See What HealthDay Can Do For You
Contact Us

More Knowledge, Scrutiny of Alternative Medicine Urged

Panel calls for more clinical trials of growing therapy

MONDAY, Feb. 25, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- With their ever-growing thirst for alternative therapies, Americans need more -- and more accurate -- information about the products and services they're consuming, according to a new report from a White House panel.

The panel, created during the Clinton administration, recommends that alternative and complementary treatments undergo the same clinical trials applied to conventional drugs and practices. And it says all doctors need training in these therapies, while alternative care practitioners need to know more about conventional medicine and research methods -- especially since so many Americans combine the two streams of care.

"We need to have research that really reflects how people actually obtain their health care," said James S. Gordon, a physician and chairman of the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy, which prepared the report. "It's not enough just to look at one herb, one drug or one mind-body intervention."

Between 30 and 40 percent of Americans use alternative and complementary medical products or procedures, such as acupuncture, herbal supplements and diet aids, said Gordon, director of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, D.C.

In the absence of a single, authoritative source of information about these treatments, consumers are largely on their own at distinguishing marketing fictions from medical facts. "The public needs far better authoritative information from an unbiased source about which of these therapies work and for whom," Gordon said. "They now have a huge amount of information, much of which is put out by people who have a good deal to gain, like manufacturers."

The draft document was hashed out during a two-day meeting last week, but it has been in the making for two years. In the process, the panelists sought input from more than 2,000 people and groups. A final version of the report is expected early next month. Gordon says he doesn't expect the draft to undergo major revisions.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine currently funds about $100 million in research into these therapies. But the 19-member panel says a high-level umbrella agency, similar to the Office on Women's Health, is needed to oversee the various facets of research and education efforts.

It also calls for stronger regulation of the diet aid industry, including more thorough reporting to the Food and Drug Administration of adverse reactions and stricter control over product labeling. "Everybody in America needs to know if they're buying a supplement that what's on the label is in the bottle," Gordon said.

The panel also suggests educating schoolchildren about the importance of exercise, healthful diet and stress management. And it recommends expanding complementary and alternative approaches that promote health in the workplace.

Jackie Wootton, president and director of the Alternative Medicine Foundation in Bethesda, Md., testified at last week's meeting and generally supports the draft document. "I think it has vision and realism," said Wootton, whose group provides information to consumers and practitioners.

Still, Wootton sees areas that are prone to conflict. The report, for example, urges states to regulate complementary and alternative products and practitioners, and to require providers of these services to announce their credentials to prospective patients.

Many states already have certification rules in place for acupuncturists and chiropractors. But extending those to other alternative medicine specialists will likely trigger confusion, since it's often difficult to classify practices like aromatherapy or healing energy fields, Wootton said. "It isn't going to be easy because it's very difficult to demarcate some of these" areas, Wootton said.

The document also stresses the need for more funding for clinical trials of alternative remedies, just as drugs and other conventional treatments are subject to rigorous testing. While Wootton agrees that these trials "have their place," she fears that isolating individual elements of a treatment, such as a blend of herbs, may dilute its combined effect. "They're usually mind-body-spirit therapy as well," she said.

Then there's the question of whether the imprimatur of a controlled trial will deter people from using a treatment that fails such a test. "A lot of people will continue to dispute the results of a clinical trial and will want to keep using it," Wootton said.

What To Do

For more on alternative medicine, visit the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine or the Alternative Medicine Foundation.

You can also try the Center for Mind-Body Medicine.

For more on the report, try the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy.

SOURCES: Interviews with James S. Gordon, M.D., director, Center for Mind-Body Medicine, Washington, D.C., and Jackie Wootton, president and director, Alternative Medicine Foundation, Bethesda, Md.; White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy draft report
Consumer News