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Autism and Homeopathy: Exploring the Evidence of Efficacy

Updated on December 22, 2022

  • In the absence of a curative treatment, many researchers, patients, and caretakers turn to homeopathy in an attempt to alleviate symptoms of autism spectrum disorder.
  • Despite some promising early research and plentiful anecdotal evidence, there is a lack of strong empirical support for the use of homeopathic treatments.
  • Although future research might clarify the potential role of homeopathy in the treatment of autism, patients and caretakers may want to explore research-backed natural alternatives, such as butyric acid supplementation.

Within the scientific and clinical communities, homeopathy has been a part of the conversation around autism spectrum disorder (ASD) treatment options for years. Nearly two decades ago, autism researchers and clinical practitioners began assessing whether low doses of secretin could reduce symptoms of autism. Today, there is anecdotal and limited empirical evidence that a variety of homeopathic remedies—combined with secretin or not—can ameliorate a broad spectrum of symptoms for patients with autism and other neurological disorders. As a result, parents and clinicians looking to address symptoms that have not been alleviated by conventional interventions continue to consider homeopathy as a potential treatment strategy. However, they might be better served by seeking out more effective natural alternatives.

What is Homeopathy?

From the outset, the conversation about autism and homeopathy has been highly contentious, in part because of the very nature of homeopathy itself. Homeopathy, an alternative medicine practice first developed in Germany at the end of the 18th century, is based on two key theoretical principles. The first principle is that diseases can be cured by introducing substances that produce symptoms similar to the condition from which the patient is suffering to stimulate the body’s innate healing abilities. Put more simply, homeopathic practitioners believe that “like cures like.” The second principle is that introducing certain substances in minute doses can have outsized effects. Homeopathic remedies are often diluted to the point where the homeopathic substances being introduced are virtually undetectable.

Although the principles of homeopathy might seem similar to those of vaccination, it is important to note there is no relationship. Vaccines introduce small doses of a disease-causing substance in order to “train” the immune system to recognize a disease and mount an immune response on future exposure. With homeopathy, the theory is that introducing a diluted version of a symptom-causing substance will directly cure the existing condition.

Although homeopathy is not backed by solid scientific principles, it remains highly appealing to parents with children who have autism. As an all-natural remedy, it can seem like a great option for children who have not seen complete resolution of symptoms with conventional treatments or who want to avoid conventional pharmaceutical options altogether. Given this high level of interest, coupled with widespread anecdotal evidence of efficacy, some researchers have attempted to find empirical evidence supporting the use of homeopathic treatments for autism.

The First Wave of Interest in Autism and Homeopathy

The potential for homeopathy to treat symptoms of autism first gained widespread attention in the early 2000s in response to a series of well-publicized anecdotes. Specifically, clinicians and parents were reporting that the introduction of secretin, a gastrointestinal hormone, could improve symptoms of autism, particularly symptoms related to social behaviors and speech communication. There were also reported improvements in gastrointestinal symptoms associated with autism.

The scientific principle behind the proposal that secretin could aid in the treatment of autism was the “opioid excess theory,” which posits autism as a metabolic disorder. According to proponents of this theory, some symptoms of autism—particularly those related to social and language skills—are associated with high levels of peptides that have opioid activity in the brain. Although the primary role of secretin is to regulate the release of substances in the gastrointestinal tract, some evidence suggests the presence of secretin can lower the levels of these peptides. As a result, homeopathic secretin treatment could potentially improve neurological functioning in autism patients and thereby alleviate related symptoms.

In response to anecdotal success stories, there was a flurry of activity within the scientific community as researchers sought to investigate whether the efficacy of secretin treatment could be empirically verified. However, the results were mixed, leaving many clinicians at a loss for how to advise patients and families. Although there was no statistically significant evidence for the efficacy of secretin as a treatment modality, there were multiple clinical trials in which some parents reported positive benefits or an individual patient showed marked improvement. It is important to note that only a few of the clinical trials that were conducted introduced secretin at homeopathic levels—that is, in extremely low doses. However, the results of those that did were the same as the others. The findings provided strong anecdotal evidence for the efficacy of homeopathic secretin treatment, along with promising—but inconclusive—statistical results.

With no clear direction for future research, the scientific community turned away from studies on homeopathy and autism. A systematic literature review paper from 2014 revealed that 2005 was the last time a rigorous clinical trial examining the relationship between autism and homeopathy was published in a major medical journal.

Ongoing Discussions of the Value of Homeopathic Medicine for Autism Patients

The loss of widespread research interest in homeopathic treatments for ASD was surprising because these treatments never lost traction in the clinical community. Many clinicians and parents around the world continue to report benefits when applying the principles of homeopathic medicine to ASD patients, both in combination with and in place of conventional treatments. However, while some clinicians still use homeopathic levels of secretin to treat autism, the conversation has now shifted away from secretin to more multi-dimensional homeopathic treatment approaches.

Today’s most popular homeopathic treatments now use low levels of multiple substances to address a broad range of symptoms, and the exact combination of remedies is tailored to the needs of the patient. Some of the homeopathic substances reported to aid in the treatment of autism include Stramonium, Tarentula hispanica, Calcarea carbonica, Natrum muriaticum, and Carcinosinum. Although there are currently no major research studies examining the efficacy of these remedies, a small 2014 study on 60 children with autism found that they produced statistically significant improvements of multiple ASD symptoms, including hyperactivity/restlessness, sensory impairment, eye contact, and speech communication.

The Future of Research on Autism and Homeopathy

When it comes to autism and homeopathy, significant questions remain. The widely circulated anecdotal evidence that holistic homeopathic therapies can be used to successfully treat symptoms of autism is exciting to many parents and patients. However, rigorous clinical trials that offer more definitive evidence of efficacy must be conducted to better understand these therapies—including the mechanisms through which they operate and the types of patients they are most likely to help—and to create meaningful treatment protocols.

The motivation to pursue additional rigorous research on homeopathy and autism might be bolstered by positive results from recent research on the efficacy of homeopathic treatments for other neurological disorders, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). For instance, in a comparative consecutive case series of 30 children with ADHD from 2016, researchers in the UK reported statistically significant improvements in children who received individualized homeopathic therapy from a trained homeopath, compared to those who received conventional treatments. The researchers noted there were broad symptom improvements in the patients with a concomitant diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. Studies like this could provide impetus for more rigorous research on homeopathy and autism in the future.Despite small studies indicating potential efficacy, there is currently a significant gap between empirical evidence and real-life experience. As researchers attempt to fill this gap, we can gain greater insight into the value of homeopathic remedies in clinical settings and make more informed treatment decisions to ensure better outcomes. In the meantime, parents who are seeking better symptom relief for their children than they have achieved via conventional therapies might want to explore natural alternatives, such as butyric acid, which is readily available in nutritional supplement form.

The power of Tesseract supplements lies in the proprietary science of proven nutrients and unrivaled smart delivery, making them the most effective for supporting neurological health and gastrointestinal health.*

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Filbert P, Relton C, Heirs M, Bowden D. (2016). Homeopathy, 105(2):194-201.

Harrison, J. (2002). Journal of Neuroscience Nursing. 34(2).

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Al Czap, Founder | Tesseract

Al Czap has more than four decades of professional experience in preventative medicine. He founded Thorne Research in 1984 (sold in 2010) and he published Alternative Medicine Review for 17 years beginning in 1996. AMR was a highly acclaimed, peer-reviewed, and indexed medical journal. Al was the first to recognize the need for hypoallergenic ingredients and to devise methods of manufacture for and delivery of hypoallergenic products to underserved patient populations. His work has greatly impacted those with impaired immune and digestive systems and compromised health due to environmental exposures.

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