The Swiss government’s exceedingly positive report on homeopathic medicine
by Dana Ullman
The government of Switzerland has a long history of neutrality, and therefore, reports from this government on controversial subjects need to be taken more seriously than other reports from countries that are more strongly influenced by present economic and political constituencies. Further, when one considers that two of the top five largest drug companies in the world have their headquarters in Switzerland, one might assume that this country would have a heavy interest in and bias toward conventional medicine, but such assumptions would be wrong.
In late 2011, the Swiss government’s report on homeopathic medicine represents the most comprehensive evaluation of homeopathic medicine ever written by a government and was just published in book form in English (Bornhoft and Matthiessen, 2011). This breakthrough report affirmed that homeopathic treatment is both effective and cost-effective and that homeopathic treatment should be reimbursed by Switzerland’s national health insurance program.
The Swiss government’s inquiry into homeopathy and complementary and alternative (CAM) treatments resulted from the high demand and widespread use of alternatives to conventional medicine in Switzerland, not only from consumers but from physicians as well. Approximately half of the Swiss population have used CAM treatments and value them. Further, about half of Swiss physicians consider CAM treatments to be effective. Perhaps most significantly, 85 percent of the Swiss population wants CAM therapies to be a part of their country’s health insurance program.
It is therefore not surprising that more than 50 percent of the Swiss population surveyed prefer a hospital that provides CAM treatments rather to one that is limited to conventional medical care.
Beginning in 1998, the government of Switzerland decided to broaden its national health insurance to include certain complementary and alternative medicines, including homeopathic medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, herbal medicine, anthroposophic medicine, and neural therapy. This reimbursement was provisional while the Swiss government commissioned an extensive study on these treatments to determine if they were effective and cost-effective. The provisional reimbursement for these alternative treatments ended in 2005, but as a result of this new study, the Swiss government’s health insurance program once again began to reimburse for homeopathy and select alternative treatments. In fact, as a result of a national referendum in which more than two-thirds of voters supported the inclusion of homeopathic and select alternative medicines in Switzerland’s national health care insurance program, the field of complementary and alternative medicine has become a part of this government’s constitution (Dacey, 2009; Rist, Schwabl, 2009).
The Swiss Government’s “Health Technology Assessment”
The Swiss government’s “Health Technology Assessment” on homeopathic medicine is much more comprehensive than any previous governmental report written on this subject to date. This report carefully and comprehensively review the body of evidence from randomized double-blind and placebo controlled clinical trials testing homeopathic medicines, plus they also evaluated the “real world effectiveness” as well as safety and cost-effectiveness. The report also conducted a highly-comprehensive review of the wide body of preclinical research (fundamental physio-chemical research, botanical studies, animal studies, and in vitro studies with human cells).
And still further, this report evaluated systematic reviews and meta-analyses, outcome studies, and epidemiological research. This wide review carefully evaluated the studies conducted, both in terms of quality of design and execution (called “internal validity”) and how appropriate each was for the way that homeopathy is commonly practiced (called “external validity”). The subject of external validity is of special importance because some scientists and physicians conduct research on homeopathy with little or no understanding of this type of medicine (some studies tested a homeopathic medicine that is rarely used for the condition tested, while others utilized medicines not commonly indicated for specific patients).
When such studies inevitably showed that the homeopathic medicine did not “work,” the real and accurate assessment must be that the studies were set up to disprove homeopathy… or simply, the study was an exploratory trial that sought to evaluate the results of a new treatment (exploratory trials of this nature are not meant to prove or disprove the system of homeopathy but only to evaluate that specific treatment for a person with a specific condition).
After assessing pre-clinical basic research and the high quality clinical studies, the Swiss report affirmed that homeopathic high-potencies seem to induce regulatory effects (e.g., balancing or normalizing effects) and specific changes in cells or living organisms. The report also reported that 20 of the 22 systematic reviews of clinical research testing homeopathic medicines detected at least a trend in favor of homeopathy.* (Bornhoft, Wolf, von Ammon, et al, 2006)
The Swiss report found a particularly strong body of evidence to support the homeopathic treatment of upper respiratory tract infections and respiratory allergies. The report cited 29 studies in “Upper Respiratory Tract Infections/AllergicReactions,” of which 24 studies found a positive result in favor of homeopathy. Further, six out of seven controlled studies that compared homeopathic treatment with conventional medical treatment showed that homeopathy to be more effective than conventional medical interventions (the one other trial found homeopathic treatment to be equivalent to conventional medical treatment). All of these results from homeopathic treatment came without the side effects common to conventional drug treatment. In evaluating only the randomized placebo controlled trials, 12 out of 16 studies showed a positive result in favor of homeopathy.
The authors of the Swiss government’s report acknowledge that a part of the overall review of research included one negative review of clinical research in homeopathy (Shang, et al, 2005). However, the authors noted that this review of research has been widely and harshly criticized by both advocates and non-advocates of homeopathy. The Swiss report noted that the Shang team did not even adhere to the QUORUM guidelines which are widely recognized standards for scientific reporting (Linde, Jonas, 2005). The Shang team initially evaluated 110 homeopathic clinical trials and then sought to compare them with a matching 110 conventional medical trials. Shang and his team determined that there were 22 “high quality” homeopathic studies but only nine “high quality” conventional medical studies. Rather than compare these high quality trials (which would have shown a positive result for homeopathy), the Shang team created criteria to ignore a majority of high quality homeopathic studies, thereby trumping up support for their original hypothesis and bias that homeopathic medicines may not be effective (Ludtke, Rutten, 2008).
The Swiss report also notes that David Sackett, M.D., the Canadian physician who is widely considered to be one of the leading pioneers in “evidence based medicine,” has expressed serious concern about those researchers and physicians who consider randomized and double-blind trials as the only means to determine whether a treatment is effective or not. To make this assertion, one would have to acknowledge that virtually all surgical procedures were “unscientific” or “unproven” because so few have undergone randomized double-blind trials.
For a treatment to be determined to be “effective” or “scientifically proven,” a much more comprehensive assessment of what works and doesn’t is required. Ultimately, the Swiss government’s report on homeopathy represents an evaluation of homeopathy that included an assessment of randomized double blind trials as well as other bodies of evidence, all of which together lead the report to determine that homeopathic medicines are indeed effective.
The next article will discuss further evidence provided in this report from the Swiss government on the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of homeopathic care.
Bornhoft, Gudrun, and Matthiessen, Peter F. Homeopathy in Healthcare: Effectiveness, Appropriateness, Safety, Costs. Goslar, Germany: Springer, 2011. http://rd.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-3-642-20638-2/page/1 (This book is presently available from the German office of the publisher, and it will become available via the American office as well as select booksellers in mid- to late-February, 2012.)(NOTE: When specific facts in the above article are provided but not referenced, this means that these facts were derived from this book.)
Bornhoft G, Wolf U, von Ammon K, Righetti M, Maxion-Bergemann S, Baumgartner S, Thurneysen AE, Matthiessen PF. Effectiveness, safety and cost-effectiveness of homeopathy in general practice – summarized health technology assessment. Forschende Komplementarmedizin (2006);13 Suppl 2:19-29. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16883077
Dacey, Jessica. Therapy supporters roll up sleeves after vote. SwissInfo.ch, May 19, 2009. http://www.swissinfo.ch
Linde K, Jonas W. Are the clinical effects of homeopathy placebo effects? Lancet 36:2081-2082. DOI:10.1016/S0140-6736(05)67878-6. http://download.thelancet.com
Ludtke R, Rutten ALB. The conclusions on the effectiveness of homeopathy highly depend on the set of analysed trials. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology. October 2008. doi: 10.1016/j.jclinepi.2008.06/015. http://www.jclinepi.com/article/S0895-4356(08)00190-X/abstract
Rist L, Schwabl H: Komplementarmedizin im politischen Prozess. Schweizer Bevolkerungstimmt uber Verfassungsartikel ?Zukunft mit Komplementarmedizin? ab. Forsch Komplementmed 2009, doi 10.1159/000203073.
(Translation: Complementary medicine in the political process: The Swiss population votes on the Constitutional Article “The future with complementary medicine”
*Although this Swiss government report was just published in book form in 2011, the report was finalized in 2006. In light of this date, the authors evaluated systematic reviews and meta-analyses on homeopathic research up until June 2003.
About the author:
America’s leading advocate for homeopathic medicine and author of The Homeopathic Revolution: Why Famous People and Cultural Heroes Choose Homeopathy (Foreword by Dr. Peter Fisher, Physician to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II). Learn more about homeopathy and Dana’s work at http://www.Homeopathic.com or watch Dana’s videos at
Dana has authored 9 other books, including Homeopathy A-Z, Homeopathic Medicines for Children and Infants,Discovering Homeopathy, and (the best-selling) Everybody’s Guide to Homeopathic Medicines (with Stephen Cummings, MD).
The epidemic of medical child abuse – and what can be done about it
by Dana Ullman
(NaturalNews) The primary purpose of this article is to encourage a stronger commitment from doctors and parents to consider using safer medical care for infants and children FIRST before resorting to more dangerous treatments. One would hope and assume that doctors and parents would have a natural inclination to make the safety of these young human souls a significant and sincere priority, but sadly, the power and propaganda of Big Pharma has inappropriately turned this equation around and made it seem that doctors and parents are putting their children at risk if they don’t prescribe powerful drugsfirst. This writer personally disagrees with this assumption and sincerely hopes that people consider this health issue to be of primary importance today.
The evidence presented below on the epidemic proportions of “medical child abuse” is somewhat inflammatory, but due to the fact that this issue is presently being ignored by so many doctors and parents, a little “inflammation” may be a necessary symptom that will lead to great attention to this problem and perhaps to some concrete solutions to it.
Although many people consider American health care to be “the best in the world,” the World Health Organization has ranked the United States to be the 37th (!) in the world in the “performance of the overall health system” and 72nd (!!) in “overall level of health” (of the 191 member countries). American health care may be the most expensive, but there is no evidence to prove that increased expense leads to improved health status.
When one looks at the countries where health status and overall health scores the highest, they are countries in which there are a significant number ofphysicians and other health care practitioners who use herbal medicines, homeopathic remedies, acupuncture and nutritional treatments. Perhaps American doctors and patients would benefit from a significant change in health care practices that are not only considerably safer than modern medical treatments, but that also seem to create better health care status.
A newly published review of the six leading medical journals uncovered a truly shocking observation: No information on severe adverse events and withdrawal of patients owing to an adverse event was given in 27.1% and 47.4% of articles, respectively. When one considers that this review only analyzed the medical journals, we can and should seriously worry about the safety of many drugs that are used today, and we should express real indignation when doctors prescribe two or more together (unless they were formally tested together) or when doctors prescribe them for conditions for which they have not been tested (called “off-label”).
Ultimately, although physicians assume that they are practicing “scientific medicine,” most drugs today are not tested on infants or children, and most children and adults are prescribed more than one drug at a time (and drugs are very rarely tested for efficacy or safety when used in combination with other drugs). These common practices lead one to assume that modern medicine is not adequately scientific, and these practices may be part of the explanation for the poor health status of Americans.
The Very Real Problem…
We all know people who have children who have benefited from conventional medical care, but sadly, we all also know people whose children have been harmed by it.
The most famous words of the father of medicine, Hippocrates, are
“First, do no harm.”
This dictum was directed at doctors, but it is as appropriate for parents. Sadly, however, our children are being put in front of harm’s way with our present, almost callous overuse of powerful drugs for our young ones.
The bottom line is that too many physicians and parents are giving drugs to children that have not been proven to be either safe or effective for them. It is important for parents to know and to remind doctors that it is widely acknowledged that drugs act differently on the bodies of infants and children than on adults. And yet, it is extremely common for doctors to prescribe powerful drugs to infants and children and even prescribe more than one drug at a time, despite the fact that drugs are very rarely evaluated scientifically in combination with other drugs.
The FDA recently withdrew from the marketplace many popular cold and cough drugs that were marketed for infants and children, but the problem of doctors over-prescribing other more dangerous and unproven drugs for children and the inappropriate overuse of over-the-counter drugs in children by parents is a very significant health problem. One must wonder if the increase in psychiatric disorders, immune dysfunction, autism and various other chronic diseases result from the use of the drugs that have not yet been proven to be either safe or effective for our infants and children.
Most consumers do not know that many drugs commonly prescribed for children today are not tested on them. A 2002 survey in the British Medical Journal(BMJ) found that almost one-half of children were prescribed a drug that was “unlicensed” or “off-label” prescriptions for children. A 2007 study of over 350,000 children found that a shocking 78.7% of children in hospitals are prescribed drugs that the FDA has not approved for use in children. If this isn’t shocking enough, it is seriously problematic to report that a survey in England found that 90% of infants were prescribed drugs that were not tested for safety or efficacy in infants.
If the off-label use for drugs was not found to be dangerous, it would not be a problem. However, the use of off-label drug use is significantly associated with adverse drug reactions. In fact, there is almost a 350% increase in adverse drug reactions in children prescribed an off-label drug than children who were prescribed a drug that had been tested for safety and efficacy. The use of drugs for infants and children that have not been proven to be safe constitutes a type of “medical child abuse.”
Despite some significant gaps in research and knowledge about the safety and efficacy of drugs for children, the number of drugs prescribed for children has jumped significantly in recent years. In the U.S., the number of prescription drugs for children with asthma increased 46.5% from 2002 to 2005. In this same time, the number of prescription drugs for children with ADD/ADHD increased 40.5%, and even the number of prescription drugs for lowering cholesterol in children increased by 15%.
In 2007, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported significant increases in childhood chronic diseases. Since 1960, there has been a 280% (!) increase in the limitation of activity due to a health condition of more than 3 months duration. This article also noted a shadow side of increased vaccination usually ignored by physicians and the media: decreased exposure to viral infections in early childhood…may provide less and less normal stimulation of the immune system with more susceptibility to allergies in later years.
What can be done and what is being done…
First and foremost, physicians have to STOP prescribing as many drugs as they are prescribing, and must significantly reduce the number of off-label prescribing of drugs for infants and children. I am not suggesting that they stop the use of all off-label prescribing, but that they work to significantly reduce these more risky prescriptions.
Because they sometimes feel pressure from patients who want drugs (or something) to help their infant or child, doctors need to warn parents that many drugs have not yet been adequately tested for safety and efficacy for children. Doctors need to become better educators so that parents can better decide which risks they wish to take either with conventional drugs or various safer alternatives.
Doctors also need to begin learning about safer treatment methods. Although some alternative methods may not yet be adequately tested for efficacy (usually because Big Pharma cannot make as much money making and selling these treatments), natural therapies certainly have a much better safety profile, and there is a body of experience historically and internationally to suggest that many (not all) natural treatments can aid in the healing of many pediatric ailments. In honor of the Hippocratic dictum, “first, do no harm,” doctors need to explore and even exhaust safer methods before resorting to the highly risky treatment modalities.
Because the FDA recently withdrew from the marketplace many popular cold and cough medicines, more parents and physicians should explore safer homeopathic and botanical alternatives. One of the books that I co-authored with Stephen Cummings, MD, Everybody’s Guide to Homeopathic Medicines, has been the most popular guidebook to using homeopathic medicine. Besides explaining how to choose a homeopathic medicine that fits the sick person’s unique syndrome of symptoms, this book is also widely appreciated because it provides detailed guidelines that define when it is medically safe to use a safer alternative treatment or when medical supervision is recommended.
Another useful, though more technical resource was recently published by Oxford University Press (OUP), one of the most highly respected publishers of medical textbooks and medical journals. OUP has begun to publish a series of textbooks on “integrative medicine,” which is the emerging field of utilizing the best of the various natural treatment modalities and the best of conventional medicine.; OUP also recently published Integrative Pediatrics (edited by two pediatricians, Timothy Culbert, MD, and Karen Olness, MD).
Nowadays, virtually every leading conventional medical school in America has a course in “integrative medicine”; (or alternative and complementary medicine). Although these courses are generally just an overview and introduction to the various alternative therapies, they provide good seeds for themedical students to determine which treatments should be a part of the medical care they will later provide. One way to predict the future of medicine is to ask medical students what interests them.
In 2008, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published a position paper acknowledging the widespread use of alternative and complementary therapies for children and encouraging doctors to discuss options with parents. An AAP survey found that 54% of pediatricians in the US agreed that pediatricians should consider the use of all potential therapies, not just those of mainstream medicine.
Doctors, however, need to understand that alternative therapies are not just a different treatment, but also a different approach to understanding and treating whole person health care. Acupuncture, ayurveda, and homeopathic medicines provide time-tested and historically verified benefits that deserve the investigation of doctors and parents everywhere who want to use safer methods before resorting to more risky treatments. And there is a small but significant (and growing) body of research to confirm the efficacy of these systems of medicine, despite the strong tendency for skeptics to ignore this body of evidence.
Parents have to START asking their doctors if the drugs they are prescribing for their children have formally been found to be safe for them. If more than one drug is recommended, parents should ask for the evidence that these two drugs, taken together, are safe and effective. Parents will benefit from learningwhen some type of medical treatment is truly necessary because many common ailments do not require medical attention, therefore safer home treatment methods can and should be considered.
The bottom line is that there is increasing interest in alternative and complementary treatments for children. A survey in Canada published in Pediatrics(2007) found that more than half of the children who visited a university-affiliated hospital had received alternative and complementary medicines. Homeopathic medicine was by far the most popular treatment, used by 39% of the families.
In 2002, the British Medical Journal reported that 75% of Germans have used complementary or natural medicine. They also reported that 5,700 doctors received specialized training in natural medicine, with this number doubling to 10,800 by 2000. Homeopathic medicine is practiced by 4,500 medical doctors in Germany, almost twice as many as did so in 1994. The German government conducted this survey, discovering a 33% reduction in sick days if people used natural therapies, especially homeopathy or acupuncture.
Although homeopathic medicine is not well known in the U.S., homeopathy has maintained a unique international presence that has included appreciation and advocacy for many of the most respected cultural heroes of the past 200 years, including 11 U.S. Presidents and scores of world leaders (ranging from Gandhi to Tony Blair), six popes, numerous European royalty, literary greats, sports superstars, corporate leaders, as well as a wide range of first class physicians and scientists.
In reference to homeopathy, it is common for skeptics of homeopathy to purposefully misinform others that there is no research that proves that homeopathy works. Such misinformation is typical of Big Pharma shills and closed-minded skeptics who revel in confusing the public.
In fact, one of the most serious public health problems in the developing world today is diarrhea, a condition that claims the lives of several million kids each year as a result of dehydration. Three double-blind and placebo-controlled trials have shown efficacy of treatment from homeopathic care. The number one reason that children in the U.S. seek medical treatment is for ear infections, and the American Academy of Pediatrics has sought to discourage doctors from prescribing antibiotics due to their questionable efficacy and potential problems. There is some good evidence that homeopathic medicines are effective for this common ailment.
There have also been several trials showing efficacy of homeopathic treatment for children with ADD/ADHD.
Ultimately, both doctors and parents need to educate themselves about safer methods of treatment for the short-term as well as long-term health of our blessed young ones.
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About the author:
America’s leading advocate for homeopathic medicine and author of The Homeopathic Revolution: Why Famous People and Cultural Heroes Choose Homeopathy (Foreword by Dr. Peter Fisher, Physician to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II). Learn more about homeopathy and Dana’s work at http://www.Homeopathic.com or watch Dana’s videos at http://naturalnews.tv/Browse.asp?memberid=6958
Dana has authored 9 other books, including Homeopathy A-Z, Homeopathic Medicines for Children and Infants, Discovering Homeopathy, and (the best-selling) Everybody’s Guide to Homeopathic Medicines (with Stephen Cummings, MD).