-based alternative medicine can come in handy. When faced with an exotic-sounding medical cure, average citizens can usually find scientific backing for the claims with some basic Internet searches. For herbal remedies, many in the United States turn to the NIH or visit the HerbMed® Web site run by the American Botanical Council, since both catalog studies performed with numerous so-called remedies. Nevertheless, many medical issues are still handled in cultural ways in 2011. For instance, in India, many herbal remedies from the ancient medicinal practice of Ayurveda are widely accepted as medical treatments, despite still-cynical reluctance from western medical institutions and pharmaceutical manufacturers.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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