Homeopathy – an alternative to antibiotics?
Current use and misuse of antibiotics
After their discovery in the 1940s, antibiotics considerably reduced illness and death from infectious diseases that are caused by bacteria. However, over the decades virtually all important bacterial infections throughout the world are becoming resistant. The two main reasons for this are firstly the increasing and indiscriminate use of powerful, broad-spectrum antibiotics to treat common infections and, secondly, the use of antibiotics in inappropriate situations, such as treating viral infections such as the common cold. Antibiotic resistance, which has been called one of the world’s most pressing public health problems1, has led to antibiotic-resistant ‘superbugs’ causing an estimated 37,000 deaths in the EU each year.
Until recently, research and development (R&D) efforts have provided new drugs in time to treat bacteria that became resistant to older antibiotics. This is no longer the case. The potential crisis at hand is the result of a marked decrease in industry R&D, and the increasing prevalence of resistant bacteria. The pipeline of new antibiotics is drying up. Major pharmaceutical companies are losing interest in the antibiotics market because these drugs may not be as profitable as drugs that treat chronic (long-term) conditions and lifestyle issues.
Combating germs vs reducing susceptibility
Modern Western medicine started to develop rapidly in the late nineteenth century, especially with the discovery of bacteria as an important cause of disease. Initially there were two opposing views in the germ theory of disease. In Germany it was Robert Koch’s ideas (micro-organisms were the ‘most dangerous enemies of mankind’) versus those of Max von Pettenkofer (poor hygiene as the main culprit). A similar well-known historical argument occurred in France between Louis Pasteur (the microbe as the prime factor) and Claude Bernard (the germ is little, the terrain is all). Eventually Pasteur and Koch’s perspectives prevailed, focused on combating disease by killing germs.
In reality, infection is always the result of two factors: exposure to a pathogen and the person’s susceptibility. From this perspective, bacteria and viruses are not the cause of disease but at best a ‘co-factor’ to disease. That also means that taking a conventional antibiotic may get rid of the pathogen, but do nothing to strengthen a person’s immune system. In addition, there is some evidence that antibiotics actually increase the prevalence of allergy and asthma2,3. Children who receive antibiotics within their first six months of life were three times more likely to develop allergies (to pets, ragweed, grass and dust mites), and in case of broad-spectrum antibiotics even 8.9 times more likely to suffer from asthma.
Research demonstrates that homeopathy can be effective
Antibiotics may provide symptomatic treatment, but people given these medical treatments tend to experience recurrent infections. By contrast, homeopathic doctors have the experience that many people with infections can be effectively helped by homeopathy and that it is an important way to strengthen a person’s own immune system.
Scientific research on the use of homeopathy as an alternative to antibiotics has been mainly conducted in respiratory tract and middle ear infections. An international observational study4 involving 500 consecutive patients with upper respiratory tract complaints, lower respiratory tract complaints, or ear complaints, found 83% of patients receiving homeopathic care experienced improvement, while only 68% of those receiving conventional medication experienced a similar degree of improvement. People given a homeopathic medicine experienced more rapid relief (67.3%) than patients given conventional medicines (56.6%).
Several randomized placebo-controlled double-blind clinical trials, involving between 100 and 200 individuals each, have proven the effectiveness of homeopathy in medical conditions that in conventional practice are treated with antibiotics, such as sinusitis, both acute and chronic, and bronchitis5, 6, 7, 8. Two placebo-controlled, randomised, double-blind clinical trials of homeopathy 9,10 involving 75 and 230 children found that homeopathic treatment of acute middle ear infections was significantly more effective than placebo.
Since sinusitis and bronchitis account for millions of missed workdays each year and acute ear infection is the most common infection for which antibacterial agents are prescribed for children in the Western world, it is clear that homeopathy can play a crucial role in this condition. The economic benefit was also demonstrated by a study11that compared two treatment approaches (‘homeopathic strategy’ vs. ‘antibiotic strategy’) used in routine medical practice by allopathic and homeopathic GPs in the management of recurrent acute rhinopharyngitis in 499 children. The GPs using homeopathy had significantly better results in terms of clinical effectiveness, complications, parents’ quality of life and time lost from work, for lower cost to social security. GPs who integrated homeopathy in their practice achieved better results for similar cost.
Dr. Ton Nicolai
President of European Committee for Homeopathy
1 World Health Organization (2000) Antibiotic resistance: synthesis of recommendations by expert policy groups. Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics WHO/CDS/CSR/DRS/2001/10
2 Noverr MC, Noggle RM, Toews GB, Huffnagle GB (2004). Role of antibiotics and fungal microbiota in driving pulmonary allergic responses Infection and Immunity, 72:4996-5003
3 Johnson CC, Ownby DR, Alford SH, Havstad SL, Williams LK, Zoratti EM, Peterson EL, Joseph CL (2005) Antibiotic exposure in early infancy and risk for childhood atopy The Journal of allergy and clinical immunology, 115:1218-1224
4 Riley D, Fisher M, Sigh B, Haidvogl M, Heger M (2001). Homeopathy and conventional medicine: An outcomes study comparing effectiveness in a primary care setting. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 7:149–159
5 Friese K-H, Zabalotnyi DI (2007). Homöopathie bei akuter Rhinosinusitis. Eine doppelblinde, placebokontrollierte Studie belegt die Wirksamkeit und Verträglichkeit eines homöopathischen Kombinationsarzneimittels [Homeopathy in acute rhinosinusitis. A double-blind, placebo controlled study shows the efficiency and tolerability of a homeopathic combination remedy]. HNO, 55:271–277
6 Zabolotnyi DI, Kneis KC, Richardson A, Rettenberger R, Heger M, Kaszkin-Bettag M, Heger PW (2007) Efficacy of a complex homeopathic medication (Sinfrontal) in patients with acute maxillary sinusitis: a prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicenter clinical trial. Explore (NY), 3:98–109
7 Weiser M, Clasen B (1994). Randomisierte plazebokontrolierte Doppelblindstudie zur Untersuchung der klinische Wirksamkeit der homöopathischen Euphorbium compositum-Nasentropfen S bei chronischer Sinusitis [Randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study of the clinical efficacy of the homeopathic Euphorbium compositum-S nasal spray in cases of chronic sinusitis]. Forschende Komplementärmedizin, 1:251–259
8 Diefenbach M, Schilken J, Steiner G, Becker HJ (1997). Homöopathische Therapie bei Erkrankungen der Atemwege. Auswertung einer klinischen Studie bei 258 Patienten [Homeopathic therapy in respiratory tract diseases. Evaluation of a clinical study in 258 patients]. Zeitschrift für Allgemeinmedizin, 73:308–314
9 Jacobs J, Springer DA, Crothers D (2001). Homeopathic treatment of acute otitis media in children: a preliminary randomized placebo-controlled trial. Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal, 20:177–183
10 Frei H, Thurneysen A (2001). Homeopathy in acute otitis media in children: treatment effect or spontaneous resolution? Homeopathy, 90:180–182
11 Trichard M, Chaufferin G Nicoloyannis N (2005). Pharmaco-economic comparison between homeopathic and antibiotic treatment strategies in recurrent acute rhinopharyngitis in children. Homeopathy, 94:3–9