MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

As I grew up in Germany, it was considered entirely normal that I was given homeopathic remedies when ill. I often wondered whether, with the advent of EBM, this has changed. A recent paper provides an answer to this question.

In this nationwide German survey, data were collected from 3013 children on their utilization of medicinal products, including homeopathic and other alternative remedies.

In all, 26% of the reported 2489 drugs were from the realm of alternative medicine. The 4-week prevalence for homeopathy was 7.5%. Of the drugs identified as alternative, 53.7% were homeopathic remedies, and 30.8% were herbal drugs. Factors associated with higher medicinal use of alternative remedies were female gender, residing in Munich, and higher maternal education. A homeopathy user utilized on average homeopathic remedies worth EUR 15.28. The corresponding figure for herbal drug users was EUR 16.02, and EUR 18.72 for overall medicinal CAM users. Compared with data from 4 years before, the prevalence of homeopathy use had declined by 52%.

The authors concluded that CAM use among 15-year-old children in the GINIplus cohort is popular, but decreased noticeably compared with children from the same cohort at the age of 10 years. This is possibly mainly because German health legislation normally covers CAM for children younger than 12 years only.

The survey shows that homeopathy is still a major player in the health care of German children. From the point of view of a homeopath, this makes a lot of sense: children are supposed to respond particularly well to homeopathy. But is that really true? The short answer is NO.

Our systematic review of all relevant studies tells it straight: The evidence from rigorous clinical trials of any type of therapeutic or preventive intervention testing homeopathy for childhood and adolescence ailments is not convincing enough for recommendations in any condition.

In other words, the evidence is very much at odds with the practice. This begs the question, I think, HOW SHOULD WE INTERPRET THIS DISCREPANCY?

A few possibilities come into mind, and I would be grateful to hear from my readers which they think might be correct:

  • Homeopathy is used as a ‘benign placebo’ [clinicians know that most paediatric conditions are self-limiting and thus prefer to give placebos rather than drugs that can cause adverse effects].
  • Doctors prescribe homeopathy mainly because the kids’ parents insist on them.
  • Doctors believe that homeopathic remedies are more than just placebos [in which case they are clearly ill-informed].
  • German doctors do not believe in scientific evidence and prefer to rely on their intuition.
  • This high level of homeopathy usage misleads the next generation into believing in quackery.
  • It amounts to child abuse and should be stopped.

21 Responses to German kids are raised on homeopathy

  • All the above!

    • My reaction too, Richard.
      But “It amounts to child abuse and should be stopped” trumps the other considerations, in my opinion.

  • Thanks for this overview and reminder of ongoing use of quackery in Germany. You suggest a few reasons for this, and I believe each of them is true in some cases.
    I have worked as a paediatrician both in the UK and in Germany for 4 years each and I would like to describe what I think the difference is in the two countries.
    Obviously, you will find people who believe that homeopathy works in both the UK and in Germany. Often this is a family tradition, and parents who grew up on homeopathy themselves will want their kids to “benefit” from it, too.
    However, Germans seem to be less critical than the British, which I suspect could be due to the differences in both countries philosophical traditions (in broad terms I’m thinking: British = empiricism/rationalism, German = idealism/romanticism). An alt-med like Homeopathy, that relies on influencing a “life-energy” and focuses on choosing the exact right, magically produced and potentised “medicine” for every individual, appeals to romanticists rather than empiricists.
    Also since Nazi-time, Germans are very suspicious of any governmental policies and guidelines regarding public health (a subject almost non-existant in Germany), and maybe rightly so. But strangely, they don’t show the same suspicion towards the grotesque claims of homeopathic quacks (since they are not part of the governmental “system”, perhaps).
    These two factors could explain, why the demand for homeopathy is relatively high in Germany.
    The other big difference lies in the two countries healthcare systems. The NHS is centrally governed and healthcare providers within the NHS do not have the same kind of competition with each other like in a free market system. So a British mother that wants homeopathic treatment for her child’s asthma, will simply find that the NHS does not cover this kind of nonsense and would need to see a homeopath privately and pay herself. Importantly, every NHS- GP or paediatrician would tell her the same: it’s bollocks. In Germany, the healthcare system is characterized by a free market and also subsidiarity. That means, that healtcare providers and insurers have a lot of freedom in what kind of treatment they offer. And they are also in direct and fierce competition with other providers and insurers. Obviously this leads to patients being rather customers, and the customer always gets what he wants.
    Homeopathy is not part of the mandatory catalogue of treatments covered by governmental health insurance. However most insurance providers (crazily, there are >200) will cover it to soe extent, not because of evidence, but simply because people want it. Many doctors (but not all!) will prescribe homeopathy for the same reason: patients will just go somewhere else otherwise, taking the business elsewhere. I would think that a lot of german paediatricians know about the lack of specific effects (so would fit into the first point on your list), but some will be ill-informed, and some even anti-science.
    Regards!

  • The referred survey seems to be unavailable:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25783925

    Possibly this one?
    http://www.biomedcentral.com/1472-6882/15/49

  • The biggest insurance-company (AOK) pays for homeopathic remedies up to 300.- Euro/year. So it can´t be wrong – or what?
    It´s a dirty business.

    https://www.aokplus-online.de/leistungen-services/optimal-versorgt-bei-krankheit/alternative-heilmethoden/homoeopathie-fuer-gross-und-klein.html

    • It may well be that using homeopathy for self limiting conditions could be less expensive than other treatments. It might be equally effective as using antibiotics for a viral cold with fewer risks. While this might seem justified for a patient who demands treatment, it is considered unethical to use placebos in this way. Deceiving a patient, even for their benefit, is still a type of fraud – unless of course you are deluded. I am not thrilled with the idea of being treated by the deluded even if they are not conscious frauds.

  • Id suspect the delivery nurses play a big role in this. Its quite common to see adverts for homeopathy, osteopathy and the likes in hospitals.
    When it comes to childbirth this is further intensified because of the desire of the nurses to be the authority. This means they will be absolute experts in anything that prevents the presence of a doctor.
    I had the pleasure of witnessing the birth of my son and my wife was treated with an assortment of scams, Schüssler salts, globuli, Akupunktur when her contractions stopped. Of course with the usual effect but at that time she was willing to try anything and I to tired to violently object.

    And there are some that recommend you antivaccination propaganda on a checklist

    • SADLY, I FEAR YOU MIGHT BE RIGHT !!!

    • Beeing a german and a father of two, i was absolutely shocked with my insight of how german midwives are going about their work. The ones i’ve met are probably the most ‘esotherical’ persons i have ever encountered in my whole life.

      Homeopathy for excample is such a big part of their way of going about their jobs and treating children and mothers that it left me thinking in what century are we actually living.

      From my experience: This must have a profound influence on many (fresh) parents, seeing how these ‘experts’ in a seemingly semi-medical profession go about their business.

      If i wouldn’t have been better informed myself who knows what kind of impact it would have made on our family.

      So if we are talking especially about child care, i think this is a big part of the explanation of what is going on in germany.

      (Also, of course, it would be nice if the school system would actually successfully teach children the most basic things about physics, chemistry and biology for instance, to better prepare them for all the nonsense out there.)

  • A few years ago I met a young woman from Germany at a hostel in Alaska, where we both had travelled. I am a Grandma from Wisconsin and she a twenty-something from Dusseldorf. While talking about things, she mentioned that she had gained quite a bit of weight having stopped her thyroid medication. I asked why, and she cheerily responded with a rather ho-hum attitude that she thought she might try acupuncture or homeopathy or “herbs” instead. I gave her a thorough and firm rundown on the danger of such nonsense and called a friend in Anchorage who works for United Way to get her in to a public clinic the next day. She finally agreed, but it took some doing as she had assumed that such things were equivalent to pharmaceuticals. Her parents later contacted me with profuse thanks and we are all great friends today. I shall be visiting them soon. Young people, whether German, British, American or Other, fall easily for altie rubbish and many never outgrow it. Our work is cut out

    • The substance of homeopathy

      The substance of homeopathy, which the researchers are still looking for, is part of each matter. People have known the essence of matter for several millennia since the first pyramid was built. On the Golan Heights there were 8000 megalithic structures built, mainly dolmens, some had the top cover plate of a different type of rock. On one of the dolmens I will try to indicate the essence of homeopathy and more. All megalithic structures were built in energetic places where the energy source is a water flow, underground springs or other features. Four previously unknown properties of static electricity have emerged from our research. These allow to guide research in another direction (for details on http://www.miroslavprovod.com).

      The matter of dolmens interacts with the source and obtains energy from it. Different kinds of rocks create different “zoning codes” that characterise the properties of each dolmen. The mutual contact of auras, or zones of both charges is to balance their energy potential while moving chemical properties. People could spontaneously transfer chemically modified energy from the dolmens. It follows that different health problems were cured with different energy and chemical values.

      The above text can deduce the nature of homeopathy. Its secret is not hidden in a dilution of the molecules, but in water treatment. Simple experiment can be done with a plastic soda bottle – shaking the water augments the aura and the water charge. Static electricity of water creates something unknown and tempts to wonder if the same feature transfers something from the megalithic structures to organisms and materials. The hundreds of menhirs and dolmens that were built on the Earth tempt us to wonder if the builders did not use more energy for other purposes.

      I believe it is important to note that a similar phenomenon in which there are changes in the original code matter described in the bible EX 20.25. “And when you build a sacrificial altar, do not build it from blocks (ie. The hewn stones), because you have him raised his (iron) and desecrated the tool you are (ie. The stones).” It is inconceivable, but it can be demonstrated experimentally,
      Today, homeopathy treats 400 million patients around the world and it is practiced by around 300,000 physicians. Homeopathy is used for this purpose in approximately 100 countries. Patients do not know the nature of homeopathy, but it is sufficient for them that it works.
      It is not easy to understand the high level science of the megalithic culture, but “Caucasian antigravity” clearly indicates that we missed something in history. That text presents another line of research, from which some further information can emerge.

      Miroslav Provod

      • @Miroslav Provod

        LOL! You have explained precisely nothing.

      • @Miroslav Provod
        I really can’t comprehend why people like you think that ancient wisdoms trump every item of rational progress mankind has made over the past millenia. You write paragraphs of complete nonsense, then argue that because a lot of people are gullible enough to imagine something works for them they must be right. And what the heck is “Caucasian antigravity”?!
        I once found this sort of stuff amusingly eccentric. I’ve come to appreciate how insidiously dangerous this type of pseudo-rational nonsense can be.

    • Germans, British or Americans fall easily for altie rubbish – as you stated it, because these are countries where people have a relatively high standard of living.

      If you’re actually struggeling to feed yourself, and maybe are seriously sick, you just can’t afford (not only in a monetary sense) to play around with nonsense. You need real help.

      In a society where people flock to the doctor (or some other “therapist”) just because they have a cold, nothing too bad might happen when those are not being treated at all – or treated with sugar pills.

      This is why the most outrageous ideas often flourish in relatively wealthy countries.

      The most homeopathic, if you will, part of germany for example is bavaria, also the wealthiest with the highest income.

      These are just my thoughts obviously, nothing scientifically proven…

  • Just adding:
    Normally one would also expect there to be a higher standard of education in the wealthier parts of the world, preventing too many people from falling for the most obvious forms of nonsense. Sadly this is more and more not the case anymore.

    Schools are just more and more not succeding in teaching people the relevant facts or a way of thinking that would be helpful.

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