Alternative medicine: Introduction

Last updated: Sunday, July 12, 2015

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St John's wort 
Courtesy of www.naturkamera.de
Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is a broad term that includes herbal products, dietary supplements, homeopathic medicines, aromatherapy oils and many other beliefs, therapies, and practices (e.g. yoga, massage). In this section, we shall concentrate on dietary supplements, and herbal and homeopathic medicines.

Alternative medicine is perceived to be ‘safe’ by the general public despite often a lack of good quality evidence to support its efficacy and tolerability. Although a few studies have reported favourably on the use of selected preparations such as St John’s wort for depression, other large scale analyses such as glucosamine and chondroitin for osteoarthritis have failed to demonstrate benefits. For most alternative medicines there remains a lack of good quality research-based information.