Health Care Professional Information
Homeopathic medicine, Homeopathic remedy
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 disease, it has remained especially popular in India and some European countries. Practitioners select a highly dilute form of substance that would, if given in full strength to a healthy volunteer, cause the presenting symptoms of the patient. Many opponents argue that the benefits experienced by patients with homeopathic remedies are placebo effects.
Several studies have been conducted to evaluate homeopathic products. A randomized controlled trial of ultramolecular homeopathic formulations showed no observable effects (18) and a meta-analysis found the clinical effects to be placebo effects (20). However, a systematic review of 25 randomized clinical trials indicated that the placebo effects were no larger than those observed in conventional medicine (22). And data from an observational study of over 3,000 patients with chronic conditions such as headache and allergic rhinitis in adults, and atopic dermatitis and recurrent infections in children, showed improved quality of life associated with use of homeopathy with benefits persisting for 8 years (23). Homeopathic medicine may also benefit patients with haemophilia (28).
In vitro studies indicate effectiveness of ultra dilute homeopathic products against breast cancer cells (24).
A randomized, double-blind trial showed homeopathic medicine to be beneficial in treating dermatitis during radiotherapy in breast cancer patients (19). Another study reported improvement in symptoms of xerostomia (21). A homeopathic injection was found to relieve post treatment pain in a small study of breast cancer patients (25)and homeopathic formulations were reported to be effective in treating advanced cancer in a few cases (29). Observational data also suggest that complementing conventional treatment with homeopathy may improve fatigue and quality of life in cancer patients (26). Large scale studies are required.
There are no data to support the recent claims of a homeopathic smallpox vaccine.
- Common cold
- Eye disorders
- Radiation therapy side effects
- Rheumatoid arthritis
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 (4) (6).
No pharmacokinetic studies have been performed with homeopathic preparations.
Mints, coffee, tea, chocolate, spicy foods.
Case Report: Acute hepatitis was observed in a patient who took Lycopodium Similiaplex, a homeopathic remedy used to treat hepatopathy, to relieve insomnia (27).
Literature Summary and Critique
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- Weiser M, et al. Homeopathic vs conventional treatment of vertigo: a randomized double-blind controlled clinical study. Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg 1998;124:879-85.
- Kayne S. Complementary Therapies for Pharmacists. London UK: Pharmaceutical Press; 2002.
- Callinan Paul. Family Homeopathy, A Practical Guide for Home Treatment. New Canaan: Keats Publishing; 1995.
- The NCAHF Position Paper on Homeopathy. February 1994. http://www.ncahf.org/pp/homeop.html. Accessed November 2, 2012.
- Cassileth B. The Alternative Medicine Handbook. New York: W.W. Norton & Company; 1998.
- 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.
- Fisher P, Scott DL. A randomized controlled trial of homeopathy in rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatology (Oxford) 2001;40:1052-5.
- 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.
- 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.
- Vickers AJ. Clinical trials of homeopathy and placebo: analysis of a scientific debate. J Altern Complement Med 2000;6:49-56.
- Vickers AJ, Zollman C. ABC of complementary medicine. Homoeopathy. BMJ 1999;319:1115-8.
- 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.
- Vickers AJ. Independent replication of pre-clinical research in homoeopathy: a systematic review. Forsch Komplementarmed 1999;6:311-20.
- Linde K, et al. Are the clinical effects of homeopathy placebo effects? A meta-analysis of placebo-controlled trials. Lancet 1997;350:834-43.
- Ernst E. A systematic review of systematic reviews of homeopathy. Br J Clin Pharmacol 2002;54:577-82.
- Paterson IC. Homeopathy: what is it and is it of value in the care of patients with cancer? Clin Oncol (R Coll Radiol) 2002;14:250-3.
- Ernst E. Homoeopathy: inaccuracies, misunderstandings and half-truths in allopathic doses. Clin Oncol (R Coll Radiol) 2002;14:254-5.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Haila S, Koskinen A, Tenovuo J. Effects of homeopathic treatment on salivary flow rate and subjective symptoms in patients with oral dryness: a randomized trial. Homeopathy. 2005; 94:175-81.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Braschoss A. Lycopodium similiaplex-induced acute hepatitis: a case report. Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2009 Jun;21(6):718-9.
- Kundu T, Shaikh A, Kutty A, et al. Homeopathic medicines substantially reduce the need for clotting factor concentrates in haemophilia patients: results of a blinded placebo controlled cross over trial. Homeopathy. 2012 Jan;101(1):38-43.
- 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.
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.
Several clinical trials have been conducted to evaluate benefits of homeopathy, but data are limited and results, inconclusive. More research is needed.
- 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.
Over 100 clinical trials of homeopathic preparations have been conducted, with overall mixed results. Several studies show positive effects of homeopathic preparations, but there has been controversy as to whether these beneficial effects are truly a product of the medicine, or simply a placebo effect. A placebo effect is defined as an effect brought about by the patient's expectation that something will happen, or the “power of suggestion” (i.e., a person getting better from the psycho-somatic effects of believing that their homeopathic medicine will make them better, not from any activity of the medicine). One study reviewed 89 clinical trials and concluded that, statistically, the positive effects from homeopathy could not be attributed to the placebo effect alone. While another study covered 110 trials found homeopathic medicine is no better than placebo.
A clinical trial asked 253 healthy adult subjects 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 'tell-tale' signs of a homeopathic Belladonna treatment. Researchers conclude that very dilute homeopathic remedies have no observable clinical effects.
Homeopathic remedies are generally free of toxicity or side effects. However, 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.
Do Not Take If
- You regularly eat mints, coffee, tea, chocolate, or spicy foods.
Case Report: 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.
Last updated: November 2, 2012