Alternative Medicine

Overviews of Cochrane Reviews in Complementary Medicine

A joint project between the Consumer Network (CCNet) and the Complementary Medicine Field

The use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) by the public is an increasingly common phenomenon. Interestingly, dissatisfaction with conventional medicine is not driving the upsurge in CAM use. Rather, it is associated with the belief that a combination of CAM and conventional treatment provides more optimal healing than conventional medicine alone. CAM users also enjoy a sense of participation in their healing, and feel a similaritybetween CAM and their personal values and philosophy. An idealised vision of ‘what is natural is good’ also leads people to CAM.

The Cochrane Complementary Medicine Field defines complementary medicine as practices and ideas that are defined by their users as “preventing or treating illness, or promoting health and well being”, and which are “outside the domain of conventional medicine in several countries.”

This definition is deliberately broad as therapies considered complementary practices in one country or culture may be conventional in another. Many therapies and practices are included within the scope of the Complementary Medicine Field. These include treatments people can administer themselves (herbs, nutritional supplements, meditation), treatments administered by providers (acupuncture, massage, reflexology, chiropractic and osteopathic manipulations), and treatments under the supervision of a provider (yoga, biofeedback, Tai Chi, homoeopathy, physical therapies and Ayurveda).

People want accessible, evidence-based information about these CAM therapies and practices. They want to know if there is any evidence that they work. Cochrane reviews reported as summaries can provide some of that information, or highlight the lack of it. CCNet has joined with the Complementary Medicine Field to make summaries of Cochrane reviews more available. The overviews produced will provide short and comprehensible summaries of all the Cochrane reviews of CAM therapies used for treating a specific condition.

For example, one of the early overviews summarises the Cochrane evidence for the effects of various CAM therapies on menstrual pain. The aim of the overviews is to ensure that the high quality science of the Cochrane CAM reviews is maintained, while also including the perspective of consumers who may use the therapies. The completed overviews will be posted on the Complementary Medicine Field website ( and discussed on the Cochrane Consumer Network website (

The Cochrane Library is not readily accessible to consumers. Many, including most North Americans, do not have ready access to the Library, and so this project will go some way to bridging the gap in accessibility to evidence-based information. The overviews prepared will also be available in relevant newsletters, magazines, and other publications.

It is hoped that Cochrane Review Groups will assist us in this project, wherever possible. CCNet and the Complementary Medicine Field were involved in extensive early discussions over the format and structure of these overviews. The project is now organised around a core writing group, with networking and teamwork among CCNet members including the US Cochrane Center’s Consumers United for Evidence-based Healthcare (CUE). We are making every effort to make the information internationally relevant and accessible. A project advisory group oversees this teamwork, its main remit being to ensure quality by providing guidance, feedback and accountability.

Janet Wale and Eric Manheimer Cochrane Consumer Network

This project is funded in part by the Grant Number R24 AT001293 from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).

This grant supports the activities of the Complementary Medicine Field at the Center for Integrative Medicine, University of Maryland School of Medicine. The contents of the overviews are solely the responsibility of the authors.

Posted 5/06

2011 Cochrane Colloquium – Madrid

Identifying Research Gaps in CAM – Can a Cochrane Consumer Make a Difference?

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