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Homeopathy a viable alternative ... sometimes
By Dr. Patrick Massey | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 9/22/2008 12:09 AM

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A recent German medical study showed the use of a homeopathic remedy to be as effective as a prescription medication for post-surgical foot pain and discomfort.

Homeopathy is one of the most common medical systems worldwide.

It is based on the idea that a person who is sick can be treated with a vanishingly small concentration of a substance (remedy) that at higher concentrations would cause similar symptoms of illness in a healthy person.

In homeopathy, the more dilute the remedy, the stronger the action. This is in stark contrast to traditional medicine where the higher concentration of drug, the stronger the action.

Homeopathy does not lend itself well to the usual research format since remedies are tailor-made for each patient and can change as the patient's condition changes. For example, the initial remedy that a person might take for high blood pressure could change over time as the blood pressure improves. In traditional medicine, the patient may stay on a specific medical regimen, possibly for life.

As a result, few clinical trials comparing homeopathic remedies to commonly used medications have been done. However, the recent German study was a well-designed clinical trial, and the results were published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Alternative in Complementary Medicine.

In this study, 88 patients underwent the same type of foot surgery and were randomized to receive either Arnica montana (homeopathic remedy) or diclofenac sodium (anti-inflammatory medication). Reduction in pain was slightly better with the diclofenac sodium group; however, swelling, redness and range of motion were significantly better in those taking Arnica montana.

The researchers concluded that Arnica montana would be a good option for patients after foot surgery. Like other drugs in its class (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), diclofenac sodium can cause side effects. It's also more expensive than Arnica montana.

Homeopathic remedies may not work for everyone, and undoubtedly there are some people who will not respond all. However, at least for foot surgery, it certainly seems to be a reasonable option in those people who would like to try it or for those who have problems with anti-inflammatory medications.

Homeopathic remedies are manufactured in FDA-approved laboratories under strict guidelines. And while there is no licensing for homeopathy in Illinois, we are fortunate in the Chicago area to have a number of excellent medical physicians and well-qualified chiropractors who are experts in homeopathy.

• Dr. Patrick B. Massey M.D, Ph.D., is medical director for complementary and alternative medicine for Alexian Brothers Hospital Network.