Objective: To test the hypothesis that homeopathy is effective in reducing the symptoms of joint inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Method: This was a 6-month randomized, cross-over, double-blind, placebo-controlled, single-centre study set in a teaching hospital rheumatology out-patient clinic. The participants of the study were 112 patients who had definite or classical RA, were seropositive for rheumatoid factor and were receiving either stable doses of single non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for > or =3 months or single disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) with or without NSAIDs for > or =6 months. Patients who were severely disabled, had taken systemic steroids in the previous 6 months or had withdrawn from DMARD therapy in the previous 12 months were excluded. Two series of medicines were used. One comprised 42 homeopathic medicines used for treating RA in 6cH (10(-12)) and/or 30cH (10(-30)) dilutions (a total of 59 preparations) manufactured to French National Pharmacopoeia standards, the other comprised identical matching placebos. The main outcome measures were visual analogue scale pain scores, Ritchie articular index, duration of morning stiffness and erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR).
Results: Fifty-eight patients completed the trial. Over 6 months there were significant decreases (P<0.01 by Wilcoxon rank sum tests) in their mean pain scores (fell 18%), articular indices (fell 24%) and ESRs (fell 11%). Fifty-four patients withdrew before completing the trial. Thirty-one changed conventional medication, 10 had serious intercurrent illness or surgery, 12 failed to attend and three withdrew consent. Placebo and active homeopathy had different effects on pain scores; mean pain scores were significantly lower after 3 months' placebo therapy than 3 months' active therapy (P=0.032 by Wilcoxon rank sum test). Articular index, ESR and morning stiffness were similar with active and placebo homeopathy.
Conclusions: We found no evidence that active homeopathy improves the symptoms of RA, over 3 months, in patients attending a routine clinic who are stabilized on NSAIDs or DMARDs.