Patients considering acupuncture, homeopathy or Chinese medicine can now look to a growing body of research to find out how effective these treatments are.
The Department of Health has announced £1.3 million for research and development into complementary and alternative medicines.
In the first round of the scheme, the department announced five awards. A PhD researcher in complementary medicine will work alongside the award holder to ensure that research capacity grows.
Public health minister Hazel Blears said: "Increasingly, the population is turning to complementary and alternative medicine sources as well as utilising mainstream medicine. The development of a solid evidence base for complementary and alternative medicine is therefore important."
Peter White, research physiotherapist at the University of Southampton, has already carried out research showing a 60 per cent improvement for sufferers from chronic neck pain after acupuncture treatment.
"But we also found a 60 per cent improvement among the placebo group," he said. "The new money enables us to find out whether it is the empathetic consultation that brings about the improvement. We are also seeking to find out the impact of different types of placebo - whether using a mock needle or a mock electronic stimulus brings about the same improvement."
Dr White said that many medical trials showed extremely strong placebo effects. "We need to find out what it is in a placebo trial that can have such a huge impact on people's health," he said.
Elaine Weatherley-Jones, senior research fellow at the University of Sheffield, will be comparing the success of homeopathy with cognitive behaviour therapy for chronic fatigue syndrome.
"I have already run a reasonably large trial looking at the impact of homeopathy on chronic fatigue syndrome. The award allows me to build on this work," she said.
Dr Weatherley-Jones has "a troop of homeopaths and a troop of cognitive behaviour therapists" ready to cooperate on the trial.
Other awards will fund research into male cancer patients' views and use of alternative medicines; the use of complementary treatments for asthma; and acupuncture for depression.