By Dana Ullman, MPH
It is amazing that so many skeptics are so misinformed about homeopathy, and it is ironic (to be diplomatic) that these skeptics hold themselves out as “defenders of science,” while being embarrassingly ignorant of the “body of evidence” that verifies the efficacy of homeopathic medicines and the biological activity of its doses.
First, some skeptics are so daft about homeopathy that they mix it up with other treatment modalities. Some skeptics mis-assume that homeopathy is a type of herbal medicine or a type of nutritional supplement. It isn't.
Second, it is important to emphasize that homeopathic doses range from the tincture of an herb to “low potencies” of a plant/mineral/animal/chemical medicinal substance (1X to 12X or 1C to 6C) to “medium potencies (13X to 30X or 7C to 15C) to high potencies (200X or 200C and higher). The scientific field of low-dose effects (called hormesis) has literally thousands of studies from a wide variety of scientists that have evaluated the biological effects of low and medium potencies.
Because a large percentage of homeopathic medicines sold in health food stores and pharmacies today contain doses of low and medium potencies, the skeptics of homeopathy who assert that there is “nothing” in homeopathic medicines are embarrassingly uninformed and misinformed.
Skeptics tend to “lump” all homeopathic medicines together, but this effort is simply sloppy thinking and analysis. As for the homeopaths' use of “high potency” homeopathic medicines, they (and anyone) will benefit from reviewing of the body of evidence (clinical evidence and basic science trials) that are referenced below. Further, when skeptics say that the high potency homeopathic medicines make no sense or “break present laws of physics,” such assertions simply show their ignorance of present laws of nature. The website of Professor Martin Chaplin, mentioned below, provide references to 1,000+ (!) studies of water and its mysteries and phenomena that help us to understand how and why homeopathic medicines may maintain biological activity even in high potency solutions.
It is amazing how un-informed and ill-informed the vast majority of skeptics are to the 200+ clinical trials that have been published in peer-review medical journals. One of the leading resources to learn about these studies is an ebook that I wrote (and that I continually update...thus, here's the real benefit of writing an ebook!): Homeopathic Family Medicine: Evidence Based Nanopharmacology.
In addition to the clinical research and basic science studies, there is much historical evidence that show the efficacy of homeopathic medicines. For instance, homeopathy gained widespread popularity in the 19th century due to its impressive results in treating infectious epidemic diseases that raged during this time, including epidemics of cholera, typhoid, yellow fever, scarlet fever, and influenza.
Also, many of the most respected physicians and scientists, past and present, have been known to use and/or advocate for homeopathy. The amazing story of Charles Darwin is significant because there is surprising evidence to suggest that it would have been unlikely for him to have lived long enough to have written his seminal work, The Origin of Species, if he had not sought the care of a homeopathic doctor, Dr. James Manby Gully. To read a summary of this history and to have direct links to Darwin's own letters,go here.
Some of the other famous physicians and scientists who were known to use and/or advocate for homeopathy include Sir William Osler (the “father of modern medicine”), Emil Adolf von Behring (the “father of immunology”), Charles Frederick Menninger (founder of the Menninger Clinic), August Bier (the “father of spinal anesthesia”), Royal S. Copeland (physician, homeopath, and U.S. Senator who wrote legislation that empowered the FDA), William J. Mayo and Charles H. Mayo (founders of the Mayo Clinic), C. Everett Koop (former Surgeon General of the US), Brian Josephson (Nobel Prize winner).
For more details about Charles Darwin, any of the above physicians and scientists, as well as many other “cultural heroes” of the past 200 years who were known to advocate and/or use homeopathic medicines, see Dana Ullman's Homeopathic Revolution: Why Famous People and Cultural Heroes Choose Homeopathy (Berkeley: North Atlantic, 2007).
K. Linde, N. Clausius, G. Ramirez, et al., "Are the Clinical Effects of Homoeopathy Placebo Effects? A Meta-analysis of Placebo-Controlled Trials," Lancet, September 20, 1997, 350:834-843. Even critics have called this meta-analysis "completely state of the art." It reviews 186 studies, 89 of which fit pre-defined criteria for its meta-analysis. Homeopathic medicines had a 2.45 times greater effect than placebo. J.
Kleijnen, P. Knipschild, G. ter Riet, "Clinical Trials of Homoeopathy," British Medical Journal, February 9, 1991, 302:316-323. This is the best objective meta-analysis of clinical research prior to 1991. This meta-analysis reviewed 107 studies, 81 of which showed efficacy of homeopathic medicines. Of the best 22 studies, 15 showed efficacy.
Responses to the “junk science” review of research published in the Lancet (2005) by Shang, Eggers, et al.:
-- Lüdtke R, Rutten ALB. The conclusions on the effectiveness of homeopathy highly depend on the set of analysed trials. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology. 61, 12:1197-1204. doi: 10.1016/j.jclinepi.2008.06/015.
-- Rutten ALB, Stolper CF, The 2005 meta-analysis of homeopathy: the importance of post-publication data. Homeopathy. 2008, 97:169-177. doi:10.1016/j.homp.2008.09/008 (These two reviews and re-analyses of the Shang data threw into doubt the narrow analysis of Shang and team.)
WB Jonas, TJ Kaptchuk, K Linde, A Critical Overview of Homeopathy, Annals in Internal Medicine, March 4, 2003:138:393-399. Although this is not a meta-analysis, it is still a very good review of the clinical literature in homeopathy.
Vickers AJ. Homoeopathic Oscillococcinum for preventing and treating influenza and influenza-like syndromes. Cochrane Reviews. 2006 Four treatment trials (N=1,194) found “promising” results from Oscillococcinum in the treatment of influenza or influenza-like syndrome. Three prevention trials (N=2,265) did not find efficacy of Oscillococcinum in the prevention of these conditions. Because Oscillococcinum is made from the liver & heart of a duck and because ducks are reservoirs of flu viruses, this drug make sense, biologically. It has been used in homeopathy since the 1920s and thus verifies that homeopaths have been knowledgeable of avian sources of flu virus for a long time.
J. Jacobs, WB Jonas, M Jimenez-Perez, D Crothers, Homeopathy for Childhood Diarrhea: Combined Results and Meta-analysis from Three Randomized, Controlled Clinical Trials, Pediatr Infect Dis J, 2003;22:229-34. This meta-analysis of 242 children showed a highly significant result in the duration of childhood diarrhea (P=0.008).
Frass, M, Dielacher, C, Linkesch, M, Endler, C, Muchitsch, I, Schuster, E, Kaye, A. Influence of potassium dichromate on tracheal secretions in critically ill patients, Chest, March, 2005;127:936-941. This is an impressive study was conducted at the University of Vienna and published in the leading respiratory medicine journal...with substantially significant results in the homeopathic treatment of people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD is the #4 reason that people in the USA die). The medicine used in this trial was Kali bichromicum 30C. At present, two different universities are conducted trials to replicate this important study.
Bell IR, Lewis II DA, Brooks AJ, et al. Improved clinical status in fibromyalgia patients treated with individualized homeopathic remedies versus placebo, Rheumatology. 2004:1111-5. Participants in active treatment showed significantly greater improvements in tender poit count and tender point pain, quality of life, global health and a trend toward less depression compared with those on placebo. “Helpfulness from treatment” in homeopathic patients was very significant (P=.004). People on homeopathic treatment also experienced changes in EEG readings. The evidence of clinical benefits coupled with the objective evidence of EEG readings combine to verify a therapeutic effect from a physiologically active medicine.
Belon P, Banerjee P, Choudhury SC, Banerjee A., Can administration of potentized homeopathic remedy, Arsenicum album, alter antinuclear antibody (ANA) titer in people living in high-risk arsenic contaminated areas? I. A correlation with certain hematological parameters. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2006 Mar;3(1):99-107. A couple of dozen trials testing homeopathic doses of arsenic to treat mice who were exposed to toxic doses of arsenic provide additional evidence of the benefits from homeopathic treatment.
Witt CM, Bluth M, Albrecht H, Weisshuhn TE, Baumgartner S, Willich SN. The in vitro evidence for an effect of high homeopathic potencies--a systematic review of the literature. Complement Ther Med. 2007 Jun;15(2):128-38. Epub 2007 Mar 28. From 75 publications, 67 experiments (1/3 of them replications) were evaluated. Nearly 3/4 of them found a high potency effect, and 2/3 of those 18 that scored 6 points or more and controlled contamination. Nearly 3/4 of all replications were positive.
Banerjee, P.; Biswas, S. J.; Belon, P.; Khuda-Bukhsh, A. R. A Potentized Homeopathic Drug, Arsenicum Album 200, Can Ameliorate Genotoxicity Induced by Repeated Injections of Arsenic Trioxide in Mice. Journal of Veterinary Medicine, Series A, Volume 54, Number 7, September 2007 , pp. 370-376(7). DOI: 10.1111/j.1439-0442.2007.00945.x
References to water and homeopathic medicines: --Site of Professor Martin Chaplin, a world renowned expert on water: http://www.lsbu.ac.uk/water/homeop.html and http://www.lsbu.ac.uk/water/memory.html -- This site has almost 2,000 references to articles and research about water. Simple-minded people who assert that it is “impossible” for homeopathic medicines to have any effect or who assert that homeopathic medicines break present laws of physics simply are not adequately informed.
Elia, V, and Niccoli, M. Thermodynamics of Extremely Diluted Aqueous Solutions, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 879, 1999:241-248.
Rey, L. Thermoluminescence of Ultra-High Dilutions of Lithium Chloride and Sodium Chloride. Physica A, 323(2003)67-74.
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