Homeopathy is a system of healing that is based on the principle that you can treat ‘like with like’. Simply put, a substance which causes symptoms to arise in a healthy person when taken in large doses; can be used in infinitesimally small amounts to treat similar symptoms in a person in disease. For example, drinking too much coffee can cause sleeplessness and agitation, so according to this principle, when coffee is transformed into a homeopathic remedy (called Coffea), it could be used to treat people with symptoms like insomnia. This concept sometimes shows up in conventional medicine, for example, the stimulant Ritalin is used to treat patients with ADHD, or small doses of allergens such as pollen are sometimes used to de-sensitize allergic patients.
The remedies used are made mainly from plants and minerals (but may be derived from animal or other origins too) and are highly diluted and then added to lactose tablets or pills. They are made by specialist pharmacies using state-of-the-art pharmaceutical practices.
Is it science?
As yet, science has not been able to explain the mechanism of action of ultra high dilutions in the body, but laboratory experiments have demonstrated that homeopathically prepared substances can cause biological effects and are distinct from ‘pure water’, as some sceptics have suggested. There is also a growing body of research into homeopathy in practice that supports the suggestion that homeopathy can be cost- effective and safe as a treatment option.
Homeopathy understands that sickness and health are part of the same continuum. Healing cannot be affected with a simple, linear, “cause-and-effect” approach. Health is a complex adaptive system, much like the weather, ecology and the stock market. Small changes can often trigger large and unpredictable changes, which is possible within the rules of science. Yet modern medicine has been slow to acknowledge and adapt the developments in the field of complex adaptive systems.((Rickles D, Hawe P, & Shiell A: A Simple Guide to Chaos and Complexity, J Epidemiol Community Health. Nov 2007; 61(11): 933–937. doi:10.1136/jech.2006.054254))
Show me the evidence!
The Bristol patient outcome study, which is one of the most comprehensive patient outcome surveys, analysed over 23,000 outpatient consultations at the Bristol Homeopathic Hospital from November 1997 to October 2003. The survey covered over 6,500 individual patients whose outcome was recorded at follow-up. More than 70% of these follow-up patients recorded clinical improvement following homeopathic treatment.
In another study covering over 1600 patients, across five hospitals reported that eczema, chronic fatigue syndrome, menopausal disorder, osteoarthritis and depression were the ‘top five’ most referred conditions. The medical problems referred to the hospitals typically are chronic conditions where available conventional treatments are often not effective. At just their second homeopathic appointment, 34% of follow-up patients overall reported an improvement that affected their daily living. For patients at their sixth appointment, the corresponding improvement rate was 59%. The study showed that reported health benefit may be gained more quickly in some medical conditions than in others.
How does it compare with conventional/allopathic medicine?
The widely accepted method of proving whether or not a medical intervention works is called a randomised controlled trial (RCT). One group of patients (the control group) receive placebo (a “dummy” pill), and another group of patients receive the medicine being tested. The trial becomes double-blinded when neither the patient nor the practitioner knows which treatment the patient is getting. RCTs are often referred to as the “gold standard” of clinical research. When the results of outcomes of studies in homeopathy are compared with allopathic treatment, they are found to be strikingly similar.
Cut the jargon, tell me the simple facts please!
The survey at the Bristol Homeopathic Hospital from November 1997 to October 2003 (referred above) reported that more than 70% of the follow-up patients recorded clinical improvement following homeopathic treatment.