Analysis Shows More Study Needed for Homeopathy
Mon Mar 3, 5:58 PM ET Add Health - Reuters to My Yahoo!


By Alison McCook

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A review of the scientific literature reveals that the jury is still out regarding the benefits of the alternative medicine homeopathy, researchers said Monday.


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Developed by a German scientist at the end of the 18th century, homeopathy is a practice that uses extremely dilute drug solutions--some so dilute they contain few or no molecules of the original drug--to stimulate or provoke the body's immune system to defend itself.


Future studies of homeopathy need "open minded, but also skeptical" investigators at the helm, said Dr. Wayne B. Jonas of the Samueli Institute in Alexandria, Virginia, a nonprofit medical research organization founded in 2001. A lack of evidence does not necessarily represent a lack of effect, he told Reuters Health.


Jonas and his colleagues recommend that patients opt for therapies that have more convincing data on their side.


Homeopathy, if practiced correctly, is likely safe, Jonas said. But the dangers of the use of this technique come if patients choose homeopathy over other treatments that research has shown may work better, he added.


Simple coughs and colds, which could clear up on their own, are fine to treat using homeopathy, Jonas noted; but for more serious conditions, he suggested patients consult their physicians to make sure they don't ignore other options before trying homeopathy.


Homeopathy makes sense for patients "only if they've exhausted known, effective cures, and they're not ignoring those cures," Jonas said.


Jonas and his colleagues Dr. Ted Kaptchuk of Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts and Dr. Klaus Linde of Technische Universitat in Munchen, Germany base their conclusions on a review of previous studies that have themselves attempted to review the existing data on the effectiveness of homeopathy.


While some well-designed studies suggest the practice may be better than a placebo at helping certain ills, "there's just not enough information, enough research in any one area" to declare homeopathy works, Jonas noted.


Other studies suggest the practice holds no benefit for patients with migraines, muscle soreness, and those who wish to prevent the flu, the authors note in the Annals of Internal Medicine.


The amount of research is only a "spit in the bucket" of what is needed to truly understand homeopathy, Jonas added.


Jonas said that studies of homeopathy may have produced mixed results because of biases the researchers brought to their studies. Many investigators have likely set out to either prove or disprove the benefits of the practice, he noted, and may have discarded any work that did not fit their theory.


SOURCE: Annals of Internal Medicine 2003;138:393-399.