Clinical research on traditional drugs and food items--the potential of comparative effectiveness research for interdisciplinary research

J Ethnopharmacol. 2013 May 2;147(1):254-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2013.02.024. Epub 2013 Feb 28.


Ethnopharmacological relevance: In the traditional context, herbs are often used as herbal whole system therapies, however, most clinical trials included highly selected patients and applied standardized treatment protocols with the aim to exclude as much bias as possible. These studies have contributed important information on the efficacy of herbal medicine extracts; however, their results are only marginally helpful to understand the value of herbal medicine and food items in a more traditional usual care context.

Methods: The new development of comparative effectiveness research (CER) will be introduced and synergies with ethnopharmacology will be outlined.

Results: CER provides great opportunities for guiding researchers and clinicians in improving management of disease. CER compares two or more health interventions in order to determine which of these options works best for which types of patients in settings that are similar to those in which the intervention will be used in practice. CER uses a broad spectrum of methodologies including randomized pragmatic trials that can also be applied to herbal whole system therapies. Ethnopharmacological research can provide highly relevant information for CER including data on characteristics of typical patients as well as traditional usage including methods of collection, extraction, and preparation. Recommendations for future research on traditional herbal medicine and food items are (1) a systematic cooperation between ethnopharmacology and clinical researchers and (2) a call for more CER on traditional herbal medicines and food items.

Conclusion: Multiple stakeholders, including ethnopharmacologists, should cooperate to identify relevant study questions as well share their knowledge to determine the optimal placement of a clinical trial in the efficacy-effectiveness-continuum.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Research / methods*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Comparative Effectiveness Research / methods*
  • Cooperative Behavior*
  • Diet Therapy*
  • Endpoint Determination
  • Ethnopharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Interdisciplinary Communication*
  • Phytotherapy
  • Plant Preparations / therapeutic use*
  • Plants, Medicinal
  • Research Design*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Plant Preparations