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Misc. News : C.onsumer A.ffair Last Updated: Nov 12th, 2006 - 20:38:00

Homeopathy: Natural Approach or All a Fake?
By Kathleen Doheny, HealthDay Reporter
Jul 30, 2006, 11:49

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SUNDAY, July 30 (HealthDay News) -- To believers, homeopathy is a natural approach to medicine, a holistic therapy that takes the entire patient into account. Homeopaths believe that "like cures like" -- in other words, when diluted to microscopically tiny levels in water, small quantities of substances that in bigger doses would cause symptoms can now cure them.

But debate over homeopathy's effectiveness -- or lack thereof -- rages, with kinder critics calling homeopathy nothing but a placebo effect and harsher ones labeling it just plain fake.

Few dispute that sales of homeopathic products are rising. Sales of homeopathic remedies are up 20 or 30 percent over the past year, said Peter Gold, a spokesperson for the National Center for Homeopathy (NCH) in Alexandria, Va. Solid statistics are hard to come by, but way back in 1995 U.S. retail sales of homeopathic products had already reached $230 million, according to data from

Homeopathic medicines are drug products made by specialty homeopathic pharmacies, as described in the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States. The practice dates back 200 years to an 18th-century doctor from Germany, Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, who first described homeopathy.

According to advocates, the practice centers on an attempt to stimulate the body to recover itself, taking a very close look at the nature of symptoms and the "whole person." For instance, if someone has a cough, a homeopathic practitioner will note whether the person with the cough gets worse when he breathes cold air or if it sounds like a deep bark. Those two different symptoms might require very different homeopathic substances to treat them, practitioners say.

Homeopathic medicines are made from plants such as dandelion, minerals such as sodium chloride, animal products such as snake venom or even more familiar medicines, such as penicillin.

"Homeopathy addresses each person in his or her totality, as opposed to treating physical symptoms alone," said Sue Gelber, a homeopathic practitioner in Davis, Calif. She said each remedy is first "proven": the method by which a homeopath discovers the primary and secondary actions of each remedy.

First, she said, the remedy is administered to healthy people until symptoms appear. Then the subjective and objective symptoms of each of these "provers" are detailed and recorded. Then, a homeopathic practitioner "listens" to symptoms and matches them to those recorded in the library of provings.

Janet Shultz, a homeopathic practitioner in El Segundo, Calif., offered up one example. She said that for a person with seasonal allergies, she picks from 15 or 16 remedies, based on symptom information provided to her by the person. "There are over 3,000 remedies and over 12 popular potencies, so that is 36,000 possibilities. This is where it takes extreme knowledge and expertise in questioning," Shultz said.

Well-known skeptics were contacted by HealthDay for their views on homeopathy, but declined to participate in the article. Their reasoning? Most said that any article that includes the viewpoint of homeopathy advocates is giving the practice more legitimacy than it deserves.

Homeopathy's image did take a well-publicized hit last August with the publication of a major study in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet. That study found that, despite the fervent beliefs of practitioners, homeopathy's effect on patients is probably mostly placebo.

In their study, researchers from the University of Bern, Switzerland, and elsewhere compared 110 placebo-controlled, randomized trials of homeopathic remedies against 110 conventional medicine trials. They also matched them for disorder and type of patient outcome. The trials included studies of treatments for respiratory infection, surgery and anesthesiology.

The authors concluded that there was "weak evidence" for a specific effect of homeopathic remedies, but very strong evidence for effects of conventional treatment.

To no one's surprise, the article triggered outrage in the homeopathic community. Many homeopaths claimed the study had fundamental flaws in its design.

In any case, individuals who decide to try out homeopathy should seek out an experienced practitioner, according to the NCH's Gold.

While stressing that the NCH is "not a licensing body," he noted that the center's Web site does include a directory of practitioners. And he added that many homeopathic providers come from a wide variety of backgrounds -- some may be chiropractors by trade, others pharmacists, dentists or acupuncturists. That's why it's important to find out specifically what their training is in homeopathy, Gold said.

More information

Experts at the U.S. federal government's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine offer their own perspective on homeopathy.

SOURCES: Sue Gelber, homeopathic practitioner, Davis, Calif.; Janet M. Shultz, homeopathic practitioner, El Segundo, Calif; Peter Gold, spokesperson, National Center for Homeopathy, Alexandria, Va.; Aug. 27, 2005, The Lancet

Last Updated: July 30, 2006

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