I grew up with homeopathy all around me; I have not been vaccinated, I have had the measles (I was sent to a measles party!), mumps and chicken pox – all were treated homeopathically. I suffered from eczema when I was young; it too was treated with homeopathy and it has never came back. I can count the times I have been to the doctors on one hand; I am rarely sick.
Over the years I have witnessed thousands of happy patients come and go from my father’s practice. When I studied homeopathy, the principles, methods and philosophy seemed clear to me and made good sense. Then, when I became involved with the School of Homeopathy I got to witness further successful patient cases though the School clinics, the students and eventually my own practice.
Yet I find myself in a profession that is often misunderstood, criticised and ridiculed – why? Homeopathy is a form of medicine; it helps people and it does this naturally, with remedies that come from nature and work in line with nature. It does not help 100% of people but no medicine does. From what I have seen and experienced, and from what research tells us, homeopathy is highly effective – and yet it does divide people.
The healing mechanism of ‘Like Cures Like’ is well understood and is used in many systems of medicine as well as homeopathy. The word homeopathy means ‘similar suffering’. Homeopathic treatment focuses on the entire person, not just the disease. A homeopathic remedy is selected according to ‘Like Cures Like’, also known as the Law of Similars; a substance that provokes symptoms in a healthy person can heal those symptoms when given to someone who is sick. This principle was written about by Hippocrates (often called the father of medicine) and can be traced back to Egyptian times.
The division seems to be around the highly diluted remedies – the chemistry and the potentisation of the medicine (dilution and succession). Potentisation is done to remove the toxic poisoning effects of the substances. The founder of homeopathy Dr Samuel Hahnemann discovered the process through painstaking trial and error. He discovered that the patient only needed the tiniest dose of the medicine to stimulate the bodies own innate healing mechanism. However, in his day (200 years ago), with science as it was, he had no idea that by diluting the substances beyond 1023 (12c in homeopathy) he would surpass Avogadro’s number, the point where no atom of the original substance could be left in the solution – but amazingly this did not affect his work or results.
Today, homeopathic remedies are available with dilutions above and below Avogadro’s number. What science does not yet fully understand is how the dilutions above Avogadro’s number continue to work.
As a result of this, homeopathy as a system of medicine has been written off by sceptics. Their thinking presupposes that because the usual standards of science cannot explain highly potentised medicines, they must be wrong – and therefore homeopaths must be fraudulent.
I have been in this situation. Thinking back on the conversation I am not sure I would describe it as a discussion, but more of an attack. The sceptic had no intention of ‘discussing’ homeopathy with me; he just wanted to discredit it and me. He came from a point of view that science (or more accurately scientism1) explains everything. But the simple fact is that science does not. In reality, science has barely scratched the surface of understanding the physical world around us, let alone the energetic world. But the sceptic seems to cling onto an old Newtonian view of the world that suited his materialistic paradigm; he refused to believe that science does not understand everything around us, and therefore he threw out anything that could not be explained scientifically.
Both the brain and the immune system are still mysteries to us in many ways, although ignorance has not prevented the development of effective healing techniques. Through trial and error, observation and inference, humanity has developed many therapies. This is just as true for mainstream science-based medicine as it is for natural medicine.
It is also interesting to note that, as published in the BMJ (an international peer reviewed medical journal), 50% of all treatments prescribed through the National Health Service are not evidence based2, that is they are not supported by scientific research. If we apply the same requirements being asked of homeopathy to the NHS, 50% of treatments would be removed. But, if patients are telling you they feel better then you keep using a treatment – that is evidence. Just because you do not have the scientific evidence that a treatment works does not mean you stop using it.
Science still cannot explain how anaesthesia works, but we would never dream of getting rid of that; we rely on the clinical experience and our observations of it working, rather than a scientific understanding of the mechanism of action. Knowing how a medicine works has never been a pre-requisite for its use. Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) is one of the most widely used drugs in the world, yet it was used for over 70 years before its mechanism of action was discovered in 1971. The drug is still actively researched today, as it has numerous biological effects which are still not fully understood. To say homeopathy does not work because there is no scientific evidence does not make sense. It reminds me of the ‘experts’ in the early 17th century who refused to look through Galileo’s telescope and instead locked him up and continued to believe the earth was at the centre of our solar system.
A good scientist would start from the hypothesis, if homeopathy works, and people experience its positive results, then how and why? Instead of, ‘prove that it works’. Why not, ‘prove that it doesn’t work’. Science is to be curious, to explore the unknown, to find things out and discover, to measure and quantify.
Homeopaths believe that one day science will discover the mechanism through which homoeopathy works, that one day we will have the tools that are sensitive enough and the understanding to figure it out. But until then we should continue to use this effective and safe form of medicine. The sceptic believes all homeopaths are wrong and all patients are wrong, ruling out the views and experiences of thousands of highly educated homeopaths (most homeopaths are degree educated before training to be a homeopath). These homeopaths are branded liars, cheats, con artists and thieves – they pray on the weak, steal their money and kill them by preventing them from going to the ‘proper’ doctor when they are sick (which they do not). But worse than that the sceptic ignores the experience of millions of patients who benefit from homeopathy every year. They simply write these people off as delusional, desperate and ignorant, or they proclaim they would have got better anyway. But can the estimated 500 million (1 in 12) people who use homeopathy every year really be wrong? And why is homeopathy the second largest system of medicine in use worldwide today (after Chinese medicine)? Patients are often the strongest advocates of homeopathy; why would they recommend it to their friends and family if it didn’t work?
Because science is yet to understand how homeopathy works, it is often stated that there nothing in the pills and therefore any healing response must just be the placebo effect (a false effect). However as already mentioned, not all homeopathic remedies are potentised (diluted) beyond Avogadro’s number. We also see homeopathy working on babies, young children, animals and the unconscious – those unable to be affected by placebo. I would also ask why these patients that come to see homeopaths have not been affected by the placebo when they are taking other forms of treatment? Often those that come to homeopathy come as a last resort and have had many other forms of medication – why no placebo effect then? And what about those patients who do not get the correct homeopathic remedy first time, why did it take three or four different remedies for the placebo effect to start for them? Further, scientific trials clearly demonstrate that homeopathy has a greater effect than placebo. There have been several different and easily repeatable scientific experiments that demonstrate this. By the end of 2013, 188 Randomised Controlled Trials (RCTs) on homeopathy have been published in peer review journals. 44% demonstrate that homeopathy works above and beyond placebo, 5% were negative and 47% were non conclusive.3 These percentages are strikingly similar to those found in conventional medicine.
In 2013 the Homeopathic Research Institute (an innovative UK charity) held a research event in Barcelona4 – a programme dedicated solely to high-end, robust scientific research with forty speakers presenting over sixty-five papers (abstracts). All speakers were highly educated clinicians, PhD academics and researchers – most from outside the world of homeopathy. We saw presentation after presentation that demonstrated through clear research and evidence that homeopathy works and is effective.
The presentation by Dr Stephan Baumgartner from the Swiss Institute of Complementary Medicine stood out. He has been researching potentised ultra dilutions on wheat. He sets up a randomised controlled double blind research trial. He takes healthy wheat seeds and poisons them with equal amounts of arsenic so their development will be stunted. Each seed is attached to an identical disc of soil, which is then glued to a piece of paper and placed in a plastic wallet. One set will receive plain water, the next, plain water that has been through the potentisation process up to 30c (above Avogadro’s number) and the last set, the homeopathically medicated water that has also been potentised to 30c. All this is blinded and randomised so the researchers do not know what solutions are being used. Each day the seeds are monitored and scanned. The growth and development of each seed is measured. The results are always the same, the development of the seeds that receive the homeopathic preparation differ by 25%. This experiment has been duplicated many times by different people and in different labs.
Another interesting presentation was by Dr Gustavo Bracho, from the Finlay Institute, part of the Ministry of Public Health, in Cuba. Out of necessity, they decided to use homeopathic preparations of Leptospirosis to control the annual outbreak of the same disease in Cuba. Each year, they usually prepare vaccinations due to the Leptospirosis outbreak, but this particular year they had severe rains and floods and the outbreak was going to affect far more people than they had vaccines for. Vaccines take months to create and they did not have the time to develop what was needed. Therefore they created a homeopathic programme instead, as it was the only option available. The numbers are staggering; two doses were given to a population of 2.5m, the second dose being 7-9 days after the first, bringing the incidence of infection to just under 10 people with no fatalities. Previously, conventional treatment of the population with a vaccine still resulted in thousands of infections and a number of fatalities and a cost of US$2m. The homeopathic solution cost just 10% of that, at $200,000. Sceptics would say that this was blind luck, that it would have happened anyway. Homeopaths say this should be looked at and repeated with careful monitoring so we can understand what is going on. 6
Research paper after research paper presented in Barcelona demonstrated the effectiveness of homeopathy. There have been other interesting studies as well; laboratory experiments in petri dishes have repeatedly demonstrated that homeopathically prepared substances cause biological effects. For example, Belon’s work with homeopathically prepared histamine at 30c inhibits the allergic response in white blood cells; and Endler’s work with the hormone thyroxine also prepared as a homeopathic 30c dilution slows down the process of metamorphosis of tadpoles into frogs.
It is also worth mentioning the work of Nobel Laureate Luc Montagnier (2008 Nobel Prize winner for his discovery of HIV). He is researching and working with ultra diluted DNA and has said his work has parallels with homeopathy. In an interview for Science magazine, when asked, “Do you think there’s something to homeopathy…?” he replied, “…What I can say now is that the high dilutions are right. High dilutions of something are not nothing. They are water structures which mimic the original molecules.” But this work is not easy; Luc Montagnier considered leaving Europe and moving his research to China because of what he called the terror of working in Europe. Scientists are scared to talk about innovative research that does not fit with conventional ideologies.
This is just a handful of some of the more striking research, using simple, easily replicable experiments. One of the issues with research in homeopathy is that each patient receives a different medicine based on their individual set of symptoms. There is no one remedy for flu, so it is hard to set up Randomised Controlled Trials for homeopathy in the same way as you can with conventional drugs.
So, why don’t homeopaths just pay for more research? Research is extremely expensive; usually only governments and the major pharmaceutical companies can afford to conduct research trials, and typically they run into the millions. The money is then recouped through the licensed drugs developed from the successful trials. Because this cannot be done with homeopathy it creates a barrier to research. A further challenge for homeopathy is that no one company owns the licence for the drugs. Any pharmacy can manufacture homeopathic medicines. The homeopathic profession does not have the millions required for research, but the newly formed Homeopathic Research Institute is beginning to attract modest funding and commissioning some research, but we need much more – homeopaths would welcome that.
The Swiss health authorities conducted a large scale study in 2011 that was almost completely ignored by the UK media. The report “Homeopathy in Healthcare – Effectiveness, Appropriateness, Safety, Costs” was commissioned to inform decision-making on the further inclusion of homeopathy in the list of services covered by statutory health insurance in 2011. This volume includes the full Health Technology Assessment (HTA) report on effectiveness, appropriateness, safety and costs of homeopathy in health care. This recent report offers a differentiated evaluation of the practice of homeopathy in health care; it confirms homeopathy as a valuable addition to the conventional medical landscape – a status it has been holding for a long time in practical health care. 7
In contrast, in the UK we had the biased Parliamentary Scientific & Technology Committee Homeopathy Evidence Check 2 report in 2010. This report is often quoted as proving that homeopathy does not work. It was not a scientific peer-reviewed report, and cannot be viewed as evidence. No homeopaths or patients were asked to give evidence, even though both groups submitted detailed submissions to the committee. Only three out of the fourteen MPs on the S&T Committee actually approved the report and the very next day over seventy MPs moved an early day motion against the report, expressing serious concerns about the manner in which the investigation was conducted, and its conclusions. Neither the Government nor the Department of Health has acted on the recommendations of this flawed report. For more information visit www. homeopathyevidencecheck.org. It is interesting to look at the full report and the evidence submitted by the homeopathic organisations.8
Another often-cited report was the 2005 Lancet review: ‘The End of Homeopathy’.
‘Are the clinical effects of homoeopathy placebo effects?’ was written by Shang et al, and published in the Lancet in 2005. The study, which purportedly matches 110 homeopathy trials with 110 allopathic trials, clearly demonstrates selection bias – only 8 out of 110 homeopathy trials were selected for final analysis. These statistical differences between the trials selected were not taken into account and there was an interpretation bias. The authors ‘cherry picked’ the resulting data, in order to present a predetermined outcome. If they had used the 110 homeopathy trials it would have shown a positive result, or if you change just one report of the selected 8 trails you get a positive result. 9
Homeopathy has an incredible track record, but amazingly it is sometimes accused of being dangerous and killing people. However, globally to date there have only been four cases of death associated with homeopathy. By contrast, according to a report in the British Medical Journal, the number of adverse drug reactions from conventional medicines reported in the UK in 2014 alone was 31,550 of which 5% were fatal.
It is also said that homeopathy is a waste of NHS money. But given that we all pay for the NHS via our taxes, when we are ill, we should receive the treatment option of our choice, the one we know works best for our individual needs. Homeopathy has been available on the NHS since its inception in 1948. In fact many homeopathic hospitals were gifted over to the NHS at that time, as there was a lack of conventional medical centres. At that time, guarantees were made to protect the hospitals and homeopathy, but these are long forgotten now. The NHS now costs over £100 billion a year to run, with homeopathy costing just £4m or 0.00004%. SSRIs (anti-depressants) cost the NHS £230 million per year, yet they have been proven not to work.
In 2005 a six year study at the Bristol Homeopathic Hospital (the largest service evaluation of homeopathic treatment) reported that 70% of 6,500 follow-up patients experienced improvement in their health. Eczema, asthma, migraine, irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis, depression and chronic fatigue improved. 10
Also in 2005, a report commissioned by Prince Charles and carried out by economist Christopher Smallwood found that a pilot study where patients were treated with complementary and alternative medicines showed a 30% drop in the number of consultations with GPs and a saving in prescription drugs bills of 50%.
These are meaningful numbers. With 70% being helped and GP time and drug bills savings being reported, why aren’t more studies being done like this in the UK? German and French studies have had similar findings. These two studies recorded the outcomes and costs of treatment by German and French General Practitioners (GPs) who integrated homeopathy in their practice, compared with those who did not. The results of the two studies are congruent: GPs who integrated homeopathy in their practice achieved better results for similar costs. In the UK the NHS treats over 40,000 patients a year, many of whom suffer chronic illness that was previously managed with much more expensive drugs.
We should not be asking why homeopathy is on the NHS, we should be asking why it is not more widely available on the NHS and who are these people campaigning for its removal from the NHS – and what motivates them?
I understand that there are both positive and negative research studies in homeopathy, but it does seem UK homeopathy is dealt an unfair hand and that really the demand should be for more research, not for the removal of homeopathy.
It is clear that homeopathy is misunderstood; whilst around 80% of people in the UK have heard of it, only 20% have any idea what it actually is. Just as there is no money for homeopathic research there is also no money for homeopathic advertising; there has never been an TV or billboard advert for homeopathy. Homeopaths generally rely on referrals for work and yet the number of people using it are climbing. People refer because they get better, and because homeopathy works.
When I worked in design and people asked what I did I would proudly say I was a creative director and they often eagerly asked what I was working on. Now they ask and I cautiously let them know I am a homeopath and wait to see what sort of response I get. Yet, in this work I give more back to the community and help many more people in a meaningful way; I feel I help make a difference. I am proud to work in homeopathy and I look forward to the day when it is better understood.
Principal, School of Homeopathy
- Scientism has been defined as “the view that the characteristic inductive methods of the natural sciences are the only source of genuine factual knowledge and, in particular, that they alone can yield true knowledge about man and society.” Allan Bullock & Stephen Trombley (Eds), The New Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought, London: Harper Collins, 1999, p.775
Many of the references in this article are taken from a new booklet ‘Homeopathy – 20 Questions Answered’ the School of Homeopathy is producing as part of the effort to disseminate better information about homeopathy and to celebrate its 35th anniversary.