National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH)
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NCCIH’s Funding Priorities and Research Focus

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The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) funds and conducts research to help answer important scientific and public health questions about complementary and integrative health approaches. NCCIH works to determine what is promising, what helps and why, what doesn’t work, and what is safe.

NCCIH’s Funding Priorities

This graphic depicts two priority areas covering what NCCIH studies[1]: mind and body practices (acupuncture, massage, meditatino, spinal manipulation, deep-breathing exercises, hypnotherapy, qi gong, tai chi, etc.) and natural products (herbs, botanicals, dietary supplements, probiotics, etc.).  Six important questions about complementary health approaches include: pain; interactions and safety; biological effects; mechanisms; healthy behaviors; and symptoms.

Exploring the Science of Complementary and Alternative Medicine: NCCAM Third Strategic Plan 2011–2015 (1.7MB PDF)

Setting Funding Priorities

The field of complementary and integrative health encompasses a large and diverse array of practices, products, and disciplines. To best focus its research investment, NCCIH’s strategic plan outlines a framework of factors for setting research priorities including

  • Scientific promise
  • Amenability to rigorous scientific study
  • Potential to change health practices
  • Relationship to real world use.

NCCIH’s Grant Portfolio

NCCIH’s grants demonstrate a diverse and robust research portfolio designed to address significant public health needs. They reflect the framework for priority setting in the Center's strategic plan.

NCCIH’s Budget at NIH

NCCIH is part of NIH, the Nation’s medical research agency and the largest source of funding for medical research in the world. NCCIH receives a small percentage of the NIH budget. Find information on the NCCIH budget here.

NCCIH’s Key Areas of Research

Pain Research: Employing Mind and Body Approaches

A major focus for NCCIH is research related to chronic pain, an enormous public health problem that affects 100 million Americans and costs more than $600 billion per year in treatments and lost productivity. Current drug-based treatment options are only partially effective and can have serious side effects. NCCIH’s research exploring non-drug approaches, such as mind and body practices, that may help in treating chronic pain is a top priority. In fact, a large percentage of our portfolio supports research on pain. We’re playing a key role not only in determining the value of non-drug approaches and self-management strategies, but also in understanding the neuroscience of pain.

  • NCCIH plays a leadership role in the NIH Pain Consortium, including the NIH Task Force on Research Standards for Chronic Low Back Pain. The task force developed recommendations for core measures of back pain for use in clinical research.
  • NCCIH is involved in an ongoing initiative to stimulate research on the use of complementary approaches for pain and symptom management in military and veteran populations. NCCIH, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse are working together to support research on non-drug approaches to managing pain and related health conditions in U.S. military personnel, veterans, and their families.
  • NCCIH’s intramural research program, based on the NIH campus, focuses on the role of the brain in perceiving, modifying, and managing pain. The program’s long-term goal is to improve clinical management of chronic pain through the integration of drug and non-drug approaches. The program is investigating the role of the brain in processing and controlling pain, and how factors such as emotion, attention, environment, and genetics affect pain perception. Complementary health practices often used to control pain, such as meditation and yoga, are also being studied.

Natural Product Research: Investigating Safety and Mechanisms

Research on the safety of natural products is another priority for NCCIH, given the widespread availability and use of these products by the public. In particular, we need better scientific information about interactions between natural products and drugs. Well-documented examples include interactions involving St. John’s wort or grapefruit juice. Each has an ability to decrease or increase the blood levels of various prescription medications. NCCIH funds a Center of Excellence for Natural Product Drug Interaction Research to provide leadership in the study of important interactions.

NCCIH-funded research also delves into the biology of small molecules and how diets rich in fruits and vegetables positively affect health. And, as our understanding of the human microbiome continues to expand, we are exploring the promise of probiotics, examining the mechanisms by which they may impact health.

Research Findings From NCCIH

These research highlights represent just a few of the thousands of articles in the peer-reviewed literature that NCCIH grantees have published [PubMed]. To see additional posted research results, visit here.

NHIS logo

The most recent National Health Interview Survey, supported by NCCIH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, produced a wealth of new findings about the use of complementary health approaches, why people take natural products or practice yoga, the prevalence of pain, and more.

a manholds his back in pain

Researchers funded in part by NCCIH developed a new―and possibly the first in the United States―questionnaire that predicts which patients with acute low-back pain will develop chronic low-back pain.

spinal manipulation by a chiropractor

An NCCIH-funded study, published in the journal Spine, found that the most common type of spinal manipulation used by chiropractors, manual thrust manipulation, is better than usual medical care at reducing disability and pain for people with acute low-back pain.

A doctor performing acupuncture on a man's back.

A special issue of the journal Nutrition is devoted entirely to research conducted at a Botanical Research Center funded in part by NCCIH. The special issue covers new approaches to enhancing the bioavailability of substances from plants, how traditional herbal remedies can be screened to evaluate their possible medicinal properties, and various aspects of the herbs Artemisia and St. John’s wort.

Lactobacillus Bacteria

A study of the human microbiome suggests that some bacteria that live in our bodies manufacture antibiotics, and that these substances may be capable of fighting infection. The researchers used techniques that identify the DNA blueprint for production of microbial natural products and hold great promise for understanding many aspects of the interactions between microbes and their human hosts.

Looking Ahead: NCCIH Research in Progress

grapes

In a series of studies, researchers are investigating the possible role of grape seed polyphenol extract, Concord grape juice, and resveratrol for improving cognitive and psychological resilience during times of stress. They are also looking at how the body’s microbiome may affect its ability to use those components.

A Person doing Tai Chi

How does tai chi chih affect the brain of older people with depression, in comparison to a health and wellness seminar? Researchers are using fMRI brain scans of 220 participants to investigate whether the clinical and cognitive benefits of tai chi chih may be accompanied by changes in brain connectivity.

A woman in a Yoga pose.

Can yoga help reduce restless legs syndrome, a common disorder that disrupts sleep, mood, and quality of life? Researchers are finding out.

A young African-American woman meditates next to a pool.

Many of the people who come home from the hospital after being on life support suffer from persistent depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Researchers are studying whether a mindfulness meditation training program provided by telephone and the internet will help.

Person standing on a weight scale.

With obesity a growing national health crisis and costs mounting to more than $140 billion a year, can mind and body stress management programs improve outcomes in a workplace-based weight loss program? NCCIH funded researchers are looking into it.

Woman holds her back in pain.

Lower back pain affects 80 percent of Americans at some point in their lives and is a leading form of disability. Researchers are studying what role non-drug approaches, such as mind and body interventions, play in managing symptoms.

To stay up to date on NCCIH’s research:

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This page last modified January 12, 2016