Homeopathy is a 'therapeutic dead-end,' reviewers say

homeopathic medicines
CC BY 2.0 Flickr

In a study that does not bode well for fans of alternative medicine, researchers found that homeopathy is effective for 0 out of 68 illnesses.

For those of you who believe in the power of homeopathy, look out! Some scientists are calling it a “therapeutic dead-end” and saying that people who choose homeopathy may put their health at risk by delaying or rejecting more effective treatments.

A report has been released by the National Health and Medical Research Council in Australia. A working group, chaired by Professor Paul Glasziou, reviewed the evidence of 176 trials using homeopathy in order to assess the true efficacy of such treatments – and found nothing. The report concluded:

“Based on all the evidence considered, there were no health conditions for which there was reliable evidence that homeopathy was effective. No good-quality, well-designed studies with enough participants for a meaningful result reported either that homeopathy caused greater health improvements than placebo, or caused health improvements equal to those of another treatment.”

Prof. Glasziou wrote in a BMJ blog post that he was “simply relieved” to reach the end of his review:

“I had begun the journey with an ‘I don’t know’ attitude, curious about whether this unlikely treatment could ever work. Still, who would have believed that bacteria caused peptic ulcers, or that vaccines for cancers would become routine. So just maybe.… but I lost interest after looking at the 57 systematic reviews (on 68 conditions) which contained 176 individual studies and finding no discernible convincing effects beyond placebo.”

This conclusion will doubtless be distressing for the many people who practice homeopathy. This alternative medical treatment was first introduced by a German doctor named Samuel Hahnemann in the late-18th century and is based on:

(1) The principle that “like cures like” – that a substance that causes certain symptoms can also help to remove those symptoms

(2) The idea that “the more a substance is diluted in this way, the greater its power to treat symptoms. Many homeopathic remedies consist of substances that have been diluted many times in water until there is none or almost none of the original substance left.” (via NHS)

Homeopathy has always generated skepticism, since it is seems so counterintuitive and has not been accepted by mainstream science. Some researchers suggest that homeopathy’s efficacy comes from the placebo effect more than the actual remedy. Glasziou's group's findings will therefore not come as a surprise to many homeopathy practitioners, but it will more likely fuel the debate that has already raged for years.

[Editor's note: There were a number of questions raised by the public upon consultation of the study, the answers shed more light on the findings. You can read them here.]

Tags: Australia | Health | Medicine


treehugger slideshows