A review of previously published studies on homeopathy, published in the August 27 issue of The Lancet, found that homeopathic remedies are no better than placebo. The study has been criticized by researchers and homeopaths, however.
The analysis include four types of studies:
- Studies using "clinical homeopathy". Patients did not receive a comprehensive homeopathic history and all patients received a single, identical remedy. This accounted for 48, or 44% of the homeopathy studies analyzed in the Lancet meta-analysis.
- Studies using "complex homeopathy". Patients did not receive a comprehensive homeopathic history and all patients received a mixture of different commonly used homeopathic remedies. This accounted for 35, or 32% of the homeopathy studies analyzed.
- Studies using "classical homeopathy". Patients were given a comprehensive patient history and received a single, individualized remedy. This accounted for 18, or 16% of the homeopathy studies analyzed.
- Studies using "isopathy". Patients did not receive a comprehensive homeopathic history and all patients received a diluted substance that was believed to be the cause of the disorder (e.g pollen in seasonal allergies). This accounted for 8, or 7% of the homeopathy studies analyzed.
The problem is there is no such thing as clinical homeopathy. No one trained and licensed in homeopathy would recommend a single, identical remedy for patients with a certain disease or condition.
Homeopathy is based on the belief that "like cures like". Diluted medicinal substances (that look like tiny white pellets) are prescribed to treat an individual's unique symptoms.
For example, if we brought together a hundred people with rheumatoid arthritis and interviewed them, they would not all have the same symptoms. Certain factors would aggravate symptoms in some but not others. A homeopath distinguishes between these various subtypes and finds a suitable, individual remedy that matches all of that person's symptoms (hence like cures like).
To give everyone with a certain disease or condition the same remedy is not considered homeopathy. The Lancet meta-analysis included studies that may have been statistically sound, but should have been excluded because they lacked a fundamental understanding of homeopathy.
In addition, many view the use of complex homeopathy and isopathy as merely "educated guesses", because patients receive remedies that again are not individualized but are commonly used for such conditions. There is no guarantee that the remedy is correct.
This should not be the end of homeopathy. Instead, our understanding of whether it does or doesn't work should continue to grow with better, properly designed research studies.
Shang, A. The Lancet, Aug. 27, 2005; vol 366: pp 726-732. Vandenbroucke, J.P. The Lancet, Aug. 27, 2005; vol 366: pp 691-692. News release, National Center for Homeopathy. Matthias Egger, MD, director, department of social and preventive medicine, University of Berne, Switzerland. Jan P. Vandenbroucke, MD, PhD, professor of clinical epidemiology, Leiden University Medical Center, Netherlands. Joyce Frye, DO, MBA, president, American Institute of Homeopathy and postdoctoral research fellow, center for clinical epidemiology and biostatistics, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.