Homeopathic medicines are primarily used by a small segment of US population for common, self-limited conditions such as the common cold or back pain, a new survey has found.
Homeopathy users, particularly those who also report visiting homeopathic practitioners, find the use of these products helpful and tend to use a greater variety of complementary and integrative medicine (CIM) modalities than do users of supplements and other CIMs, the study found.
“Since most people purchase these products over the counter without physician guidance, it is reassuring to see that most use them for non-serious, self-limited conditions,” said Michelle Dossett from Massachusetts General Hospital in US.
Homeopathy is a 200-year-old system of medicine based on the principal of similars - that highly diluted substances can be used to treat symptoms similar to those that would be caused by large doses of those substances in healthy people.
While it is controversial because of the extremely diluted nature of homeopathic medications, interest in homeopathy has increased in recent years.
The study analysed data from the National Health Interview Survey. The 2012 survey included a number of questions about participants’ use of CIM and was completed by more than 34,500 adults.
Researchers divided respondents into four groups - those who used homeopathic products during the preceding 12 months, those who used supplements but did not use homeopathy, those who used other forms of CIM but not homeopathy or supplements, and those who did not use CIM.
The respondents who reported using homeopathy were more likely to be white, female, married, highly educated, aged 30 to 44 and live in western US than were CIM users who did not use homeopath.
They also were more likely to report using other types of CIM, except for chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation, and to have used several different types of CIM.
While two-thirds of the 718 respondents who used homeopathy ranked it among their top three CIM therapies, only 140 (19 per cent) reported seeing a homeopathic practitioner during the preceding year.
One third of homeopathy users - both those who did and did not consult practitioners - reported using homeopathy to address specific health conditions, most commonly head and chest colds.
Those who did see a practitioner were significantly more likely to report that homeopathy was very important to maintaining their health and that it had helped their health problem ‘a great deal.’
“Our data suggest that the likelihood of people using these products for serious conditions without input from a healthcare professional is low, and data from other groups suggest that most CIM use is in addition to, not in place of, conventional treatment,” said Dossett.
The findings were published in the American Journal of Public Health.