What is homeopathy?
Homeopathy is a system of medicine which involves treating the individual with highly diluted substances, given mainly in tablet form, with the aim of triggering the body’s natural system of healing. Based on their specific symptoms, a homeopath will match the most appropriate medicine to the patient.
What are the principles of homeopathy?
It is based on the principle of “like treats like”- that is, a substance that would cause symptoms in a healthy person is used to treat those same symptoms in illness. This principle is sometimes used in conventional medicine, for example, the stimulant Ritalin is used to treat children with ADHD, or small doses of allergens such as pollen can be used to de-sensitise allergic patients. However, one major difference with homeopathic medicines is that substances are used in such tiny doses that side-effects are negligible.
How is homeopathy different from traditional medicine?
Homeopathic medicine is holistic, as well as individual. During an in-depth case-taking process lasting an hour, a homeopath will build up a picture of the patient, taking into account all of their symptoms and how they experience them, as well as past medical history, diet, lifestyle and personality type. They will then prescribe a medicine (known as a remedy) specifically for that patient, rather than aimed at the diagnosed disease.
This is one of the main differences between homeopathy and conventional medicine. For example, if you are suffering from anxiety, arthritis and a skin condition, the conventional route might involve entirely separate courses of treatment from different consultants. A homeopath would consider all of these symptoms to be linked and therefore treat them as a whole.
What are the benefits of homeopathy?
Because homeopathy is an individual treatment, and even people who have the same diagnosis in conventional medicine will experience their illness in their own individual way, it is also the case that patients respond to treatment differently. We expect there to be a gradual improvement in the specific illness that the patient wanted help with, as well as an overall improvement in health and wellbeing.
A service evaluation at the Bristol Homeopathic Hospital recorded the outcome of homeopathic treatment in over 6,500 consecutive patients. In this study, carried out over a six-year period, 70 per cent of patients reported an improvement in their health (1). The best clinical results were seen in the treatment of children with eczema and asthma, and adults with inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, menopausal problems and migraine. Other conditions which improved after homeopathic treatment included arthritis, depression and chronic fatigue syndrome.
It is often said that there is ‘no scientific evidence’ that homeopathy works. This is not the case. More research is welcomed, but, as well as studies such as those above, there are already high-quality randomised controlled trials (RCTs) demonstrating that homeopathy can be effective beyond placebo. This is despite the fact that RCTs do not measure homeopathic treatment as it is practised by homeopaths,but instead demonstrate the action of a specific remedy in a specific symptom or illness.
By the end of 2009, 142 RCTs comparing homeopathy with placebo or conventional treatment had been published in peer-reviewed journals. In terms of statistically significant results, 74 of these trials were able to draw firm conclusions: 63 were positive for homeopathy and eleven were negative. (2)
Randomised controlled trials have been carried out to investigate the efficacy or effectiveness of homeopathic medicine in 75 specific medical conditions* but more work of this nature is needed to assess the possible value of homeopathy across a wider range of illnesses. To date, conditions for which the majority of clinical trial findings have been positive include (see: www.homeopathy-soh.org/research/evidence-base-for-homeopathy-2/evidence-base-for-homopathy for full references)
- Chronic fatigue
- Allergies and upper respiratory tract infections
- Childhood diarrhoea
- Premenstrual syndrome
- Post-operative ileus
- Rheumatic diseases
- Seasonal allergic rhinitis
Commonly seen in the clinic are people suffering from skin problems, recurrent infections, hormone imbalances, stress related illnesses and recurrent headaches.
1.Spence D, Thompson E and Barron S. Homeopathic treatment for chronic disease: A 6-Year, university- hospital outpatient observational study. J Altern Complement Med 2005; 5:793-8.
2.Mathie, RT. The Research Evidence Base for Homeopathy. British Homeopathic Association,
2009. www.britishhomeopathic.org/export/ sites/bha_site/research/evidencesummarymay09.pdf
How safe is homeotherapy?
When assessing the safety of homeopathy, there are two issues to consider – the safety of homeopathic medicines and the safety of treatment by a homeopath as a whole. Homeopathy has an excellent safety record on both counts.(1)
Medicines: one of the main differences between homeopathic medicines and conventional medicines is that the latter are associated with significant toxicity problems. The highly-diluted nature of homeopathic medicines means that they are unlikely to lead to toxic side-effects known as ‘adverse drug reactions’.
Homeopath: a report by the European Council for Clinical Homeopathy reviewed the results of observational studies assessing the safety of homeopathic treatment since 1995. (3) In 20 studies (covering a total of 7,275 patients) the percentage of patients reporting adverse events ranged from 0–11 per cent. No cases of serious adverse events or serious adverse drug reactions were found i.e. cases resulting in hospitalisation, life-threatening situations, persistent or significant disability/incapacity or congenital anomaly/birth defect.
Registered members of The Society of Homeopaths (RSHom) have met stringent academic requirements, completed a registration process, hold comprehensive insurance and agreed to abide by a Code of Ethics & Practice.
1. Dantas F, Rampes H. Do homeopathic medicines provoke adverse effects? A systematic review. Br Homeopath J 2000; 89: 535–8
2. Kirby BJ. Safety of homeopathic products. J Royal Soc Med, 2002; 95:221–2
3. 3 The Safety of Homeopathy, European Council for Classical Homeopathy, January 2009
How does it work?
Science cannot yet explain the precise mechanism of action of homeopathic medicines in the body, but research “in vitro” has demonstrated that ultrahigh dilutions such as ‘30c’ homeopathic medicines are able to cause biological effects - 75 per cent of in vitro experiments have found that substances as dilute as homeopathic medicines have specific effects(1) For example, the hormone thyroxine prepared as a homeopathic ‘30C’ dilution can slow down the process of metamorphosis of tadpoles into frogs (2)
Experiments of this kind demonstrate that the homeopathic preparation process (serial dilution and violent agitation, known as succussion) creates samples that have specific physical properties, despite the fact that they do not contain molecules.
They do not tell us how homeopathic medicines interact with the living body, but the more we learn about the properties of these ultrahigh dilutions in the laboratory, the closer we can come to understanding exactly how homeopathic medicines work in practice.
Researchers believe that the succussion is an essential component in creating biologically effective samples, so experiments investigating ultrahigh dilutions always use succussed samples.
1. Witt CM, Bluth M, Albrecht H, et al. The in vitro evidence for an effect of high homeopathic potencies – a systematic review of the literature. Complement Ther Med, 2007; 15: 128–138
2. Endler PC, Heckmann C, Lauppert E, et al. The metamorphosis of amphibians and information of thyroxine. In: Schulte J, Endler PC (eds). Fundamental Research in Ultra High Dilution and Homoeopathy. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1998.