This is the last in our series exploring alternative treatments and therapies – what are they, what are they used to treat, and what evidence exists for them.
We have covered acupuncture, chiropractic and meditation. The verdict we have on these varies from – “stay away – could be dangerous” with chiropractic, through to meditation - a potential wonder treatment. Acupuncture came out as somewhere in the middle.
How will Homeopathy fare in our analysis?
We will use the same categories in this study as the previous three: what is homeopathy? What is it used for? Most importantly - Does it work?
What is Homeopathy?
The British Homeopathic Association gives a definition of the treatment on its website:
“Homeopathy is a natural form of medicine used by over 200 million people worldwide to treat both acute and chronic conditions. It is based on the principle of ‘like cures like’. In other words, a substance taken in small amounts will cure the same symptoms it causes if it were taken in large amounts.”
Homeopathy is a holistic form of medicine that takes into account the whole person – body, mind, spirit and emotions are treated together rather than just the symptoms.
It is based on a series of ideas developed in the 1790s by a German doctor called Samuel Hahnemann.
What is it Used For?
Historically, people have used homeopathy to treat a wide range of long-term illnesses, including:
Does It Work?
What it comes down to, as is often the case with this type of investigation, is – evidence is often either scientific or anecdotal.
First, the anecdotal: supporters of alternative treatments like homeopathy cite the evidence of many people who say they have been healed by the practice.
A Guardian article from 2010 quoted a common experience:
“A woman I'd known my entire life told me that a homeopath had successfully treated her when many months of conventional treatment had failed. As a sceptic, I scoffed, but was nonetheless a little intrigued.”
Many of us know at least one person who said that homeopathy, or another alternative therapy, really helped them.
But it’s important that we consider the scientific evidence to get the big picture, not just anecdotal evidence, which can just amount to hearsay.
NHS Choices relates how the NHS do not prescribe homeopathy, due to lack of scientific evidence. This is significant.
There was a Science and Technology Committee evidence check on homeopathy conducted in 2010. It concluded that:
“homeopathic remedies perform no better than placebos, and that the principles on which homeopathy is based are "scientifically implausible". This is also the view of the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies.”
However, the British Homeopathic Society argues with this scientific verdict and says on its website that “There is a growing body of clinical evidence to show that homeopathy has a positive effect.”
Their website concluded:
“Up to the end of 2014, a total of 104 papers reporting good-quality placebo-controlled Randomised Controlled Trials in homeopathy (on 61 different medical conditions) have been published in peer-reviewed journals. 41% of these RCTs have reported a balance of positive evidence, 5% a balance of negative evidence, and 54% have not been conclusively positive or
So there does appear that a body of mixed evidence is present in this area of enquiry.
With regard to the scientific studies, one presumes that there are biases in both sets of evidence, in that one tends to favour the evidence that favours one’s point of view.
Still, science is meant to be objective, and the weight of mainstream scientific evidence and opinion does seem to lean against homeopathy as an effective treatment, despite what the industry says.
Perhaps the biggest conflict is not between the mainstream scientific community and homeopathy, but between mainstream medicine and so called “alternative” medicine.
Many medical practitioners say that there is no such thing as “alternative” medicine – there is just medicine that works, and medicine that doesn’t!
Alternative Medicine – Is It Worth a Try?
To sum up our review of alternative treatments out there – are they worth trying? Do they work? With the possible exception of chiropractic, none of the treatments we have blogged about will harm you if you use them.
The placebo effect is worth mentioning here. In previous posts on the alternative health topic, we have described how the very act of receiving treatment for a condition often actually facilitates a relief in symptoms, even if there is no active ingredient in the treatment. This is known as the placebo effect.
Many claim that any efficacy in alternative therapies, including homeopathy, is down to this effect.
One should not dismiss the placebo effect however; it can be a very powerful force indeed – stronger than some regular treatments.
Perhaps alternative medicine’s primary value is placebo?
So many people seem to get benefit from complementary medicine, it would be foolish to rule it out completely. But perhaps it would be prudent to try mainstream medicine first. Then, if you have no luck with your symptoms, to try something alternative, perhaps from a personal recommendation.
You never know, it could save your life!