Sunday, November 22, 2009
Confusion Over Homeopathy
Christopher Johnson, ND
When I speak in public about homeopathy, people are routinely surprised to learn the facts about this powerful system of medicine. It quickly becomes apparent that what I am describing is completely at odds with the impression put forth the mainstream media and conventional medical community - one which usually portrays homeopathy as unscientific, ineffective, and (sometimes) dangerous. In truth, all three of these assertions are demonstrably false.
Here are some basic facts about homeopathy which you may have not known:
Homeopathy is the second most commonly used form of medicine in the world, behind indigenous herbal medicine (conventional Western or “allopathic” medicine is fourth). It is utilized by hundreds of millions of people in over 80 countries, and is part of the national health system in the UK, Germany, France, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Brazil, and Mexico.
In many countries, homeopathy is a board-regulated medical specialty (like cardiology or oncology), practiced only by medical doctors. There are over 200,000 homeopathic doctors in India. Over 40% of all French family practice doctors and 22% of Scottish pediatricians utilize homeopathy. Homeopathy is offered in 93% of all German obstetric clinics and practices.
Homeopathy was founded in the early 19th century by German physician and chemist Samuel Hahnemann, MD, and has been developed and refined over the past 200 years through the collaboration of medical doctors around the globe. It is an academic and formal system of medicine, with dedicated homeopathic medical schools and hospitals throughout the world (This is no longer true in the US of course, but was so up until the early 20th century, at which time the decades-long effort of allopathic medicine to push homeopathy out of the mainstream finally succeeded).
Homeopathy’s effectiveness is supported by a large body of research in the medical literature. There are literally hundreds of well-designed trials published in peer-reviewed journals which demonstrate this.
A 1997 meta-analysis (a comprehensive review of the available evidence – in this case, all the available double-blind or randomized, placebo-controlled studies of homeopathy) published in The Lancet found homeopathy to be 2.45 more likely than placebo to produce benefit across a wide range of conditions. This number is far higher than the likelihood of efficacy for most conventional drugs.
For those not familiar with the peer-reviewed medical literature, there are 4 general-topic medical journals considered the most prestigious, scientifically-rigorous, and reliable: The Lancet, The British Medical Journal, Journal of the American Medical Association and The New England Journal of Medicine.
Books could be written detailing the studies showing homeopathy’s efficacy in various conditions; I’ll mention but a few:
- A 2009 randomized, double-blind study conducted at a state medical school in Brazil found homeopathy to be comparable to Prozac (Fluoxetine) in treating moderate to severe depression. Actually, homeopathy was superior in every measure, but not to a degree considered “statistically significant”.
- A 2001 prospective trial in a Swiss pediatric practice found homeopathic treatment of ADHD to be comparable (actually, slightly more effective) than Ritalin (Methylphenidate).
- A double-blind, placebo-controlled study conducted at the Harvard University School of Medicine, published in 1999 found homeopathy to be effective in treating MTBI (Mild Traumatic Brain Injury) (the signature injury of the current Iraq war, by the way).
- A 2007 German prospective study published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found a specific homeopathic product to be comparable (again, actually slightly more effective) when compared to Ativan (Lorazepam) for treatment of various nervous conditions (insomnia, distress, anxieties, restless, burnout, etc).
As to the safety issue, there can be no doubt that homeopathy is the safest medicine there is (excluding non-medical interventions such as Reiki, prayer, etc).
In its 200 year history, being used by hundreds of millions (probably billions) of patients, there has never been a single death attributed to homeopathic medicine. This is a safety record un-matched by even generally safe therapies such as herbal medicine, acupuncture, nutritional supplements, etc (all of which have caused a small number of deaths).
The safety of homeopathy should not even be compared to allopathic medicine, which according to a 2000 study published in JAMA and authored by Barbara Starfield of the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, is responsible for 106,000 deaths per year in the US alone. Yes, you read that correctly – 106,000 deaths per year in the US attributed to properly-prescribed allopathic medications. This number does not include medical errors, and is actually a more conservative number than the one put forth by the Institute of Medicine which issued a similar report with slightly higher numbers the year previous.
In the city where I live – Washington DC – there is a statue of Samuel Hahnemann, in a high-profile area of the city (Scott Circle – 16th and R St, NW). It was erected under the approval of President McKinley, who was an advocate of homeopathy (as with 10 other US Presidents).
The statue indicates the once-esteemed status of this powerful system of medicine. Though pushed out of the US medical community since the early 20th century, the popularity of homeopathy has been growing in the past few decades. This inexpensive, resource-sparing, robustly-scientific medicine may yet emerge as a significant answer to our nation’s health care problems.
Christopher Johnson, ND is a naturopathic doctor specializing in the use of homeopathy and nutrition to address a broad range of conditions in both the adult and pediatric populations. He is owner of Thrive Naturopathic, a holistic health care facility located in Alexandria, Virginia. He speaks widely on how homeopathy is the answer to many of today's health challenges, and is available for phone consultations for those not in the area. Visit his website at: www.ThriveNaturopathic.com