Health Care Professional Information

Common Name

Homeopathic medicine, Homeopathic remedy

Clinical Summary

Homeopathy is a medical system developed 200 years ago by Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician. Promoted as a safer and more holistic approach to treating disease, it has remained especially popular in India and some European countries. Homeopathic remedies are highly diluted forms of botanical, animal, or mineral substances which when given in full strength to a healthy volunteer, cause the presenting symptoms of the patient. Many opponents argue that the benefits experienced by patients are merely placebo effects (1) although no larger than those observed in conventional medicine (2). Observational studies suggest that certain homeopathic products can provide long-term relief from symptoms such as headache and allergic rhinitis in adults, and atopic dermatitis and recurrent infections in children (3).

Some homeopathic ingredients in undiluted form demonstrated anticancer effects (4) (5) (6) in vitro. Clinical studies indicate that homeopathic medicine may be beneficial in treating dermatitis during radiotherapy (7) and for relief of post treatment pain in breast cancer patients (8). However, a homeopathic product was ineffective in controlling chemo-induced emesis (9). There are reports that complementing conventional treatment with homeopathy may improve fatigue and quality of life in cancer patients (10) and even as a treatment for advanced cancer (11), but these observations have not been evaluated in clinical trials.

Allergic reactions and intoxications were reported following use of some homeopathic products (12).
Cancer patients should be aware that homeopathy is not a substitute for mainstream care. Delaying conventional care in pursuit of alternative treatments can be detrimental.

Purported Uses
  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Common cold
  • Dysmenorrhea
  • Eye disorders
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Radiation therapy side effects
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Warts
Mechanism of Action

The practice of homeopathy is governed by the Law of Similars, similia similibus curantur or “like cures like.” Hahnemann and his followers observed that while certain plants, animals or minerals could cause specific symptoms when ingested by healthy individuals, the highly diluted form of the same substance could relieve similar symptoms in ailing patients.

An in vitro study showed that an antidiabetic product commonly used in homeopathy demonstrated anticancer effects by inducing nuclear DNA fragmentation and increasing the level of mRNA expression of apoptotic signal related genes cytochrome c and caspase 3, and by reducing the expression level of anti-apoptotic gene Bcl2 (5).
Another product, Phytolacca decandra, also exerted anticancer properties in melanoma cells via activation of caspase-mediated signaling and by generating reactive oxygen species (ROS) (6). However, it is not known if these products will have the same effects when diluted according to homeopathic principles.

Adverse Reactions
  • Acute hepatitis was observed in a patient who took Lycopodium Similiaplex, a homeopathic remedy used to treat hepatopathy, to relieve insomnia (13).
  • Allergic reactions and intoxications were reported following use of some homeopathic products (12).
Literature Summary and Critique

Over 100 clinical trials of homeopathic preparations are published. Several report statistically significant effects of homeopathic preparations, but subjective endpoints are often used. A handful of meta-analyses and systematic reviews find insufficient evidence for the efficacy of homeopathy, although Linde et al (1997) conclude that its clinical effects cannot be completely attributed to placebo effect.
(14) (15) (16) (17) (18) (19) (20) (21)

Brien S, Lewith G, Bryant T. Ultramolecular homeopathy has no observable clinical effects. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled proving trial of Belladonna 30C. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2003;56:562-8.
This study involved 253 healthy adult subjects who were randomly assigned to receive either Belladonna 30C preparation or placebo. Subjects were given a proving questionnaire and asked to rate their symptoms. Only 29 subjects successfully proved — had the symptoms traditionally corresponding to Belladonna homeopathic preparation. The group difference in provers was negligible. Researchers conclude that ultramolecular preparations have no observable clinical effects.

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References
  1. Shang A, et al. Are the clinical effects of homoeopathy placebo effects? Comparative study of placebo-controlled trials of homoeopathy and allopathy. Lancet. 2005; 366:726-32.
  2. Nuhn T, Lüdtke R, Geraedts M. Placebo effect sizes in homeopathic compared to conventional drugs - a systematic review of randomised controlled trials. Homeopathy. 2010 Jan;99(1):76-82.
  3. Witt CM, Lüdtke R, Mengler N, Willich SN. How healthy are chronically ill patients after eight years of homeopathic treatment?—Results from a long term observational study. BMC Public Health. 2008 Dec 17;8:413.
  4. Frenkel M, Mishra BM, Sen S, et al. Cytotoxic effects of ultra-diluted remedies on breast cancer cells. Int J Oncol. 2010 Feb;36(2):395-403.
  5. Chakraborty D, Ghosh S, Bishayee K, et al. Antihyperglycemic Drug Gymnema sylvestre Also Shows Anticancer Potentials in Human Melanoma A375 Cells via Reactive Oxygen Species Generation and Mitochondria-Dependent Caspase Pathway. Integr Cancer Ther. 2013 Sep;12(5):433-41.
  6. Ghosh S, Bishayee K, Paul A, et al. Homeopathic mother tincture of Phytolacca decandra induces apoptosis in skin melanoma cells by activating caspase-mediated signaling via reactive oxygen species elevation. J Integr Med. 2013 Mar;11(2):116-24.
  7. Balzarini A, et al. Efficacy of homeopathic treatment of skin reactions during radiotherapy for breast cancer: a randomised, double-blind clinical trial. Br Homeopath J. 2000;89(1):8-12.
  8. Orellana Alvarellos G, Ruiz de Viñaspre Alvear P, Kaszkin-Bettag M. A series of case reports: clinical evaluation of a complex homeopathic injection therapy in the management of pain in patients after breast cancer treatment. Altern Ther Health Med. 2010 Jan-Feb;16(1):54-9.
  9. Pérol D, Provençal J, Hardy-Bessard AC, et al. Can treatment with Cocculine improve the control of chemotherapy-induced emesis in early breast cancer patients? A randomized, multi-centered, double-blind, placebo-controlled Phase III trial. BMC Cancer. 2012 Dec 17;12:603.
  10. Rostock M, Naumann J, Guethlin C, et al. Classical homeopathy in the treatment of cancer patients—a prospective observational study of two independent cohorts. BMC Cancer. 2011 Jan 17;11:19.
  11. Chatterjee A, Biswas J. A homeopathic approach to treat patients with advanced gallbladder, periampullary, and liver carcinomas: a report of 3 cases. J Altern Complement Med. 2012 Feb;18(2):180-6.
  12. Posadzki P, Alotaibi A, Ernst E. Adverse effects of homeopathy: a systematic review of published case reports and case series. Int J Clin Pract. 2012 Dec;66(12):1178-88.
  13. Braschoss A. Lycopodium similiaplex-induced acute hepatitis: a case report. Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2009 Jun;21(6):718-9.
  14. Jacobs J, et al. Homeopathic treatment of acute otitis media in children: a preliminary randomized placebo-controlled trial. Pediatr Infect Dis J 2001;20:177-83.
  15. Fisher P, Scott DL. A randomized controlled trial of homeopathy in rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatology (Oxford) 2001;40:1052-5.
  16. Oberbaum M, et al. A randomized, controlled clinical trial of the homeopathic medication TRAUMEEL S in the treatment of chemotherapy-induced stomatitis in children undergoing stem cell transplantation. Cancer 2001;92:684-90.
  17. Vickers AJ, et al. Can homeopathically prepared mercury cause symptoms in healthy volunteers? A randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trial. J Altern Complement Med 2001;7:141-8.
  18. Vickers AJ, et al. Can homeopaths detect homeopathic medicines? A pilot study for a randomised, double-blind, placebo controlled investigation of the proving hypothesis. Br Homeopath J 2001;90:126-30.
  19. Linde K, et al. Are the clinical effects of homeopathy placebo effects? A meta-analysis of placebo-controlled trials. Lancet 1997;350:834-43.
  20. Ernst E. A systematic review of systematic reviews of homeopathy. Br J Clin Pharmacol 2002;54:577-82.
  21. Brien S, Lewith G, Bryant T. Ultramolecular homeopathy has no observable clinical effects. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled proving trial of Belladonna 30C. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2003;56:562-8.

Consumer Information

How It Works

Bottom Line: There is some evidence that homeopathy may benefit individuals with chronic conditions.

Homeopathy, developed more than 200 years ago, is based on the Law of Similars, or “like cures like.” A patient experiencing a certain symptom is given a medicine containing low doses of plant extracts, animal extracts, or minerals that, when taken in normal amounts, usually cause that symptom. Homeopathy continues to be popular in India and many European countries.
Clinical studies have been conducted to evaluate benefits of homeopathy, but data are limited and results, inconclusive. More research is needed.

Purported Uses
  • To treat allergies
    Clinical trials have produced conflicting data.
  • To treat anxiety
    There are no studies to support this use.
  • To treat rheumatoid arthritis
    Studies have produced conflicting results.
  • To treat asthma
    Scientific evidence and clinical trials do not support this use.
  • To treat the common cold
    Data from cllinical trials have been inconclusive.
  • To treat hemorrhoids
    This claim is not backed by research.
  • To treat warts
    No scientific evidence supports this use.
  • To treat radiotherapy side effects
    One study showed that homeopathic medicine can reduce the sensation of heat of the skin caused by radiotherapy.
Research Evidence

In a clinical study, 253 healthy adult subjects were asked to report clinical symptoms after being randomly assigned to take either a very dilute Belladonna treatment or placebo. Laboratory studies found no difference between the two substances. In addition, roughly the same number of people from each group exhibited signs of a homeopathic Belladonna treatment. Researchers conclude that very dilute homeopathic remedies have no observable clinical effects.

Side Effects
  • Acute hepatitis (severe swelling and inflammation of liver) was observed in a patient who took Lycopodium Similiaplex, a homeopathic remedy used to treat hepatopathy, to relieve insomnia.
  • Allergic reactions and intoxications were reported after using some homeopathic products.
Special Point

Cancer patients should be aware that homeopathy is not a substitute for mainstream care, and delaying conventional care in pursuit of alternative treatments can be detrimental.

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