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Homeopathy and the Scientific Evidence

As this site profits from selling homeopathic remedies, we can not claim to be impartial and any evidence we present could only be viewed with a healthy amount of skepticism. We would be an example of what's known as 'editorial bias'. Editorial bias cuts both ways; some are as biased against homeopathy as we are for it! The bias may come from financial motivations, or simply a will to maintain a particular world view.

That being the case, instead of presenting any original (some would say biased) evidence of our own, we'll take a look at the types of studies available, and their relevance. So when you leave this page and go searching Google, you'll be in a slightly better position to understand the evidence being presented.

Studies Based on Theories of How Homeopathy Works

It is true that nobody knows exactly how homeopathy works. There are many theories, based on sub atomic vibration, the memory of water and so on, but these remain theories. Research has been conducted which attempts to prove or disprove these theories, which can only be a good thing.

Unfortunately though, the conclusions drawn from such research occassionally step well beyond the evidence and say that because one theory of how homeopathy might work is flawed, homeopathy itself can't work at all. All it really proves is that the particular theory of how homeopathy might work is incorrect, it doesn't prove or disprove homeopathy at all.

This is obvious and would scarcely need mentioning, except that some such trials, such as the BBC Horizon experiment, have received an undue amount of publicity.

Studies Based on Clinical Trials

The only type of trial that can be taken into consideration are clinical trials, where volunteers with a particular ailment have been given homeopathic remedies for that ailment. However, there are two difficulties with conducting this type of experiment:

  1. "One Size Fits All" Approach
    Homeopathy is highly individualized, and the same remedy given to a number of different people will not work in all cases. Homeopaths know this and give specific remedies based on individual symptoms. For example, the homeopathic remedy for a common cold would depend on:

    • the type of headache pain (sharp, pounding, etc),
    • where the headache hurt most
    • type of sore throat
    • what can you do to relieve / worsen symptoms (ie better hot, better cold, worse in open air, etc)
    • sound of cough
    • colour and severity of nasal discharges
    • what started it all in the first place (ie cold feet, cold wind, etc)
    • etc, etc

    Many studies are based on giving the same remedy to all patients in the study, in the allopathic manner, and are therefore not truly homeopathic.

  2. Double Blind Placebo Trials
    Double Blind Placebo Trials are the holy grail of conventional medicine testing.
    For those not familiar with the term, placebo trials mean that half the volunteers are taking empty pills, and half are taking homeopathic remedies. Double Blind means that neither the patient, nor the practitioners know whether or not the patient is being given a genuine homeopathic remedy, or a placebo pill.

    The advantage of the person giving the remedies not knowing whether or not they are giving placebo pills is that there is no way of them subtly (and probably unintentionally) influencing the outcome, by, for example, being more attentive to those taking the genuine remedy.

    However, hitting upon the right remedy can take a few attempts, and in a course of treatment, a homeopath may try several remedies, and several potencies, not just the one remedy normally given in double blind trials. This is not to fault double blind placebo trials categorically, but simply to say that, for the most part, they have not been carried out in a way which could be expected to show positive results. Where they have, and the result has been positive, the opposition has cried fowl because the trial was too small.
Controversy
In general, the trials which have found homeopathy effective have been where patients have consulted homeopaths on an individual basis, and the homeopath has been free to vary remedies as they see fit. There are obviously logistical limits to experimenting in this way, and only smaller scale trials have been undertaken in this way; however, opponents of homeopathy have argued that only the large scale trials are statistically valid. The debate rumbles on.

Why Placebo?

You may be wondering why all the notable trials of homeopathy compare it to a placebo, an empty pill, rather than nothing at all. This is because an empty 'placebo' pill has been proven to be beneficial in treating many conditions. In one study, placebo proved more effective than prescription antidepressants. This is a fascinating area for further research.

As any academic will tell you, science is not a realm where anything is known for certain, nor even where there is always agreement as to what is likely. "Wisest is he who knows he does not know." People have their own dogmatically held opinions in science as much as in religion. To form your own, the only way is to look to your own experience and your own assessment of the evidence.