Homeopathy for treatment of irritable bowel syndrome

  • Review
  • Intervention

Authors


Abstract

Background

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common, chronic disorder that leads to decreased health-related quality of life and work productivity. Evidence-based treatment guidelines have not been able to give guidance on the effects of homeopathic treatment for IBS because no systematic reviews have been carried out to assess the effectiveness of homeopathic treatment for IBS. Two types of homeopathic treatment were evaluated in this systematic review. In clinical homeopathy a specific remedy is prescribed for a specific condition. This differs from individualised homeopathic treatment, where a homeopathic remedy based on a person's individual symptoms is prescribed after a detailed consultation.

Objectives

To assess the effectiveness and safety of homeopathic treatment for treating IBS.

Search methods

We searched MEDLINE, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, EMBASE, the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), the Allied and Complementary Medicine Database (AMED), Cochrane IBD/FBD Group Specialised Register, Cochrane Complementary Medicine Field Specialised Register and the database of the Homeopathic Library (Hom-inform) from inception to February 2013.

Selection criteria

Randomised controlled trials (RCTs), cohort and case-control studies that compared homeopathic treatment with placebo, other control treatments, or usual care, in adults with IBS were considered for inclusion.

Data collection and analysis

Two authors independently assessed the risk of bias and extracted data. The primary outcome was global improvement in IBS. The overall quality of the evidence supporting this outcome was assessed using the GRADE criteria. We calculated the mean difference (MD) and 95% confidence interval (CI) for continuous outcomes and the risk ratio (RR) and 95% CI for dichotomous outcomes.

Main results

Three RCTs (213 participants) were included. No cohort or case-control studies were identified. Two studies published in 1976 and 1979 compared clinical homeopathy (homeopathic remedy) to placebo for constipation-predominant IBS. One study published in 1990 compared individualised homeopathic treatment (consultation plus remedy) to usual care (defined as high doses of dicyclomine hydrochloride, faecal bulking agents and diet sheets asking the patient to take a high fibre diet) for the treatment of IBS in female patients. Due to the low quality of reporting in the included studies the risk of bias in all three studies was unclear on most criteria and high for some criteria. A meta-analysis of two small studies (129 participants with constipation-predominant IBS) found a statistically significant difference in global improvement between the homeopathic remedy asafoetida and placebo at a short-term follow-up of two weeks. Seventy-three per cent of patients in the homeopathy group improved compared to 45% of placebo patients (RR 1.61, 95% CI 1.18 to 2.18). There was no statistically significant difference in global improvement between the homeopathic remedies asafoetida plus nux vomica and placebo. Sixty-eight per cent of patients in the homeopathy group improved compared to 52% of placebo patients (1 study, N = 42, RR 1.31, 95% CI 0.80 to 2.15). GRADE analyses rated the overall quality of the evidence for the outcome global improvement as very low due to high or unknown risk of bias, short-term follow-up and sparse data. There was no statistically significant difference found between individualised homeopathic treatment and usual care (1 RCT, N = 20) for the outcome "feeling unwell", where the participant scored how "unwell" they felt before, and after treatment (MD 0.03; 95% CI -3.16 to 3.22). None of the included studies reported on adverse events.

Authors' conclusions

A pooled analysis of two small studies suggests a possible benefit for clinical homeopathy, using the remedy asafoetida, over placebo for people with constipation-predominant IBS. These results should be interpreted with caution due to the low quality of reporting in these trials, high or unknown risk of bias, short-term follow-up, and sparse data. One small study found no statistically difference between individualised homeopathy and usual care (defined as high doses of dicyclomine hydrochloride, faecal bulking agents and diet sheets advising a high fibre diet). No conclusions can be drawn from this study due to the low number of participants and the high risk of bias in this trial. In addition, it is likely that usual care has changed since this trial was conducted. Further high quality, adequately powered RCTs are required to assess the efficacy and safety of clinical and individualised homeopathy compared to placebo or usual care.

Résumé scientifique

Homéopathie pour le traitement du syndrome du côlon irritable

Contexte

Le syndrome du côlon irritable (SCI) est un trouble fréquent, trouble chronique qui conduit à une diminution de la qualité de vie et de la productivité au travail. Les directives thérapeutiques reposant sur des données factuelles n'ont pas été en mesure de suggérer des recommandations sur les effets du traitement homéopathique pour le SCI, car aucune des revues systématiques n’a été réalisée pour évaluer l'efficacité des médicaments homéopathiques pour le traitement du SCI. Deux types de traitement homéopathique ont été évalués dans cette revue systématique. Lors d’homéopathie clinique, un remède spécifique est prescrit pour un trouble spécifique. Ce qui diffère d’un traitement homéopathique individualisé, où un remède homéopathique est prescrit selon les symptômes individuels après une consultation détaillée.

Objectifs

Évaluer l'efficacité et l'innocuité du traitement homéopathique pour le traitement du SCI.

Stratégie de recherche documentaire

Nous avons effectué des recherches dans MEDLINE, le registre Cochrane des essais contrôlés, EMBASE, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), Allied and Complementary Medicine Database (AMED), le registre spécialisé du groupe Cochrane sur les MII/TFI, le registre spécialisé du groupe Cochrane sur l'évaluation et la base de données de la Bibliothèque Homéopathique (Hom-inform) depuis leur création jusqu' en février 2013.

Critères de sélection

Les essais contrôlés randomisés (ECR), les études de cohorte et les cas-témoins comparant un traitement homéopathique à un placebo, d'autres traitements de contrôle, ou aux soins habituels chez les adultes atteints du SCI, ont été pris en compte pour l'inclusion.

Recueil et analyse des données

Deux auteurs ont indépendamment évalué les risques de biais et extrait les données. Le critère de jugement principal était l'amélioration globale du SCI. La qualité globale des preuves indiquent que ce résultat a été évalué selon les critères GRADE. Nous avons calculé la différence moyenne (DM) avec un intervalle de confiance (IC) à 95% pour les résultats continus et le risque relatif (RR) et l'IC à 95% pour les résultats dichotomiques.

Résultats principaux

Trois ECR (213 participants) ont été inclus. Aucune étude de cohorte ou de cas-témoins n’a été identifiée. Deux études publiées en 1976 et 1979 comparaient l’homéopathie clinique (remède homéopathique) à un placebo pour le traitement du SCI avec prédominance de constipation. Une étude publiée en 1990 comparait le traitement homéopathique individualisé (consultation plus remède) aux soins habituels (définis comme des doses élevées de chlorhydrate dicyclomine, des agents gonflants comme traitement fécal et un régime alimentaire riche en fibres) pour le traitement du SCI chez les patients de sexe féminin. En raison de la faible qualité de notification dans les trois études incluses et pour la plupart des critères, le risque de biais était incertain et élevé pour certains critères d'inclusion. Une méta-analyse de deux petites études (129 participants atteints du SCI avec prédominance de constipation) a trouvé une différence statistiquement significative dans l'amélioration globale entre le remède homéopathique asafoetida et un placebo sur un suivi à court terme de deux semaines. 73% des patients dans le groupe homéopathique se sont améliorés par rapport à 45% des patients sous placebo (RR 1,61, IC à 95% de 1,18 à 2,18). Il n'y avait aucune différence statistiquement significative en termes d'amélioration globale entre les remèdes homéopathiques asafoetida plus nux vomica et un placebo. 68% des patients dans le groupe homéopathique ont constaté une amélioration par rapport à 52% des patients sous placebo (1 étude, N =42, RR de 1,31, IC à 95% de 0,80 à 2,15). Les analyses GRADE évaluaient la qualité globale des preuves pour le critère de jugement sur l’amélioration globale comme étant très faible en raison du risque de biais élevé ou incertain, d'un suivi à court terme et de l'éparpillement des données. Aucune différence statistiquement significative n’a été trouvée entre le traitement homéopathique individualisé et les soins habituels (1 ECR, N =20) pour le critère de jugement sur le « malaise », où les participants présentaient un score sur « l’état dans lequel ils se sentaient» avant et après le traitement (DM 0,03; IC à 95% - de 3,16 à 3,22). Aucune des études incluses n'a rendu compte des effets indésirables.

Conclusions des auteurs

Une analyse combinée de deux petites études suggère un potentiel avantage pour l’homéopathie clinique, en utilisant le remède asafoetida, par rapport au placebo pour le traitement du SCI avec prédominance de constipation. Ces résultats doivent être interprétés avec prudence en raison de la faible qualité de notification dans ces essais, d’un risque de biais élevé ou incertain, d'un suivi à court terme et de l'éparpillement des données. Une petite étude n'a trouvé aucune différence en termes de statistiques entre l’homéopathie individualisée et les soins habituels (définis comme des doses élevées de chlorhydrate dicyclomine, des agents gonflants comme traitement fécal, et un régime alimentaire riche en fibres). Aucune conclusion ne peut être apportée dans cette étude en raison du faible nombre de participants et du risque de biais élevé. De plus, il est probable que les soins habituels aient changé depuis la réalisation de cet essai. D’autres ECR de haute qualité, présentant des statistiques adéquates, sont nécessaires pour évaluer l'efficacité et l'innocuité de l'homéopathie clinique et individualisée par rapport à un placebo ou aux soins habituels.

アブストラクト

過敏性腸症候群治療のためのホメオパシー

背景

過敏性腸症候群(IBS)は、健康関連QOLの低下と仕事の生産性低下につながる、頻度の高い慢性障害である。エビデンスに基づく治療ガイドラインはIBSに対するホメオパシー治療の効果に関して指針を与えることができていないが、その理由はIBSに対するホメオパシー治療の有効性を評価するシステマティックレビューが実施されていないからである。本システマティックレビューでは2タイプのホメオパシー治療が評価された。臨床ホメオパシーでは、ある一定の病態に対してある一定のレメディが処方される。この点は個別化ホメオパシー治療と異なり、個別化ホメオパシーでは詳細な診察の後、その人の個別の症状に基づきホメオパシーのレメディが処方される。

目的

IBS治療に対するホメオパシー治療の有効性と安全性を評価すること。

検索戦略

MEDLINE、Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials、EMBASE、Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature(CINAHL)、Allied and Complementary Medicine Database(AMED)、 Cochrane IBD/FBD Group Specialised Register、Cochrane Complementary Medicine Field Specialised Registerおよび Homeopathic Library (Hom-inform)のデータベースを始めから2013年2月まで検索した。

選択基準

IBS成人患者を対象としてホメオパシー治療をプラセボ、その他の対照治療、または通常のケアと比べたランダム化比較試験(RCT)、コホート研究、症例対照研究を選択の対象として考慮した。

データ収集と分析

2名の著者が独立してバイアスのリスクを評価し、データを抽出した。主要アウトカムはIBSの全般的改善である。このアウトカムを支持するエビデンスの全体的な質は、GRADE基準を用いて評価した。連続アウトカムには平均差(MD)と95%信頼区間(CI)、2値アウトカムにはリスク比(RR)と95%CIを算出した。

主な結果

RCT3件(参加者213例)を選択した。コホート研究、症例対照研究は同定されなかった。1976年、1979年に公表された2件では、便秘型IBSに対する臨床ホメオパシー(ホメオパシーレメディ)をプラセボと比較した。1990年に公表された1件の試験では、女性患者を対象としてIBS治療に対する個別化ホメオパシー治療(診察とレメディ)を通常のケア(高用量の塩酸ジシクロミン、便のかさを増す物質、患者に高線維食を摂取したかを問う食事シートと定義)と比べた。選択した試験の報告の質が低いため、3件の全試験でほとんどの基準に関するバイアスのリスクは不明で、一部の基準に関してはリスクが高かった。小規模試験2件のメタアナリシス(便秘型IBSの参加者129例)では、全般的改善において2週間という短期の追跡調査で、ホメオパシーレメディであるアサフェティダとプラセボとで統計学的有意差が認められた。ホメオパシー群の患者の73%に改善が認められ、それに比べプラセボ群では45%であった(RR 1.61、95%CI 1.18 ~ 2.18)。全般的改善において、ホメオパシーレメディであるアサフェティダとホミカの併用とプラセボとで統計学的有意差は認められなかった。ホメオパシー群の68%に改善が認められ、それに比べプラセボ群では52%であった(1件、N = 42、 RR 1.31、95% CI 0.80 to~ 2.15)。GRADEシステムでは、バイアスのリスクが高いか不明、追跡調査が短期、データがまばらなどのため、全般的改善アウトカムのエビデンスの全体としての質は非常に低いと評価された。「気分が悪い」というアウトカムにおいて、個別化ホメオパシーと通常のケアとで統計学的有意差は認められなかった(RCT1件、N = 20)。患者は治療前後にどれほど気分が「悪い」かスコアをつけた(MD 0.03、95% CI -3.16~ 3.22)。選択した試験のいずれでも有害事象は報告されなかった。

著者の結論

小規模試験2件の統合解析では、便秘型IBS患者に対し、アサフェティダをレメディとして用いて臨床ホメオパシーの、プラセボに勝る利益の可能性が示唆された。これらの結果は慎重に解釈すべきである。これらの試験では報告の質が低く、バイアスのリスクは高いか不明で、追跡期間は短かく、データはまばらであるためである。小規模試験1件では、個別化ホメオパシーと通常のケア(高用量の塩酸ジシクロミン、便のかさを増す物質、高線維食を勧める食事シートと定義)とで統計学的有意差は認められなかった。参加者が少数で試験のバイアスのリスクが高いため、この試験からは結論を導き出すことはできない。さらに、この試験が実施されて以来、通常のケアは変わった可能性が高い。さらに、この試験が実施されて以来、通常のケアは変わった可能性が高い。 個別化ホメオパシーの有効性と安全性をプラセボまたは通常のケアと比べて評価するためには、さらなる質の高い、検出力が十分にあるRCTが必要である。

訳注

《実施組織》厚生労働省「「統合医療」に係る情報発信等推進事業」(eJIM:http://www.ejim.ncgg.go.jp/)[2016.1.9]
《注意》この日本語訳は、臨床医、疫学研究者などによる翻訳のチェックを受けて公開していますが、訳語の間違いなどお気づきの点がございましたら、eJIM事務局までご連絡ください。なお、2013年6月からコクラン・ライブラリーのNew review, Updated reviewとも日単位で更新されています。eJIMでは最新版の日本語訳を掲載するよう努めておりますが、タイム・ラグが生じている場合もあります。ご利用に際しては、最新版(英語版)の内容をご確認ください。

Plain language summary

Homeopathy for treatment of irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common chronic disorder characterised by altered bowel habits and abdominal pain, discomfort, bloating, constipation or diarrhoea or both. It is difficult to treat because no single cause has been identified. IBS impairs health-related quality of life and work productivity. Currently there is no agreement on the best form of treatment for IBS. Therefore it is important to evaluate the effectiveness and safety of treatments, including homeopathic treatment, which some IBS sufferers use. Clinical homeopathy matches a 'remedy' to a specific condition (such as arnica for bruising), whereas individualised homeopathy involves a series of in-depth consultations to assess symptoms, the effects of remedies and other issues that may affect the patient, in order to select appropriate 'remedies'. Individualised homeopathy includes both a consultation and a remedy, whereas clinical homeopathy consists of a remedy without the in-depth consultation.

This review identified three randomised controlled trials (RCTs) including a total of 213 participants. Two RCTs (129 participants) compared a homeopathic remedy to a placebo remedy for the treatment of constipation-predominant IBS. The other study (23 participants) compared individualised homeopathic treatment (consultation plus remedy) to usual care in female patients diagnosed with IBS. Usual care consisted of high doses of dicyclomine hydrochloride (an antispasmodic drug) and faecal bulking agents (e.g. foods high in fibre). Patients in the usual care group received diet sheets asking them to take a high fibre diet. The three trials tested the effects of homeopathic treatment on the severity of IBS symptoms. None of the included studies reported on side effects. The RCT comparing individualised homeopathic treatment to usual care found no statistically significant difference between homeopathic treatment and usual care. No conclusions can be drawn from this study due to the small number of participants and the low quality of reporting in this trial. In addition, this study was carried out in 1990 and usual care for IBS may have changed since then. Therefore it is not known how individualized homeopathic treatment performs when compared with current usual care. A pooled analysis of two small studies (129 participants) suggests a possible benefit for clinical homeopathy, using the remedy asafoetida, over placebo for people with constipation-predominant IBS at a short-term follow-up of two weeks. However both of the studies were carried out in the 1970s when the reporting of trials was not as comprehensive as it is now. These studies were subject to bias which makes it difficult to determine whether the benefit found in these studies are a true reflection of the effectiveness of homeopathic treatment. Further high quality RCTs enrolling larger numbers of patients are required to assess the effectiveness and safety of clinical and individualised homeopathy compared to placebo or usual care.

Résumé simplifié

Homéopathie pour le traitement du syndrome du côlon irritable

Le syndrome du côlon irritable (SCI) est un trouble chronique courant qui se caractérise par une altération des habitudes intestinales et des douleurs abdominales, une gêne, des ballonnements, de la constipation ou des diarrhées ou les deux. Il est difficile à traiter, car aucune cause unique n’a été identifiée. Le SCI dégrade la qualité de vie liée à la santé et la productivité au travail. À ce jour, il n'existe pas de consensus concernant le traitement du SCI le plus adéquat. Par conséquent, il est important d'évaluer l'efficacité et l'innocuité des traitements, y compris le traitement homéopathique dont certaines personnes atteintes du SCI utilisent. L’homéopathie clinique correspond à un remède pour traiter un trouble spécifique (tel que l’arnica pour traiter les ecchymoses), tandis que l’homéopathie individualisée implique une série de consultations approfondies pour évaluer les symptômes, les effets des remèdes et d'autres problèmes qui peuvent affecter le patient, afin de sélectionner le « remède » approprié. L’homéopathie individualisée inclut à la fois une consultation et un remède, alors que l’homéopathie clinique consiste en une investigation sans la consultation approfondie.

Cette revue a identifié trois essais contrôlés randomisés (ECR) portant sur un total de 213 participants. Deux ECR (129 participants) comparaient un remède homéopathique à un placebo pour le traitement du SCI avec prédominance de constipation. L'autre étude (23 participants) comparait le traitement homéopathique individualisé (consultation plus remède) aux soins habituels chez les patients présentant un diagnostic du SCI. Les soins habituels comprenaient des doses élevées de chlorhydrate de dicyclomine (un médicament antispasmodique) et des agents gonflants comme traitement fécale(tels que les aliments riche en fibres). Les patients du groupe de soins habituels suivaient un régime alimentaire en fibres élevé. Les trois essais étudiaient les effets du traitement homéopathique sur la gravité des symptômes du SCI. Aucune des études incluses n'a rendu compte des effets secondaires. Les ECR comparant les traitements homéopathiques individualisés aux soins habituels n’ont trouvé aucune différence statistiquement significative entre le traitement homéopathique et les soins habituels. Aucune conclusion ne peut être apportée dans cette étude en raison du petit nombre de participants et de la faible qualité de notification. De plus, cette étude a été effectuée en 1990 et les soins habituels pour le SCI ont depuis peut-être été modifiés. Par conséquent, on ne connait pas la performance du traitement homéopathique individualisé en comparaison avec les soins habituels. Une analyse combinée de deux petites études (129 participants) suggère un avantage potentiel pour l’homéopathie clinique, en utilisant l’asafoetida, par rapport au placebo pour les patients atteints du SCI avec prédominance de constipation sur un suivi à court terme de deux semaines. Cependant, les deux études ont été effectuées dans les années 1970, lorsque le compte-rendu des essais n'était pas aussi exhaustif qu’aujourd'hui. Ces études étaient sujettes à un biais, ce qui rend difficile de déterminer si les avantages trouvés dans ces études reflètent véritablement l'efficacité du traitement homéopathique. D’autres ECR de haute qualité portant sur un plus grand nombre de patients sont nécessaires pour évaluer l'efficacité et l’innocuité de l’homéopathie clinique et individualisée par rapport à un placebo ou aux soins habituels.

Notes de traduction

Traduit par: French Cochrane Centre 14th January, 2014
Traduction financée par: Minist�re Fran�ais des Affaires sociales et de la Sant�, Instituts de Recherche en Sant� du Canada, Minist�re de la Sant� et des Services Sociaux du Qu�bec, Fonds de recherche du Qu�bec Sant� et Institut National d'Excellence en Sant� et en Services Sociaux

平易な要約

過敏性腸症候群治療のためのホメオパシー

過敏性腸症候群(IBS)はよくみられる慢性障害で、排便習慣の変化、腹部の痛み、不快感、鼓張、便秘もしくは下痢またはその両方が特徴である。単一の原因が特定されていないため、治療が困難である。IBSは、健康関連QOLと仕事の生産性を損なう。今のところ、IBSの最良の治療形態に関する合意はない。そのため、ホメオパシーの治療を含めて治療法の有効性と安全性を評価することが重要である。一部のIBS患者はホメオパシーの治療を用いている。臨床ホメオパシーでは「レメディ」を一定の病態にマッチさせている(例:捻挫にはアルニカ)が、個別化ホメオパシーでは、適切な「レメディ」を選択するために、症状、レメディの効果、患者に影響する可能性があるその他の問題を評価する一連の綿密な診察を行う。個別化ホメオパシーは、診察とレメディの両方を含むが、臨床ホメオパシーは綿密な診察のないレメディからなる。

本レビューでは、ランダム化比較試験(RCT)3件(参加者213例)を同定した。RCT2件(参加者129例)では、便秘型IBS治療のためにホメオパシーのレメディをプラセボレメディと比較した。他の試験(参加者23例)では、IBSと診断された女性患者を対象として個別化ホメオパシーの治療(診察とレメディ)を通常のケアと比べた。通常のケアは、高用量の塩酸ジシクロミン(鎮痙薬)と便のかさを増す物質(例、繊維が豊富な食品)からなっている。通常ケア群の患者は、高線維食を摂取したかを問う食事シートを渡された。3件の試験では、IBS症状の重症度に対するホメオパシーの治療効果を検証した。選択した試験のいずれでも副作用は報告されなかった。個別化ホメオパシー治療と通常のケアを比較したRCTでは、ホメオパシー治療と通常のケアとで統計学的有意差は認められなかった。参加者が少数であることとこの試験の報告の質が低いため、この試験から結論を導き出すことはできない。さらに、この試験は1990年に実施され、それ以来IBSの通常ケアは変わった可能性がある。そのため、個別化ホメオパシー治療は現在の通常のケアと比べて成績がどうかは不明である。小規模試験2件(参加者129例)の統合解析により、アサフェティダをレメディとして用いる臨床ホメオパシーは、便秘型IBS患者に対し、2週間という短期の追跡調査で、プラセボに勝る利益の可能性が示唆されている。しかし、2件とも1970年代に実施され、試験の報告は現在のように包括的ではなかった。これらの試験にはバイアスがあり、試験で見出された利益がホメオパシー治療の有効性を真に反映するものであるのかを判定するのは困難である。臨床および個別化ホメオパシーをプラセボまたは通常のケアと比較して有効性を評価するためには、より多くの参加者を登録する質の高いRCTがさらに必要である。

訳注

《実施組織》厚生労働省「「統合医療」に係る情報発信等推進事業」(eJIM:http://www.ejim.ncgg.go.jp/)[2016.1.9]
《注意》この日本語訳は、臨床医、疫学研究者などによる翻訳のチェックを受けて公開していますが、訳語の間違いなどお気づきの点がございましたら、eJIM事務局までご連絡ください。なお、2013年6月からコクラン・ライブラリーのNew review, Updated reviewとも日単位で更新されています。eJIMでは最新版の日本語訳を掲載するよう努めておりますが、タイム・ラグが生じている場合もあります。ご利用に際しては、最新版(英語版)の内容をご確認ください。

Summary of findings(Explanation)

Summary of findings for the main comparison. Homeopathy compared to usual care or placebo for treatment of irritable bowel syndrome
  1. 1 Control group risk estimates come from the control arm of the meta-analysis based on included trials.
    2 The quality of reporting in these studies does not meet current accepted standards making it difficult to assess the overall risk of bias. However there is a high risk of bias due to selective reporting in Rahlfs 1979 and most bias items were rated as unknown for both studies.
    3 Rahlfs 1976 and Rahlfs 1979 reported outcomes at two weeks. Given the long term nature of IBS it is not clear how useful a two week outcome is for patients' and clinicians' decision making.
    4 The sample size is less than the optimal sample size. Sparse data (76 events).
    5 The quality of reporting in this study does not meet current accepted standards making it difficult to assess the overall risk of bias. Downgraded due to unknown risk of bias.
    6 This study is reporting outcomes at two weeks. Given the long term nature of IBS it is not clear how useful a two week outcome is for patients' and clinicians' decision making.
    7 The sample size is less than the optimal sample size. Sparse data (25 events).

Homeopathy compared to usual care or placebo for treatment of irritable bowel syndrome
Patient or population: patients with treatment of irritable bowel syndrome
Settings:
Intervention: Homeopathy compared to usual care or placebo
OutcomesIllustrative comparative risks* (95% CI)Relative effect
(95% CI)
No of Participants
(studies)
Quality of the evidence
(GRADE)
Comments
Assumed riskCorresponding risk
Control Homeopathy compared to usual care or placebo
Global improvement - patients who improved - Asafoetida only Study population RR 1.61
(1.18 to 2.18)
129
(2 studies)
⊕⊝⊝⊝
very low ,2,3,4
 
455 per 10001 732 per 1000
(536 to 991)
Global improvement - patients who improved - Asafoetida + nux vom Study population RR 1.31
(0.8 to 2.15)
42
(1 study)
⊕⊝⊝⊝
very low ,5,6,7
 
522 per 1000 683 per 1000
(417 to 1000)
*The basis for the assumed risk (e.g. the median control group risk across studies) is provided in footnotes. The corresponding risk (and its 95% confidence interval) is based on the assumed risk in the comparison group and the relative effect of the intervention (and its 95% CI).
CI: Confidence interval; RR: Risk ratio;
GRADE Working Group grades of evidence
High quality: Further research is very unlikely to change our confidence in the estimate of effect.
Moderate quality: Further research is likely to have an important impact on our confidence in the estimate of effect and may change the estimate.
Low quality: Further research is very likely to have an important impact on our confidence in the estimate of effect and is likely to change the estimate.
Very low quality: We are very uncertain about the estimate.

Background

Description of the condition

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common, chronic disorder that affects 10 to 22% of the population in the UK (Williams 2007). There are an estimated 240,000 primary care consultations for new cases of IBS per year in the UK (Ehlin 2003). The economic costs of IBS in primary care in the UK are estimated to be over GBP 200 million per year (Akehurst 2002). It is difficult to treat because no single cause has been identified. Treatment is directed at controlling symptoms, using pharmacological and non-pharmacological approaches (Spiller 2007; Zijdenbos 2009; Ruepert 2011).

IBS is characterised by recurrent symptoms (i.e. abdominal pain or discomfort, bloating, constipation, or diarrhoea) that indicate a dysfunctional gastrointestinal tract rather than an organic change or specific diagnosis. It has an uncertain prognosis for recovery (Mearin 2006). Such patients have a plethora of non-colonic symptoms such as back pain, urinary frequency, and chronic fatigue which can lead to the patient being referred to the wrong speciality and having inappropriate investigations and even surgery. This can lower quality of life (Agrawal 2006; Longstreth 2007). In addition, sleep disturbance and depressed mood are common in IBS patients.

Diagnosis of IBS can be made using the Rome III criteria (Drossman 2006; Longstreth 2006), although this is largely a research tool used to allow common reporting standards of symptoms in trials and other research populations. In clinical practice the diagnosis of IBS is largely based on symptoms and should be positive rather than by exclusion, although the presence of alarm symptoms (e.g. blood in stool, fever or weight loss) should prompt further investigations (Spiller 2007). IBS can be characterised into the following subtypes: IBS with constipation, IBS with diarrhoea, IBS with mixed bowel habits and unspecified.

Usual care for IBS commonly includes advice on lifestyle, including diet and stress reduction, possibly combined with medication. There are a number of different medications used to help treat IBS: antispasmodic medicines, which help to reduce abdominal pain and cramping; laxatives, which help to treat the symptoms of constipation; anti-motility medicines, which help to treat the symptoms of diarrhoea, and tricyclic antidepressants, which were originally designed to treat depression, but also help to reduce the feeling of abdominal pain and cramping. Alternative treatments such as hypnotherapy, psychotherapy and acupuncture have been tried and have a place in selected patients (Agrawal 2006). However these treatments have limited availability and are expensive and labour intensive. Despite much research into both psychological and pharmacological treatments for irritable bowel syndrome no consensus exists on its optimal treatment (Zijdenbos 2009; Ruepert 2011).

Description of the intervention

Homeopathy is a popular, albeit controversial form of complementary and alternative medicine. A UK survey has shown that 1.9% of the population consulted a homeopath in the 12 months prior to the survey and 8.6% had bought an over-the-counter homeopathic remedy (Thomas 2001). Homeopathy is based on treating patients with remedies prepared from substances that have been highly diluted and succussed (shaken). It was first developed by Samuel Hahnemann in the 18th century in Germany and works on the principle of “like cures like” whereby a substance that would cause symptoms in a healthy person cures those same symptoms in illness.

Homeopathic treatment varies among different practitioners and four main types can be identified (Linde 1997):

  • Individualised (or classical) homeopathy, the type most commonly practised in the UK, involves a consultation followed by the prescription of a homeopathic medicine individualised to the patient;

  • Clinical homeopathy, where the same homeopathic medicine is used for a group of patients all presenting with the same clinical condition (e.g. lycopodium for IBS, arnica for bruising);

  • Complex homeopathy, where a number of different homeopathic medicines are given either in a fixed combination or concurrently; and

  • Isopathy, where the homeopathic medicine is based on the substance which has led to the problem (e.g. grass pollen for hay fever).

Homeopathic medicines when prescribed by trained professionals are generally regarded as safe (Dantas 2000).

How the intervention might work

Homeopathy is based on the ‘law of similars’ i.e. a substance which causes symptoms in a healthy individual can be used to treat similar symptoms in a diseased person (Vithoulkas 1980).There is significant debate regarding the scientific basis for homeopathy amongst healthcare practitioners, scientists, politicians and policy makers and the mechanism by which homeopathic remedies may work is not completely understood.

The manufacture of homeopathic medicines involves serial dilution alternating with violent agitation (i.e. ‘succussion’). The combination of these two processes is referred to as ‘potentisation’ or ‘sequential kinetic activation’ (Gariboldi 2009). Many homeopathic medicines are diluted beyond Avogadro’s number and therefore fall under the classification of ultra-high dilutions (UHDs). Avogadro's number is the number of molecules in a mole of a substance, approximately 6.0225 × 1023, which means that a sample diluted beyond 1024 would have reached a stage where it is very unlikely that there is even a single molecule of the original substance present. The biological efficacy of UHDs may be dependent on sequential kinetic activation (Gariboldi 2009), but the mechanism by which sequential kinetic activation enables a UHD to be biologically active is unknown. A common theory is that it involves stable water structures, created by interactions between molecules of the biological material and the water it is dissolved in, allowing the water to retain information about the biological material (Montagnier 2009).

Why it is important to do this review

Lower gastrointestinal tract disorders account for one in 20 of all general practice consultations in the UK (Thompson 2000). In addition, gastroenterology problems are the fourth most common referral to National Health Service (NHS) homeopathic hospitals (Spence 2005) and one of the eight most common conditions treated by NHS homeopaths in general practice (Mathie 2006). People with IBS are also more likely to use alternative medicine than people with upper gastrointestinal disorders or Crohn's disease (Smart 1986).The frequency with which people with IBS consult homeopaths may be some indication of the value which they place on the homeopathic approach. Homeopathic treatment may offer a treatment strategy for patients with IBS, but at present it is not clear if it offers any benefit.

Objectives

The objective of this systematic review is to assess the effectiveness and safety of homeopathic treatment for IBS.

Methods

Criteria for considering studies for this review

Types of studies

Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) comparing homeopathic treatment with placebo or active comparators were considered for inclusion regardless of blinding method, publication status and language of publication. Quasi randomised studies were also considered for inclusion, where allocation was achieved by 'quasi-random' methods such as alternation between treatment arms, year of birth, month entered into study. Cohort and case-control studies were also considered for inclusion.

Types of participants

All trials of patients with a diagnosis of IBS were eligible for inclusion in this review regardless of age, gender, race, educational status or duration of IBS. Trials which included IBS patients in whom 10% or more had unstable psychiatric disorders, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, bowel cancer and pregnant and breastfeeding women were excluded from this review.

Types of interventions

Trials were included if one of the groups in the trial received any type of homeopathic treatment involving the delivery of a homeopathic remedy (either by a homeopath following a consultation or studies where a homeopathic remedy was delivered without a consultation) and the other received placebo, an active comparator treatment, or no treatment.

Types of outcome measures

All trials that included any one of the following outcome measures were included in the review.

Primary outcomes

The primary outcome was global improvement of symptoms (patient-reported or clinician-evaluated or both) as measured by a global IBS symptom score (e.g. IBS Severity Scoring System, Adequate Relief Measure, GI Symptom Rating Scale, Functional Bowel Disorder Severity Index or IBS Symptom Questionnaire).

Secondary outcomes

Secondary outcomes included:

  • Quality of life as measured by validated quality of life measure e.g. EQ5D, SF36, IBS Quality of Life Measure, IBS Quality of Life Questionnaire, Functional Digestive Disorder Quality of Life Questionnaire, IBS Health Related Quality of Life Questionnaire;

  • Abdominal pain, discomfort and distension;

  • Stool frequency, bowel transit time;

  • Stool consistency; and

  • Adverse events.

Search methods for identification of studies

Electronic searches

The following electronic databases were searched from inception to February 2013:

The Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) on the Cochrane Library, Ovid MEDLINE, EMBASE classic + EMBASE, the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL) and the Allied and Complementary Medicine Database (AMED). The Cochrane IBD/FBD Group Specialised Register and the Cochrane Complementary Medicine Field Specialised Register were also searched.

MEDLINE was searched with the following terms which can be applied to other databases:

#1 colonic diseases/ OR irritable bowel syndrome/ OR colonic diseases, functional/ OR irritable bowel[tw] OR irritable colon[tw] OR spastic colon[tw] OR functional bowel disease*[tw] OR functional colonic disease*[tw]

#2 homeopathy/ OR homeopath*[tw] OR homoeopath*[tw]

#3 #1 AND #2

Searching other resources

1. Reference searching

The reference lists for all identified studies were inspected for additional studies.

2. Conference abstracts

Conference abstracts from Digestive Disease Week (DDW) 2009-2010 were searched.

3. Personal contact

The first author of each included study was contacted for information regarding unpublished trials.

4. Handsearching

The Homeopath and Homeopathic Links journals were handsearched between 2008 - 2011 to determine the likely yield of these journals.

Data collection and analysis

Selection of studies

Two authors (EJP and ERR) independently reviewed the titles and abstracts of the studies identified by the literature search. Included studies were assessed against the predefined inclusion criteria.

Data extraction and management

Two authors (EJP and ERR) independently extracted data from the included studies. Authors were contacted to clarify any unclear data.

Assessment of risk of bias in included studies

Two authors (EJP and ERR) independently assessed the methodological quality of included randomised trials using the Cochrane risk of bias tool (Higgins 2011). The following items were assessed:

  • sequence generation (i.e. was allocation sequence adequately generated?);

  • allocation sequence concealment (i.e. was allocation adequately concealed?);

  • blinding (i.e. was knowledge of the allocated interventions adequately prevented during the study?);

  • incomplete outcome data (i.e. were incomplete outcome data adequately addressed?);

  • selective outcome reporting (i.e. are reports of the study free of suggestion of selective outcome reporting?); and

  • other potential sources of bias (i.e. was the study apparently free of other problems that could lead to a high risk of bias e.g. baseline imbalances, evidence of carry-over in cross-over trials, comparability of groups in cluster trials).

It was intended that, based on these criteria the studies would be subdivided into three categories:

1. Low risk of bias i.e. all quality criteria met;

2. Medium risk of bias i.e. one or more of the quality criteria partly met; and

3. High risk of bias i.e. one or more of the quality criteria not met.

It was intended that the quality of quasi-randomised trials, non-randomised trials, cohort and case control studies would be assessed using a quality instrument designed for assessing the quality of non-randomised studies (Downs 1998).

Measures of treatment effect

Review Manager (RevMan 5.2) was used to analyse the data. For continuous outcomes the mean difference (MD) with 95% confidence interval (95% CI) was calculated. For each dichotomous outcome the risk ratio (RR) with 95% CI was calculated.

Unit of analysis issues

We did not anticipate any unit of analysis issues arising from cluster randomisation. In the case of multiple intervention groups each intervention group was analysed separately against the control group and the sample size for the control group was divided proportionately across each intervention group. We noted that if the results were reported at multiple time points in the studies, each outcome would be analysed at pre-defined periods of follow-up in separate meta-analyses. Time points would be grouped as follows: less than three months, three months to one year, longer than one year. These time points were chosen as representing time frames in which a difference in the likelihood of responding could be expected.

Dealing with missing data

We intended to analyse data using the intention to treat (ITT) principle and sensitivity analyses were to be undertaken as appropriate (e.g. ITT versus available case, and study quality). However, data were analysed on an available case basis as the included studies did not provide enough detail to allow for an ITT analysis.

Assessment of heterogeneity

Statistical heterogeneity was assessed using the Chi2 test and the I2 statistic. The Chi2 test was considered statistically significant if P ≤ 0.10. If heterogeneity existed between studies (I2 ≥ 50%) for the primary outcome, reasons for the heterogeneity would be explored. Clinical heterogeneity would be assessed through the description of the setting and homeopathic approach used in each study.

Assessment of reporting biases

In the protocol we noted that if more than 10 studies were identified for inclusion in this review, funnel plots would be used to assess publication biases.

Data synthesis

Data from individual trials were combined by meta-analysis if the interventions, outcomes and patient groups were sufficiently similar (determined by consensus). For continuous data the mean difference with 95% CI was calculated where the same scales have been used. Where studies were deemed sufficiently similar but different scales have been used the standardised mean difference would be used to combine data. For dichotomous outcomes the pooled risk ratio and 95% CI were calculated.

In the protocol we specified that data would not be pooled for meta-analysis if a high degree of heterogeneity (I2 > 75%) was detected. A fixed-effect model would be used to pool data in the absence of heterogeneity. An I2 ≥ 50% is considered to represent moderate heterogeneity and in such cases (I2 50 to 75%) a random-effects model would be used for pooling the data.

Subgroup analysis and investigation of heterogeneity

Subgroup analysis was planned between studies that prospectively identified IBS patients using ROME III criteria versus studies that did not use ROME III criteria to prospectively identify IBS patients. In the protocol we also noted that if data were reported separately for the different forms of IBS then a subgroup analysis comparing the different forms would be carried out. A subgroup analysis was also planned for quasi and true randomisation, different comparators (e.g. no treatment, usual care, placebo, or other active treatment) and different homeopathy interventions (e.g. individualised or clinical homeopathy).

Sensitivity analysis

In the protocol we noted that if a sufficient number of trials were identified a sensitivity analysis would be carried out by study quality to determine if the results of the primary analysis change according to which trials are incorporated into the analysis.

Results

Description of studies

See Characteristics of included studies and Characteristics of excluded studies and Characteristics of ongoing studies.

Results of the search

Figure 1 shows details of the search and selection process. From 269 citations initially identified, 29 full text sources were examined (after removal of duplicates and assessment of abstract), 25 studies were excluded for various reasons (listed in the excluded studies table) and 3 studies plus one secondary publication from an included study were included in the review (Rahlfs 1976; Rahlfs 1979; Owen 1990) . Two studies were included in quantitative synthesis (Rahlfs 1976; Rahlfs 1979). One ongoing study was also identified (Peckham 2012). No cohort or case-control studies were identified.

Figure 1.

Study flow diagram.

Included studies

Three studies with a total of 213 participants were included (Rahlfs 1976; Rahlfs 1979; Owen 1990). See Characteristics of included studies. Owen 1990 was conducted in the UK and published in English. Rahlfs 1976 and Rahlfs 1979 were conducted in the former Federal Republic of Germany and published in German and were translated from German into English. Rahlfs 1976, was a three arm trial comparing asafoetida against asafoetida + nux vomica, against placebo, whereas Rahlfs 1979 compared asafoetida versus placebo (the participants in the two trials are independent). The authors noted that Rahlfs 1976 failed to recruit its target number of participants, hence the (simplified) trial being re-run. There were 23 participants in Owen 1990, 72 participants in Rahlfs 1976 and 119 participants in Rahlfs 1979. All included studies were published as full articles.

Owen 1990 compared individualised homeopathic treatment which involved a homeopathic consultation and an individualised homeopathic remedy to usual care which consisted of high doses of dicyclomine hydrochloride, faecal bulking agents and diet sheets asking the patient to take a high fibre diet. This study differs from other pragmatic trials of individualised homeopathic treatment, where the more common approach has been to compare individualised homeopathic treatment plus usual care to usual care alone. In Owen 1990 participants were asked to rate how unwell they felt before and after treatment, exact details of how this was scored are not given. Although Owen 1990 did not include a global measurement of IBS as one of the outcomes, we considered the rating of how unwell patients felt to provide a global measurement of the patients' health. The other outcome measures in Owen 1990 involved the patients choosing their own top four worst symptoms and grading these on a visual analogue scale, it was not specified that these symptoms had to be related to IBS, and details of the symptoms patients chose were not reported are not given, hence this outcome measure was not included in this review.

Excluded studies

The Characteristics of excluded studies table, describes the characteristics of the 25 excluded studies along with the reason for their exclusion.

Ongoing studies

The Characteristics of ongoing studies describes the characteristics of the ongoing study on individualised homeopathy for the treatment of IBS.

Risk of bias in included studies

The risk of bias in the included studies for each domain are discussed below. See results of the risk of bias analysis are summarized in Figure 2.

Figure 2.

Methodological quality summary: review authors' judgments about each methodological quality item for each included study.

Allocation

Owen 1990, Rahlfs 1976 and Rahlfs 1979 were described as RCTs. Owen 1990 reported that the participants were stratified and randomised into one of two treatment groups. However, no details were given about the stratification or how randomisation sequence was generated. Rahlfs 1976 reported that a chance code was used for randomisation, although what this entailed and how it was implemented was not described. Rahlfs 1979 did not report any information regarding the method of generation of the randomisation code. Rahlfs 1976 and Rahlfs 1979 provided medication in sequentially numbered drug containers and were rated as low risk for allocation concealment. Owen 1990 did not describe the procedure used for allocation concealment and was rated as unclear for this item.

Blinding

Participants and physicians were not blinded to treatment allocation in the Owen 1990 study as it was not possible to design a study where patients were not aware of their receiving an individualised homeopathic consultation or usual care. Owen 1990 did not report whether other key study personnel were blinded, or whether outcome assessment was carried out blind. In Rahlfs 1976 and Rahlfs 1979 the study participants and the doctors who recruited the participants were blinded to allocation by the use of an identical placebo. In Rahlfs 1979, the participant blinding was well described. Rahlfs 1976 and Rahlfs 1979 did not report whether other key study personnel were blinded, or if outcome assessment was carried out blind.

Incomplete outcome data

The number of patient withdrawals was reported for Owen 1990, Rahlfs 1976 and Rahlfs 1979. Although Owen 1990 reported the number of withdrawals and the arm from which the patients withdrew, the reasons for withdrawal were not reported. Rahlfs 1976 did not report which arms that patients withdrew from and therefore it was not clear whether there may be attrition bias in this trial. Rahlfs 1979 reported the number of withdrawals from each treatment group and the reasons for withdrawal. Whilst dropouts appear to be comparable in terms of number and reason for withdrawal across both arms of this study (Rahlfs 1979), it should be remembered that any dropout threatens group comparability at baseline as random allocation seeks to distribute both known and unknown characteristics across groups, and dropouts may differ for unknown characteristics that cannot be measured.

Selective reporting

Due to insufficient reporting in Owen 1990 and Rahlfs 1976 both studies were rated as unclear for the item on selective reporting. Rahlfs 1979 was deemed to be at a high risk of bias due to selective reporting because of evidence of selective choice of data for an outcome. Some participants were excluded from the outcome analyses for not meeting the inclusion criteria while other participants who did not meet the inclusion criteria in terms of age were included in the analyses.

Other potential sources of bias

Due to the low quality of reporting in Owen 1990, Rahlfs 1976 and Rahlfs 1979, the potential for other sources of bias in these studies could not be assessed.

Effects of interventions

See: Summary of findings for the main comparison Homeopathy compared to usual care or placebo for treatment of irritable bowel syndrome

Clinical homeopathic remedy versus placebo remedy

Rahlfs 1976 and Rahlfs 1979 assessed global improvement in IBS at two weeks as an outcome measure. For this outcome patients were asked to measure their improvement on a three-point scale (Rahlfs 1976) and a four-point scale (Rahlfs 1979). For the Rahlfs 1976 study participants were asked to rate whether they were not or negligibly improved, more than half improved or free of symptoms. Participants in the Rahlfs 1979 study were asked to rate whether they were worse, not or negligibly improved, more than half improved or free of symptoms. For the purposes of this review, we dichotomised these scales into two categories: those who had improved (more than half improved or free of symptoms) versus those who had not improved (those who were worse, or not or negligibly improved).

Rahlfs 1976 found no statistically significant difference between the homeopathic remedy asafoetida and placebo (RR 1.28, 95% CI 0.78 to 2.10), and no statistically significant difference between asafoetida plus nux vom and placebo (RR 1.31, 95% CI 0.80 to 2.15). A RR greater than one favours the homeopathic group. Rahlfs 1979 reported a statistically significant difference between the homeopathic remedy asafoetida and placebo (RR 1.82, 95% CI 1.23 to 2.96). A pooled analysis (129 participants) found a statistically significant difference between the homeopathic treatment asafoetida and placebo. Seventy-three per cent of patients in the homeopathy group improved at two weeks compared to 45% of placebo patients (RR 1.61, 95% CI 1.18 to 2.18; See Figure 3). No heterogeneity was detected for this comparison (P = 0.27; I2 = 18%).

Figure 3.

Forest plot of comparison: 1 Homeopathy compared to usual care or placebo, outcome: 1.1 Global improvement - patients who improved.

Homeopathic treatment versus usual care

In Owen 1990 participants were asked to rate how unwell they felt before and after treatment. No statistically significant difference was found between homeopathic treatment and usual care (MD 0.03, 95% CI -3.16 to 3.22; See Figure 4).

Figure 4.

Forest plot of comparison: 1 Homeopathy compared to usual care or placebo, outcome: 1.2 Feeling unwell.

Outcome data from the Owen 1990 study was not pooled with the data from Rahlfs 1976 and Rahlfs 1979 because of heterogeneity between the studies. The three studies investigated two different types of homeopathy. Owen 1990 investigated the effectiveness of individualised (classical) homeopathic treatment, whilst Rahlfs 1976 and Rahlfs 1979 investigated clinical homeopathy. The type of IBS investigated was also potentially different. In the Owen 1990 study participants were diagnosed with IBS and no further information on type was given, whilst the participants in Rahlfs 1976 and Rahlfs 1979 had constipation-predominant IBS. In addition, the studies measured outcomes at different time points. Owen 1990 measured outcomes at 12 weeks, whilst Rahlfs 1976 and Rahlfs 1979 measured outcomes at 2 weeks. The primary outcome for the Owen 1990 study was not a global improvement measure and was not comparable with the other two studies. Although it may be tempting to combine studies in a meta-analysis when it is likely to yield a statistically significant result, it is important not to combine studies where there is significant clinical heterogeneity, because these results would not be meaningful due to the large degree of differences between the studies. For these reasons the outcomes from Owen 1990, Rahlfs 1976 and Rahlfs 1979 were not combined.

The secondary outcomes quality of life, abdominal pain, stool frequency, stool consistency and adverse events were not reported on in the included studies and therefore it was not possible to include them in this review.

Discussion

Summary of main results

Two RCTs compared a clinical homeopathic remedy with placebo for treating constipation-predominant IBS (Rahlfs 1976; Rahlfs 1979). In a meta-analysis of these studies, the homeopathic remedy was found to be significantly more effective than placebo for improvement in global IBS symptoms at a short-term follow-up of two weeks. However, this result should be interpreted with caution due to the low quality of the reporting in these studies, a high or unknown risk of bias associated with the trials in this pooled analysis, short-term follow-up, and sparse data.

One RCT (Owen 1990) compared individualised homeopathic treatment with usual care for treating women with IBS. No significant difference was found between individualised homeopathic treatment and usual care (dicyclomine hydrochloride, faecal bulking agents, and diet sheets advising a high fibre diet) as measured by how unwell the participants felt before and after treatment. No conclusions can be drawn from this study due to the small number of participants, the low quality of reporting in this trial and a high risk of bias.

Overall completeness and applicability of evidence

Rahlfs 1976 and Rahlfs 1979 assessed the effectiveness of clinical homeopathy for the treatment of constipation-predominant IBS. Therefore this review does not provide information on the effectiveness of clinical homeopathy for the treatment of IBS in general, or diarrhoea-predominant, or mixed typology IBS. Both Rahlfs 1976 and Rahlfs 1979 reported outcomes at two weeks. Given the long term nature of IBS it is not clear how useful a two-week outcome is for patients', clinicians' and policy makers' decision making. As people live with IBS for years, an evaluation of impact at two weeks fails to take into account possible rebound effects or longer term benefits or adverse events that would be important for patients and practitioners to know about when they consider the potential benefits and harms associated with this intervention.

Only one study assessing the effectiveness of individualised homeopathic treatment was identified in this review (Owen 1990). The number of participants in this study was small (23) and the study was conducted over 20 years ago. It is likely that there have been changes in usual care for IBS since this time, therefore Owen 1990 may not provide a full picture of the effectiveness of individualised homeopathic treatment compared to usual care. Therefore this review is unable to conclude anything about the use of individualised homeopathic treatment for IBS.

Quality of the evidence

The results from the pooled analysis indicate a possible benefit for homeopathic treatment using clinical homeopathy (non-individualised homeopathic remedies) over placebo for constipation-predominant IBS. However, this result needs to be interpreted with caution. The two studies included in the pooled analysis (Rahlfs 1976 and Rahlfs 1979) were carried out in the 1970s before the introduction of the CONSORT statement (Begg 1996), and the quality of reporting in these studies does not meet currently expected standards (Schultz 2010). The low quality of the reporting means that it is not possible to determine whether or not these studies were carried out in a rigorous manner and thus how likely it is that these results are a true reflection of the treatment effect. Both studies were determined to have an unknown risk of bias for most assessed items and Rahlfs 1979 was at a high risk of reporting bias. The quality of the evidence supporting the primary outcome (i.e. global improvement) was very low due to the low quality of reporting in the included studies, high or unknown risk of bias, sparse data and short-term follow-up.

Participants in the Rahlfs 1976 and Rahlfs 1979 studies were recruited through general practice as having suspected IBS. It is not clear whether diseases such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis were ruled out in these participants and it is possible that some participants had diseases such as Crohn's or ulcerative colitis rather than IBS.

The quality of the reporting in the Owen 1990 study was low, and this study does not meet the current expected standards (Schultz 2010). No conclusions can be drawn from this study due to the small number of participants and risk of bias. Owen 1990 was rated as high risk of bias for blinding of participants and personnel. The study was rated as unknown risk of bias for the other assessed items. The exact details of the medication prescribed in the usual care arm, in terms of dosage and frequency was not reported.

Potential biases in the review process

To avoid potential biases in the review process data extraction was carried out independently by two assessors. In addition, efforts were made to identify all studies that were potentially eligible for this review (see Search methods for identification of studies). However, It is possible that not all potentially eligible studies were identified. This could be because potentially eligible studies have been carried out and then have not been published, or that studies have been published but not in places where they could be accessed, possibly because they were published in little known non-indexed journals or they could have been published in places where they should have been found, but were not found. Cohort and case-control studies were considered for inclusion but none were identified by the literature search. In retrospect the inclusion of case-control studies was not appropriate given that the main reason for including case-control studies in a review is when an event is very rare and thus it is unlikely that any RCTs have been carried out (Reeves 2011).

Agreements and disagreements with other studies or reviews

No other systematic reviews of homeopathic treatment for IBS were identified. However non-condition specific systematic reviews of homeopathic treatment that included the Rahlfs 1976 and Rahlfs 1979 studies have been published (Linde 1997; Shang 2005). Neither of these systematic reviews carried out any analyses on homeopathy for the treatment of IBS or specifically commented on homeopathy for IBS.

Authors' conclusions

Implications for practice

In this review of homeopathic treatment for IBS, two of the included studies used clinical (non-individualised) homeopathic remedies to treat patients with constipation-predominant IBS (Rahlfs 1976; Rahlfs 1979). A meta-analysis of these two studies found a statistically significant benefit favouring the homeopathic remedy over placebo. However, these results should be interpreted with caution due to the low quality of reporting in these studies, a high or unknown risk of bias and sparse data. Thus it is not possible to be certain whether or not the trials were able to distinguish between true treatment effects, chance or bias. Furthermore, the low quality of reporting practice means that it is difficult to assess whether the results would be replicated in everyday practice, that is, whether the results are externally valid or generalisable.

It is of note that Rahlfs 1976 and Rahlfs 1979 reported outcomes at two weeks. Given the long term nature of IBS, it is not clear how useful a two-week outcome is for decision making. It is essential that trials have a follow-up period that is clinically meaningful. As people live with IBS for years, an evaluation of impact at two weeks fails to take into account any possible rebound effects, or longer term benefits or adverse events that would be important for patients and practitioners to know about when they consider the potential benefits and harms associated with this intervention.

One of the included studies (Owen 1990), found no statistically significant difference between individualised homeopathic treatment and usual care consisting of dicyclomine hydrochloride and faecal bulking agents. Individualised homeopathy is the most common form of homeopathy practised in the UK. However due to the poor quality of reporting in this study and the small number of participants in this trial, no conclusions can be made regarding the usefulness of individualised homeopathic treatment for the treatment of IBS.

Implications for research

Rahlfs 1976 and Rahlfs 1979 evaluated clinical homeopathy involving pre-specified homeopathic remedies for the treatment of constipation-predominant IBS and were therefore designed to assess the effectiveness of non-individualised homeopathic remedies. However due to the high risk of reporting bias in one of these studies and unclear reporting in both of these studies it is recommended that these trials are repeated using current reporting guidelines (Schultz 2010), to determine whether or not there is any benefit associated with homeopathy for IBS. Future high quality studies should enrol larger numbers of patients and assess longer term efficacy and safety outcomes.

Owen 1990 assessed the effectiveness of individualised homeopathic treatment compared to usual care. Due to the low quality reporting in this study and the likelihood that usual care for IBS has changed since this study was conducted, it is recommended that the effectiveness and safety of individualised homeopathic treatment be evaluated in a well-designed, adequately powered trial.

Acknowledgements

Funding for the IBD/FBD Review Group (September 1, 2010 - August 31, 2015) has been provided by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Knowledge Translation Branch (CON - 105529) and the CIHR Institutes of Nutrition, Metabolism and Diabetes (INMD); and Infection and Immunity (III) and the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care (HLTC3968FL-2010-2235).

Miss Ila Stewart has provided support for the IBD/FBD Review Group through the Olive Stewart Fund.

The University of Leeds School of Healthcare PhD fellowship awarded to Emily Peckham supported this work.

Data and analyses

Download statistical data

Comparison 1. Homeopathy compared to usual care or placebo
Outcome or subgroup titleNo. of studiesNo. of participantsStatistical methodEffect size
1 Global improvement - patients who improved2 Risk Ratio (M-H, Fixed, 95% CI)Subtotals only
1.1 Asafoetida only2129Risk Ratio (M-H, Fixed, 95% CI)1.61 [1.18, 2.18]
1.2 Asafoetida + nux vom142Risk Ratio (M-H, Fixed, 95% CI)1.31 [0.80, 2.15]
2 Feeling unwell1 Mean Difference (IV, Fixed, 95% CI)Subtotals only
Analysis 1.1.

Comparison 1 Homeopathy compared to usual care or placebo, Outcome 1 Global improvement - patients who improved.

Analysis 1.2.

Comparison 1 Homeopathy compared to usual care or placebo, Outcome 2 Feeling unwell.

Contributions of authors

EJP initiated, designed the study and drafted the protocol. EP and RR, extracted the data and conducted the quality assessment. AN, KC and JG arbitrated. KC provided advice on search strategies. KC, AN, JG AA and ERR all commented on the review.

Declarations of interest

EJP has contributed to the design and management of an RCT of homeopathic treatment for irritable bowel syndrome which may be eligible for inclusion in future updates of this review. She is a homeopath.

EAN: None known

JG: None known

KC: None known

ERR is a homeopath

AA: None known

Sources of support

Internal sources

  • University of Leeds, UK.

  • Homeopathy Research Institute, UK.

  • ScHARR, UK.

External sources

  • No sources of support supplied

Characteristics of studies

Characteristics of included studies [ordered by study ID]

Owen 1990

MethodsRCT, unblinded, parallel study, 12 weeks duration
Participants

Setting; county hospital, UK

Number of participants; 23 patients were allocated into one of the treatment groups, 20 patients included in analysis

Recruitment methods; female patients attending the out-patient department at a county hospital in whom a diagnosis of IBS was made

Diagnosis of IBS; clinical diagnosis by a consultant gastroenterologist and consultant gynaecologist

Age range of patients; 20-69 years

Gender (of treated patients); 100% female

Duration of symptoms > 3 months

Interventions

1. Individualised homeopathic treatment

2. High doses of Dicyclomine hydrocholoride (exact dose not stated), faecal bulking agents and diet sheets advising a high fibre diet

OutcomesPatients were asked to grade: their four worst symptoms on a visual analogue scale, dysmenorrhoea, dyspareunia, and feeling unwell at baseline, 2, 6 and 12 weeks
NotesDetailed information is given on the homeopathic treatment the participants received in terms of; remedy chosen, potency and dosage, whilst no information is given on the strength and dosage of the dicyclomine hydrocholoride and faecal bulking agents prescribed in the usual care arm
Risk of bias
BiasAuthors' judgementSupport for judgement
Random sequence generation (selection bias)Unclear riskAlthough it is stated that this is a randomised trial no details were given as to how randomisation was achieved
Allocation concealment (selection bias)Unclear riskNot described
Incomplete outcome data (attrition bias)
All outcomes
Unclear riskInsufficient reporting of attrition, whilst possible reasons for attrition were discussed for one patient, the reasons for the other two patients leaving the study were not reported
Selective reporting (reporting bias)Unclear riskInsufficient information is provided to be able to judge whether the study is at risk from selective reporting
Other biasUnclear riskDue to the low quality of the reporting in this study it is unclear whether the study is at risk from any other forms of bias
Blinding of participants and personnel (performance bias)
All outcomes
High riskParticipants and doctors were not blinded to allocation, however it is not stated whether other key study personnel were blinded
Blinding of outcome assessment (detection bias)
All outcomes
Unclear riskIt is not reported whether or not the outcome assessment was carried out blind

Rahlfs 1976

MethodsRCT, double blind, parallel study, 2 weeks duration
Participants

Setting; general practice, Germany

Number of participants; 71 patients treated (number of patients randomised not clearly stated), 63 patients included in analysis

Recruitment methods; patients presenting in general practice with suspected IBS

Diagnosis of IBS; Clinical diagnosis plus completion of detailed questionnaire

Mean age (of treated patients); 43.8 years

Gender (of treated patients); 50.8% female

Duration of symptoms > 14 days

Interventions

1. 0.1% asafoetida alcohol solution, 6 x 5 drops daily

2. 0.1% asafoetida alcohol solution + 0.01% nux vomica alcohol solution, 6 x 5 drops daily

3. placebo, 45% alcohol solution, 6 x 5 drops daily

Outcomes

Self assessment on a 3 point scale; no or negligible improvement, more than half improved, free of symptoms measured on day 8 and day 15 of the study

Time to recovery assessed by the patient reporting the day they felt considerable improvement

Freiburg Personality Inventory

NotesAnalysed participant data were fairly well described, but a lot of pre-randomisation and pre-analysis data were missing
Risk of bias
BiasAuthors' judgementSupport for judgement
Random sequence generation (selection bias)Unclear risk

A chance code was used for the randomisation, the exact nature of which was not reported

Therefore the risk of bias cannot be determined

Allocation concealment (selection bias)Low riskMedication was provided in sequentially numbered drug containers
Incomplete outcome data (attrition bias)
All outcomes
Unclear riskInsufficient reporting of attrition, some reasons for attrition are given, details of allocation are not always given
Selective reporting (reporting bias)Unclear riskInsufficient information was provided to be able to judge whether the study was at risk from selective reporting
Other biasUnclear riskInsufficient information was provided to assess whether the study was at risk from any other bias
Blinding of participants and personnel (performance bias)
All outcomes
Low riskStudy participants and recruiting doctors were blinded
Blinding of outcome assessment (detection bias)
All outcomes
Unclear riskIt was not reported whether outcome assessment was carried out blind

Rahlfs 1979

MethodsRCT, double blind, parallel study, 2 weeks duration
Participants

Setting; general practice, Germany

Number of participants; 119 patients treated (number of participants randomised not clearly stated), 89 patients included in analysis

Recruitment methods; patients presenting in general practice with suspected IBS

Diagnosis of IBS; Clinical diagnosis plus completion of detailed questionnaire

Mean age (of patients included in analysis, ages of those not included not stated); 42.5 years

Gender (of those included in analysis, gender of those not included not stated); 68.5% female

Duration of symptoms > 14 days

Interventions

1. 0.1% asafoetida alcohol solution, 6 x 5 drops daily

2. placebo, 45% alcohol solution, 6 x 5 drops daily

Outcomes

Self assessment on a 4 point scale; worsening of symptoms, no or negligible improvement, more than half improved, free of symptoms, measured on day 8 and day 15 of the study

Time to recovery assessed by the patient reporting the day they felt considerable improvement

NotesAnalysed participant data were fairly well described, but a lot of pre-randomisation and pre-analysis data were missing
Risk of bias
BiasAuthors' judgementSupport for judgement
Random sequence generation (selection bias)Unclear riskAlthough it was reported that this was a randomised trial no details were given as to how randomisation was achieved
Allocation concealment (selection bias)Low riskMedication was provided in sequentially numbered drug containers
Incomplete outcome data (attrition bias)
All outcomes
Unclear riskIncomplete outcome data, reasons for missing data, and how incomplete outcome data were addressed was not clearly described
Selective reporting (reporting bias)High risk

The inclusion and exclusion criteria were applied in a variable manner, some people that were subsequently found not to meet the exclusion and inclusion criteria were removed from the analysis

However people who did not meet the inclusion criteria for age, being too old were still included in the analysis

This leaves the study at risk of bias due to selective reporting

Other biasUnclear riskDue to the low quality of the reporting it was unclear whether the study was at risk from any other forms of bias
Blinding of participants and personnel (performance bias)
All outcomes
Low riskParticipants and doctors were blinded to allocation
Blinding of outcome assessment (detection bias)
All outcomes
Unclear riskIt was not reported whether outcome assessment was carried out blind to treatment allocation

Characteristics of excluded studies [ordered by study ID]

StudyReason for exclusion
Aleem 2000Discussion piece and not a randomised controlled trial, cohort or case-control study
Anonymous 2005

An initial reading of this Italian article revealed it to be discussing a meta analysis by Shang 2005

Therefore a full translation was not conducted

Anonymous 2009Discussion piece and not a randomised controlled trial, cohort or case-control study
Bhagat 2010Case report (n = 1) of homeopathic treatment for IBS
Bhattacharjee 2010The article was a discussion on the different homeopathic remedies used for the treatment of IBS
Chimthanawala 2004Case report (n = 2) of homeopathic treatment for IBS
Diamond 2005A discussion on the use of complementary therapies for the treatment of gastroenterological problems
Feldhaus 2000This was a discussion piece on the treatment of IBS
Gamble 2007Discussion of a potentially new way of assessing and treating IBS, from a homeopathic perspective, using two cases as an example
GebhardtDiscussion on homeopathic treatment for IBS, not a randomised controlled trial, cohort or case-control study
Gray 1998This study was a case series of 25 patients with no comparator group
Greeson 2008Non-randomised observational study of outcomes for patients attending a integrative medical centre where homeopathy was only one of the treatments offered
Innes 2000This study was a case series (n = 20) with no comparator group
Jagose ACase report (n = 1) of homeopathic treatment for IBS
Jones 1996A discussion of the homeopathic treatment of IBS, illustrated by three cases
Jones 1997Discussion piece on homeopathic treatment of IBS
Jones 1999Case report study of a woman with IBS treated with homeopathy
Krishendu 2010A discussion of the different homeopathic remedies used for the treatment of IBS
Lobo 2000Case report (n = 1) on homeopathic treatment of IBS
Master 2008Discussion piece on homeopathy for IBS
Mohan 2006Case report (n = 2) of IBS treated with homeopathy
Pinto 1999A selection of case reports on homeopathic treatment for a variety of conditions
Slade 2003Case report (n = 1) of homeopathic treatment of ulcerative colitis
Turner 2008Discussion of homeopathic treatment of IBS, illustrated by eight case histories
White 1999Discussion of homeopathic treatment for IBS, not a randomised controlled trial, cohort or case-control study

Characteristics of ongoing studies [ordered by study ID]

Peckham 2012

Trial name or titleHomeopathy for irritable bowel syndrome (HIBS)
Methods

Three arm, parallel group non-blinded randomised controlled trial

Those randomised to the active treatment arms will be offered up to five one hour consultations, with a consultation every five weeks

Outcomes will be collected at baseline, 26 weeks and 52 weeks

Participants

Setting: Hospital outpatient, UK

Recruitment methods: GP database recruitment, consultant gastroenterologist in secondary care

Diagnosis of IBS: diagnosed according to the Rome III criteria, potentially eligible participants were asked to complete a questionnaire which included the Rome III criteria for IBS

Participants had to score a minimum of 100 on the IBS-SSS to be eligible to take part in the trial

Minmium duration of IBS: 3 months

Interventions

1. Individualised homeopathic treatment plus usual care

2. Supportive listening plus usual care

3. Usual care alone

OutcomesIBS-SSS, EQ-5D, HADS
Starting dateJanuary 2011
Contact information 
Notes 

Ancillary