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Beyond Animal Research
By Jonathan Balcombe, Ph.D.
Homeopathy Research: Efficacy Studies
Because homeopathy involves giving vanishingly small quantities of ingredients to patients, side effects are rare and treatments essentially harmless. That does not mean they are effective, however. The animal studies I described in last month’s column were trying to address efficacy, not safety. As the following examples from 2005 show, researchers have a variety of means for assessing alternative treatments in humans without resorting to cruel animal studies.
- In the United States, at the University of Washington, breast cancer survivors received either one or two homeopathic treatments, in combination or placebo control, to evaluate effectiveness for treating menopausal symptoms. Patients reported frequency and severity of hot flashes every two months for one year.1
- In Switzerland, 83 children aged 6 to 16 years with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) received either a homeopathic remedy for six weeks followed by placebo for six weeks, or vice-versa. Parents used a prescribed scoring system to report their child’s behavior at three points in the double-blind study.2
- In an Israeli study of post-partum bleeding, two homeopathic remedies were given at two dilutions to 28 women who had just given birth. An additional 12 mothers received a double placebo. Hemoglobin levels were measured at 48 and 72 hours post-partum.3
- A team of Swiss researchers searched 19 databases to analyze comparisons of homeopathy and conventional medicine in trials least likely to be influenced by bias. Randomly selected trials were matched for disorder and outcome measure, and double-blind, randomized studies were assumed to be of higher methodological quality.4
In vitro study:
- At the University of Bern, Switzerland, basophils (white blood cells) from the same human donor were kept in various homeopathic dilutions of either histamine (test group) or water (controls), and their functional response was measured using flow-cytometry.5
- At the University Hospital Bern (Switzerland), gastrointestinal outpatients completed a self-administered questionnaire on the efficacy of complementary and alternative medicine, including homeopathy.6
- Three case studies describe children’s responses to a homeopathic treatment for two different complaints.7
- At the University of Cambridge, cows were randomly allocated to either a homeopathic or a control group, and compared by blinded evaluators for somatic cell counts in their milk both before and at various times after treatment.8
You may be wondering about the outcomes of these studies. I excluded them because my main point is to show that we have methods at our command that provide useful and relevant information for humans. For the record, homeopathic study results have been mixed. Some report significant benefits from homeopathic treatments; others do not. But, unlike the animal studies I examined last month, no deliberate harm was inflicted on the subjects, and the findings have immediate relevance to human health.
1. Jacobs J, Williams AL, Girard C, Njike VY, Katz D. Homeopathy for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: a pilot randomized-controlled trial. J Altern Complement Med. 2005;11:799-806.
2. Frei H, Everts R, von Ammon K, Kaufmann F, Walther D, Hsu-Schmitz SF, Collenberg M, Fuhrer K, Hassink R, Steinlin M, Thurneysen A. Homeopathic treatment of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: a randomised, double blind, placebo controlled crossover trial. Eur J Pediatr. 2005;164:758-767.
3. Oberbaum M, Galoyan N, Lerner-Geva L, Singer SR, Grisaru S, Shashar D, Samueloff A. The effect of the homeopathic remedies Arnica montana and Bellis perennis on mild postpartum bleeding—a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study—preliminary results. Complement Ther Med. 2005;13:87-90.
4. Shang A, Huwiler-Muntener K, Nartey L, Juni P, Dorig S, Sterne JA, Pewsner D, Egger M. Are the clinical effects of homoeopathy placebo effects? Comparative study of placebo-controlled trials of homoeopathy and allopathy. Lancet. 2005;366:726-732.
5. Guggisberg AG, Baumgartner SM, Tschopp CM, Heusser P. Replication study concerning the effects of homeopathic dilutions of histamine on human basophil degranulation in vitro. Complement Ther Med. 2005;13:91-100.
6. Ausfeld-Hafter B, Hoffmann S, Seibold F, Quattropani C, Heer P, Straumann A. [Status of alternative medicine in Crohn disease and ulcerative colitis patents: a questionnaire survey] Forsch Komplementarmed Klass Naturheilkd. 2005;12:134-138.
7. Sevar R. Sanicula. aqua: three clinical cases and a heuristic. Homeopathy. 2005;94:125-131.
8. Holmes MA, Cockcroft PD, Booth CE, Heath MF. Controlled clinical trial of the effect of a homoeopathic nosode on the somatic cell counts in the milk of clinically normal dairy cows. Vet Rec. 2005;156:565-567.