Can homeopathic medicines accelerate fracture healing?

What is this project about?

Symphytum officinale (a member of the Boragninaceae family) has been used as a medicinal plant for centuries, often being referred to by the common names ‘Comfrey’ and ‘Knitbone’.

Symphytum’s specific role in bone healing can be traced back even further, being used by Roman soldiers to treat combat bone fractures 2000 years ago.1 In modern times, homeopathic medicines made from the root of Symphytum are used by homeopaths for the treatment of injuries to the bone, periosteum and tendons.

Homeopathic practitioners report clinical success in using Symphytum to promote bone healing in cases of simple acute fracture, as well as more complex clinical situations such as non-union of pathological fractures in osteoporosis and cancer patients.

Although there is some evidence from in vitro3,4,5,6 and clinical research7 to support the use of homeopathic Symphytum in bone healing, there is currently insufficient evidence to determine whether it is an effective treatment.

The proposed study – a high quality, randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial – is the best way to find out conclusively whether or not homeopathic Symphytum has a true clinical effect on bone healing and if so, how much benefit it can offer patients.

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Investigating the efficacy of the homeopathic medicine Symphytum for reducing healing time in patients with simple fractures

The project would consist broadly of a literature review, case series and pilot double-blind, randomised clinical trial, with the intention to proceed to a full-scale efficacy trial should findings warrant this. Cost-effectiveness would be assessed as an integral part of the clinical trial.

Why use a placebo controlled trial?

In most cases homeopathic treatment involves a lengthy consultation with a homeopath, followed by a prescription which is individualised to each patient. This raises significant challenges in terms of designing appropriate research studies which are able to isolate and measure the action of the homeopathic medicine, separately from the therapeutic effect of the consultation and the placebo effect.

However in a small number of clinical situations, one homeopathic medicine is likely to help most people and can therefore be prescribed in the same way to all patients, without a homeopathic consultation. Simple fractures (i.e. not related to any underlying disease) are one example, making the topic suitable for the type of research trial routinely used to test conventional drugs i.e. the double-blind, randomised placebo-controlled clinical trial, still referred to by many as the ‘gold standard’ trial design for testing efficacy of a medical intervention.

Wider implications of this project

Demonstrating that a homeopathic medicine can improve bone healing either in terms of healing time, pain relief or both, could have a wide range of future applications; the treatment could be of benefit to ‘healthy’ NHS patients with simple fractures, cancer patients with painful secondary bone tumours and patients with osteoporosis (being used to increase bone density, provide pain relief and/or stimulate healing in osteoporotic fractures).

Research team

Supervisor

Dr Elizabeth Thompson BAOxon MBBS MRCP FFHom, who has extensive experience in clinical research in homeopathy, is confirmed as Mrs Roberts’ first supervisor. Dr Thompson is a Consultant Homeopathic Physician specialising in oncology and a Fellow of the Faculty of Homeopathy. She is currently Lead Clinician, Academic Director and Honorary Senior Lecturer in Palliative Medicine, at Bristol Homeopathic Hospital.

Lead researcher

Rachel Roberts

Rachel Roberts, BSc(Hons)

Ms Roberts holds a first class honours degree in Biological Sciences (specialising in Physiology) from the University of Birmingham and has been a professional homeopath since 1997. Rachel has lectured in homeopathy and medical sciences at various colleges in the UK and overseas. She held the post of Research Consultant for the Society of Homeopaths from 2008-2012 and joined the Homeopathy Research Institute as Chief Executive in March 2010. Rachel was awarded an Honorary Fellowship in 2013 to acknowledge her outstanding contribution to Homeopathy.

Why is this project important?

“As well as the clear benefit to patients of fractures healing faster, this treatment could bring economic benefits from patients returning to normal activities sooner. It is also a rare instance of a subject where it is appropriate to use a double-blind placebo-controlled trial design, allowing us to test the medicine against a dummy pill in the same way as conventional drugs are tested.  If we are able to demonstrate, using rigorous methods, that the homeopathic medicine heals bone faster than the placebo, those who believe homeopathy to only be a placebo effect may need to reconsider that position.” Rachel Roberts

Author publicationsLess


Homeopathy for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome
Peckham EJ, Nelson EA, Greenhalgh J, Cooper K, Roberts ER,
Agrawal A.
Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Nov 13;11:CD009710.

Adverse effects of homeopathy: a systematic review of published case reports and case series – comment by Tournier et al.
Tournier A, Roberts ER, Viksveen P.
Int J Clin Pract. 2013 Apr;67(4):388-9.

Adverse effects of homeopathy: a systematic review of published case reports and case series – comment by Tournier et al. (suppl. material)
Tournier A, Roberts ER, Viksveen P.
Int J Clin Pract. 2013 Apr;67(4):388-9.

HRI Barcelona 2013: inaugural conference brings homeopathy research into the spotlight
Roberts ER, Baumgartner S, Mathie RT, Relton C, Thompson E,
Tournier A.
Homeopathy, 2014;103(1):58-61. 

ReferencesLess


1. Spin-Neto R, Belluci MM, Sakakura CE, Scaf G, Pepato MT, Marcantonio E Jr. Homeopathic Symphytum officinale increases removal torque and radiographic bone density around titanium implants in rats. Homeopathy, 2010;99(4):249-54

2. Sakakura, CE., Neto, RS, Bellucci, M., Wenzel, A., Scaf, G., Marcantonio, E Jr. Influence of homeopathic treatment with comfrey on bone density around titanium implants. A digital subtraction radiography study in rats. Clinical Oral Implants Research, 2008; 19: 624-628.

3. Palermo C, Filanti C, Poggi S, Manduca P. Osteogenesis in vitro in rat tibia-derived osteoblasts is promoted by the homeopathic preparation, FMS*Calciumfluor. Cell Biol Int., 1999;23(1):31-40.

4. Manduca P, Marchisio S, Astigiano S, Zanotti S, Galmozzi F, Palermo C, Palmieri D. FMS*Calciumfluor specifically increases mRNA levels and induces signaling via MAPK 42,44 and not FAK in differentiating rat osteoblasts. Cell Biol Int., 2005;29(8):629-37.

5. Sharma S, Sharma N, Sharma R (2012). Accelerating the healing of bone fracture using homeopathy: a prospective, randomized double- blind controlled study. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine; 12(Suppl 1): O61.

Project: hribones

Funding fractures

Funding status

Seeking total funding of £150K, over 5 years.