The conclusion of the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council that there is no “good quality evidence that homeopathy is good for treating any health conditions” gained widespread publicity globally. The field has since been battered in the media. A Canadian pharmacist writing in the Australian Journal of Pharmacy argues that homeopathic medicines have no place in regular pharmacies. A widely commented-upon blog from the United Kingdom that begins with a Member of Parliament’s one-time support for homeopathy argues that “belief in homeopathy is a moral test.” Homeopathy’s supporters are thus ethically condemned. Meanwhile, a Californian de-bunker who goes by SciBabe downs a whole bottle of homeopathics to make a point after coming to Australia for a scientific meeting.
Yet in the midst of it, a recent health services research analysis reported a qualified positive on comparative costs in France’s public health system. The researchers examined costs for patients of medical doctors who use homeopathy, versus those of medical doctors who don’t. They found that “Ho-GPs (homeopathic-using general practitioners) prescribed fewer psychotropic drugs, antibiotics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.” Then: “Management of patients by homeopathic GPs may be less expensive from a global perspective and may represent an important interest to public health.”
Homeopathy’s advocates had little time to celebrate. Just 2 months later, a team that includes internationally renowned researcher Claudia Witt, MD (pictured), published findings of a separate health services study. This one was inside the German health system. The aim was to “compare the health care costs for patients using additional homeopathic treatment with the costs for those receiving usual care.” The finding: “Compared with usual care, additional homeopathic treatment was associated with significantly higher costs. These analyses did not confirm previously observed cost savings resulting from the use of homeopathy in the health care system.”
Into this polarized environment, University of Texas scientist Moshe Frenkel, MD (pictured), asked a brave question in this publication in Current Oncology Reports: “Is There a Role for Homeopathy in Cancer Care? Questions and Challenges.” He reviews existing literature and concludes, “Although additional studies are needed to confirm these findings, given the low cost, minimal risks, and the potential magnitude of homeopathy’s effects, this use might be considered in certain situations as an additional tool to integrate into cancer care.”
Comment: As a newcomer to the field nearly 35 years ago, I was seeking to get my ethical bearings amidst a backdrop of a very limited research infrastructure on natural health interventions. I took a practical view that if a natural agent deemed placebo by skeptics successfully helped a person through an illness—whether a homeopathic or herbal or vitamin—in lieu of a pharmaceutical that caused multiple adverse effects, well, why not? One just needed to keep an eye on the cost of the alternative compared to the encumbered pharmaceutical choice. Since then, epidemics of antibiotic overuse and, in the United States, of overuse of painkillers and most other drugs have turned my personal ethical platform into a significant public health question. The authors of the French economic analysis reference this potentially “important interest to public health.”
Varying study design may explain a part of the outcomes of the two economic studies. Yet given the energetic properties homeopathic medications are said to have, perhaps there is simply something in the spirit of the French that skews homeopathy positively, and in the Germans, twists outcomes negatively. More study required.
Whatever legitimate methodological or utterly facetious questions these opposing findings may provoke, the negatives are not shaking the convictions of the Queen’s Physician in the United Kingdom. Homeopathic physician Peter Fisher, MD (pictured), is quoted in this article on his recent opinion piece on homeopathy in the British Medical Journal. He seems to like my conclusion from the early 1980s. Fisher, the clinical director and director of research at the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine, reportedly said that “homeopathy was ‘safe,’ ‘popular with patients’ and reduced the need for antibiotics.”