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Homeopathy Is Now under Review by the FDA
A public hearing on the future of homeopathy in this country took place in the offices of the US Food and Drug Administration in Silver Springs, Maryland, on April 20 and 21. This may have failed to appear on your radar screen, but heads up: this is important! This hearing, vital to the continued use and practice of homeopathy in the US, claimed to "obtain information and comments from stakeholders about the current use of human drug and biological products labeled as homeopathic, as well as the Agency's regulatory framework for such products." The FDA was reportedly "seeking participants for the public hearing and written comments from all interested parties, including, but not limited to, consumers, patients, caregivers, health care professionals, patient groups, and industry."
These intentions may sound innocent and open-minded, but many of us in the homeopathic community are alarmed. Current FDA regulations actually date back to legislation passed in 1938, which has allowed homeopathic medicines to be available, sold, and prescribed by practitioners or over the counter since that time. There are those in a variety of camps who would be happy if this permissive legislation were changed or eliminated.
A Worldwide Movement to Discredit Homeopathy
This recent announcement appears to be part of a worldwide movement in Europe, Australia, and now the US to discredit and eliminate homeopathy as a competitor to conventional pharmaceutical medicine. "Science-based" or "evidence-based" medicine tends to conveniently ignore or downplay the studies that have shown positive results of homeopathic medicine, and it is rare that a pro-homeopathic study is accepted for publication in mainstream journals. We have been aware for decades of a bias against research concerning homeopathy, unless its intent is to disprove the efficacy of homeopathic treatment. While the studies and the reviews of studies on homeopathy are said to be impartial, the best homeopathic results have often been refused publication in prestigious medical journals, and positive conclusions disallowed or eliminated from relevant consideration.
The NIH (National Institutes of Health) reported in its 2007 National Health Interview Survey, a comprehensive analysis of the use of complementary health practices by Americans, that an estimated 3.9 million adults and 910,000 children had used homeopathy in the previous year. This included use of over-the-counter products labeled "homeopathic," as well as visits to a homeopathic practitioner. Out-of-pocket costs for adults were $2.9 billion for homeopathic medicines and $170 million for visits to homeopathic practitioners.1
It is clear that the money spent by the public on homeopathic care and products has garnered major attention from Big Pharma. It is evident also that consumers' desire to find a viable alternative to pharmaceutical drugs and surgery in homeopathy, herbal medicine, Chinese medicine, chiropractic, and other forms of natural healing has led to what we consider a healthy competition in the health-care marketplace.
The International Homeopathic Stage
Outside the US, homeopathy has historically been an integral part of national and independent health-care systems, especially in France, Germany, the UK, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the Scandinavian countries, and India. Homeopathy remains extremely popular in France, where all of the practitioners are medical doctors and homeopathic medicines are available in all French pharmacies. In Germany, homeopaths can be medical doctors or heilpraktikers (health practitioners). Similarly, in the UK, both medical doctors and registered homeopaths provide homeopathic care. The popularity of homeopathy in the UK and the Netherlands has decreased markedly, over the past 5 years, because of media attacks by the skeptic community, including self-proclaimed "quack-busters," and even, incredibly, stage magicians. To preserve homeopathy in this climate is imperative for its survival.
In the UK, the Queen's physician has traditionally been a homeopath, and is to this day. Homeopathy was well accepted as an integral part of the National Health Service until 2010, when a parliamentary report panning homeopathy decimated the popularity of homeopathic, even among the most respected and experienced practitioners. Though there are still two small homeopathic hospitals, one in London and the other in Glasgow, the popularity of homeopathy has dropped, leading these centers to shift their focus to other complementary and alternative forms of medicine. It is imperative to preserve homeopathy, despite the pejorative political climate, in nations where it has previously flourished.
The homeopathic climate in India, to the contrary, is welcomed by suffering patients from all walks of life: from Bollywood stars to the poorest of the poor; from swanky clinics to the many government-run homeopathic hospitals. According to a 2012 article in the Times of India, India boasts more than 200 homeopathic medical colleges, 7000 homeopathic hospitals and dispensaries, and 246,000 registered practitioners, a number that has doubled between 1980 and 2010. Such widespread acceptance should tend to contradict the idea that homeopathy has neither validity nor effectiveness. These homeopathic adherents, along with the 2.9 million people in the US who either see a homeopath or use over-the-counter homeopathic medicines, obviously believe that they are being helped. Not to mention that homeopathic medicines are safe for newborns, during pregnancy, end-of-life conditions, and highly sensitive individuals who cannot handle prescription medication.
We have studied clinical homeopathy extensively in India with Dr. Rajan Sankaran, and his colleagues in Mumbai, since 1993. These physicians are medical as well as homeopathic doctors. They work in public and private clinics and in hospitals. Due to the nature of India and its health-care system, they see up to 100 or more patients a day; treat patients for serious and life-threatening diseases, unlike most homeopaths in the US; and often work along with and are respected by their conventional medical colleagues. Their results in homeopathy are some of the best in the world, and their cases, mostly videotaped, have been widely published in the homeopathic literature. Furthermore, the standards to present a case at a homeopathic conference or to submit it to publication are rigorous: It must be clear that the prescribed homeopathic medicine has been effective over a period of months or years and that lab values have improved if relevant, and there are often videotaped case records to provide evidence of the results. These clearly effective results should count more, in our opinion, than clinical studies and trials, which, as has been revealed repeatedly, can be manipulated and the results virtually "bought."
Clinical Research Pro and Con
In Switzerland, we are happy to say, there was a recent study highly favorable to homeopathy: In 2013, The Swiss government released a report on homeopathy that described it as "effective and cost efficient." The results of the Swiss Health Technology Assessment (HTA) report on homeopathy, titled Homeopathy in Healthcare, was a part of the Swiss government's 1998 Complementary Medicine Evaluation Programme(PEK), set up to evaluate homeopathy and other complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies for their "efficacy, appropriateness and cost effectiveness."2
Skeptics of homeopathy, both paid professionals and amateurs, have flourished in the current climate of homeopathy bashing. Anything that cannot be explained by current levels of knowledge or research methods is not only fair game for skepticism, but often simply dismissed offhand as impossible and completely ineffective. We should be funding studies to investigate how homeopathy works and the mechanism by which it has produced clinical results over the past 200 years. This, unfortunately, is not happening. The results of homeopathy are, even though the mechanism may seem implausible, readily observable clinically. Though researchers have tried, we acknowledge that the mechanism of action explaining how microdoses can affect human and animal health remains elusive. We welcome further research that attempts to explain the mechanisms involved, and believe that the debate will one day be resolved in favor of homeopathy. The clinical effects of homeopathy, however, can be verified if the research model used takes into account the individualization of treatment using the thousands of homeopathic medicines available, and the fact that homeopathy treats and strengthens the healing and immune responses of the individual who has the disease, rather than focusing on killing organisms, or suppressing bodily processes with drugs.
We Need to Research How Homeopathy Really Works
The basis of the theory of homeopathic medicine is the principle "like cures like." This means that a substance in nature that can cause a set of symptoms in a healthy person, can improve or cure a person with similar symptoms. The substance is given to the patient in a highly diluted form, so as to eliminate the symptom-causing toxicity of the source material. The medicine is created through a process of serial dilution and shaking, which creates a numerically designated potency, such as 6C, 12C, 30C, depending on the number of dilutions.
Because the dilution factors in homeopathy beyond 12C exceed Avogadro's number, skeptics insist that this eliminates the possibility of any scientifically curative action. However, curative action continues to occur with high potencies. As skeptics say, there is no clear mechanism known that can account for the curative action of homeopathic medicines persisting at astronomical dilutions. Nevertheless, it has been observed routinely in homeopathic practice that potencies with a dilution factor of 12C and above are clinically active. Though the mechanism of action of potentized microdoses remains unknown, "like cures like" functions at any potency.
Skeptics of homeopathy commonly point to the placebo effect as the mechanism for why homeopathic medicines appear to work. Unfortunately, patients don't always respond as though they have been given a placebo when given a homeopathic medicine. A homeopath can prescribe what appears to be a well-indicated homeopathic medicine for a patient without any result. However, when the case is restudied and the correct homeopathic medicine prescribed, the symptoms will dramatically resolve, leaving the patient improved or well. How is this possible? The faith of the patient would not likely be strengthened by one or a series of failed prescriptions, but when given the correct homeopathic prescription, the patient's symptoms that match the homeopathic medicine are considerably reduced or eliminated, leaving the patient improved or cured. Animals and babies, who have no preconceived notions as to what to expect from homeopathic treatment, respond readily to the correct homeopathic medicine, eliminating the possibility that the results in these cases are merely a placebo effect.
Our Clinical Experience over Three Decades As Homeopathic Doctors
After more than 30 years of the study, practice, and teaching of homeopathy, we do not consider the results of homeopathic treatment to be fantasy or delusional thinking, as skeptics may suggest. There are solid results in a wide variety of physical, mental, and emotional problems, including ulcerative colitis, asthma, allergies, eczema, autism spectrum disorders, PANDAS, ADHD, ODD, anxiety and depression, vaginitis, menstrual disorders, prostatitis, cystitis, migraine headaches, otitis media, bronchitis, and many others. We and other qualified homeopaths have offered the public and our colleagues the results of our clinical work in the form of video cases, seminars, books and articles, and clinical presentations at homeopathic and naturopathic conferences and seminars. Our articles have appeared in the Townsend Letter since the early 1990s, and we consistently try to "tell it like it is" in reporting the actual results of our clinical practice.
It is the professional standard in homeopathy to present cured cases with the symptoms that the patient expressed initially, observations by the practitioner, and a series of follow-up visits, where the patient expresses the changes they have experienced since being treated. Most homeopathic seminars and teaching follow this format. Because each case is individual, the focus is how the original symptoms matched the homeopathic medicine used for treatment, and what changed, physically, mentally, and emotionally, as the result of the treatment. The cases are only presented after the health changes of the patient are stably better, after at least a year, and sometimes after several years of successful treatment for chronic illnesses. Not all of our cases are successful, as with any medical treatment, but most show positive results from treatment that were not present before the patient began the course of treatment. We take our work very seriously. We take time to understand our patients' needs and find the best homeopathic medicine to improve their health and well-being. The course of treatment in chronic cases begins with an extensive interview and physical exam as required. The initial interview normally lasts for 90 minutes.
Follow-up visits are usually scheduled at intervals of 4 to 8 weeks, depending on need. Once the patient has clearly responded to the homeopathic medicine, visits are spaced according to when the patient could potentially begin to relapse or need a change in the potency or frequency of the medicine. In acute cases, the initial visit is usually 15 to 30 minutes, and is monitored by follow-up visits at much briefer intervals until the illness resolves. When we find that our treatment is not effective, we refer our patients as needed for conventional examination, tests, and treatment.
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