David Reilly and colleagues
(Lancet 1986; ii: 881-886) compared
a homeopathic pollen remedy
(30C) to placebo in hay fever
in 144 human subjects. They
showed a small but statistically
significant worsening of symptoms
during the first two weeks of
treatment but a small but significant
improvement in the two weeks
after completion of the treatment
that was associated with a reduction
in the amount of antihistamine
needed to control their symptoms.
A summary of the published critiques:
Despite the huge potential impact,
the study has never been repeated.
This is critical in the study
of medicine. Clinical trials
are notoriously subject to unnoticed
influences and effects. All
medical observations must be
repeatable in a scientifically
verifiable way. (Note: An additional
study, in which allergic asthma
was the topic, was performed
subsequently by Reilly, et al.
(Lancet 1994 Dec 10; 344(8937):1601-6).
The results of this very small
(28 patients) were similarly
positive, but suffer from the
same deficiencies as the other
study and do not constitute
a replication of earlier work.
The assessment of the response
Only 67% of the patients who
started the study finished it.
This is a low number of completions
for a 5 week study.
The chemical composition of
the treatment and the placebo
was not assessed.
Hay fever exhibits a large placebo
response and has a waxing and
waning character that makes
it hard to study clinically.
Brigo et al (Berlin J. Res Homeopathy
1991; 1: 98-106) reported that
a homeopathic remedy performed
significantly and dramatically
better than placebo in a randomized
Subsequent studies by Whitmarsh
and colleagues at Charing Cross
Hospital showed no effect of
such treatments compared to
placebo (Cephalalgia. 1997 Aug;
17(5):600-4; J Altern Complement
Med 1997 Winter; 3(4):307-10).
Thus the study of Brigo, et
al was not reproducible, and
homeopathic treatment was no
better than placebo.
It should be noted that in the
case of these migraine trials
a number of patients did undergo
dramatic responses; in the Whitmarsh
study, the responses were evenly
distributed between the placebo
and treatment group, demonstrating
the robustness of the placebo
response in clinical trials
Benveniste and colleagues published
a paper in Nature (Nature 1988;
333:316-318) that appeared to
demonstrate that homeopathically
prepared antiserum for IgE could
cause human basophil degranulation.
This appeared to be clear evidence
of the efficacy of a homeopathic
remedy, since no placebo response
was possible in isolated cells.
A team of scientists, including
the noted skeptic James Randi,
visited the Benveniste lab and
concluded that the experimental
methods employed were flawed
(Nature 1988; 333: 287-290).
A subsequent study by Hirst
et al., duplicated the conditions
under which Benveniste reported
positive results and could find
no effect of the treatment on
degranulation (Nature 1993;