Strengthening the evidence base for naturopathic medicine

Published 20 August 2021
Two men seated, facing each other, in discussion

National Science Week is an important opportunity to acknowledge the contributions of Australian scientists to the world of knowledge.

The National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine (NCNM) has a particular focus on strengthening complementary and integrative medicine approaches via rigorous research, including a clinical trials program.

Leading the clinical trial program is Associate Professor Romy Lauche, Deputy Director (Research) at the National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine. She has extensive experience in clinical and non-clinical research, systematic reviews, meta-analysis, mixed-methods research and statistical analyses of large population health datasets. 

“I am so excited that we have the capacity to run clinical trials at Southern Cross University, not only because clinical trials are a passion of mine, but because they create valuable new evidence that is so urgently required in complementary and integrative medicine,” said Associate Professor Lauche.

“The naturopathic field is often criticized for unscientific practices and a lack of high-quality evidence to support its application in clinical practice.

“The clinical research can influence clinical practice, and vice versa, to improve products and practices used to prevent or treat health problems,” she said.

NCNM currently has four active trials, all of which are exploring uses of herbal medicines to support a range of health areas from sleep problems to menopause. Further trials are in the planning, including trials on non-pharmacological interventions such as yoga, mindfulness and manual therapies.

The most recent trial to go live is a trial on medicinal cannabis oil (cannabidiol, or CBD) to establish evidence for its use for sleeping problems. This national trial will be conducted across multiple sites in NSW, QLD and Victoria. Healthy adults with self-reported sleep disturbances are eligible for the trial, which will include over 400 participants for a 10-week study duration. Pending positive results, this trial will support the registration of CBD as a schedule 3 product and help Australians with sleep disturbances to access CBD via pharmacies.

Benefits to our region and beyond

Research shows that people in regional areas are often older, linking the population in these areas to a greater number of health conditions. Yet many regions, like the NSW Northern Rivers, have more limited access to healthcare. Clinical trials operations have the potential to help regional patients access health care via research, which is otherwise often focused in the big cities.

Naturopathic medicine also offers potential solutions for addressing major health care problems of the future, offering individualised, holistic practices integrating self-management and self-care practices. Conducting clinical trials in the area of non-pharmacological interventions will potentially benefit trial participants, while in the longer term aims to benefit the community and relieve the strain on the health care system.

“Our aim is to directly benefit the community by building an evidence base around natural products, so consumers, practitioners and policy are able to distinguish between potentially beneficial products and practices, and those that are ineffective or, even worse – harmful,” said Professor Lauche.

Dr Janet Schloss is a Clinical Research Fellow and Lecturer at NCNM. Dr Schloss has received industry recognised research awards and has a number of ground-breaking studies in her suite of publications in clinical naturopathy, cancer and auto-immune diseases, including findings from a medicinal cannabis and glioblastoma (brain tumour) trial.

“There are very few research centres in Australia that focus on complementary medicine that have the infrastructure and team behind them to carry out the scope of clinical trials we are doing,” said Dr Schloss.

“We are in a really valuable position to grow and build the capacity of clinical trials research.”

To continue building this capacity, NCNM is incorporating research into the curriculum of its degrees, including their Higher Degree Research (HDR) programs, producing graduates confident in research literacy and design.

If you are interested in one of our current trials, please use the links below to access more information about the studies, and apply:

The National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine at Southern Cross University is an internationally recognised centre of excellence and innovation in naturopathic medicine and health education, research and practice. NCNM creates, promotes and advocates a strong culture of incorporating evidence-based science into naturopathic education and clinical practice.

Media contact: Caitlin Zillman, NCNM Marketing and Communications Manager +61 424 632 177 or caitlin.zillman@scu.edu.au