NEWS2U Health & Wellness
Living Healthy in an Unhealthy World

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Critics say Lancet homeopathy study flawed
Your Guide, Cathy Wong, N.D.
Your Guide to Alternative Medicine.

A study published in the August 27 issue of The Lancet contends that homeopathic remedies are no better than placebo. However, the study has been criticized by peer researchers and homeopathic experts for being scientifically flawed.

It's one of a recent string of negative studies about alternative medicine that fail to properly test the hypothesis in question. For example, a $2.2 million echinacea study, which found that echinacea had no effect on preventing or treating colds, did not use an adequate therapeutic dose of echinacea.

The Lancet study was a meta-analysis--a study that compares a selection of research studies to see what the overall consensus is. On page two (p. 727), researchers, led by Aijing Shang, PhD, of the University of Berne, described the four types of homeopathy studies they included in their meta-analysis:

* Studies using "clinical homeopathy".

Patients did not receive a comprehensive homeopathic history and all patients received a single, identical remedy. This accounted for 48, or 44% of the homeopathy studies analyzed in the Lancet meta-analysis.

* Studies using "complex homeopathy". Patients did not receive a comprehensive homeopathic history and all patients received a mixture of different commonly used homeopathic remedies. This accounted for 35, or 32% of the homeopathy studies analyzed.

* Studies using "classical homeopathy". Patients were given a comprehensive patient history and received a single, individualized remedy. This accounted for 18, or 16% of the homeopathy studies analyzed.

* Studies using "isopathy". Patients did not receive a comprehensive homeopathic history and all patients received a diluted substance that was believed to be the cause of the disorder (e.g pollen in seasonal allergies). This accounted for 8, or 7% of the homeopathy studies analyzed.

The problem is there is no such thing as clinical homeopathy. No one trained and licensed in homeopathy would recommend a single, identical remedy for patients with a certain disease or condition.

Homeopathy is based on the belief that "like cures like". Diluted medicinal substances (which look like tiny white pellets) are prescribed to treat an individual's unique symptoms.

For example, if we brought together a hundred people with rheumatoid arthritis and interviewed them, they would not all have the same symptoms. Certain factors would aggravate symptoms in some but not others. A homeopath distinguishes between these various subtypes and finds a suitable, individual remedy that matches all of that person's symptoms (hence like cures like).

To give everyone with a certain disease or condition the same remedy is not considered homeopathy. The Lancet meta-analysis included studies that may have been statistically sound, but should have been excluded because they lacked a fundamental understanding of what homeopathy is.

In addition, many view the use of complex homeopathy and isopathy as merely "educated guesses", because patients receive remedies that again are not individualized but are commonly used for such conditions. There is no guarantee that the remedy is correct.

Such a major problem in the study should have been detected before the article was published.

This is not the first time the prestigious journal has been at the center of controversy over scientifically flawed research.

The Lancet previously published a sensationalized study linking autism and the MMR vaccine, which many feel is responsible for eroding public faith in the MMR vaccine and leading to declining use and new outbreaks of measles in the UK. The journal later stated that in hindsight, it would not have published the flawed study.

This should not be the end of homeopathy. Instead, our understanding of whether it does or doesn't work should continue to grow with better, properly designed research studies.

And the lesson to be learned from this particular study is simple--in order to properly evaluate homeopathy, get someone who actually knows what it is.

SOURCES: Shang, A. The Lancet, Aug. 27, 2005; vol 366: pp 726-732. Vandenbroucke, J.P. The Lancet, Aug. 27, 2005; vol 366: pp 691-692. News release, National Center for Homeopathy. Matthias Egger, MD, director, department of social and preventive medicine, University of Berne, Switzerland. Jan P. Vandenbroucke, MD, PhD, professor of clinical epidemiology, Leiden University Medical Center, Netherlands. Joyce Frye, DO, MBA, president, American Institute of Homeopathy and postdoctoral research fellow, center for clinical epidemiology and biostatistics, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.