0
Special Article |

Efficacy of Homeopathic Arnica:  A Systematic Review of Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trials FREE

E. Ernst, MD, PhD, FRCP(Edin); M. H. Pittler, MD
[+] Author Affiliations

From the Department of Complementary Medicine, School of Postgraduate Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Exeter, Exeter, England.


Arch Surg. 1998;133(11):1187-1190. doi:10.1001/archsurg.133.11.1187.
Text Size: A A A
Published online

Background  The efficacy of homeopathic remedies has remained controversial. The homeopathic remedy most frequently studied in placebo-controlled clinical trials is Arnica montana.

Objective  To systematically review the clinical efficacy of homeopathic arnica.

Materials and Methods  Computerized literature searches were performed to retrieve all placebo-controlled studies on the subject. The following databases were searched: MEDLINE, EMBASE, CISCOM, and the Cochrane Library. Data were extracted in a predefined, standardized fashion independently by both authors. There were no restrictions on the language of publications.

Results  Eight trials fulfilled all inclusion criteria. Most related to conditions associated with tissue trauma. Most of these studies were burdened with severe methodological flaws. On balance, they do not suggest that homeopathic arnica is more efficacious than placebo.

Conclusion  The claim that homeopathic arnica is efficacious beyond a placebo effect is not supported by rigorous clinical trials.

HOMEOPATHY IS a system of medicine that was developed about 200 years ago and has remained highly controversial ever since.1 Essentially it is based on the "law of similars" and on the assumption that even nonmaterial dilutions ("potentiations") can be clinically effective.2 The law of similars claims that if a given remedy causes a certain symptom in a healthy person, the remedy should then be useful for treating that symptom in a patient who suffers from it. Homeopathic potentiations are prepared by serial dilutions and "succussions" (vigorous shaking) and often are so dilute that the likelihood of them containing a single molecule from the mother tincture is nil. Homeopaths believe that "potentizing" in this way will not reduce but rather increase the activity of the resulting remedy. It is in particular the use of highly diluted material that overtly flies in the face of science and has caused homeopathy to be regarded as placebo therapy at best and quackery at worst.

Thus, the efficacy of homeopathic remedies has always been a matter of bitter controversy.3 Recently the issue has been addressed in various ways. A recent systematic review found most homeopathic trials to come to positive conclusions.4 The authors, however, abstain from making a definitive conclusion as to the efficacy of homeopathic remedies. In their view, methodological problems with most clinical trials of homeopathy preclude a definitive judgement as to its efficacy.

Another approach to evaluate homeopathy is to perform a meta-analysis across all trials.5 Even though such a meta-analysis yielded a significantly positive result, with a combined odds ratio of 2.45 favoring homeopathic remedies over placebo, the conclusions that can be drawn from such a meta-analysis are limited and several caveats have been identified. There could be indefinable bias6 and the pooling of trials of vastly different remedies for vastly different conditions is of debatable legitimacy.7

A further approach is to systematically review homeopathic trials pertaining to a single disease or condition. We have chosen this method to assess homeopathy for postoperative ileus8 and delayed-onset muscle soreness,9 the 2 conditions most frequently submitted to controlled trials. In one case this resulted in a positive result8 and in the other in a negative overall result9 for homeopathy; eg, homeopathic remedies used to treat delayed-onset muscle soreness were not significantly better than placebo in alleviating symptoms. Yet again, several caveats preclude a firm conclusion.

Another approach could be to analyze homeopathic trial data by the type of remedy used; this was chosen for the present article. Its aim is to systematically review the homeopathic remedy most frequently submitted to controlled trials.

Computerized literature searches were performed to identify all placebo-controlled clinical trials of homeopathic Arnica montana. Databases included MEDLINE, EMBASE, CISCOM, and the Cochrane Library (all from their inception to October 1997). All 89 studies included in the above-mentioned systematic review4 and meta-analysis5 were also considered. One of us (E.E.) had been involved in a similar meta-analysis commissioned by the European Community.10 This exercise included extensive hand-searching of 28 specialized homeopathic journals, which resulted in the identification of more than 400 publications. The entire material was screened for this review. Furthermore, our own extensive files as well as review articles and books on homeopathy were searched for relevant publications. The bibliographies of the studies and reviews thus retrieved were searched for further trials. There were no restrictions regarding the language of publication.

Controlled clinical trials of homeopathic arnica (all potencies) vs placebo were included in this systematic review. Trials of one potency against another,11 trials with arnica as one of several remedies with no subanalysis on a pure arnica group,12 or studies in which arnica had been administered concomitantly with other remedies13 were excluded. Trials not published in the peer-reviewed literature were also excluded.

All studies were read in full by both of us. Data were extracted independently in a standardized, predefined fashion (Table 1). Methodological quality of the included trials was assessed using the score according to Jadad et al14 (Table 2). Discrepancies in the evaluation of individual trials were settled by discussion.

Table Graphic Jump LocationTable 1. Key Data From Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trials of Homeopathic Arnica
Table Graphic Jump LocationTable 2. Scoring System to Measure the Likelihood of Bias*

Eight studies fulfilled all of the aforementioned inclusion criteria and were admitted to this review.1521 Methodological details and outcomes of these trials are summarized in Table 1. Two studies15,17 yielded a statistically significant positive result (ie, arnica superior to placebo), 2 studies20 had a numerically positive result (ie, no formal test statistics were applied but an advantage of the arnica groups was apparent) and 4 studies16,18,19,21 showed a significantly negative result (ie, arnica not superior to placebo). Most trials included in this review are methodologically weak. Generally speaking, the more rigorous studies18,22 tended to be the ones that yielded negative findings. There is no obvious common denominator to differentiate between positive and negative studies, neither in terms of potency applied nor in terms of indication. For example, one trial on delayed-onset muscle soreness had positive results15 while another (methodologically superior) one had negative results.18 Similarly, one study of postsurgical complications had positive results17 and another had negative results.16 In addition, there are no data to suggest that one potency of arnica is superior to another.

Arnica is the classic homeopathic remedy for trauma of various kinds. "The word injury is constantly associated with the usefulness of arnica in trauma . . . this is especially true for soft tissue damage causing bruising, bleeding, and dislocation."22 The Homoeopathic Pharmacy lists as its first indication "trauma" and even recommends it as a first-aid treatment.23 The results of this systematic review unfortunately fail to lend support to this. On balance, the trial data do not support the notion that arnica is efficacious.

There are several ways of explaining this. The evidence could be scarce and a type II error could have produced a false-negative overall picture. This is not borne out by the data presented earlier. No other homeopathic remedy has been subject to more controlled clinical trials.

The existing studies could be severely flawed and therefore produce a misleading result. The trials certainly are burdened with a multitude of methodological limitations. Small sample size and lack of test statistics are frequent and obvious ones. However, such drawbacks would be likely to create a false-positive rather than a false-negative result.

Arnica could have been applied wrongly. Homeopaths do not treat a specific condition but rather the whole human being. Thus, it is not strictly according to the teaching of Hahnemann (the "inventor" of homeopathy) to use arnica for trauma much like an allopathic drug. There are, however, exceptions to this rule, and arnica is certainly one of them. The above quotations demonstrate that arnica is used for the conditions for which it was tested in the trials reviewed here.

Therefore, the hypothesis that homeopathic arnica is, in fact, not effective beyond a placebo effect must be considered. It is not possible to "prove a negative" with these data. It is, however, possible to comment on the most likely explanation of the overall result of this systematic review.

It is concluded that the hypothesis claiming that homeopathic arnica is clinically effective beyond a placebo effect is not based on methodologically sound placebo-controlled trials.

Reprints: E. Ernst, MD, PhD, FRCP(Edin), School of Postgraduate Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Exeter, 25 Victoria Park Rd, Exeter EX2 4NT, United Kingdom (e-mail: E.Ernst@exeter.ac.uk).

Ernst  EKaptchuk  TJ Homeopathy revisited. Arch Intern Med. 1996;1562162- 2164
Ernst  EedHahn  Eed Homeopathy: A Critical Appraisal.  Oxford, England Butterworth-Heinemann Publishers1998;
Ernst  E The heresy of homeopathy. Br Homeopathic J. 1998;8728- 32
Kleijnen  JKnipschild  PTer Riet  G Clinical trials of homeopathy. BMJ. 1991;302316- 332
Linde  KClausius  NRamirez  G  et al.  Are the clinical effects of homeopathy placebo effects? a meta-analysis of placebo-controlled trials. Lancet. 1997;350834- 843
Vandenbrouk  JP Homeopathy trials, going nowhere. Lancet. 1997;350824
Langman  MJS Homeopathy trials: reasons for good ones, but are they warranted? Lancet. 1997;350825
Barnes  JResch  KLErnst  E Homeopathy for postoperative ileus: a meta-analysis. J Clin Gastroenterol. 1997;25628- 633
Ernst  EBarnes  J Are homoeopathic remedies effective for delayed-onset muscle soreness? a systematic review of placebo-controlled trials. Perfusion. 1998;114- 8
Boissel  JPErnst  EFisher  PFülgraff  GGaratini  Sde Klerk  E Overview of data from homeopathic medicine trials. European Reports Brussels, Belgium EU Rep1996;
Hofmeyer  GJ Postpartum homeopathic Arnica montana: a potency-finding pilot study. Br J Clin Pract. 1990;44619- 621
Lökken  PStraumsheim  PATveiten  DSkjelbred  PBorchgrevink  CF Effects of homeopathy on pain and other events after acute trauma. BMJ. 1995;3101439- 1442
Bendre  VVDharmudhikari  SD Arnica montana and hypericum in dental practice. Hahnemannian Gleanings. 1980;4770- 72
Jadad  ARMoore  RACarrol  D  et al.  Assessing the quality of reports of randomized clinical trials: is blinding necessary? Control Clin Trials. 1996;171- 12
Hildebrandt  GEltze  C Über die Wirksamkeit verschiedener Potenzen von Arnica beim experimentell erzeugten Muskelkater. Erfahrungsheilkunde. 1984;7430- 435
Kaziro  GSN Metronidazole (Flagyl) and Arnica montana in the prevention of postsurgical complications: a comparative placebo controlled clinical trial. Br J Oral Maxillofac Surg. 1984;2242- 49
Pinsent  RJFMBaker  GPIIves  GDavey  RWJonas  S Does arnica reduce pain and bleeding after dental extraction? Midland Homeopathy Res Group Newslett. 1984;1171- 72
Tveiten  DBruseth  SBorchgrevink  CFLøhne  K Effect of arnica D30 on hard physical exercise: a double-blind controlled trial during the Oslo Marathon. Tidsskr Nor Loegeforen. 1991;1113630- 3631
Gibson  JHaslam  YLaurneson  LNewman  PPitt  RRobins  M Double-blind trial of arnica in acute trauma patients. Homeopathy. 1991;4154- 55
Campbell  A Two pilot controlled trials of Arnica montanaBr Homeopathic J. 1976;65154- 158
Savage  RHRoe  PF A further double blind trial to assess the benefit of Arnica montana in acute stroke illness. Br Homoeopathic J. 1978;67211- 222
Livingston  R Homeopathy, Evergreen Medicine.  Poole, England Asher Press1991;
Kayne  SB Homeopathic Pharmacy.  Edinburgh, Scotland Churchill-Livingstone1997;

Figures

Tables

Table Graphic Jump LocationTable 1. Key Data From Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trials of Homeopathic Arnica
Table Graphic Jump LocationTable 2. Scoring System to Measure the Likelihood of Bias*

References

Ernst  EKaptchuk  TJ Homeopathy revisited. Arch Intern Med. 1996;1562162- 2164
Ernst  EedHahn  Eed Homeopathy: A Critical Appraisal.  Oxford, England Butterworth-Heinemann Publishers1998;
Ernst  E The heresy of homeopathy. Br Homeopathic J. 1998;8728- 32
Kleijnen  JKnipschild  PTer Riet  G Clinical trials of homeopathy. BMJ. 1991;302316- 332
Linde  KClausius  NRamirez  G  et al.  Are the clinical effects of homeopathy placebo effects? a meta-analysis of placebo-controlled trials. Lancet. 1997;350834- 843
Vandenbrouk  JP Homeopathy trials, going nowhere. Lancet. 1997;350824
Langman  MJS Homeopathy trials: reasons for good ones, but are they warranted? Lancet. 1997;350825
Barnes  JResch  KLErnst  E Homeopathy for postoperative ileus: a meta-analysis. J Clin Gastroenterol. 1997;25628- 633
Ernst  EBarnes  J Are homoeopathic remedies effective for delayed-onset muscle soreness? a systematic review of placebo-controlled trials. Perfusion. 1998;114- 8
Boissel  JPErnst  EFisher  PFülgraff  GGaratini  Sde Klerk  E Overview of data from homeopathic medicine trials. European Reports Brussels, Belgium EU Rep1996;
Hofmeyer  GJ Postpartum homeopathic Arnica montana: a potency-finding pilot study. Br J Clin Pract. 1990;44619- 621
Lökken  PStraumsheim  PATveiten  DSkjelbred  PBorchgrevink  CF Effects of homeopathy on pain and other events after acute trauma. BMJ. 1995;3101439- 1442
Bendre  VVDharmudhikari  SD Arnica montana and hypericum in dental practice. Hahnemannian Gleanings. 1980;4770- 72
Jadad  ARMoore  RACarrol  D  et al.  Assessing the quality of reports of randomized clinical trials: is blinding necessary? Control Clin Trials. 1996;171- 12
Hildebrandt  GEltze  C Über die Wirksamkeit verschiedener Potenzen von Arnica beim experimentell erzeugten Muskelkater. Erfahrungsheilkunde. 1984;7430- 435
Kaziro  GSN Metronidazole (Flagyl) and Arnica montana in the prevention of postsurgical complications: a comparative placebo controlled clinical trial. Br J Oral Maxillofac Surg. 1984;2242- 49
Pinsent  RJFMBaker  GPIIves  GDavey  RWJonas  S Does arnica reduce pain and bleeding after dental extraction? Midland Homeopathy Res Group Newslett. 1984;1171- 72
Tveiten  DBruseth  SBorchgrevink  CFLøhne  K Effect of arnica D30 on hard physical exercise: a double-blind controlled trial during the Oslo Marathon. Tidsskr Nor Loegeforen. 1991;1113630- 3631
Gibson  JHaslam  YLaurneson  LNewman  PPitt  RRobins  M Double-blind trial of arnica in acute trauma patients. Homeopathy. 1991;4154- 55
Campbell  A Two pilot controlled trials of Arnica montanaBr Homeopathic J. 1976;65154- 158
Savage  RHRoe  PF A further double blind trial to assess the benefit of Arnica montana in acute stroke illness. Br Homoeopathic J. 1978;67211- 222
Livingston  R Homeopathy, Evergreen Medicine.  Poole, England Asher Press1991;
Kayne  SB Homeopathic Pharmacy.  Edinburgh, Scotland Churchill-Livingstone1997;

Correspondence

CME
Meets CME requirements for:
Browse CME for all U.S. States
Accreditation Information
The American Medical Association is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education to provide continuing medical education for physicians. The AMA designates this journal-based CME activity for a maximum of 1 AMA PRA Category 1 CreditTM per course. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity. Physicians who complete the CME course and score at least 80% correct on the quiz are eligible for AMA PRA Category 1 CreditTM.
Note: You must get at least of the answers correct to pass this quiz.
You have not filled in all the answers to complete this quiz
The following questions were not answered:
Sorry, you have unsuccessfully completed this CME quiz with a score of
The following questions were not answered correctly:
Commitment to Change (optional):
Indicate what change(s) you will implement in your practice, if any, based on this CME course.
Your quiz results:
The filled radio buttons indicate your responses. The preferred responses are highlighted
For CME Course: A Proposed Model for Initial Assessment and Management of Acute Heart Failure Syndromes
Indicate what changes(s) you will implement in your practice, if any, based on this CME course.
NOTE:
Citing articles are presented as examples only. In non-demo SCM6 implementation, integration with CrossRef’s "Cited By" API will populate this tab (http://www.crossref.org/citedby.html).
Submit a Comment

Multimedia

Some tools below are only available to our subscribers or users with an online account.

Web of Science® Times Cited: 43

Related Content

Customize your page view by dragging & repositioning the boxes below.

Related Topics
PubMed Articles