‘Complementary and alternative medicine’ describes a wide range of healthcare medicines and therapies. Many Australians use complementary medicines for specific health conditions or health benefits. To help Australians to make informed decisions about their health care, we support research into complementary and alternative medicine and publish information about the effectiveness of various treatments. 

Under the National Health and Medical Research Council Act 1992, NHMRC has a responsibility to inquire into, issue guidelines on, and advise the community on, matters relating to: the improvement of health, the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease, the provision of health care, public health research and medical research and ethical issues relating to health.

NHMRC is of the view that all health treatments, whether conventional, traditional or complementary, should be subject to a rigorous evaluation of the evidence for effectiveness. Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM), also referred to as Complementary Medicine (CM), are broad terms used to describe a wide range of health care medicines and therapies (forms of treatment that do not involve medicines).

Building the evidence base for CAM has been a commitment of NHMRC over a number of triennia, commencing in 2006. A number of initiatives have aimed to stimulate research to investigate the use and effectiveness of CAM and strengthen the integration of complementary and alternative therapies into the health care system. NHMRC broadened its focus in 2012-2015 to ensure that all health treatments, whether conventional, traditional or complementary, be subject to a rigorous evaluation of the evidence for their effectiveness. As such NHMRC committed to continuing to increase knowledge through the funding of investigator-driven research on CAM.

Talking with your patients about Complementary Medicine – a Resource for Clinicians

NHMRC, under the guidance of the Health Care Committee, has developed a resource for clinicians to facilitate discussion with patients regarding their use of CM.

In April 2014, NHMRC published Talking with your patients about Complementary Medicine – a Resource for Clinicians. This resource aims to promote collaborative discussions between clinicians and their patients about the use of CM.  The ultimate aim of the Resource is to better equip patients to make informed decisions about their health care.

The Resource is aimed at clinicians, including medical practitioners, nurses, nurse practitioners and allied health professionals.  Whilst not the primary target audience for the Resource, members of the Australian community, who use or are considering using CM, may also find the document helpful.

Homeopathy review

Homeopathy is a type of CAM that is commonly used in Australia and around the world.

NHMRC has reviewed the scientific evidence, under the guidance of the Homeopathy Working Committee, for the effectiveness of homeopathy in treating a variety of clinical conditions with the aim of providing Australians with reliable information about its use.

Release of draft 2012 report

NHMRC is releasing an unfinished draft report of an overview of systematic reviews of homeopathy that was started in 2012 as part of the Homeopathy Review, but never completed. There have been a number of enquiries about the draft report and requests for its release.  NHMRC’s Chief Executive Officer is aware of ongoing community interest in the content of this draft report, and that there is a substantial body of misinformation about it. 

To address this misinformation, NHMRC is providing an annotated version of the report. This shows NHMRC’s concerns with the report and why it did not progress to be used in the Homeopathy Review that produced the NHMRC Statement on Homeopathy and the NHMRC Information Paper: Evidence of the effectiveness of homeopathy for treating health conditions (2015). The report was never completed and has not undergone the usual NHMRC quality assurance steps. The Council of NHMRC has not considered it or endorsed it. 

Other activities

Research funding

NHMRC supports investigator-driven research into Complementary Medicine through its funding schemes such as Investigator Grants and Ideas Grants. Since 2007, NHMRC has provided more than $67 million in funding for scientific research into complementary medicine and alternative therapies, through competitive, peer reviewed processes.

Reviewing the evidence of effectiveness of natural therapies 

In 2014 the Office of NHMRC was commissioned by the Department of Health to perform a series of systematic reviews of systematic reviews (overviews) of the scientific literature examining the effectiveness and, where available, the safety and cost effectiveness of a number of natural therapies.

The outcomes of these 2014 reviews were provided to the Department to assist them in their 2015 review of the Review of the Australian Government Rebate on Private Health Insurance for Natural Therapies.

The Department is updating this 2015 review to contribute to its revision of  policies on health insurance rebates. As part of this, NHMRC will oversee the evidence reviews of 16 natural therapies including homeopathy. The reports on the evidence reviews will be provided to the Department.

It is expected this review will be completed in late 2020.