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H
omeopathy
 

Scientific Evidence for Homeopathic Medicine

© Dana Ullman, MPH

The best-selling flu remedy in France is actually a homeopathic medicine. Anas barbariae 200c, commonly marketed under the trade name Oscillococcinum TM , is also popular in the U.S. and is effective primarily at the first signs of influenza. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study with 478 patients suffering from influenza was conducted, making this the largest trial yet performed testing a homeopathic medicine.16 This trial showed that almost twice as many people who took the homeopathic remedy got over the flu after 48 hours as compared to those given a placebo.

Although this remedy was found to work for all age groups, it was considerably more effective for people under 30 than for those over 30. However, it was not found to be effective when subjects had severe flu symptoms. In severe cases of the flu, a more individualized homeopathic remedy may be indicated.

In addition to various studies on human health, there have also been some animal studies. British researchers have conducted trials showing that homeopathic medicines, specifically Caulophyllum 30c, could lower the rate of stillbirths in pigs.17 Pigs given a placebo had 103 births and 27 stillbirths (20.8%), while those given Caulophyllum 30c had 104 births and 12 stillbirths (10.3%).

Not all studies show efficacy of homeopathic medicines, not because they don't work but mostly because the studies were poorly designed. One such study tested a single homeopathic medicine in the treatment of osteoarthritis.18 This study consisted of 36 patients, of whom one third were given Rhus tox 6c, one third were given a conventional drug (fenoprofen, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug), and one third were given a placebo. Those patients given the conventional drug experienced some relief of symptoms, but those given the homeopathic remedy and the placebo had a similar lack of response to treatment. While some people would erronously conclude that homeopathic medicines are ineffective in the treatment of osteoarthritis, it would be more appropriate and accurate to conclude that Rhus tox 6c is an ineffective remedy when given without individualization to people with osteoarthritis.

One of the confounding variables from this trial was that 2 of the 12 patients given the homeopathic medicine were withdrawn from the trial because they experienced an aggravation of symptoms after taking the medicine. Because homeopathic medicines sometimes cause a temporary increase in chronic symptoms before significant improvement, it was disappointing that the researchers did not follow their status. Because this trial lasted only two weeks, it did not allow time for the homeopathic remedy to be adequately evaluated. If, for instance, these 2 patients experienced the significant relief that is common after an initial aggravation of symptoms, the results of the trial would have been different.

Further, it is unfair to compare a fast-acting conventional drug that has side effects with a slower acting homeopathic medicine that is considerably safer. Finally and of great significance is the fact that while Rhus tox is a common remedy for rheumatoid arthritis, it is less common for osteoarthritis.

Clinical Research with Homeopathic Combination Remedies
Homeopathic combination remedies are formulas in which several homeopathic substances are mixed together into one remedy. This untraditional approach to using homeopathic medicine is commercially popular in many countries. While these remedies are not thought by homeopaths to be as effective as individually chosen medicines, they do work and research has verified this. Yet, homeopaths consistently find that single homeopathic medicines have the potential to truly cure a person's disease, while combination medicines at best provide safe but temporary relief of symptoms.

The same researchers who conducted the study on asthma earlier described also performed a study on the treatment of hayfever.19 This double-blind, placebo-controlled study prescribed a 30c potency of a combination remedy made from 12 common pollens. The results showed that those subjects taking the homeopathic remedy had six times fewer symptoms than those given the placebo. Both groups of subjects were allowed to use an "escape" medicine (an antihistamine) if their remedy didn't work adequately. The study showed that homeopathic subjects needed this medicine half as often as did those given the placebo.

Another example of significant results from a homeopathic combination remedy was in the treatment of women during their ninth month of pregnancy.20 Ninety women were given the 5c potency of the following remedies: Caulophyllum, Arnica, Cimicifuga, Pulsatilla, and Gelsemium. They were given doses of this combination remedy twice daily during the ninth month. This double-blind, placebo-controlled study showed that women given the homeopathic medicines experienced a 40% (!) shorter labor than those given a placebo. Also, the women given the placebo had four times (!) as many complications of labor as those given the homeopathic medicines.

One of the limitations of research on combination remedies is that the results do not reveal whether the effective treatment came from one specific medicine or from the unique combination of remedies. A recent study of 22 healthy women in their first pregnancies tested Caulophyllum, one of the medicines used in the study cited above, which was administered in the 7c potency during the active phase of labor (one dose per hour repeated for a maximum of 4 hours). The time of labor for those women given the homeopathic medicine was 38% shorter than for women given a placebo.21 This trial was not double-blind; however, the researchers recently completed a double-blind trial and confirmed their earlier results.22

A popular homeopathic external application marketed as TraumeelTM has been studied for its efficacy in the treatment of sprained ankles.23 This combination of 14 remedies in 2x to 6x potencies was given to subjects with sprained ankles. After 10 days, 24 of the 33 patients who were given the homeopathic medicine were pain-free, while 13 of 36 patients given a placebo experienced a similar degree of relief. This same medicine was also used in the treatment of traumatic hemarthrosis (joint swelling) and was shown to significantly reduce healing time as compared to a placebo. Objective measurements of joint swelling and movement and evaluation of the synovial fluid at injury were assessed.24

A study of 61 patients with varicose veins was performed double-blind and placebo-controlled.25 Three doses of a popular German combination of eight homeopathic medicines were given daily for 24 days. Measures were venous filling time, leg volume, and subjective symptoms. The study found that venous filling time improved in those given the homeopathic medicines by 44%, while it deteriorated in the placebo group by 18%. Other measures also had significant differences.

In addition to the various clinical studies on humans, there has also been some research using homeopathic medicines to improve the health of animals. German researchers have shown that dairy cows given Sepia 200c experienced significantly fewer complications of birth than those given a placebo.26 Low-potency (1x to 6x) combinations of Lachesis, Pulsatilla, and Sabina, or Lachesis, Echinacea, and Pyrogenium, along with Caulophyllum given to pigs had preventive and therapeutic effects on infections (inflammation of the breasts and the uterus) as well as on diarrhea in the piglets.27

Not all clinical studies on homeopathic combination medicines find efficacy of treatment, but there are often important factors that explain the failure. A Canadian study on the treatment of plantar warts is one such example.28 This randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled trial with 162 patients prescribed three medicines to each patient (Because the trial did not mix the remedies together, it is not completely accurate to call the use of these remedies a combination. It is more precise to consider it "polypharmacy," the use of several medicines). The remedies used were Thuja 30c, Antimonium crud 7c and Nitric acid 7c. Thuja was taken once a week, and the other two remedies were taken once a day. The trial lasted six weeks. The results showed that there was no noticeable difference between those subjects given the homeopathic medicines and those given a placebo.

Many homeopaths may be initially surprised at the result of this trial because they consider these remedies commonly effective in the treatment of warts. But while the remedies may be effective for treating warts, they are not necessarily effective for all types of warts or in all people. A recent study of homeopathic treatment for various types of warts found that 18 of 19 people with plantar warts were cured in, on average, 2.2 months.29 The most common remedy was Ruta, prescribed to 12 of the 19 patients. Thuja was prescribed for only 3 patients, and Antimonium crud was prescribed for 2 patients.

This study teaches us that individualization and the use of well-chosen remedies are necessary for most effective treatment.

One additional note about research using homeopathic combination medicines: The homeopathic literature refers to the fact that some remedies are antidoted by other remedies. While the medicines in the Canadian trial are not known to antidote each other, homeopaths acknowledge that our understanding of which remedies antidote each other is somewhat primitive (for a listing of which remedies antidote each other, see the appendix in Kent's Repertory or in the Indian edition of Boericke's Pocket Manual of Materia Medica with Repertory). Homeopathic research must, therefore, be aware of this possibility so that conclusions from research are not overstated.

Laboratory Research
As valuable as clinical studies are, laboratory research is able to show biological activity of homeopathic medicines that cannot be explained as a placebo response, a common accusation of skeptics. Laboratory research is also capable of shedding some light on how the homeopathic medicines may work.

Distinct from clinical research which seeks to measure improvement in the health of a person or an animal, laboratory research seeks to assess changes in biological systems (cells, tissues, organs, viruses, etc.). Typically, animal research can fit under either clinical or laboratory research, depending on the goal of the study. If the study seeks to test the efficacy of a treatment on the health of an animal, it can be considered an animal clinical study. If the study seeks to test the effects of a treatment on animals so that researchers can apply the information for human health or to understand biological phenomena, it can be considered a laboratory study.

Admittedly, while some of the animal studies discussed here are humane, others are not. Reference to these studies is not meant to suggest that this author condones all such research. Rather, discussion of these studies is intended to verify the benefits of homeopathic medicines, both to animals and to humans, and to encourage wider use of homeopathic remedies.

Some of this section is somewhat technical, though an effort has been made to describe the studies in a user-friendly manner.

Earlier in this chapter, reference was made to some important double-blind clinical research with homeopathic medicines conducted as far back as 1941. There were also some high-quality scientific laboratory studies investigating homeopathic microdoses as that time. One extensive and meticulously controlled study was performed in 1941-42 by a Scottish homeopath/scientist, W.E. Boyd.30 This work showed that microdoses of mercuric chloride had statistically significant effects of diastase activity (diastase is an enzyme produced during the germination of seeds). This research was so well designed and performed that an associate dean of an American medical school commented, "The precision of [Boyd's] technique exemplifies a scientific study at its highest level."31

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About The Author
DANA ULLMAN, MPH, is one of America's leading advocates for homeopathy. He has authored 10 books, including The Homeopathic Revolution: Why Famous People and Cultural Heroes Choose Homeopathy, ...more
 
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