The identification of eligible controlled trials for systematic reviews of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) interventions can be difficult. To increase access to these difficult to locate trials, the Cochrane Collaboration Complementary Medicine Field (CAM Field) has established a specialized register of citations of CAM controlled trials. The objective of this study is to describe the sources and characteristics of citations included in the CAM Field specialized register.
Between 2006 and 2011, regular searches for citations of CAM trials in MEDLINE and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) were supplemented with contributions of controlled trial citations from international collaborators. The specialized register was ‘frozen’ for analysis in 2011, and frequencies were calculated for publication date, language, journal, presence in MEDLINE, type of intervention, and type of medical condition.
The CAM Field specialized register increased in size from under 5,000 controlled trial citations in 2006 to 44,840 citations in 2011. Most citations (60%) were from 2000 or later, and the majority (71%) were reported in English; the next most common language was Chinese (23%). The journals with the greatest number of citations were CAM journals published in Chinese and non-CAM nutrition journals published in English. More than one-third of register citations (36%) were not indexed in MEDLINE. The most common CAM intervention type in the register was non-vitamin, non-mineral dietary supplements (e.g., glucosamine, fish oil) (34%), followed by Chinese herbal medicines (e.g., Astragalus membranaceus, Schisandra chinensis) (27%).
The availability of the CAM Field specialized register presents both opportunities and challenges for CAM systematic reviewers. While the register provides access to thousands of difficult to locate trial citations, many of these trials are of low quality and may overestimate treatment effects. When including these trials in systematic reviews, adequate analysis of their risk of bias is of utmost importance.