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Homeopathic Medicine: The Role of the Pharmacist

Yvette C. Terrie, BSPharm, RPh
Published Online: Monday, February 17, 2014   [ Request Print ]


Pharmacists should be prepared to counsel patients on the appropriateness of homeopathic medicine.
While there is still great debate among health care professionals about the use of homeopathic medicines to treat various ailments and medical conditions, the use of this form of alternative medicine continues to gain popularity, accounting for an estimated $6.4 million in sales of homeopathic and herbal products in 2012.1,2 According to the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), the practice of homeopathic medicine was initiated in Germany more than 200 years ago and entailed using medications that were derived from therapeutically active microdoses of mineral, botanical, and biological substances.1,3 For more facts about homeopathic medicine, see Table 1; for resources, see Online Table 2.

The premise of homeopathy is based on the idea that if a substance triggers the symptoms of an illness, then the use of the identical substance may cure it, if given in smaller doses.4 The more dilute a homeopathic medication is, the greater its potency is thought to be.4 It is believed that through the use of microdoses, homeopathic medications stimulate the human body’s physiologic reactions, ultimately helping to restore health, with a very low incidence of adverse effects.3



Because pharmacists are likely to encounter patients seeking guidance on the various homeopathic medications on the market, pharmacists should be prepared to counsel them and evaluate the appropriateness of these types of medications based on the patient’s symptoms as well as medical and medication history. Homeopathic medicines are often employed to treat an assortment of disorders and ailments, such as colds, allergies, influenza, sore throats, digestive disorders, musculoskeletal pain, otitis media, migraines, and vertigo.1,3-6 Homeopathic medicines have also been used for chronic conditions such as autism, asthma, and arthritis.1,3-6 In the United States, examples of the leading manufacturers of homeopathic medications include Boiron USA, Hyland’s, Inc, and Similasan USA. A variety of oral and topical formulations are available, including those marketed specifically for pediatric patients.

Table 2: Resources for Information on Homeopathic Treatments
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine’s Time to Talk campaign: http://nccam.nih.gov/timetotalk
The Homoeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States: HPUS.com
The American Association of Homeopathic Pharmacists website: www.homeopathicpharmacy.org
The National Center for Homeopathy website: www.nationalcenterforhomeopathy.org

Many health experts agree that homeopathic medications are typically well tolerated and rarely associated with allergic reactions.1,3-6 According to the NCCAM, when counseling patients, pharmacists should stress the following:
  • Do not attempt to self-treat before undergoing a thorough medical evaluation by a primary health care provider
  • Never use homeopathic remedies in place of a proven conventional treatment or as a replacement treatment
  • Always keep an updated list of all homeopathic medications that you are taking and inform your pharmacist and physician about these medications
  • Pregnant or lactating females, pediatric patients, and patients with chronic health conditions should never use homeopathic medications without first consulting their primary health care provider to ascertain the appropriateness of homeopathic therapy
  • Only use products by reputable manufacturers

Ms. Terrie is a clinical pharmacist and medical writer based in Haymarket, Virginia.

References
  1. Homeopathy. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine website. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/homeopathy. Accessed January 31, 2014.
  2. Healthy growth as sales of homeopathic and herbal remedies reach $6.4 billion, reports Mintel. PRNewswire website. www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/healthy-growth-as-sales-of-homeopathic-and-herbal-remedies-reach-64-billion-reports-mintel-207733211.html. Accessed January 31, 2014.
  3. About homeopathy. Boiron USA website. www.boironusa.com/education-training/homeopathy. Accessed January 31, 2014.
  4. Ulbricht C, Cho W. Common complementary and alternative medicine health systems. In: Krinsky D, Berardi R, Ferreri S, et al, eds. Handbook of Nonprescription Drugs. 17th ed. Washington, DC: American Pharmacists Association; 2012.
  5. Alternative whole medical systems. Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals Online Edition website. www.merckmanuals.com/professional/special_subjects/complementary_and_alternative_medicine/alternative_whole_medical_systems.html. Accessed February 17, 2014.
  6. Homeopathy. Similasan USA website. http://similasannaturalremedies.com/glossary. Accessed January 31, 2014.
  7. Homeopathy & health. Hyland’s Inc website. www.hylands.com/homeopathy-and-health. Accessed January 31, 2014.
  8. Posadzki P, Alotaibi A, Ernst E. Adverse effects of homeopathy: a systematic review of published case reports and case series. Int J Clin Pract. 2012;66(12):1178-1188.




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