News & Links
The recent article in the British Medical Journal – ‘Preventing overdiagnosis: how to stop harming the healthy’ bmj.e3502 gives some startling information:
‘A burgeoning scientific literature is fuelling public concerns that too many people are being overdosed, overtreated, and overdiagnosed. Screening programmes are detecting early cancers that will never cause symptoms or death, sensitive diagnostic technologies identify “abnormalities” so tiny they will remain benign, while widening disease definitions mean people at ever lower risks receive permanent medical labels and lifelong treatments that will fail to benefit many of them’
This reflects what I see in my own practice – and the stress of overdiagnosis should not be underrated! Even mentioning the word ‘cancer’ can cause huge emotional stress to patients.
The final conclusion of the article is -
‘Concern about overdiagnosis does not preclude awareness that many people miss out on much needed healthcare. On the contrary, resources wasted on unnecessary care can be much better spent treating and preventing genuine illness. The challenge is to work out which is which, and to produce and disseminate evidence to help us all make more informed decisions about when a diagnosis might do us more good than harm.’
This conclusion means we all have to take responsibility for our health – to look after ourselves and to notice when our body is telling us something with a symptom. Then we need to choose our own personal response – in a responsible and clear way. If we are well informed too, this will make the process easier.
Ref - BMJ 2012: 344;e3502
Because homeopathic remedies work in a different way from conventional drugs and because they are highly dilute and have an energetic rather than a chemical action, some people suggest that they work only as a placebo. Literally this word (in Latin) means "I please" and sometimes substances judged as inert are given as a comparison during drug trials to assess the effectiveness (or otherwise) of the medication under consideration.
I recently read the transcript of an address to the Royal College of Physicians by Professor Irving Kirsch, from the Department of Psychology at the University of Hull.
It revealed that the effects of placebos on depression "accounts for about 80 per cent of the response to anti-depressant medication". In his analytical studies, Professor Kirsch has shown that the placebo effect is measurable for treating depression and even for pain relief. The measured response is over 50%. He says, "that a central component of the placebo effect is patient's expectations of improvement". Studies have shown that 25% of people suffering with depression improve even with no treatment, but that a further 50% improve when taking a placebo. The power of our mind is often underrated.
Although the practice would not now be condoned, I have heard tales of patients on a busy ward who had woken in the night, or who just couldn't sleep, being given a tablet of Vitamin C, being told it was a sleeping pill, and them then finding they were able to go off to sleep until the morning. This was deception and not to be encouraged in any way, but it was safe.
So how do we relate this to Homeopathy and Bach Flowers? Certainly whatever drug or remedy we take must inevitably have a certain placebo effect.
But what percentage of improvement after a homeopathic treatment is due to the placebo effect and how much to the remedy itself? One of the difficulties of any research in this area is that as homeopaths, we offer a very individualised approach. We do not offer remedies for a disease label, but choose them for a particular picture of symptoms, which this particular patient is experiencing. There is no way to give half of the patient a treatment and the other half an inert substance.
I would love to do further work in this area. If anyone has suggestions, funding and contacts to launch research into the response (active/placebo) to homeopathic and/or Bach Flower Remedies, please get in touch!
Evidence for the Effectiveness of Complementary Therapies
A pilot project funded by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in Northern Ireland has shown that the majority of patients referred by their GP for complementary and alternative medicine "found statistically significant improvements on each of the health outcome indicators measured."
Key statistics are :-
- 80% of patients recorded an improvement in their wellbeing, with 73% recording an improvement in their level of activity associated with their main symptom (source, MYMOP).
- 81% of patients said that their general health had improved, with a similarly high proportion of patients (82%) reporting to be less worried about their symptoms following treatment (source, MYMOP).
- 81% of patients reported an improvement in their physical health, with 79% reporting an improvement in their mental health (source, patients survey).
- Among patients using pain killers prior to treatment, 55% said that they use fewer pain killers following treatment (source, patient survey).
- 94% of patients would recommend Complementary or Alternative Medicine to other patients with similar health conditions (source, patient survey).
This research project was carried out over one year with 713 patients referred by their GP to a range of complementary therapies - Chiropractic; Osteopathy; Reflexology; Massage; Aromatherapy, Acupuncture and Homeopathy.
All patients were over 18 and had presented with musculoskeletal problems and / or depression, stress or anxiety. Each patient completed a Measure Yourself Medical Outcome Profile (MYMOP) form immediately before and after their treatment. The complementary practitioner and GP also completed evaluation forms.
This research shows evidence of the value of Complementary Therapies. The benefit is not only felt by the patients whose symptoms and wellbeing improved. There are also cost and time benefits for conventional medicine too. The ability for patients after their complementary treatment to reduce drug intake is relevant and important. As they also then needed less visits and less time with their GP, the practice time available for other ill patients relieves pressure and stress on the conventional health system.
Ref - Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety Northern Ireland Government. www.dhsspsni.gov.uk/index/hss/complementary-alternative-medicine.htm
Homeopathy has a place in the National Health Service in the UK
Following a recent report by the Science and Technology Committee, Evidence Check 2 = Homeopathy, there were fears that free access to homeopathy on the NHS would be challenged.
The UK government has now confirmed that homeopathy has a valid place :-
"Local NHS and clinicians, rather than Whitehall are best placed to make decisions on what treatment is appropriate for their patients - including complementary or alternative treatments such as homeopathy - and provide accordingly for those treatments".
Sarah Eames, the President of the Faculty of Homeopathy, expressed her views :-
"As a doctor who practises homeopthy on the NHS, I know homeopathy is an important part of our health service helping tens of thousands of patients annually, a majority of whom have not been helped sufficiently with conventional treatments. I am pleased to see the government, contrary to the recommendations of the Science and Technology Committee's report, agrees that homeopathy has a place in the NHS and offers choice to both patients and local purchasers of healthcare".
This is a valuable support for a long standing, effective and safe therapy. Availablity of homeopathy on the NHS is important, especially for people who cannnot afford to find their own treatment. The ideal would now be to expand the availability throughout the UK.
As an independent practitioner, Tessa Jordan works outside the NHS. She acknowledges the need for financial support for some people who wish to use homeopathic treatment and have limited resources. She therefore offers a monthly Low Cost Clinic.
Association of Natural Medicine
Offers courses in complementary medicine , support for member practitioners and a quarterly journal.
The Dr. Edward Bach Centre
The original source of the Bach Flower Remedies.
Society of Homeopaths
For more information about research into Homeopathy
Check out what experienced Homeopaths say about what Homeopathy means and how it works
To find a homeopath in your area
See who else find Homeopathy helpful!
For more information about vaccinations