Complementary medicine and safety: a systematic investigation of design and reporting of systematic reviews

Karen Pilkington, Anelia Boshnakova

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: The objective of this study was to examine the methods used in systematic reviews of safety across a range of complementary therapies to assess the variation in approach and the potential for developing guidance on conduct and reporting.

Design: Systematic reviews focusing on safety were retrieved from NHS Evidence and searches of major databases. A pre-prepared template was used for data extraction. Information extracted included details of search strategies, sources, participants, interventions, reported adverse event/effect(s) and causality assessment. Data extraction was carried out by one researcher and a check for accuracy by a second researcher. Methods were assessed against criteria based on guidance provided by the Cochrane Adverse Effects Methods Group.

Results: A total of 2563 citations were screened and 88 systematic reviews were selected for inclusion. The majority focused on the safety of herbs and nutritional supplements. Approximately half the reviews covered all aspects of safety; other reviews addressed specific adverse effects or interactions. Types of data included in the reviews did not always reflect the focus of the review. Search strategies, sources used, quality assessment and assessment of causality also varied.

Conclusions: Detailed examination and comparison of the methods has highlighted several areas in which there is potential for development of guidelines and consensus on standards. These include search strategies, sources of information, data extraction and assessment of causality. The value of systematic reviews in relation to large outcome studies requires further consideration.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-82
Number of pages10
JournalComplementary Therapies in Medicine
Issue number1-2
Early online date6 Nov 2011
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • complementary medicine
  • saftey
  • adverse events
  • systematic reviews
  • methodology


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