Edzard Ernst’s group at Peninsula Medical School, Universities of Exeter in England has published another study that is critical of one aspect of complementary medicine.
They set out to summarize and evaluate the evidence from randomized clinical trials for the effectiveness of individualized herbal medicine.
They conducted a search of electronic databases and also contacted experts in the field to identify randomized controlled clinical trials of individualized herbal medicine. They then conducted an independent data extraction and assessed the quality of the studies.
They found three randomized clinical trials of individualized herbal medicine. They concluded that statistically non-significant trends favoring herbal remedies over placebo treatment in osteoarthritis of the knee probably resulted from large baseline differences and “regression to the mean.”
They also concluded that individualized treatment was superior to placebo in four of five outcome measures in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome, but was inferior to standardized herbal treatment in all outcomes.
Finally individualized herbal treatment was no better than placebo in the prevention of chemotherapy-induced toxicity.
The final conclusion was that there is very little evidence regarding the effectiveness of individualized herbal medicine.
Though this result is rather gloomy, it is important not to throw out the baby with the bathwater.
The researchers did the right thing: they asked the experts and examined the published data. Yet every practitioner has seen herbal remedies that seem to help certain specific conditions. So my take on this study is not to abandon herbalism, but to realize that there is a great deal more research to be done.