Report Calls for Tougher Oversight of Alternative Medicine

It also suggests stricter regulation of dietary supplements

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By
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 12, 2005 (HealthDayNews) -- More than one-third of U.S. adults use alternative or complementary medicine, and an Institute of Medicine report released Wednesday calls for these treatments to be held to the same standards as conventional medicine.

In particular, the 327-page report recommends tougher oversight of dietary supplements. Among other actions, it asks Congress and others involved to amend the Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act of 1994, which classifies dietary supplements as foods instead of drugs, and doesn't require that manufacturers conduct efficacy or safety tests on their products.

For some advocates of alternative medicine, their own personal good experience is enough proof that it works, said Dr. Stuart Bondurant, executive dean at Georgetown University Medical Center, and chairman of the committee that wrote the report. For others, no amount of evidence is enough, he added.

But since there are ongoing quality control problems with dietary supplements, "standardized products are needed," Bondurant said.

"Health professionals and patients should have sufficient information about safety and efficacy to take advantage of all useful therapies, both conventional and complementary and alternative," Bondurant said in a statement. "To that end, we believe that the same research principles and standards for showing effectiveness should apply to both conventional and complementary and alternative treatments. And because evidence is a key element of prudent decision-making, we need to change the current regulation of dietary supplements in this country to encourage more studies of these widely used products to ensure their quality."

Judy Blatman, a spokeswoman for the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a supplement industry trade group, said the organization "is in the process of reviewing the report and plans to make comments." The council does not believe that the Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act (DSHEA) needs amending, she said. "We believe DSHEA is an appropriate law for the dietary industry. And the other point I'd like to make is that, by and large, dietary supplements are safe."

Complementary and alternative medicine refers to a wide group of medical practices and products, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the National Institutes of Health. Complementary describes techniques that are used in conjunction with conventional medicine; alternative means they are used in place of it.

Among techniques classified as alternative or complementary are massage therapy, homeopathic medicine, meditation and aromatherapy, to name a few.

The report was written to help the National Institutes of Health develop research methods and set priorities in evaluating standards for complementary or alternative treatments.

The recommendations are timely: The use of herbal products jumped 380 percent from 1990 to 1997, according to the panel, and one-fifth of the U.S. population now takes dietary supplements.

Bondurant and others involved in the report also recommended that more practitioners of complementary and alternative medicine be trained as researchers so they can conduct scientific studies on the treatments they provide.

However, the intent "is not to medicalize" complementary and alternative medicine, he added.

While fewer than 40 percent of Americans say they tell their primary-care doctors about their use of alternative or complementary techniques, according to the report, more than half of doctors say they would encourage patients to talk to them about it and would actually refer them for treatments if warranted.

There are an increasing number of educational programs, including some online, for doctors to educate themselves about complementary techniques, said Susan Folkman, a panel member and a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

More information

To learn more about complementary and alternative medicine, visit the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

SOURCES: Jan. 12, 2005, Webcast including Stuart Bondurant, M.D., executive dean, Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington, D.C., and Susan Folkman, professor, medicine, University of California, San Francisco; Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Sciences report on Complementary and Alternative Medicine

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