The use of complementary and alternative medicine among refugees: a systematic review

UMMS Affiliation

Center for Integrated Primary Care; Department of Family Medicine and Community Health

Publication Date


Document Type



Alternative and Complementary Medicine | Behavioral Medicine | Health Psychology | Integrative Medicine | Migration Studies | Race and Ethnicity


Little is known about the use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) among refugees, despite the common practice of CAM in many non-Western countries. We performed a systematic review of peer-reviewed literature using nine electronic databases. We included articles pertaining to refugees and CAM (whole medical systems, mind body medicine, herbal remedies, manipulative therapies, energy medicine). Qualitative and quantitative data were compiled and analyzed through descriptive statistics and chi square distribution tables. We reviewed 237 abstracts, and 47 publications met our inclusion criteria. Twenty-six papers documented whole medical systems; 11 mind-body medicine; 5 biologically based practices; 4 manipulative and body-based therapies; and 1 study documented the use of energy medicine. There were 3 clinical trials, 20 surveys, 12 case reports, 2 participant-observer qualitative papers, and 10 review papers. Most studies focused on Asian refugee populations (66%; n = 31). Mental problems related to trauma accounted for 36% of CAM use (17). Among included articles, methodological quality was extremely low. Our results show evidence that type of CAM used by refugees may vary based on ethnicity, yet this is most likely due to a bias in the medical literature. Efforts are needed to further explore these results and expand research within this field.


Refugee, Torture survivor, Complementary and alternative medicine, Traditional medicine

DOI of Published Version



J Immigr Minor Health. 2011 Jun;13(3):585-99. doi: 10.1007/s10903-010-9318-8. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Journal of immigrant and minority health


At the time of publication, Paula Gardiner was not yet affiliated with the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Related Resources

Link to Article in PubMed

PubMed ID