A comparison of the efficacy and safety of CAM versus medicine in general

There is reliable scientific data on CAM

The level of CAM research has changed significantly over the past 25 years. Not only has the number of high-quality scientific database research increased (see page 31 and the following pages), but we now also have access to data on the level of patient satisfaction and the cost-effectiveness of combining conventional medicine and CAM. This data is based on the lengthy practical implementation of CAM in clinical praxis.

Several serious research projects have focused on the safety and efficacy of CAM

“Over the last few decades an increasing amount of research has been published on the effectiveness of CAM modalities. In fact, the Cochrane Collaboration, an international effort to develop an evidence base for a wide variety of medical therapies, both conventional and CAM, lists more than 4,000 randomized trials for various CAM therapies in its electronic library. Furthermore, a number of Cochrane Collaboration systematic reviews of this worldwide research literature have identified the potential benefits of CAM and related approaches and products for a number of chronic conditions. At the Cochrane Summaries website over 600 Cochrane reviews related to CAM can be found. Any individual scientific paper related to CAM is accessible at ‘CAM on PubMed’, a subset of PubMed at the US National Library of Medicine.

A review of 145 Cochrane reviews of RCTs in the field of CAM using the 2004 database revealed that 24.8% concluded with a positive effect or possibly positive effect (12.4%), 4.8% concluded that there was no effect, 0.69% concluded that there was a harmful effect, and 56.6% concluded that there was insufficient evidence. These figures have similarities to data obtained from an analysis of 1016 systematic reviews of RCTs in medicine in general using the 2004 database: 44.4% of the reviews concluded that the interventions studied were likely to be beneficial (positive), 7% concluded that the interventions were likely to be harmful (negative), and 47.8% reported that the evidence did not support either benefit or harm (non-conclusive).

  (Possible) positive effect Likely to have no effect Likely to be harmful Insufficient evidence
CAM 37,2% 4,8% 0,69% 56,6%
Medicine in general 44,4% 0,98% 7% 47,8%

Table 5 – A comparison of the efficacy and safety of CAM versus medicine in general. Based on the Cochrane database analysis

Source: EUROCAM. CAM 2020 – The contribution of Complementary and Alternative Medicine to sustainable healthcare in Europe [online].

Several long-term outcome studies have shown that CAM therapies can be at least as effective as conventional care with fewer side effects and higher patient satisfaction. Other research studies have shown that three quarters of chronically ill patients undergoing CAM treatment described themselves as ‘moderately better’ or ‘much better’. CAM modalities may be particularly helpful in motivating and supporting healthy lifestyle change thereby helping people to maintain health and prevent illness.” (142)

Economic analyses of the cost-effectiveness of CAM

“CAM modalities are typically not dependent on complex and expensive technological interventions, instead providing low-cost treatments. In contrast with conventional prescription drugs, homeopathic, herbal and anthroposophic medicines are generic, non-patentable medicinal substances that are produced at relatively low costs. By and large they do not incur any further costs caused by adverse effects.” (143)

“The use of CAM modalities may therefore offer significant cost savings to public health systems and to the economy more widely. Several research studies have demonstrated that patients who were treated with various CAM modalities used fewer medications, had better health, fewer days off sick, and fewer visits to medical specialists than patients of conventional physicians all of which can contribute to long-term compound savings in health budgets.”

The recent comprehensive systematic review of complementary and integrative medicine (CIM) showed that patients whose GP was also trained in a CAM method spent less on healthcare than those whose GP did not have such training.