Reinterpreting homoeopathy in the light of placebo effects to manage patients who seek homoeopathic care: A systematic review

Health Soc Care Community. 2019 Jul;27(4):824-847. doi: 10.1111/hsc.12681. Epub 2018 Nov 19.


Homoeopathy is widespread, and users claim to benefit from it. However, clear evidence of its efficacy over placebo is not available to date. As a consequence, a social separation between homoeopathy users and mainstream medicine exists, exposing these patients to many risks. Our primary objective is to assess homoeopathy efficacy by systematically reviewing existing systematic reviews and meta-analyses and to systematically review trials on open-label placebo (OLP) treatments. A secondary objective is to understand if homoeopathy as a whole may be considered as a placebo treatment. PubMed/Medline, Embase, Google Scholar, and Cochrane Library were systematically searched for systematic reviews and meta-analyses on homoeopathy efficacy, and 61 studies were included. Same databases plus Journal of Interdisciplinary Placebo Studies (JIPS) were also systematically searched for randomised controlled trials (RCTs) on OLP treatments, and 10 studies were included. Databases were searched up to 24 February 2018. Two authors independently screened all retrieved articles and selected studies eligible for inclusion. The quality of reviews of included studies was evaluated with a dedicated NIH tool in the first review, whereas the risk of bias of trials of included studies was assessed with the specific Cochrane tool in the second review. Qualitative syntheses show that homoeopathy efficacy can be considered comparable to placebo, and that OLP treatments may be effective in some health conditions. Placebo effects like placebo itself, treatment context, physician-patient relationship, and other nonspecific factors can define the idea of placebo treatments, which may be effective in some conditions. If homoeopathy efficacy is comparable to placebo, and if placebo treatments can be effective in some conditions, then homoeopathy as a whole may be considered as a placebo treatment. Reinterpreting homoeopathy as a placebo treatment would define limits and possibilities of this practice. This perspective shift suggests a strategy to manage patients who seek homoeopathic care and to reconcile them with mainstream medicine in a sustainable way.

Keywords: complementary and alternative medicine; homoeopathy; open-label placebo; patient-physician relationship; placebo effects; placebo treatment.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Disease Management
  • Homeopathy*
  • Humans
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care*
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Placebo Effect*