What IS Homeopathy?
Homeopathy is a therapy based on the theory of treating like with like. Homeopaths treat a patient’s symptoms by giving a highly diluted form of a substance, animal, vegetable, or mineral, which, taken in a crude dose, would cause similar symptoms when given to a healthy person. In assessing the patient, homeopaths often take into account a range of physical, emotional and lifestyle factors.
Homeopathy was developed over 200 years ago and is now used worldwide. It is acknowledged by the World Health Organisation as a valid form of health care. Its effectiveness has been clearly established by over 200 years of clinical experience and has a pharmacy of over 2000 medicines, which are non-toxic and non-addictive, owing to their method of preparation. Homeopathy is also cost effective.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Homeopathy works by using minute doses of substances, which cause symptoms similar to the illness being treated. Examples of the application of this principle are:
• The use of homeopathically prepared red onion (Allium Cepa), which, in a crude dose, would cause watery eyes and sneezing, may be used for hay fever and some allergies.
• The use of homeopathically prepared coffee (Coffea) as a treatment for insomnia.
• The use of Ritalin, a stimulant drug for children suffering from hyperactivity, is an example of the unacknowledged application of the homeopathic principle by contemporary orthodox medicine.
Efforts to explain scientifically how homeopathy works have not to date been successful, but similarly some drug actions in orthodox medicine have not always been understood either. For example, the actions of salicylic acid (aspirin) and paracetamol (Panadol) have been used in orthodox medicine for over 70 years, but have only been fully understood since the 1980s. If you analyse a homeopathic medicine, a pharmacologist would say it’s water, ethanol and sugar. While such a description is true, it ignores the result that follows from taking the medicine. A chemist would accurately describe a floppy disc as ferric oxide and vinyl but this ignores what a disc is used for. Both descriptions are accurate but incomplete.
WHAT CONDITIONS CAN HOMEOPATHY TREAT?
The system of homeopathy is based on the selection of a medicine that causes symptoms similar to those that the sick person is experiencing. This ‘Law of Similars’, as it is called, is a practical method of finding the substance to which a person is sensitive. Wherever an individual’s symptoms can be obtained, a condition can be treated. For example, headaches in different patients could each be treated with different medicines, according to the patient’s individual symptoms. Therefore, homeopathy can treat a wide range of chronic and acute illnesses.
WHO USES IT?
The majority of patients seeking homeopathic treatment have already utilised the conventional medical system for their complaint. Therefore, it is not uncommon for patients to come to a first consultation with a confirmed medical diagnosis along with results of medical investigations.
Those who use homeopathy come from a wide range of socio-economic groups, many of whom are children and adults from educated, affluent families.
Naturopaths, chiropractors and GP’s may also prescribe homeopathic remedies as part of their treatment, depending upon their training.
WHY ARE PEOPLE SEEKING ALTERNATIVE TREATMENTS WHICH INCLUDE HOMEOPATHY?
Dissatisfaction with orthodox medical treatment is frequently given by patients as a reason for their visiting a homeopath. The following findings provide evidence for this trend. Personal referral from those who have experienced the healing potential of homeopathy is the major source of new clientele for homeopaths.
• 25% of Australian hospital admissions are for iatrogenic (medically induced) or drug related diseases. (Current Therapeutics, July 2000, 76-79).
• A large number of diseases are misdiagnosed by doctors. (Independent Monthly, Oct 1994, 36-43)
• There are 140,000 hospital admissions in Australia every year because of misused pharmaceutical drugs (Australian Journal of Pharmacy, 83, September 2002, 774).
• The total number of adverse reactions to drugs in Australia from the 1999-2000 year (those resulting in hospital admission and those that did not) was 400,000 (Australian Journal of Pharmacy, 83, September 2002, 774).
• The reports of adverse reactions from natural medicine to the Australian Adverse Drug Reactions Advisory Committee (ADRAC) average 23 per year (Aust Journal of Pharmacy, 83, June 2002, 516-517)
• Every year in Australia 14,000 people die from medical errors in hospitals. (1995 figures) (The Australian, March 15, 1999,17).
WHAT RISKS ARE INVOLVED WITH HOMEOPATHY’S USE?
Homeopathy carries few risks in its practice, when compared to other therapies. The method of preparation of homeopathic remedies makes them non toxic and non addictive.
HOW WIDESPREAD IS ITS USE?
Homeopathy is used throughout the developed world. According to the WHO, 30 million Europeans use homeopathy. In the UK, homeopathy is available in five National Health Service (NHS) centres. NHS is the equivalent of the Medicare system. In 1993 37% of GP’s practiced homeopathy and 42% referred their patients to a homeopath. A University of Exeter report found that 2696 people were members of homeopathic practitioner organisations. The Royal family has used it since 1830 and it has a wide acceptance throughout Europe. In France, the most popular cold and flu remedy is a homeopathic medicine. Homeopathy is also used extensively in the developing world, due to its easy access, cost effectiveness and low risk profile. Over 10.000 doctors in India use homeopathic medicine to treat their patients. Homeopathy is also used in veterinary medicine, both in Australia and overseas.
CAN THE HOMEOPATHIC EFFECT BE ASCRIBED TO PLACEBO?
Critics dismiss homeopathy by saying it only works because of the placebo effect, in other words, the patient believes that the medicine works, and the power of the mind brings about a cure. Frankly, we find this argument absurd: while dismissing homeopathy on the one hand, critics nonetheless are prepared to accept a highly theoretical and unproven notion on the other. Since homeopathy also works on animals and babies, it is not plausible to dismiss homeopathy as 'placebo effect'. For further on this subject, read: K Linde et al "Are the clinical effects of homeopathy placebo effect? A meta-analysis of placebo-controlled trials." Lancet (1997) vol. 350 pp. 834-843. Conclusion: homeopathy is effective above placebo.
HOW LONG HAS HOMEOPATHY BEEN USED IN AUSTRALIA?
Homeopathy was introduced into Australia around 1850 by the Benedictine monks of the New Norcia Monastery in Western Australia. Since the 1860s it has been practised throughout Australia.
WHAT SUCCESSES HAS HOMEOPATHY HAD?
Homeopathy has gained increasing acceptance in Britain, Europe and the United States since the 19th century owing to its success in treating people during various infectious disease epidemics. The death rates from cholera, scarlet fever, typhoid, and yellow fever, following homeopathic treatment were significantly lower than from the orthodox medical treatment of the era. For example, of 61 patients treated homeopathically at the London Homeopathic Hospital during the cholera epidemic of 1854, there were 15 deaths - whereas at the Middlesex hospital, where conventional treatments were given, there were 123 deaths from 231 cases. The comparative death rates were 16.4% for homeopathic treatment and 53.2% for conventional treatment. (British Homeopathic Journal, October 1989, Vol.78) The yellow fever epidemic in New Orleans and the Mississippi Valley in 1878 is another example of homeopathic success. In New Orleans, 1945 cases were treated homeopathically with 110 deaths (mortality of 5.6%). In the rest of the South, 1969 cases were treated homeopathically with 151 deaths (mortality of 7.7%). This is a favourable comparison with a mortality rate for conventional treatment of at least 16%. (Harris Coulter, [1982, 2nd edition] Divided Legacy: The Conflict between Homeopathy and the American Medical Association, pp.298-302) The effectiveness of homeopathic treatment for the 1918 ‘flu epidemic in USA is particularly striking. Julian Winston’s  The Faces of Homœopathy: An illustrated history of the first 200 years (pp.236-237) quotes from the findings in W.A. Dewey’s article "A Chorus of Fifty in Harmony" in the Journal of the American Institute of Homeopathy in 1921:
1. A Philadelphian homeopath Dean Pearson collected 26,795 cases treated homeopathically with a mortality rate of 1.05% compared with a rate of 30% for conventional treatment.
2. Frank Wieland M.D. of Chicago told how in a plant of 8000 workers there was only one death. Gelsemium was practically the only remedy prescribed and neither aspirin nor vaccines were used.
Contemporary examples of homeopathy’s effectiveness are outlined in the next two sections.
HOMEOPATHY AND ORTHODOX MEDICINE
Homeopathy has been practised for two hundred years. Throughout its history it has experienced an uneasy relationship with orthodox medicine. This has not been homeopathy’s choice. Its successes have been belittled or ignored. The old school medical authorities of the day tried to omit the statistics of homeopathy’s success in the London cholera epidemic (1854) from the report to the House of Lords. They were eventually compelled to include the information. In the 1878 New Orleans yellow fever epidemic the Surgeon-General refused to have a homeopathic physician on the Committee set up to deal with the outbreak. Consequently, the homeopaths set up their own Commission. Through Congress, a Board of experts was set up in 1879 to examine the issues arising. It accepted the report of the Homeopathic Yellow Fever Commission and ordered that it be printed with other documents in its own report. (Coulter, p.302)
The accusation that some homeopaths promote homeopathic vaccines is seriously misleading. Firstly, homeopathic vaccines do not exist; secondly, ‘to promote’ is to advertise and urge people to embrace a mode of treatment. People who wish to avail themselves of homeoprophylaxis are already aware of it and homeopaths have a protocol for handling the matter. (See point 12)
Those critics who maintain that homeopathy is ‘useless’, ‘quackery’, ‘purely placebo’ need to ask themselves why it is used more widely than ever. Its claims and record of safe use deserve objective assessment rather than prejudiced opposition.
HOW IS THE PROFESSION STRUCTURED IN AUSTRALIA?
There are a number of homeopathic associations in Australia, all of which belong to the Australian Register of Homeopaths (AROH). In order to become a professional member of these associations, criteria for entry into AROH must be met. The recently released Commonwealth ‘Australian Consumer Handbook’ contains the following entry on AROH:
" The Australian Register of Homeopaths Ltd is the national registration body for professional homeopaths and is the receiver and arbiter of complaints from the public against registered members. Homeopaths registered with the board have qualifications matched to the government endorsed National Competency Standards and are required to meet the Board’s continuing education and insurance requirements each year. Website www.aroh.com.auThe AROH member association in NSW is the Australian Homeopathic Association (AHA) NSW. AHA has branches in each state and is the largest professional homeopathic association in Australia. All member associations of AROH have a Constitution, which includes a Code of Ethics and Complaints Procedure.
IS HOMEOPATHY COVERED BY HEALTH FUNDS?
All major health funds except Medibank Private provide cover for homeopathic treatment.
HOW ARE HOMEOPATHS TRAINED?
AROH admits homeopaths who have undergone training at Registered Training Organisations or Universities, which comply with Commonwealth Government recognised National Competency Standards. This involves a four-year Advanced Diploma or Degree.
The medical science component includes health sciences, pharmacology, symptomatology & diagnosis and physical examination. The science component equals the homeopathic content in these courses. . All AROH registrants must meet annual Continuing Professional Development requirements.
IS THERE ANY RESEARCH AVAILABLE ON HOMEOPATHY?
While scepticism of the efficacy of small doses of medicine is understandable from a strictly rational perspective, it ignores the large body of evidence from basic science, controlled clinical studies, epidemiological data, clinical outcomes trials, and historical review of the field. Some highly respected basic scientific research has begun to verify the claims that homeopaths have made for 200 years, and that various extremely low concentrations of biological agents can exhibit powerful biochemical effects. (Scientists have no way at present to assess the effects of less than a molecule).
There has been a large body of research on Homeopathy. A review of 105 controlled clinical trials on Homeopathy, published in the British Medical Journal, showed that homeopathic treatment was successful in 81 of those trials" - Kleijnen et al, "Clinical Trials of Homeopathy " British Medical Journal 302; 316-23, 1991.
A group of researchers at the University of Glasgow and Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital conducted four studies on people suffering from various respiratory allergies (hay fever, asthma, and perennial allergic rhinitis). In total, they treated 253 patients and found a 28% improvement in visual analogue scores in those given a homeopathic medicine, as compared with a 3% improvement in patients given a placebo. (The result was significant at P = 0.0007.). In the hay fever study, homeopathic doses of various flowers that are known to create pollen that initiates hay fever symptoms were used, and in the other studies, the researchers conducted conventional allergy testing to assess what substance each person was most allergic. The researchers then prescribed the 30C (100-30) of this allergic substance (House Dust Mite 30C was the most commonly prescribed homeopathic medicine). The researchers called this type of prescribing "homeopathic immunotherapy," and they conclude from their research that either homeopathic medicines work or controlled clinical trials do not.
In addition to this body of clinical evidence, an independent group of physicians and scientists evaluated clinical research prior to October 1995. They reviewed 186 studies, 89 of which met their pre-defined criteria for their meta-analysis. They found that on average patients given a homeopathic medicine were 2.45 times more likely to have experienced a clinically beneficial effect. When reviewing only the highest quality studies and when adjusting for publication bias, the researchers found that subjects given a homeopathic medicine were still 1.86 times more likely to experience improved health as compared with those given a placebo. The researchers also noted that it is extremely common in conventional medical research for more rigorous trials to yield less positive results than less rigorous trials.
Those interested in further inquiry into research should consult Bellavite and Signorini’s Homeopathy: A Frontier in Medical Science (1995), North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, California. Dr. Peter Fisher, Director of Research, Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, UK says of this work that it is "an authoritative, up-to-date and comprehensive survey of the exciting empirical and theoretical developments in homeopathy. I warmly recommend their book to all who are interested in understanding homeopathy ……."SOME HOMEOPATHIC STUDIES"
1. Manchanda R.K., Mehan N., Bahl R., Atey R., Double Blind Placebo Controlled Clinical Trials of Homeopathic Medicines in Warts and Molluscum contagiosum, CCRH Quarterly Bulletin, 1997, 19, 25-29. This trial was reported in two parts, one to evaluate the efficacy of homeopathy for warts (remedies included Ruta graveolens, Nitricum acidum, Dulcamara, Causticum and Thuja) the other to evaluate the homeopathic remedy, Calcarea carbonica, for Molluscum contagiosum. Placebo controlled studies involving a total of 147 subjects using single remedies in 30C potencies three times daily, 200C twice daily and 1M daily, for 15 days, showed that homeopathy was superior to placebo. Thuja was the most successful of the remedies used for warts.
2. Shealy C.N., Thomlinson P.R., Cox R.H., and Bormeyer V. Osteoarthritis Pain: A Comparison of Homeopathy and Acetaminophen, American Journal of Pain Management, 8, 3, July 1998, 89-91. In this trial, 65 sufferers of Osteoarthritis (OA) were split into 2 groups, and through a double blinding process were given either a homeopathic medicine or Acetaminophen, a commonly prescribed drug for pain relief in OA. Researchers found that homeopathy provided a level of pain relief that was superior to Acetaminophen, and produced no adverse reactions.
3. Chapman E.H., Weintraub R.J., Milburn M.A., Pirozzo T.O., Woo E., Homeopathic Treatment of Mild Traumatic Brain Injury, Journal of Head Trauma and Rehabilitation, 14, 6, December 1999, 521-42. In a randomised, double blind, placebo controlled trial involving 60 subjects and a 4 month follow-up period, homeopathy provided significant improvement in parameters using measures such as "Difficulty with Situations", "Symptoms Rating Scale" and a "Participation in Daily Activities" scale.
4. Davidson J.R.T., Morrison R.M., Shore J., Davidson R.T., Bedayn G., Homeopathic Treatment of Depression and Anxiety, Alternative Therapies, 3, 1, January 1997, 46-49. In this trial, 12 subjects suffering from major depression, social phobia or panic disorder, were treated for 7 to 80 weeks with individually prescribed homeopathic remedies and assessed on a clinical global improvement scale (CGIS) or self-rated SCL-90 scale and the Social Phobia Scale (SPS). Subjects were given homeopathic treatment either because they asked for it directly or because conventional treatment had been unsuccessful. The overall response rates for homeopathy were 58% on the CGIS and 50% on the SCL-90 and SPS.
5. Sanchez-Resendiz J., Guzman-Gomez F., Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, Boletin Mexicano de Homeopatica, 30, 1997, 11-15. 36 women suffering from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), and fitting the mental picture of the homeopathic remedy Pulsatilla, were given Pulsatilla 6C, 4 hourly throughout the day for 2 weeks after the end of menstruation, and this was repeated for 4 consecutive cycles. At the end of the trial 30 of the 36 women had complete disappearance of the symptoms of PCOS and the production of normal ovulating follicles and a further 4 of the 36 became asymptomatic.
6. Dorfman P., Lassere N.M., Tetau M., Homeopathic Medicines in Pregnancy and Labor, Cahiers de Biotherapie, 94, April 1987, 77-81. In this randomised double blind trial involving 93 women, a combination of Caulophyllum, Actea racemosa, Arnica, Pulsatilla and Gelsemium, all in 5C potency, was used to determine its effect on the length of labor and complication rates. The medicine was used from the beginning of the ninth month of pregnancy, and reduced the average time of labor to 5.1 hours, in comparison to the placebo, the use of which was associated with an average labor time of 8.5 hours. The rate of complications for those using the homeopathic combination was 11.3% while the complication rate under placebo was 40%.
7. Barnes J., Resch K-L., Ernst E., Homeopathy for Post-Operative Ileus: A Meta-Analysis, Biomedical Therapy, 17, 2, 1999, 65-70. Researchers examined the existing placebo controlled trials on this subject and, using the time to first flatus after surgery as a measure, found that those trials that used remedies potentised above 12C showed little difference to placebo, but those trials where the researchers used remedies potentised below the 12C threshold did produce results that were statistically better than placebo. Seven trials were examined in the study.
8. Friese K.H., Kruse S., Ludtke R., Moeller H., The Homeopathic Treatment of Otitis Media in Children. International Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 35, 7, 1997, 96-301. In this trial, 131 children suffering from medically diagnosed otitis media were split into two groups. 28 were treated by a team of four ear, nose and throat practitioners using singly or in combination, nasal drops, antibiotics, secretolytics or antipyretics (Group B). 103 children were treated by one homeopath using single homeopathic remedies (Group A). The average duration of pain for Group A was 2 days, as opposed to 3 days for Group B. 70.7% of the Group A children were free of recurrences within the first year of treatment and 29% had a maximum of 3 recurrences while in Group B, 56.5% were free of recurrences within the first year of treatment and 43.5% had a maximum of 6 recurrences.
9. Taylor M.A., Reilly D., Llewellyn-Jones R.H., McSharry C., Aitchison T.C., Randomised Controlled Trial of Homeopathy versus Placebo in Perennial Allergic Rhinitis, British Medical Journal, 321, 19 August 2000, 471-476. A group of 51 people suffering from allergic rhinitis were given either placebo or a 30C potency of their main allergen. The group given the homeopathic medicines showed significant improvement in nasal airflow compared to placebo.
10. Jacobs J., Jimenez M., Malthouse S., Chapman E., Crothers D., Masuk M., Jonas W.B., Acute Childhood Diarrhoea- A Replication, Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 6, 2000, 131-139. In a replication of a previous trial carried out by Jacobs and others, 116 Nepalese children aged 6 months to 5 years suffering from diarrhoea were given an individualised homeopathic medicine or placebo. Treatment by homeopathy showed a significant improvement in the condition in comparison to placebo.
11. Riley D, Fischer M, Singh B et al Homeopathy and Conventional Medicine: An Outcome Study Comparing Effectiveness in a Primary Care Settings, Journal of Alt and Comp Med, 2001, 7, 2, 123-5 (Trials carried out by 30 practitioners at 6 clinics in 4 countries with 456 patients)
Further studies are available on the Australian Homoeopathic Association (AHA) website: www.homeopathyoz.org
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