Homeopathy research

Homeopathy always triggers strong feelings. This type of treatment is repeatedly attacked—but in most cases unobjectively—in the trade and lay press, and sometimes in television programs. The opponents bring up a lot of different arguments. The most frequently cited “counterargument” is often the issue of dilution: According to this argument, in homeopathy agents are often used whose dilution was so great that mathematically not a single molecule of the active ingredient could be left. In addition, the similarity principle that homeopathy is based on has been critically scrutinized.

In theoretical models and experimental approaches the principles behind the effect of homeopathic remedies has been examined for years. A number of positive results were obtained without the general public knowing about them—which also may certainly be due to the lack of response by the media that is generally critical of homeopathy. In the next few years, it will be the task of homeopathy research to make these and other experimental findings that make the case for its efficacy more comprehensible using appropriate theories.

In addition to the experiments on the mechanism of action, for years numerous studies have also been conducted on the efficacy of homeopathic medicines. Critics often claim that there are no positive clinical trials on homeopathy, but this is just not true: There are now approximately 600 clinical trials, many of which were positive and provided evidence about the efficacy of the examined homeopathic remedies.

Below we will provide an overview of the most important theoretical models being discussed in homeopathy research, as well as of promising experimental research results and results from clinical research.

1. Explanatory models and theories on homeopathy’s mechanism of action

1.1 Imprint theory, clustering and water memory
1.2 Quantum phenomena
1.3 Nano research

2. Experimental research on homeopathy’s mechanism of action

2.1 Experimental research on the similarity principle
2.2 Experimental research on potentized remedies

3. Clinical research on the efficacy of homeopathy

As was already mentioned at the beginning, in recent years hundreds of clinical trials have been con-ducted with homeopathic remedies. Nevertheless, the study design, the homeopathic treatment ap-proach and also the remedies used differed greatly among them. In evidence-based medicine it is common to evaluate multiple trials investigating one treatment approach in overview articles, referred to as reviews, in the form of a meta-analysis. This means that the number of patients or individual results from each study are summarized and evaluated, based on specified statistical criteria in their entirety. This has also been done in the past for clinical trials of homeopathic medicines. The approaches thus taken and the problems associated with them, is shown in the following.

3.1 Different treatment methods make comparisons difficult
3.2 Review articles on the status of clinical research
3.3 New approaches

4. Outlook for clinical research

In general, it is clear that the current state of research on the efficacy of homeopathic remedies or therapies is significantly better than is often alleged by critics. There is abundant scientific literature that supports the efficacy of homeopathy. Although the number of several hundred studies at first glance seems like a lot, it is still minuscule compared to the number of published clinical studies for conventional treatments. In this case it is important to address the positive results already obtained; to verify and expand on them. To do this, though, clinical homeopathy research is in need of more financial support.

The main problem is that clinical homeopathy research has thus far been almost exclusively financed through funds from complementary medicine foundations or by homeopathic medicine manufacturers. In other words, there has been no systematic research of the clinical efficacy of homeopathic remedies supported by public research money. Accordingly, many homeopathy studies are accused of lacking quality, since they are often not carried out in the same dimensions (e.g., number of partic-ipating patients and clinics) as the conventional pharmaceutical research studies. However, because in the field of complementary medicine remedies the profit margin is significantly smaller than with many conventional medicine products, for which a package of a patented drug regularly costs several hundred euros, and, additionally, no patents may be submitted for homeopathic remedies, only lim-ited resources for clinical research are provided by pharmaceutical manufacturers. There are relatively few resources, especially in the field of basic research on the mechanism of action of potentized remedies. High-quality and large-scale studies, as demanded by critics, however, depend on a large budget of > EUR 500,000. In addition, allegations that the so-called “homeopathy lobby” are influencing the study results may be difficult to refute, as long as the sponsors of homeopathy research consist exclusively of complementary medicine-oriented foundations and homeopathic pharmaceuti-cal manufacturers.

But because the acceptance of homeopathy in the population is very high, as several surveys have shown, and studies of health services research in homeopathy attest to positive effects, it should also be in the public interest to support this research increasingly using public research funds.

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