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Controversial Southampton study suggests homeopathic treatment may be effective for arthritis

The findings of a research study investigating homeopathy and Rheumatoid Arthritis have recently been published in the journal Rheumatology. This double-blind randomised controlled trial conducted at the University of Southampton, aimed to evaluate whether the therapeutic effects of homeopathy can be attributed to the consultation, the homeopathic remedy, or both.

Patients were allocated to one of five groups a) homeopathic consultation + individualized homeopathy; b) homeopathic consultation + complex homeopathy; c) homeopathic consultation + placebo; d) non-homeopathic consultation + complex homeopathy; e) non-homeopathic consultation + placebo.

Individualized homeopathic treatment was provided by Society members June Daniels and Hugh Harrison and the ‘complex homeopathy’ treatment was a combination remedy called Rheumaselect.

The authors conclude that homeopathy has clinical benefits in RA but that this is due to the homeopathic consultation process not the homeopathic remedy. However, experts in homeopathy research have highlighted major flaws in the research which mean that such a conclusion cannot be drawn from this study. For example, the Southampton team calculated that they needed 110 participants for the results of their primary outcome measure to be statistically significant (22 per group), but only 83 participants were recruited to the trial and only 56 completed treatment. The study used two primary outcome measures and neither produced a significant result; the authors’ conclusions were drawn instead from significant results seen in 6 of 14 secondary outcome measures. This is highly unusual.

Brien S, Lachance L, Prescott P, McDermott C, Lewith G. Homeopathy has clinical benefits in rheumatoid arthritis patients that are attributable to the consultation process but not the homeopathic remedy: a randomized controlled trial. Rheumatology 2010; 49