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Let’s look at the science.

Earlier this month we told you about an attack on homeopathic medicines in California courts, one that could threaten the industry.

We also told you about a recent report published in the International Journal of Clinical Practice. That report claimed to do a systematic review of all adverse event reports (AERs) in connection with homeopathy from 1978 to 2010. On the one hand, the report concluded that homeopathy is ineffective because it has no active ingredients, that it is nothing more than a placebo because it has been diluted so much that “the likelihood of a single molecule approaches zero.” On the other hand, the report also concluded that homeopathic preparations caused many dangerous allergic reactions.

We pointed out that you can’t have it both ways-either homeopathic preparations are powerful enough to cause a physiological reaction, or they can’t do anything at all. This is all too typical of what passes for scientific review of homeopathy. Dismiss it any way you can, regardless of fact or logic. If that doesn’t work, then argue that homeopathy is dangerous because it may keep people from visiting a conventional doctor.

We promised to return to the subject of what real evidence there is behind homeopathy. That is a large subject, but here are some scientific studies from the past ten years showing that homeopathy can indeed be effective-far more effective than placebo. These studies, which range from random controlled trials (RCTs, the supposed “gold standard”) to observational studies to meta-analyses, often look at homeopathy as an adjunct to conventional medicine. Here is just a sampling:

Acute otitis media (when the middle ear gets blocked with fluid and infected with bacteria): a 2012 RCT showed that symptomatic improvement was quicker in the homeopathy group than conventional therapy group, with a much lower antibiotic requirement  Allergies: a 2012 observational study revealed that homeopathy substantially improved allergy symptoms and conventional medicine dosage could be substantially reduced; a 2013 study listed the effectiveness of different homeopathic treatments for allergies based on the type of allergy  Asthma: In a study of individualized homeopathic treatment for asthma, there was evidence that it decreased the severity of asthma in children

Other studies show effectiveness of homeopathy for conditions ranging from chicken pox, diarrhea, and in a multi-center observational study, chronic sinusitis. Homeopathy could be an effective treatment for low-grade chronic inflammation, which is the root of many diseases, and as a complement to conventional anti-tubercular treatment (a finding that is especially important as patients are becoming resistant to TB drugs).

Much more research is ongoing despite the abysmal lack of funding for it. At the very least there is promising evidence supporting homeopathy.

So if it works, how does it work?

A homeopathic remedy is an extremely pure, natural substance that has been diluted many times. In large quantities these substances would cause the same symptoms the patient is trying to cure. In tiny, diluted doses, it is not only safe and free from side effects, but it will trigger the body to heal itself. For example, when you chop a red onion, it causes watery eyes and a runny nose in most people. Allium cepa is a remedy created from red onion; in very small doses, Allium cepa doesn’t create those symptoms but instead activates the body’s own mechanism for stopping watery eyes and a runny nose.