Some swear by it, others ridicule it. But is there any substantial evidence that demonstrates some efficacy for homeopathic medicine?

Homeopathic medicine traces its origins to Germany in the 18th century. This alternative form of medicine is based upon a theory known as ‘the law of similars’ whereby ‘like is used to treat like’ instead of reducing symptoms with pharmacologically active constituents as found in modern medicine.

Homeopathic medicines are often composed from substances like plants and minerals, examples including poison ivy and stinging nettle. Formulated as small pellets that are left under the tongue, treatments are even occasionally tailored to an individual’s personal condition. To date, there have been no trials or evidence of any kind that can legitimately uphold the claims of homeopathy’s many proponents.

Many researchers have highlighted the simple implausibility of homeopathy’s biological actions – branding the science as nothing more than quackery. Evidence is contradictory but seems to be far more negative than positive. For instance a Lancet review in 1997 concluded, “the clinical effects of homeopathy are not completely due to placebo”. This was followed with “the clinical effects of homeopathy are placebo effects” in the same journal of 2005.

A proposed mechanism of homeopathic medicine is known as ‘quantum entanglement’ whereby a causal correlation is formed with the patient, practitioner and remedy. It essentially results in a placebo-type response or ‘meaning response’ through psychoneuroimmunological pathways or the self-limiting nature of key symptoms being treated. In other words the empathy and length of consultation as well as the patient’s interaction with the practitioner does too have some psychological effect on those being treated, leading them to believe the treatment is working.

Some of the most popular homeopathic medicines today are Arnica, Arsen Alb and Rhus Tox. Though Arnica has shown a good degree of efficacy in gel form, its yet to prove itself as a small pellet. Arnica contains helenalin and various other compounds which are known to be involved in anti-inflammatory responses and so it does have some science backing it in the use for relief of muscle pain and sores. Arsen Alb too has some evidence to show its efficacy yet the studies involved are marred with questions of bias. The answer quite clearly lies in a rather simple case of individuality and idiosyncrasy.

Whether homeopathy is for you or not is a personal decision, a choice, and one that should be respected by others. Though modern scientists and researchers may have a lot to say on the subject, the general conclusion is any alleviation of symptoms and effectiveness of treatment are merely placebo and all just in your head.

Linde K, Clausius N, Ramirez G, et al. Are the clinical effects of homoeopathy placebo effects? A meta-analysis of placebo-controlled trials. Lancet 1997; 350: 834-843

Shang A, Huwiler-Muntener K, Nartey L, et al. Are the clinical effects of homoeopathy placebo effects? Comparative study of placebo-controlled trials of homoeopathy and allopathy. Lancet 2005; 366: 726-732

Edwards S, Jayne Lawrence M., Cable C, Heinrich M. Where do herbal medicines belong? Part 1 – an overview of CAM. The Pharmaceutical Journal. May 5 2012; 288(7704). 565-566.