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Homeopathy Fact Sheet - Page 5

Researching Homeopathic Medicine

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What has scientific research found out about whether homeopathy works?

This section summarizes results from (1) individual clinical trials (research studies in people) and (2) broad analyses of groups of clinical trials.

The results of individual, controlled clinical trials of homeopathy have been contradictory. In some trials, homeopathy appeared to be no more helpful than a placebo; in other studies, some benefits were seen that the researchers believed were greater than one would expect from a placebo.

Systematic reviews and meta-analyses take a broader look at collections of a set of results from clinical trials. In sum, systematic reviews have not found homeopathy to be a definitively proven treatment for any medical condition. Two groups of authors listed in Appendix II found some positive evidence in the groups of studies they examined, and they did not find this evidence to be explainable completely as placebo effects (a third group found 1 out of 16 trials to have some added effect relative to placebo). Each author or group of authors criticized the quality of evidence in the studies. Examples of problems they noted include weaknesses in design and/or reporting, choice of measuring techniques, small numbers of participants, and difficulties in replicating results. A common theme in the reviews of homeopathy trials is that because of these problems and others, it is difficult or impossible to draw firm conclusions about whether homeopathy is effective for any single clinical condition.

Are there scientific controversies associated with homeopathy?

Yes. Homeopathy is an area of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) that has seen high levels of controversy and debate, largely because a number of its key concepts do not follow the laws of science (particularly chemistry and physics).
  • It is debated how something that causes illness might also cure it.

  • It has been questioned whether a remedy with a very tiny amount (perhaps not even one molecule) of active ingredient could have a biological effect, beneficial or otherwise.
There have been some research studies published on the use of ultra-high dilutions (UHDs) of substances, diluted to levels compatible with those in homeopathy and shaken hard at each step of dilution.h The results are claimed to involve phenomena at the molecular level and beyond, such as the structure of water, and waves and fields. Both laboratory research and clinical trials have been published. There have been mixed results in attempts to replicate them. Reviews have not found UHD results to be definitive or compelling.

There have been some studies that found effects of UHDs on isolated organs, plants, and animals.15 There have been controversy and debate about these findings as well.
  • Effects in homeopathy might be due to the placebo or other non-specific effect.

  • There are key questions about homeopathy that are yet to be subjected to studies that are well-designed--such as whether it actually works for some of the diseases or medical conditions for which it is used, and if so, how it might work.

  • There is a point of view that homeopathy does work, but that modern scientific methods have not yet explained why. The failure of science to provide full explanations for all treatments is not unique to homeopathy.

  • Some people feel that if homeopathy appears to be helpful and safe, then scientifically valid explanations or proofs of this alternative system of medicine are not necessary.
Is NCCAM funding research on homeopathy?

Yes, NCCAM supports a number of studies in this area. For example:
  • Homeopathy for physical, mental, and emotional symptoms of fibromyalgia (a chronic disorder involving widespread musculoskeletal pain, multiple tender points on the body, and fatigue).

  • Homeopathy for brain deterioration and damage in animal models for stroke and dementia.

  • The homeopathic remedy cadmium, to find out whether it can prevent damage to the cells of the prostate when those cells are exposed to toxins.
For More Information

NCCAM Clearinghouse
    Toll-free in the U.S.: 1-888-644-6226
    International: 301-519-3153
    TTY (for deaf and hard-of-hearing callers): 1-866-464-3615

    E-mail: info@nccam.nih.gov
    NCCAM Web site: nccam.nih.gov
    Address: NCCAM Clearinghouse, P.O. Box 7923, Gaithersburg, MD 20898-7923

    Fax: 1-866-464-3616

    Fax-on-Demand service: 1-888-644-6226
CAM on PubMed
    Web site: www.nlm.nih.gov/nccam/camonpubmed.html
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
    Web site: www.fda.gov
    Toll-free: 1-888-INFO-FDA (1-888-463-6332)
    Address: 5600 Fishers Lane, Rockville, MD 20857
NCCAM Publication No. D183
April 2003

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