Homeopathy at risk of being lost in translation

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Homeopathy risks being subsumed by modern medicine, argues a historian of science. Not only does this means that homeopathy's heroes have become mere footnotes in history, but it could limit homeopathy's potential to contribute to the treatment of today's pressing medical problems, she says.

Lyn Brierley-Jones, a historian of medicine at the University of Durham, will present her thesis at the annual meeting of the British Society for the History of Science in Leicester on Saturday 4 July.

Her paper will seek to reveal homeopathy's forgotten heroes, from the 18th century German physician Samuel Hahnemann, who founded the field, to London-based practitioner James Compton Burnett, who came up with a cure for tuberculosis in 1880.

As a result of the contributions of such figures, homeopathy became prominent, particularly in the US. There, by the end of the 19th century homeopaths had their own medical schools, societies, journals, libraries, hospitals and dispensaries, regularly publishing statistics showing the superiority of their practice over mainstream medicine.

Ironically, however, the translation of key homeopathic ideas into mainstream medicine had the effect of undermining the profession, says Brierley-Jones. "By the 1920s, homeopathy had gone into decline, a state from which it has only recently started to recover."

There are significant benefits of keeping homeopathy separate from mainstream medicine, she argues. "It has the potential to create new remedies and to solve many contemporary problems in medicine, such as the individualisation of drugs, reducing their side-effects and managing chronic illness," says Brierley-Jones. "Any future integration of homeopathy into mainstream medicine should be carefully managed to ensure homeopathy's survival."


  1. James Pannozzi James Pannozzi United States says:

    Once again the headline does not jive with the text - the article is actually pro Homeoapthy.

    The heroes of Homeopathy are not all in the past and the scientific research in this area is just in its infancy, for example the pioneering experiments of M. Ennis, who had the courage to publish her results which went contrary to what was expected, when her high dilutions demonstrated a stimulation of biological effects, even though all molecules of the stimulant had been diluted away (Inflammation Research, vol 53, p181).

    Homeopathy provides exactly what is needed to get past the 'dead ends' to which hundreds of millions of dollars in research money has led standard medicine, for example in cancer research. It provides fresh perspectives and a totally different viewpoint for evaluating disease, their causes, nature and progression.

    Those who persist in making an oblique acknowledgment of the Homeopathic curative effect, for example by attempting to rationalize it away by making spurious claims of association with the mystical "placebo" effect, are actually doing science and medicine grave harm by allowing emotionalism, misrepresentation and innuendo to interfere with their thinking and objectivity.

    • sceptic sceptic United Kingdom says:


      You don't seem to understand placebo. There is nothing 'mystical' about it. You can reduce it down to a simple observation that peoples expectations of a particular medicine or treatment can have an effect on how they feel and even produce measurable physiological changes. This effect has nothing to do with any specific properties of the medicine, or treatment itself. Your homeopathic pills may well help, but no more so than non-homeopathic sugar pills, or water.

      If you feel like accepting that the effects of high potency homeopathic medicine is the same regardless of which homeopathic medicine you take and whether you go through the proper potentizing ritual then fine. All you've got then is pretend medicine and an interesting back story. If you are claiming that which homeopathic you take, and whether you shake it properly is important then you aren't talking about placebo.

      You also seem to neglect regression to the mean as an explanation for much of homeopathys claimed 'success'.

  2. Rory Hart Rory Hart Australia says:

    What about preserving the practice of blood letting as well? Or cauterizing wounds with hot oil! He's right we can't let these traditions die out dammit! I want to see surgeons with gritty unwashed hands and why aren't we preserving the fine traditions of a high child mortality rate!

  3. Paula Thomas Paula Thomas United Kingdom says:

    Homeopathy is traditional so must be preserved? OK so burning witches was traditional too. This idea that because something has been practiced for long enough to be called 'traditional' it has to be good is bunk.

    Oh and I agree with Christine water does not cure disease well except dehydration that is.

  4. Carmenego Carmenego United Kingdom says:

    For optimum results, take one homeopathic cure and dilute it with a lifetime of conventional medicine.

  5. Beacon Schuler Beacon Schuler United Kingdom says:

    What does a historian have to tell us about medicine? Homeopathy doesn't work, and only owes its current status to its politically motivated revival in early 1940s Germany. And it's not being "subsumed" by modern medicine; it's being rejected by modern medicine, due to its lack of efficacy.

  6. Zeno Zeno United Kingdom says:

    Homeopathy is a load of hogwash. It has never cured anyone of anything, defies all good attempts at showing it can work, has a totally implausible method of action and is only used to make money from the vulnerable worried-well.

    There are no 'heroes' of homeopathy, just the misguided who eschewed knowledge and understanding to push their nonsense.

    It deserves to be consigned to the vitalistic dustbin of history and it certainly not be 'integrated' with medicine that works.

  7. Ananda Ananda Canada says:

    If Homeopathy is only placebo why have there been demonstrated results in in-vitro studies, as well as excellent results in animals and babies? For actual studies check out www.homeonetresearch.ca/index.php

  8. dyson dyson United Kingdom says:

    Ananda, I'm afraid that the in vitro studies are non-reproducible. There are no "excellent results" in animals and babies, just further irreproducible, poor quality, poorly controlled or uncontrolled trials that are subject to all the usual biases.
    As for your reference, perhaps you should actually read "Study of the month" for Jan 2009. Perhaps you will realise that it is a meta analysis of evaluable controlled trials which demonstrates homeopathy's effects are indistinguishable from placebo.

  9. davidhartley davidhartley United States says:

    $pharma medicine is arguably the #1 direct leading cause of death in the U.S, and probably most industrialized nations.
    Homeopathy, on the other hand, has over 200yrs of successes in curing what allopathy cannot.
    The fact that the Papacy of the Relgion of Scientism hath delcared otherwise leads at a lot of moronic anti-scientific 'skepdic' type trolls repeating party line lies about homeopathy.
    True science is not about a bunch of paid hacks collecting $pharma money ($pharma spends approx. $20Bn + funding these anti-science trolls)  TRUE science has no agenda, no fixed opinion..  it is a method requiring a sense of inquiry ... and no real scientist would ever claim  homeopathy doesn't work just because he is incapable of perfectly dissecting the mechanism by which homeopathy (obviously !) does work.
    Modern physics is beginning to discover some ways to measure some effects of homeopathic medicines.
    True modern scientists are as yet unsure HOW homeopathy works.
    No one who is not on the payroll of $pharma is going to be repeating stupid and easily refuted lies as to whether or not homeopathy works.
    http://www.whale.to/p/politics2.html  <-- the politics of medicine
    http://ow.ly/gwA9  <--medical malpractice by $pharma

  10. Heidi Stevenson Heidi Stevenson United Kingdom says:

    It seems to me that comment about Lyn Brierley-Jones's paper is premature. We've yet to know exactly what's in it, exactly what the claims are, or on what basis the claims are made.

    I do, though, agree with the thesis as it applies to a different modality - acupuncture. As it's now being used in the NHS by allopathic practitioners, it's being perverted. A woman I know has been suffering because she was given acupuncture with electricity applied to the needles - most assuredly not a traditional acupuncture method. There are other tales I've heard from patients who's had "acupuncture" applied by NHS allopathic practitioners, each described to me as being done by someone who took no care in siting the needles, said it didn't matter if they were in exactly the right spot, and pulled them out rapidly - all counter to traditional acupuncture methods. This sort of thing demonstrates the likelihood of Brierly-Jones' thesis being accurate.

    To those who write angrily against homeopathy with statements of how it doesn't work and can't work and hasn't been proven to work, along with those who think their jokes are clever: Why are you so interested in something that you seem to think is nonsense?

    Certainly the trust in allopathic medicine and its Big Pharma drugs and treatments is misplaced. Genuine science is almost nonexistent, replaced by money-driven pseudo-researchers who will produce whatever results they're paid for.

    The faith in double blind randomly controlled trials is certainly misplaced, as can easily be demonstrated by the drugs that have been approved through such techniques, then withdrawn or fallen out of favor because of lack of efficacy and horrific harm done by them. Vioxx. Celebrex. Statins. Now the FDA is going after acetaminophen. It seems to me that supporting this sort of thing is foolhardy, at best.

    Dyson, you're quite mistaken about there being no reproducible in vitro results. John Paterson's studies of bowel nosodes and their effect on feces demonstrated in thousands of examples that nosodes (homeopathic preparations) resulted in consistent changes in bowel bacteria.

    I agree with David Hartley that true science has no agendas and no fixed opinions.

  11. Dagn&#253; Dagn&#253; Iceland says:

    zeno, It seems to me that your experience with homoeopathy wasn´t what you expected? Because surely you must have tried it since you have such strong reactions and are against it. Or are you merely a person who is against everything you cannot understand?

    Homoeopathy is safe, effective and curative. It can help all ages and costs the same weather you are chronicly ill or acutely ill.  There in lies the problem.  This isn´t and can never be a money maker machine. if Big Pharma would see a money machine in this, they would acknowledge it and take it under it´s wings.  

    Let´s not overlook the fact that the FDA is banning Pyridoxin because a drug company is making a drog from it that will cost more than the inexpensive vitaminB6 from your store.

    The same reason why some governments are so adamant in banning untraditional medicine - BECAUSE IT WORKS!

  12. Beacon Schuler Beacon Schuler United Kingdom says:

    Heidi, clinical research has indeed shown that acupuncture has the same level of effect when the needles are placed as per traditional Chinese medicine as when placed randomly.

    People are interested in making it clear that homeopathy doesn't work because if it doesn't work, then it's not worth spending money on, and if it doesn't work, then it oughtn't be given to baby girls with eczema, say, when they should be receiving conventional medicine that would cure them.

    No-one is saying that the system for testing drugs as it currently stands is perfect, and drugs companies have done very questionable things in the past, but this does not prove homeopathy, or acupuncture, or any other aspect of CAM works. Each treatment must stand by its evidence base. The situation with Big Pharma can't be improved by throwing double-blind controlled trials out of the window, but there are measures that can be put in place that will make it much more difficult for there to be another Vioxx, such as an international trial registry, legal compulsion to publish and state- or industry-funded negative findings research journals.

    Homeopathy has been put to the test time and time again and has always failed. A quick peruse of the Cochrane Collaboration should convince you of that. The more robust a trial in CAM is, the less likely it is that it will show an effect above placebo. So much money has been poured into homeopathy that to spend any more time on it would be to the detriment of science and medicine.

    Dagny - how much money do you think companies like Helios or Bionordic make a year? Seriously? It's something you might want to look into.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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