Scientific Research

Homeopathic Research in Contemporary Culture Part 2 Understanding Research

Written by Loretta Butehorn

Homeopath Loretta Butehorn discusses the meaning of research results, “p value” and what supports or negates the research results. Who funds the research and how it is designed are a number of variables for reliability.

How often have we heard the mantra “there is no research” when someone is declaring the lack of value in homeopathy?  For this reason it is very useful for all of us to know that there is research and how to find it.

First of all what is research and what is its value?  Many people think that a research study proves or disproves if something is “true.”  Actually that is not the case. When scientists are looking at the value of any intervention, they are looking at the question: Does this approach show that it has a greater than coincidental chance of making a change? To measure this outcome mathematical formulae are used –statistics! (Remember those from college?)  If the math shows that the likelihood of this outcome is greater than chance, it is said to be “statistically significant.”

The researcher starts with a question, a hypothesis. For example, “Does the homeopathic remedy Arnica reduce bruising?” So, a researcher gives Arnica to a person who has just been bruised and it diminishes bruising- this is a case of one and the result may have been caused by Arnica or by chance. If that same scientist gives Arnica to 50 people who have been bruised and 43 of them have little or no bruising (86%) this is mathematically greater than chance and the intervention is said to support the hypothesis that Arnica helps reduce bruising.

The mathematics in a study, which indicate statistical significance, is called a “p value.” “P value” tells you the probability that the results as stated in the hypothesis are true-Arnica DOES reduce bruising. When you read the results of a study and p=.05 or less, there is a 5% or less chance that the results (Arnica helps heal the bruising) are true. That means this study gives support to the hypothesis that Arnica helps with bruising.  However, it does not prove it. Rather, the study gives strengths to the hypothesis. For a researcher there is no definitive “proof” that an intervention “works”. A study’s results are said to lend support to the hypothesis that is being studied.

Over the history of science, we have always found that healers noticed when something helped the healing of a single client, then noticed a pattern, and finally said let’s study this! So, research progressed (and still does) stepwise.

  1. clinical experience- as is often written up as a single case story, as in this journal
  2. Case studies-more than 1 case using the intervention noted in numerous historical and contemporary homeopathic journals

c.animal studies-i.e. Nux vomica and Gelsemium (1.)

d.randomized controlled studies- comparing 2 groups, one using the intervention, the other one not using the intervention-an example is Weintraub and Chapman’s head injury study (2.)

As nearly everything in our competitive, compartmentalized culture, some researchers tout one type of approach as the “best.”   What is referred to as the “gold standard of research,” is the randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled trial. So called because of its original use in determining the purity of gold, it is an approach that is best suited and most often used to the testing of pharmaceuticals in treating a specific condition. Two groups of individual subjects are assigned by random selection to a treatment or non-treatment group, which are equally matched demographically.  An intervention is used on one group and a placebo on the another, with neither the subject nor the researchers knowing which group they are in.

As noted by Iris Bell (3.) Since homeopathy is specific to the totality of the person rather than “one treatment fits all people with this condition approach,” this research methodis less applicable to homeopathic research.

Why Do Research Anyway?

Before 1963, pharmaceuticals that were sold in the United States had to be tested to prove they were safe, but they did not have to prove that they were effective. Therefore, it was common to find many drugs on the U.S. market that claimed to be effective for a wide variety of health conditions without any proof that they actually worked. In 1963, Congress enacted the Kefauver-Harris amendments to the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act, which required manufacturers to prove that their products were both safe and effective. Placebo-controlled clinical trials subsequently became the standard methodology for proof in clinical or laboratory researchof effectiveness.  Unfortunately, law makers are often like the general public and do not know a lot about research and assumed one could “prove” that something worked!

In recent years a great deal of the research on pharmaceuticals has been funded by companies wishing to sell, often at great cost, medicines to the general public.  If we look at the drug advertising on TV we can see this at work.

How to read research

Therefore, when reading research it is important to note several things:

1.Does the research start with a good literature review identifying what is we already known about the intervention?

2.Who is funding the research-does the funder have an “axe to grind” or a “position to push?”

3.Are the design and statistical analysis appropriate to the question being asked? data base?

4.Are the interpretations made about the data coherent and specific to the data?

5.Are reasonable qualifiers of effectiveness cited by the researchers?

6.Do researchers cite alternative possible explanations for the results and other areas of research?

7.What areas of additional inquiry will help develop the information about this condition and this intervention?

8.What is the paradigm of the researcher-holistic or compartmentalized- it makes a big difference in how they understand the world and pursue their research question..

We have included several sites where you can access some of the growing body of research in homeopathy, which lends support to what we already know through personal experience. A tremendous body of clinical data has been presented in homeopathic journals historically since its inception and there are more recent studies using the allopathic paradigm of understanding the world demonstrating what we already know from experience-homeopathy works!

We also would encourage you to find a few studies which relate to your life and the folks you typically interact with.  So if you are a teacher, maybe choose a piece about homeopathy and children’s earaches; if a vet, a piece about dog or cat first aid; if you are an oncology nurse, a piece about palliation of cancer treatment side effects. Then when you talk to your friends or family about homeopathy (and we who have had experience with it always do, don’t we), you will have some data to pull out and share when if you hear that old saw—“but there is no research!”

Research sites:

  1. Go to Institutes, NCCIH, and then choose Search and find Pubmed-put in homeopathy most resent search gave us nearly 5000 articles!
  2. Homeopathy Research Institute Has a register of homeopathic research and analysis of selected research.
  3. Faculty of Homeopathy (UK) research website  
  4. Official Indian Research Centre
  5. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine Research on CAM (including homeopathy), summaries free of charge, some full articles available, others may be ordered.
  6. CORE-Hom


  1. A Short History of Medicine(Author Unknown)
  2. Doctor, I have an earache.
  3. 2000 B.C. Here, eat this root.
  4. 1000 B.C. That root is heathen; say this prayer.
  5. 1850 A.D. That prayer is superstition; drink this potion.
  6. 1940 A.D. That potion is snake oil; swallow this pill.
  7. 1990 A.D. That pill is ineffective; take this biotechnologically-engineered


  1. 2000 A.D. That drug is artificial. Here, eat this root


  1. Sukul, et at “StrychnosNux Vomica extract and its ultral high dilution reduce voluntary ethanol intake in rats,” JAltern and Comp Med, 2001, April (2) pp187-193
  2. Bellavital et al “High Dose of Gelsemium improve behavior of mice in response to novel environment,” Verona Evidence Based Com Altern Med, 2011 Vol 2011, Article 362517 10 pages
  3. Bell, Iris, “eEvidence Based Homeopathy,” AJHM, Spring 2003, pp 17-31

Loretta Butehorn PhD CCH RSsHom(NA) is a director and core faculty at Teleosis Homeopathic Collaborative and School and an NCH Board member.  She can be contacted at [email protected].

About the author

Loretta Butehorn

Loretta Butehorn PhD CCH is a homeopath and psychologist in the Boston area. She is one of four Co-Directors of Teleosis Homeopathic Collaborative, as well as the faculty of the American Medical College of Homeopathy and Boston College. Contact information , 345 Neponset Avenue, Boston, MA 02122 USA [email protected]. Teleosis Homeopathic Collaborative and School offer both a one year acute prescribing course and a three year professional homeopathic course and can be reached at

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