Ask many who have recently visited a homeopathy clinic, and they'll tell you that homeopathy works! There are those who swear by homeopathic treatment as a far gentler and less invasive way of dealing with illness. The medical establishment, however, requires empirical proof before it can endorse such assertions. It may work for some, but how does it work? A new study says that homeopathy may function in the same way as a placebo -- by the power of suggestion.
The central principle of homeopathy, developed by a Saxon physician named Samuel Hahnemann in the 1800s, is the law of similars, or 'like treating like'. Practitioners base treatments on small dilutions of tinctures or remedies that in large doses would produce similar symptoms in a healthy person as a disease would in the sick. Homeopaths believe that bacteria and germs are factors rather than causes of disease, and that the 'spiritual' factors of disease must be targeted.
A new study, published in the Aug. 26 edition of Lancet, brings hundreds of unrelated studies on homeopathy into context in order to identify whether homeopathy has any scientific basis. The researchers decided to concentrate on whether there was any similarity between homeopathy and the effects of placebos in clinical studies. The researchers are quick to point out that they don't dispute the fact that homeopathy may make some people feel better. But is it the medicine, or the mind?
Sifting through a vast amount of medical literature, the international research team focused on 110 studies that compared homeopathic remedies to placebos, and the same amount of studies comparing conventional medical treatments to placebos. The team made sure that the medical issues under study for both groups were the same, the patient profiles similar, and that the studies were well designed, clinically sound and involved large numbers of participants.
The study concludes that while there were solid results for conventional medical treatments, the results for homeopathy and placebos are roughly analogous across the board. The research shows that homeopathy is far less likely to produce the desired effect than conventional medical treatment, and suggests that it may act in the same manner as a placebo.
Adherents of homeopathy say 'so what?' Even if it is a mere placebo effect, at least it is less harmful and debilitating than many conventional treatments. Indeed, alternative medicine does have its place. A recent study shoes that acupuncture may be effective in short-term fibromyalgia management, and there are numerous studies verifying the science behind other natural treatments. One thing the homeopathy study did highlight is that the personal attention afforded a homeopathic patient may have something to do with the fact that patients feel better afterward. But as a patient, it is best to undergo a treatment that has some scientific basis. The power of the mind is an incredible palliative, but some times real medicine is the only cure.