To assess the evidence surrounding the use of certain complementary supplements in otolaryngology. We specifically focussed on four commonly used supplements: spirulina, Ginkgo biloba, Vertigoheel® and nutritional supplements (cod liver oil, multivitamins and pineapple enzyme).
A systematic review of the English and foreign language literature. Inclusion criteria: in vivo human studies. Exclusion criteria: animal trials, in vitro studies and case reports. We also excluded other forms of ‘alternative medicine’ such as reflexology, acupuncture and other homeopathic remedies.
Lack of common outcome measures prevented a formal meta-analysis. Three studies on the effects of spirulina in allergy, rhinitis and immunomodulation were found. One was a double-blind, placebo, randomised, controlled trial (RCT) of patients with allergic rhinitis, demonstrating positive effects in patients fed spirulina for 12 weeks. The other two studies, although non-randomised, also reported a positive role for spirulina in mucosal immunity. Regarding the use of Ginkgo biloba in tinnitus, a Cochrane review published in 2004 showed no evidence for this. The one double-blind, placebo-controlled trial that followed confirmed this finding. Regarding the use of Vertigoheel in vertigo, two double-blind RCTs and a meta-analysis were identified. The first RCT suggested that Vertigoheel was equally effective in reducing the severity, duration and frequency of vertigo compared with betahistine. The second RCT suggested that Vertigoheel was a suitable alternative to G biloba in the treatment of atherosclerosis-related vertigo. A meta-analysis of only four clinical trials confirms that Vertigoheel was equally effective compared with betahistine, G biloba and dimenhydrinate. Regarding multivitamins and sinusitis, two small paediatric pilot studies reported a positive response for chronic sinusitis and otitis media following a course of multivitamins and cod liver oil. Regarding bromelain (pineapple enzyme) and sinusitis, one randomised, multicentre trial including 116 children compared bromelain monotherapy to bromelain with standard therapy and standard therapy alone, for the treatment of acute sinusitis. The bromelain monotherapy group showed a faster recovery compared with the other groups.
The positive effects of spirulina in allergic rhinitis and of Vertigoheel in vertigo are based on good levels of evidence, but larger trials are required. There is overwhelming evidence that G biloba may play no role in tinnitus. There is limited evidence for the use of multivitamins in sinus symptoms, and larger randomised trials are required.
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