Regulating Alternative Medications

Alternative remedies, which are unregulated by any federal agency, have increased in popularity mainly based on anecdotal reports and beliefs: assume a therapy works unless someone can prove that it does not work (innocent until proven guilty). This approach is diametrically opposed to the scientific method underlying pharmaceutical testing and approval (guilty until proven innocent), and has created a bridge that has proven difficult to cross. Fortunately, the NIH has begun to fund randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials of these alternative remedies (NIH-funded studies of ginkgo for memory disorders and St. John's wort for depression are ongoing), to try to establish how effective they are and what side effects occur. Stay tuned for the results.

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