What is it?
Homeopathy is based on the theory of ‘treating like with like’. The way homeopathic remedies work isn’t clear, but there doesn’t seem to be any safety risk with using them. Isolated reports have suggested that homeopathy may have positive effects in the treatment of fibromyalgia, but evidence isn’t conclusive. Trials which investigated the role of these remedies in osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis gave inconsistent results.
Homeopathy is a form of treatment founded by Samuel Hahnemann in the 18th century. According to the Society of Homeopaths, homeopathy is based on the theory of ‘treating like with like’ and an observation that symptoms of an illness are identical to those experienced by a healthy person treated for that illness. Homeopathic remedies are produced by diluting (watering down) an active substance that causes similar symptoms in the belief that this will reduce the likelihood of harm.
Homeopathy is practised by professional homeopaths who are qualified to prescribe remedies according to their diagnosis. However, homeopathic granules, tablets, powders and drops are readily available over the counter in pharmacies and health food shops throughout the UK.
How does it work?
Similar to traditional Chinese medicine, homeopathy is a holistic method of treatment. We don’t fully understand how homeopathic treatments work. Remedies are often diluted to the point where there may be no molecules of active ingredient left.
Is it safe?
Homeopathic remedies are considered to be well tolerated, although allergic reactions (like rashes) have been reported. Some people also find their symptoms become worse at the start of treatment.
Interactions with other drugs haven’t been well studied, although they’re unlikely given the high dilution of the remedies.
Many homeopathic remedies can be used in the treatment of various forms of arthritis, and dosage hasn’t been well studied. The homeopath or homeopathic pharmaceutical company should recommend a dose.
Homeopathy trials for rheumatoid arthritis
Results of the trials into the use of homeopathy for rheumatoid arthritis were inconsistent, with one trial (of reasonable quality but with a high withdrawal rate) showing significant benefit from homeopathy and two trials (one of reasonable quality) showing no significant effect.
In this larger RCT, 112 participants compared the potential beneficial effects of a mixture of 42 oral homeopathic medicines with that of placebo tablets for three months. No evidence was found that homeopathy improved the pain, morning stiffness and mobility in rheumatoid arthritis.
Homepathy trials for osteoarthritis
A systematic review identified three RCTs of oral or topical homeopathic treatment of osteoarthritis; two trials were conducted on participants with knee osteoarthritis and one trial involved participants with hip and/or knee osteoarthritis:
- The first trial compared the homeopathic remedies Rhus toxicodendron and Lac Vaccinum, which were taken by mouth, with placebo drops and paracetamol tablets in 65 people for one month.
- The second trial also investigated Rhus toxicodendron (given by mouth), but here it was compared 600 mg a day fenoprofen (a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug), placebo tablets and placebo drops in 36 people for two weeks.
- The third trial compared SRL, a homeopathic remedy applied to the skin, with piroxica (an NSAID gel) in 184 people for four weeks.
- In the first trial, a significant but similar reduction of pain was observed in the two treatment groups.
- In the second trial, only participants taking fenoprofen reported significant pain reduction.
- Participants who were given SRL in the third trial reported a greater reduction in pain when walking.
Homeopathy trials for fibromyalgia
Homeopathic drops, which were prescribed by a homeopath and given by mouth, were compared to oral placebo drops in 62 people with fibromyalgia for four weeks.
Participants who took the homeopathic remedy showed significantly greater improvement in the number of tender points, pain levels and quality of life compared to the placebo group.
Rhus toxicodendron given by mouth was compared to placebo tablets in 30 people for four weeks.
Participants assigned the homeopathic drops showed significantly greater improvement in number of tender points and quality of life compared to the placebo group.