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Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Natural Products

An overview of complementary and integrative medicine including history, branches of practice, professionals, and research methods.

What Are Natural Products? 

Natural products in complementary medicine feature a variety of herbs, botanicals, vitamins, minerals, and probiotics. These items are readily available, and are often found in food (such as yogurt) or sold as dietary supplements.  

According to a 2012 National Health Interview Survey, 17.7% of American adults had used a dietary supplement in the past year. Of these, fish oil/omega 3 was the most commonly used. (NHIS 2012)

Herbs for sale at a market in Aranda de Duero, Spain

Public Domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons

St. John's Wort

Used in traditional European medicine as far back as the ancient Greeks, St. John's wort is a plant with distinctive yellow flowers. Most often used today as a dietary supplement, the flowering tops of the plant are used to prepare teas, liquid extracts, tablets, and capsules. St. John's Wort has historically been used to treat a variety of conditions including depression, insomnia, and wound healing. 

Aloe Vera

Perhaps best known as a topical treatment for burns, frostbite, psoriasis, and cold sores, Aloe Vera's use can be traced back 6,000 years to early Egypt. Two substances created from the plant, gel and latex, are used in health products today. Besides skin conditions the products have also been taken orally for osteoarthritis, bowel diseases, fever, and constipation. 


Probiotics are live microorganisms similar to the microorganisms residing in the human stomach. Referred to as "good bacteria" or "friendly bacteria" probiotics are regularly sold as yogurt, drinks, and dietary supplements. Scientists have been examining the effectiveness of probiotics for preventing or treating a variety of health conditions such as tooth decay, digestive disorders, liver disease, and the common cold.