Evidence in Homeopathy
The experience of patients
Hundreds of thousands of patients have benefited from homeopathy. Many patients referred for homeopathic treatment have a complexity of health problems. The recording of clinical data from everyday practice reflects the experiences of real patients, and demonstrates excellent outcomes. These patient reported outcomes are an increasingly valued part of evidence-based medicine. View results from the homeopathic hospitals.
Randomised controlled trials
The widely accepted method of proving whether or not a medical intervention works is called a randomised controlled trial (RCT). One group of patients, the control group, receive placebo (a “dummy” pill) or standard treatment, and another group of patients receive the medicine being tested. The trial becomes double-blinded when neither the patient nor the practitioner knows which treatment the patient is getting. RCTs are often referred to as the “gold standard” of clinical research.
A total of 142 RCTs in homeopathy have been published in good quality scientific journals: positive effects have been reported in 63 (44% of the total), negative findings have been reported in 11 (8%) and 68 (48%) were inconclusive. As you would expect, the total number of studies published on conventional medicine is much greater than the number of studies carried out on homeopathy, but the proportions of positive, negative and inconclusive studies are in fact very similar in both.
The most solid evidence for a treatment comes from reviewing more than one RCT. This is known as a systematic review. Four out of five major systematic reviews of RCTs in homeopathy have concluded (with certain caveats) that homeopathy has an effect greater than placebo. Systematic reviews of RCTs in specific medical areas have presented positive conclusions for homeopathy in six conditions: childhood diarrhoea, hay fever, influenza treatment, post-operative ileus, respiratory tract infection and vertigo.
For full details of all 142 RCTs and more in-depth information on the research, visit the Research Section of the Faculty of Homeopathy's website. This includes details of those RCTs that were either negative or non-conclusive.
Difficulties with RCTs
The RCT model of measuring efficacy of a drug does pose problems for homeopathic research. In homeopathy, treatment is usually tailored to the individual. A homeopathic prescription is based not only on the symptoms of disease in the patient but on a host of other factors that are particular to that patient, including lifestyle, emotional health, personality, eating habits and medical history. These factors can often make a “one drug to fit all patients” type of RCT less meaningful in homeopathic research.
There are other types of study that form an essential part of the evidence base for any medical intervention. Clinical outcome studies often record the patient's self-reported response after treatment. Studies of this kind are neither randomised nor controlled. They are seen as being close to the bottom of the hierarchy of research evidence. However, non-randomised studies such as these can reflect how homeopathy is working in practice, and indicate where RCT research might be targeted.