The field of homeopathy was dealt a serious blow last week after a large study conducted by Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) found its medicines to be no more effective than placebo.
The Daily Mail is reporting that a working committee of medical experts at the NHMRC analyzed research into the effectiveness of homeopathic “medicines” on 68 health conditions and found that “there is no reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective” on any of them. These conditions included asthma, arthritis, cold and flu, chronic fatigue syndrome, eczema, cholera, malaria and even heroin addiction.
“No good-quality, well-designed studies with enough participants for a meaningful result reported either that homeopathy caused greater health improvements than a substance with no effect on the health condition [placebo], or that homeopathy caused health improvements equal to those of another treatment,” the report concluded.
Anecdotal support for the effectiveness of homeopathy is not acceptable, they said, and are urging health professionals to take account of scientific evidence when consulting with patients.
“It is not possible to tell whether a health treatment is effective or not simply by considering individuals’ experiences or healthcare practitioners’ beliefs,” they write.
Medical professionals are now calling for governments to stop legitimizing homeopathy.
Professor John Dwyer, an immunologist and emeritus professor of medicine at the University of New South Wales, told Guardian Australia that the study was long overdue and is hoping homeopathic treatments can now be “put away” once and for all.
“Obviously we understand the placebo effect,” Prof. Dwyer said. “We know that many people have illnesses that are short lived by its very nature and their bodies will cure them, so it’s very easy for people to fall in the trap that because they did A, B follows.”
Dr Richard Choong, Western Australia president of the Australian Medical Association, said he welcomed the report.
Homeopathy was invented by Samuel Hahnemann who believed that an energy known as a “vital force” or “life principle” is prevalent in every living being, animates living organisms and keeps the body working in perfect harmony. Homeopathy claims to be correcting imbalances in the body’s “vital force” that may manifest as disease. (There is no scientific basis for the existence of this “vital force.”)
Hahnemann believed that it is more important to pay attention to symptoms than to the external causes of disease and decided that treatment is to be found in any substance that produces the same symptoms in a healthy individual – which is the essence of homeopathy’s “Principle of Similars.”
Hahnemann and his colleagues then began to test various substances to determine the types of symptoms they produced. Hahnemann believed that doses large enough to produce symptoms would be inappropriate, so he advocated for the dilution of the dosage to be so infinitesimally small as to be no longer present. However, followers believe that the water in which it was diluted has a kind of “memory” of every substance that ever touched it, and it is this “memory” which is said to cure. Unfortunately, no homeopath (or anyone else for that matter) has ever been able to prove this “memory” exists.
As the Mail reports, submissions from various homeopathic societies and the public were among the studies assessed by the NHMRC, but did not alter the conclusions of the Council, in some cases due to the poor quality of the studies submitted.
I was not surprised to hear about the poor quality of the studies submitted because I have yet to see a credible study on homeopathy by an independent source (studies conducted by homeopaths are considered to be biased and therefore unscientific). However, much to my continued amazement, many homeopaths, such as Dr. Nancy Malik, who runs a website known as “Science-based Homeopathy” regularly quote studies that do NOT support homeopathy. (I guess they figure none of us will actually read them or maybe they didn’t read them either.)
For instance, homeopaths like to quote a study that appeared in the Neuropsychopharmacology journal but it has one rather serious flaw – it’s testing herbal remedies, not homeopathic solutions. (This blog explains the difference between the two.)
Another oft-quoted study by homeopaths was one that appeared in The Scientific World Journal conducted by Graunke et al which once again had a serious flaw – it was based on the treatment of tadpoles with homeopathic thyroxin – hardly a good study to cite in favor of homeopathy for humans.
A 1997 Linde et al meta-analysis published in 1997 in the Lancet is another favorite; however, while this analysis does not conclude that “the clinical effects of homeopathy are completely due to placebo” it also says that there is insufficient evidence to support the efficacy of homeopathy for “any single clinical condition.”
At this juncture, the evidence against the efficacy of homeopathy is beginning to look like a small mountain and, after the release of this latest study, the writing is definitely on the wall.