This week is all about Homeopathy Awareness Week in England, celebrating the 10th anniversary of awareness in the country; it was originally founded by the Society of Homeopaths in 2000. For summer 2010, the theme is 'Women's Health'.
The week, sponsored by Nelsons, will run from 14 June to 21 June, with events including a makeover of Nelsons Homeopathic Pharmacy in London's Mayfair to recreate a Victorian pharmacy, the company says. This year Nelsons is celebrating its 150th birthday.
Homeopathy Awareness Week's theme for 2010 is 'women's health' and this theme offers a range of opportunities to educate women of all ages about homeopathy, covering a wide variety of ailments. Homeopathy has a large range of remedies which can help support women's health through the ages, from grandmothers to mothers and daughters.
Homeopathy itself is a 200-year-old system of treatment, developed almost single-handedly by a German physician, Samuel Hahnemann, which uses highly diluted substances - sometimes so none of the original product is left - that are given orally in the belief that it will stimulate the body's self-healing mechanism.
The homeopathy industry is worth around GBP£40 million in the UK, and around €400million in both France and Germany. While this may seem small compared to the mammoth size of the pharmaceutical industry, real drugs have to be proven to be effective before being licensed in the UK - something the homeopathy industry does not have to prove, and something they would be entirely unable to prove.
Despite the size of the European market for homeopathy, the British Medical Association recently called homeopathy "witchcraft", and a parliamentary committee recommended stopping all NHS funding for it.
The debate is set to continue over whether remedies make patients healthy. Today we have about 150 clinical trials of homeopathy. Typically they test the effectiveness of homeopathy by treating one group of patients with homeopathy, while a comparable, second group receives placebos, i.e. sugar pills that only look like the real thing.
These trials have generated vastly different results: some suggest homeopathy works, others fail to do so. The results of these various trials mean that both sides of the debate have arguments to pick when it comes to fighting their corner. This is likely to cause even more debate though.
Many researchers across the world have reviewed the evidence and concluded that homeopathic remedies are pure placebos. Five years ago, The Lancet even announced "The Death of Homeopathy".
As a result, one of the five NHS-funded homeopathic hospitals had to close. After assessing the science, its NHS trust found that the evidence did not justify any further funding.
But homeopathy did not die. In fact, it continues to thrive and now boasts many supporters, who say, "We are not stupid, we have experienced benefits and therefore know it works."
Homeopaths ignite the debate further by claiming that the clinical trials are artificial, inadequate research tools. They show us "real-life" studies where patients are monitored over time but are not compared to a placebo group. These observations invariably demonstrate impressive success rates after homeopathic treatments. So, we seem to be confronted with a perplexing contradiction: homeopathic remedies are placebos with no specific effects, but in "real life" they seem to work.
The solution to the conundrum is quite simple, however: the remedy does nothing and the homeopath does everything.
If you see a homeopath, you are typically asked many very detailed questions. The whole encounter lasts for about an hour, and at the end you receive a prescription. The remedy is a placebo but, never mind, the consultation and the expectations it raises have important effects.
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