In December of 2005, the Lancet published an article cleverly titled “The End of Homeopathy” which packed a major blow to homeopaths and doctors around the world when they asserted that according to their study the effects of homeopathy were placebo they are quoted as saying, “we assume that the effects observed in placebo-controlled trials of homeopathy could be explained by a combination of methodological deficiencies and biased reporting. Conversely, we postulated that the same biases could not explain the effects observed in comparable placebo-controlled trials of conventional medicine. Our results confirm these hypothesis” (Medhurst 1). This statement shocked the homeopathic world into action; no longer could they prove their science using the assumption that if it works it works. Hardcore statistics and large clinical trials were being required to continue the practice of homeopathy; the over two hundred year old medical system.
In opposition to what the 2005 Lancet article found about homeopathy, in the last few years complementary and alternative medicines have become increasingly more popular as a form of wellbeing. In 2008, 41% of Americans use[d] some form of CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) alongside allopathic (traditional) medicine (Erez 681). Alternative medicine practitioners are becoming increasingly popular and need to be examined for accuracy and efficiency as they become more popular with the population as a whole. If a product or service doesn’t work then we should stop selling and using it. Examined within this paper is a look at the science of the system, the widespread use of homeopathy, and its effectiveness as a complementary and alternative form of medicine.
“If there is a broken bone or serious ailment then I recommend that the client see a doctor. There is only so much that homeopathy can do to help a person. It cannot reset bones but homeopathy can be used in conjunction with traditional medicine to speed up the recovery process” (Owens Interview).
To truly understand a medical system it is important to look at the historical background. After all, taking a looking at the roots of the problem makes the problem much easier to fully understand. The science of homeopathy derives its roots from the Vedas who lived in India six thousand years ago. The Vedas are considered one of the most advanced ancient cultures that have ever been studied and especially so with regards to medicine. The Vedas were the first civilization to explain brain surgery in detail. The Vedas contributed much too modern medicine and formulated their own system of medicine called ayurveda which is the origin of most forms of alternative and holistic medicines today, including homeopathy (Whole Health Now 1). Homeopathy borrows ideas from the ayurvedic medical system but is not wholly dependent on those ideas and has been updated from ancient ayurvedic medicine to incorporate modern thinking and theories.
Eighteenth century German chemist and physician Sammuel Hahnemann is known as the father of homeopathy. Hahnemann began his work into homeopathy when translating William Cullen’s Materia Medica into German. It was within Cullen’s book that Hahnemann was first introduced to the idea of similia similibus curentur, or “let like be cured with like” (Whole Health Now 1). Hahnemann was amazed by this phenomenon and as a physician he saw the shortfalls that traditional allopathic medicine brought forth, leeching was a very common allopathic practice in the 1700s. So Hahnemann decided he would rather try to treat the whole person and not treat the disease or symptoms. Using the information gathered in William Cullen’s Materia Medica and experiments done on himself using quinine in increasingly smaller amounts to treat malaria effectively Hahnemann developed the system of medicine known as homeopathy (Gale 989). Homeopathy is a combination of two Greek words homoios (the same) and pathos (suffering). This is the first recorded modern scientific experiment done to prove the effectiveness of homeopathy.
The art and science of treating a person holistically is not lost in today’s world; it is merely less common. Homeopathy is best known for its inexpensive treatment for minor health ailments in one’s everyday life instead of having to get a prescription or pay much more to see a doctor for a common flu (Whole Health Now 1). Homeopathy is a complementary and alternative form of medicine that seeks to treat a person holistically (body, mind, and spirit). Homeopathy is considered a nontraditional type of medicine because the medicine treats the person, and not the person’s symptoms or ailments. “It requires a one-on-one consultation with a patient for much longer than what a regular doctor spends on a patient instead of a half hour a new patient interview is an extensive two to three hour consultation is required” (Owens interview). This is due to the fact that not only is the patients physical symptoms assessed but also the mental, emotional, and spiritual or energy state of a person are taken into account for a truly holistic approach to one’s health. The biggest struggle homeopathy has faced is that it has been found both very useful in treating patients and not any better than placebo in studies conducted in the last ten years using the best microbiology, chemistry, and physics research available to mankind today.
The difficult thing with testing homeopathy using a double blind clinical trial is that homeopathy is assumed to be an energy based medicine. To measure someone’s energy levels is nearly impossible given the limitations of science that exist. Greeson proposed to measure the health-related quality of life as a measure of efficiency of homeopathy. In his study at Jefferson Center for Integrative Medicine he found “changes in physical role limitations, bodily pain, vitality, social functioning, emotional role limitations, and mental health had improved by at least 6.18 points. Using a t-test score of significant at p < 0.001 a five point change is the cut off for clinical relevance” (Greeson 765). This is a strong argument for homeopathy being more than placebo, so why are other studies finding opposite findings?
There have been many well known proponents of homeopathy throughout the years but when working in a marginalized field with a small endowment you are not able to do large clinical trials that take several years to conduct with any accuracy. According to Dean, “there have been 500 clinical trials with homeopathic potencies all over the world. 60% of them have turned out to prove efficacy” (Weingartner 289). These numbers aren’t definitive; they are good numbers for further investigation and exploration. After a mere 50 trials the balance could shift against the two centuries of satisfied patients and evidence supporting homeopathy.
Homeopathy outside the United States is much more popular countries in South America, Europe, and Asia are much keener about homeopathy because of its low costs and proven track record. Homeopathy has a large following in “Russia, India, Switzerland, Mexico, Germany, The Netherlands, Italy, England, and most of South America” (Whole Health Now 1). “A British Medical Journal study in 1991 showed that out of 105 placebo controlled trials, 81 found a positive effect for homeopathy” (Medhurst 1). This is just one of many smaller scale trials that have found positive effects for homeopathy treating a large array of ailments and diseases. “Today nearly all French pharmacies sell homeopathic remedies and medicines” (Whole Health Now 1). The French government has made it mandatory for large pharmacies to sell homeopathic remedies because it is far less expensive to treat a common illness if they do not need to see a doctor for a prescription and also there are no known side effects. This is a status that modern medicine has largely failed at attaining.
As stated before, homeopathy is a complementary medicine. While some people around the world, typically in third world countries, use homeopathy as their main form of medicine it is not recommended by homeopathic practitioners in the United States (Owens Interview). Homeopathy is a medicine that when used with traditional medicine increases the speed of healing by bringing the patient to a healthy balance of vital energy (Owens Interview). This balance of vital energy is believed to power boost the immune system, and combat depression and restlessness.
How does homeopathy work? Homeopathy treats the whole person as opposed to only treating the disease or symptoms. “The purpose of homeopathy is the restoration of the body to homeostasis, or healthy balance, which is the natural state. The symptoms of a disease are regarded as a body’s own defensive attempts to correct its imbalance, rather than as enemies to be defeated” (Gale 983). Homeopathy seeks to treat a patient holistically, meaning not just treating the body’s ailments but also that of the mind and spirit. For those that are more science driven or atheists the word energy or vital force can be substituted for spirit. “Whereas a conventional physician would prescribe the same medication or treatment regimen to all patients with the common cold, for example, a homeopathic practitioner would ask detailed questions about each patient’s symptoms and the modalities, or factors, that make them better or worse” (Gale 986). This goes against what allopathic medicine has taught us. Instead of treating a disease like modern medicine does, homeopathy works on a person’s internal energy to bring the person back to balance (Owens interview). Thus increasing the body’s ability to heal itself without taking drugs to fight or subdue the patient’s symptoms. Homeopathy should be considered another form of complementary medicines. Complementary medicines are those that increase the bodies well being some other complementary medicines include daily exercise, eating five fruits and vegetables, taking a multivitamin, and sleeping proper amounts per day.
Homeopathy has taken advantage of modern technology even though modern technology hasn’t taken advantage of homeopathy. Homeopathy directly impacts the modern medical system but the inverse is not true. “Homeopathy allows people to treat themselves independently of the orthodox medical system. The application of homeopathic medicines is not dependent upon a medical diagnosis. Homeopathic medicines cannot be patented and therefore cannot be monopolized by an individual or organization” (Medhurst 2). Pharmaceutical companies that make billions of dollars of profits per year on patented drugs have a lot to lose by people using homeopathy to treat minor illnesses. “[The] success of homeopathy where orthodox medicine has failed has embarrassed the orthodox medicine establishment” (Medhurst 2). This has come almost to the point where pharmaceutical companies will push medical journal editors to publish incomplete studies and clinical trials. Homeopaths have used computer to help speed the process of finding the remedy that allows the body to become in healthy balance with itself. Computer repertories of remedies have made it much quicker and easier for homeopaths to pin point a correct remedy to heal a clients vital energy force (Owens Interview). Oppositely there is a lot of over the counter homeopathic remedies that one can find in Walgreens, Target and other pharmacies that do not require consultation with a homeopathic practitioner.
Some very common non-consultation needed remedies of homeopathy can help the body fight off and cure, “Colds, influenza, sore throats, insect stings, cuts bruises, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, muscle aches, and short term insomnia” (Gale 985). However, as with many medicines in the world today there are counters to homeopathic remedies which the Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine says, “Avoid taking antidotes which are substances that homeopathic doctors believe cancel the effects of their remedies. These substances include alcohol, coffee, peppermint, camphor, and very spicy foods” (Gale 983). Strong stimulants such as coffee, tea, alcohol in excess can cause homeopathic remedies to not work as well and are recommended only in moderate amounts (Owens interview). It is very important to follow this rule for if you are taking medicine for something you do not want to counteract the benefits of the medicine. Also, “remedies should not be touched with the hands or fingers which may contaminate it” (Gale 983). Touching it with the hands could make the remedy completely ineffective. This is due to the fact that homeopathic remedies are energy based medicines, once touched with a finger or hand the energy shifts from the body into the remedy and vice versa which compromises the medicine.
So who uses homeopathy? You may be sitting next to someone who does. There are a lot of health conscious people who use homeopathy here in the states and with over 10,000 licensed medical practitioners in the United States more and more people are beginning to use this complementary and alternative medicine (Owens interview). Most patients are self-referred with parents (for children) having academic degrees, above average incomes, married, and with secular beliefs (Erez 683). The parents believe their kids are better off not putting drugs into their systems and instead want to find an alternative to the drug craze that is rampant in today’s allopathic medical system. “Patients who seek to integrate CAM with allopathic medicine at a university-based academic medical center practice are not simply “worried well”; rather they are individuals with complex health issues who may benefit significantly from a whole-person model of care” (Greeson 766). Dealing with body, mind, and spirit not only aims to cure ailments but it helps to make a person feel better about themselves and have more energy throughout the day.
What are the reasons why people are afraid of homeopathy? Even today there are, “some aspects of homeopathy that have not been completely explained scientifically” (Gale 984). The reason that some aspects of homeopathy haven’t been explained completely by science is that “homeopathy is less concerned with the intricate biochemistry involved than with whether a remedy ultimately works and heals holistically” (Gale 984). The most cited theory of homeopathy that those opposed to the science quote is The Law of Infinitesimal Dose. Homeopaths have found that the, “more they dilute and success a remedy, the greater the effect it seems to have on the body” (Gale 984). A 1M (1000C) remedy which contains much less molecules of the active ingredient is considered a more powerful remedy than a 30C remedy. Homeopaths believe that the energetic properties of the ingredient are retained even after the succession increases beyond Avogadro’s number (6.0221 × 10 power 23). This phenomenon starts to occur at 12C. This means that most homeopathic remedies “result in medicines that have no molecules of the active ingredients” (Dean 871). How can that be? This is a contested issue as it goes against what modern chemistry and physics that have been tested and tested thousands of times state. Homeopathic practitioners gamble in saying that, “the electromagnetic energy of the original substance is retained in the dilution but toxic side effects of the remedy are not. It is this electrochemical “message” that stimulates the body to heal itself” (Gale 981). There are studies that are available that come to the conclusion that homeopathy is an energy based medicine. However, it is absurd to conclude that the science behind Avogadro’s number is incorrect based on so few tests. This “law” more than any other highlights the need for more specific research to be done in homeopathy. This law has yet to be proven or disproven in a large clinical trial for errors have been found in the scientific practice of those that have tried to prove or disprove this homeopathic law, and a large scale homeopathic trial has yet to be conducted to empirically prove that The Law of Infinitesimal Dose is true. There are several smaller scale trials but until a large trial is conducted with proper methodology homeopaths must continue to use their assumption of homeopathy being an energy based medicine and that is why the remedies work. Lack of funding, amount of time, and manpower required to conduct these large-scale clinical trials are possible reasons for the large scale review not having been conducted.
A great reason to use homeopathy is that it is very inexpensive. “In 1991, the French government did a study on the cost of homeopathic medicine, and found that it costs half as much to treat patients, considering all treatment costs involved” (Gale 983). The general process for acute homeopathic prescribing is to have a two hour consultation with a homeopathic practitioner to find the symptoms and root feelings behind the client’s symptoms. After which follow up examinations for approximately thirty to sixty minutes every four to six weeks until a proper remedy is found is common. This is necessary because it is hard for patients to get to their root feelings let alone vocalize them.
Homeopathy has been in use for two hundred years. People all over the world still use homeopathy. An article published in Pakistan says about homeopathy, “In developing countries, on the other hand, patients employed these methods before receiving any conventional therapy” (Malik 155). This is due to the fact that homeopathy is very inexpensive and widely available to those that are in need of cheap medicine. In developing countries the opposite of developing countries is found in regards to cancer. When modern medicine has done everything that it can do for a patient then those do those patients try homeopathy as a last resort.
As an introduction to the now famous article published in the Lancet included is what the authors had to say about homeopathy, “This observation is also true of health care consumers, who may see homeopathy as a holistic alternative to a disease focused, technology driven medical model…create a greater threat to conventional care- and patients’ welfare-than do spurious arguments of putative benefits from absurd dilutions” (Lancet 1). Homeopathy and allopathic medicines both have their own respective problems. The amount of time and energy that is required to perform a clinical trial is enormous and costs a lot of money. Homeopathy hasn’t been successful in obtaining a large clinical trial for all of its remedies it simply goes on the belief that it is energy based and has worked in patients so it will continue to be able to be reproduced. They do not care so much about the chemistry element that is behind the science merely that it works. “What went seemingly unnoticed by The Lancet editors were 4 previous studies, one of which was published in their own journal in 1997 that found the reverse, that the effects of homeopathy were superior to placebo” (Medhurst 1). It is not new for several trials to be done and redone to make the information available to prove or disprove theories widely available to all scientists but the fact that there was no mention of any of these other articles in the Lancet’s “The End of Homeopathy” article is very mysterious and needs to be examined. “The Lancet challenged the plausibility of homeopathy because of the dilute nature of homeopathics. Homeopathic medicines are energy based medicines, a fact that has been confirmed by numerous researchers” (Medhurst 2). Why was this major fact ignored by the scientists publishing in the Lancet? The Lancet review team which was led by well known Professor Matthias Egger of the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine at the University of Berne in Switzerland found that the Lancet study, “started with 110 clinical trials and reduced that number to 8 homeopathic and 6 placebo which were deemed “higher quality trials” (Lewith 1). “One wonders why, given the resources of the drug companies that conduct clinical trials, the authors could only identify six of the 110 drug trials that were properly conducted” (Medhurst 1) “Researchers did not base their findings on 110 homeopathic trials, but just 8 homeopathic trials and only 6 drug trials” (Medhurst 1). Interesting how the pieces in the homeopathic puzzle come together. The Lancet researchers used a little over ten percent of clinical trials, which were said to be properly conducted. “The review gave no indication of which trials were analyzed nor the various vital assumptions made about the data. This is not usual scientific practice” (Lewith 1). “The authors [of the Lancet article] claim that the results for the drug trials were superior to the results for the homeopathy trials and that the effects of homeopathy were no better than placebo” (Medhurst 1).
The finding in this paper correlate to the simple phrase “more research must be done to prove or disprove the homeopathic medical system”. Until a thorough large scale research project is done homeopaths will have to put up with the stigma that surrounds their “unproven” remedies but at the same time we cannot as an academic community fall to the argument of ignorance, “saying that homeopathy is false or no better than placebo because it has not been proven true”. The truth of the matter is that the FDA and pharmaceutical companies fund large scale clinical trials all the time but have not found the funds or means to test homeopathy yet because they can make more money marketing their alternative and often, more expensive drugs. Why would they want to invest in a study that if proven could exponentially decay their profits as fewer and fewer people go to the doctor for a simple cold or buy their expensive products?
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Sujata Owens, RSHom(NA), CCH, HMC
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