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Yet another meta-analysis finds homeopathy 'useless'

Creative Commons/Richard Craig
Homeopathy is based on the totally discredited 200-year-old idea that a substance that causes symptoms can be used, in a highly diluted form, to treat those symptoms.

 

Last week, yet another major scientific review has declared homeopathy to be utterly useless for the prevention and treatment of illness.

This latest review — a meta-analysis of decades of previous homeopathy-related research — comes from one of Australia’s main health groups, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). A panel of experts examined data from studies involving 68 illnesses and medical conditions, including colds and flu, asthma, migraine headaches, osteoarthritis, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, back pain and heroin addiction.

They found no evidence — absolutely none — that homeopathic treatments were effective.

“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 authors of the 300-page report concluded (with remarkable understatement).

A ridiculous idea

You would think that today, in the 21st century, scientists wouldn’t need to be spending time and resources on evaluating something as ludicrous as homeopathic "medicine." After all, homeopathy is based on the totally discredited 200-year-old idea that a substance that causes symptoms can be used, in a highly diluted form, to treat those symptoms.

The substances are diluted to the point where, as British physician and homeopathic skeptic Dr. Ben Goldacre has noted, “it equates to one molecule of the substance in a sphere of water whose diameter is roughly the distance from the earth to the sun.”

As I said, ludicrous. Yet, as the Economist reported earlier this month, Americans spend $3 billion each year on homeopathic pills and solutions.

And, unfortunately, a significant portion of that money is being spent for the prevention and treatment of serious illnesses. One troubling development, for example, is the increasing use of homeopathic “vaccines” (called nosodes) by parents who mistakenly fear that standard childhood vaccines may give their child autism.

Nosodes offer children absolutely no protection from measles, pertussis, chickenpox or any other disease.

And, as I noted here last fall, a group called Homeopaths Without Borders hands out worthless homeopathic medicines for the treatment of malaria, typhoid and other potentially deadly diseases in poverty-stricken regions of the world.

Raising awareness

Last Thursday, the global homeopathic community kicked off its annual “World Homeopathy Awareness Week.” Rather than “ignore it, moan about it, or condemn it,” a group of British scientists and rational thinkers — members of the nonprofit Good Thinking Society — decided to launch their own homeopathy awareness week website.

Of course, they're raising a different kind of awareness. On their site, the society offers 12 “realities about homeopathy” that homeopathic practitioners are unlikely to mention to their customers. Several of these underscore the fact that although homeopathy may be nothing more than a placebo, it’s not always benign:

You’ll find the full list on the Good Thinking Society’s website. The NHMRC report can be downloaded and read in full from that agency’s website.

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Comments (33)

homeopathic overdose

Some Canadian skeptics subjected themselves to massive overdoses of homeopathic medicine. The effect was they were properly hydrated. http://news.ca.msn.com/canada/cp-article.aspx?cp-documentid=27562111

Homeopathy

Hi Susan - to make the claim, as your article does, that there is no evidence to support the idea that homeopathy is effective is to ignore the evidence. It is a system of medicine that is over 200 years old, is used by over 500 million people worldwide and is in fact shown to be effective by over 1,000 basic science, pre-clinical, clinical, observational and epidemiological studies. Granted that is a lot to read - but read you must if you dare to know. To access a sample of these studies - please visit www.homeopathic.org/research

Testimonials and Anecdotes

are not scientific evidence (except of human gullibility).
The fact remains that there are no 'gold standard' double blind studies ruling out placebo effects that show homeopathy to be effective.

The Office of Alternative Medicine was set up to investigate such phenomena.
It literally could not find any proper studies of alternatives to modern medicine, and went out of business (shut itself down). There just ain't no there there.

As Carl Sagan said: extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.
To claim that one same of water (with zero molecules of the purportedly effective substance in the sample) is medically effective while another sample which has not been comparably 'blessed' is most certainly an extraordinary claim that contradicts the rest of science (this was not as clearly true 200 years ago). It calls for extraordinary proof; not a few marginal studies that don't meet current scientific standards.

Rather than 1000 samples of dreck (German for 'horsefeathers' ;-) , please cite ONE study that is scientifically sound and has been accepted as such by a scientific journal.

Horsefeathers

Mr. Gold speaks as the true believer I assume he must be. The polite term to use in relation to his assertions is: horsefeathers. There are quite a few other, more colorful, terms that would fit, but I'll try to keep it family-friendly here.

If "homeopathy" were, in fact, effective medicine, IT would be the medical standard around the world, which is absolutely not the case. There are numerous very good reasons why it's regarded as "quack" medicine by the vast majority of medical practitioners, and, let it be said, by the fast majority of humans on the planet. Sincerity of belief bears no relation to scientific fact, and there's no scientific basis for claims that homeopathic treatment works. It's faith-healing with a microscopically-thin veneer of scientific terminology. Placebos do work sometimes – the mind can have an effect on physiological health – but there's no reason to regard them as "cures" for illness, and most homeopathic treatments involve nothing more than placebos.

Mr. Gold's job is to respond to articles like this

He works for the National Center for Homeopathy.

Discussing Mr. Gold's role, its site says at http://homeopathycenter.org/homeopathy-today/fostering-community:

"He also tracks media coverage of homeopathy so that we can respond to biased and uninformed reporting by providing correct information and access to expert testimony."

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with him piping up here, not at all. But you'd think since his participation is for a specific public relations purpose, he would state so. He didn't, that's why I did.

Homeopathy WAS the gold

Homeopathy WAS the gold standard until the AMA targeted homeopaths. It was a nasty business and the history of what happened was shameful. Fortunately homeopathy survived and is experiencing a wonderful comeback. With all the deaths and poisoning pharmaceuticals cause, it's not a surprise people want a more natural effective approach.

Homeopathy is, in fact, effective medicine.

My own experience with homeopathy has only been positive for myself, our family and our pets for the past 25 years. I have a family homeopath and a homeopathic first aid kit for acute non-life threatening conditions on many occasions. The homeopathic remedy Belladonna (in my first aid kit) helped alleviate a toothache and swelling from an abscessed tooth over a weekend when my dentist was unavailable.

In addition, homeopathic Sulphur cured two cases of conventionally treated mange in a dog of my husband's aunt and another dog belonging to one of my friends.

Two family members with broken bones were facing surgery to repair because of slow healing. Homeopathic Symphytum hastened the healing of the breaks and both family members were able to avoid surgery. Before and after x-rays and ultrasound documented the healings in both cases.

Our family homeopath prescribed a remedy that helped my husband avoid back surgery for two herniated discs at the L4 and L5 level. The herniated discs were documented by both x-ray and ultrasound both before and after treatment. He had been in excruciating pain and for six months could only walk using a cane.

Several years ago my cholesterol level was off the charts. After viewing the lab report, my homeopath prescribed a remedy and on repeated lab testing a month later, my cholesterol was within normal limits. It has remained normal since that time. I took no other medication and no dietary change was necessary.

A few doses of homeopathic Silicea over a two week period of time opened and helped drain a lipoma the size of a golf ball from one of our dog’s right shoulder. No surgery, stitches or antibiotics were needed and there is no residual scar. Even on an outpatient basis, the surgery local anesthesia, bandaging and antibiotics would most likely have cost well over a few hundred dollars.

And, living in Florida where fleas on pets is a huge problem, I have used homeopathic Ruta graveolens in all my dogs' water dishes for the past five years. The use of Ruta to deter fleas was mentioned in the book “Homoeopathy for Farm and Garden” by Vaikunthanath Kaviraj.

What do you call alternative medicine that works?

"Medicine." We just call it medicine.

And of course 'alternative medicine'

is really
alternatives TO medicine.

You can call it "medicine"

I call it luck.

Or, in a few cases, the power of positive thinking.

I'm in no position to question your experience, but the point is that it's YOUR experience, not any sort of scientific study, and the point of the article (Susan's and the Australian one) is that what happens with homeopathy is – emphatically – NOT "medicine."

It may cure mange or fleas on a dog – I'd want to see something besides anecdotal evidence of that, as well – but I'm not even a little bit interested in what treatments relieve dogs of mange or fleas. What the article(s) are about is human medicine and human health, for which curing mange or driving off fleas is, at best, a rather curious basis upon which to base one's view of its efficacy for human treatment.

You'd need

First, a documented diagnosis showing that the problem existed in the first place.
Second, Dr. Placebo is always around someplace, and
Third, there's a significant remission rate for most conditions like these (they get better a third of the time even if you do nothing).
So, fourth, you need enough cases to show that something other than remission is at work.
Fifth, you'd need a long term followup to insure that the effect is permanent.

That's why the plural of anecdote is not data.

Homeopathy

The University of Minnesota used to be a great espouser of homeopathy. I've written about this:

The University of Minnesota Academic Health Center actively encourages
the practice of homeopathy
link: http://ow.ly/vN2Do

The Director of the Center for Spirituality and Healing even embarrassed herself in public over the matter:

Director of University of Minnesota Center for Spirituality and Healing
Writes Approvingly of Homeopathy?

link: http://ow.ly/vN2N1

As far as I know she has never retracted this embarrassing piece of dreck.

Nonetheless, the U of M has changed its tune on homeopathy, as a google of homeopathy at the Center for Spirituality and Quackery now leads to an NIH research site that states:

The Status of Homeopathy Research

Most rigorous clinical trials and systematic analyses of the research on homeopathy have concluded that there is little evidence to support homeopathy as an effective treatment for any specific condition.

Link: http://ow.ly/vN3fG

Sic transit gloria mundi.

(or more simply, pathetic)

W. B. Gleason
PhD (Chemistry) University of Minnesota and retired faculty

For true amusement see the response of two U of M med school deans to my homeopathy takedown in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Response: Why Would an Academic Health Center Support Homeopathy?
link: http://ow.ly/vN3Hm

The U is a big organization

And the Schools you've listed have no competence in science or medicine, or research. This is not exactly an endorsement by the -University-; just by a couple of small departments.
What does the School of Medicine say?
The Department of Behavioral Pharmacology?
The department of Psychology?
The School of Public Health?

It's like the Bible; you can find someone in a large University to support anything.

Hi Paul,

"What does the School of Medicine say?"

Please check the link in my comment:

For true amusement see the response of two U of M med school deans to my homeopathy takedown in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Response: Why Would an Academic Health Center Support Homeopathy?
link: http://ow.ly/vN3Hm

Thanks.

Closer and closer to medical fascism

Just a few more steps closer to medical fascism. The medical community continues to ignore the thousands that die each each year in the US because of medical mistakes by doctors and other staff, but they continue to march to the drum beat of demonizing those who use vitamins and supplements not prescription drugs. Now this attack on homeopathic medicine.

What this really tells me that we are winning and the medical establishment and Pharma are getting really nervous that their game will be exposed once the curtain is raised.

Closer and closer to medical fascism

Wayne Rohde, I believe you are correctly identifying a dangerous trend and the warning is quite valid.

While I do not believe in any specific "conspiracy" of pharmaceutical companies per se, it is clear that the so called "Evidence" based medicine propaganda that we have been hearing for several years was more of an alternative medicine attack strategy than a desire to reinforce the basis of conventional medicine.

Pretending, and unfortunately in many cases, actually believing that they are demonstrating loyalty and fealty to big "science", the anti-Homeopathists instead fall straight into the trap of what chemist/homeopath Dr. Lionel Milgrom calls "Scientism".

This is actually an allowance for the worst kind of anti-intellectual bullying, insults and ridicule, instead of a rational debate and discussion. Key to this fallacious system of thinking is the reliance on a single method of testing, the double blinded placebo controlled randomized testing method, which does not even work very well for pharmaceutical drugs and may very well be completely inappropriate to evaluate homeopathy.

In addition, the 200 years worth of clinical reports and case studies clearly demonstrating a powerful, indeed overwhelmingly powerful curative effect way above mere placebo, are completely disregarded by the anti-homeopathists as "anecdotes"...forgetting completely that these very same kinds of studies are exactly what are allowed and are used to withdraw pharmaceutical drugs that have killed or injured people from their "side effects". The double standard is obvious.

Vaccinations, a vital part of our health system, with the exception that some families need to avoid them because of known bad reactions, are now being foisted on children without the parent's consent - for example the vaccinations for cervical cancer which are known to be limited in their "protection".
And the science behind exactly when a "booster" shot is needed is...questionable, to be charitable.

So yes it does seem like some sort of medical fascism is on the loose. I suspect it is but a by product of the corporatist interference in our government which has now led to a subversion of our democracy and dangerous precedent in the financing of our elections.

For more on this, including an explicit criticism of where the anti-Homeopaths are going wrong and the bad results of their "crusade", do see the article "Beware Scientism's Onward March by Lionel Milgrom PhD, which can be read HERE:
http://avilian.co.uk/2010/04/19/beware-scientisms-onward-march/

Falling off the logic train....

Wayne et al... Since homeopathy claims to be an alternative to medicine rather than a means of addressing treatment errors you're statement simply fails achieve coherence. One thing it is to point to mistakes, another it is to claim superior treatment outcomes absent mistakes.

results can easily be made to be misleading

You can pay for any result when it comes to research - write the conclusion and find a way to make it work - just like the NHMRC did - exclude any positive evidence becuase it is not the preferred 'publication type' or 'wrong outcome' (as per their report)
Exclude anything about preventative homeopathy - of which there is the most positive results and good research methodology and some done in huge trials - like the Leptospirosis in Cuba trial - why - because it flies in the face of the increasingly questioned and problematic vaccination money grab and that would n ot do if people actually foound out that it worked.

If you want ot find out if something is efficient - do you get the 'feeling threatened opposition' to do the study - hmmm now that would lead to bias wouldnt it!!! but exactly what the NHMRC has done - NOT ONE Homeopath involved in the inquiry -
These results were predictable, biased, unscientific and really wanted to be able to remove Homeopathy from the private health fund rebate lists - not about finding out about the best and safest choices for consumers - considering that Iatrogenisis is now the number one killer in USA - one must create smoke screens to stop the populace from realising that drug companies and their research is the dodgiest - billions of dollars given in fines for fraud in research for drugs like Celebrex and Paxil- BUT of course randomised double blinded trials are the only true research - but how much of it can we trust - Medicine today is about money not health and now they are trying to discredit any modality that doesnt have the money to defend itself. However real truth will always prevail so Homeopathy will continue because the people who use it know it works without some predetermined metanalysis rigged to denounce it.

Dr Evelin Tiralongo, homeopath

PAULINE ASHFORD said:

"NOT ONE Homeopath involved in the inquiry"

You mean NOT ONE homeopath other than Dr Evelin Tiralongo who is:

"a German trained pharmacist with high level training in herbal and homeopathic medicines, which includes an Honours degree in pharmacognosy, as well as practical experience in complementary medicine oriented community pharmacies in Germany and recently in Australia."

Membership of Homeopathy Working Committee: http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/your-health/complementary-medicines/membership-h...

http://www.nhaa.org.au/docs/ACCESS/Access%2064%20Mar11.pdf page 5

But if you think the NHMRC was biased and unscientific, please provide details of what you believe they got wrong.

Also, in the Cuban leptospirosis trial, can you say how many in the intervention region were given the Finlay Institute's vaxSpiral, the conventional leptospirosis prophylactic that has good evidence of efficacy behind it?

Also, how did they decide the homeopathic product had been effective?

dont see Homeopathy anywhere in her qualifications

Alan I dont see Homeopathic qualifications anywhere in her curriculum vitae
or are you yet another one of the uninformed masses out there who think that herbal medicine is synonymous with Homeopathy? Wrong - different discipline altogether. She is a Pharmacist and Herbalist and Biochemist NOT a Homeopath - There is a difference between someone who is trained in Homeopathy and one who has 'gained extensive practical experience in integrative medicine in German pharmacy practice' that would be abit like me saying I am Pharmacist because I studied some things about drugs in my training.

And note who her research funding comes from = the Australian Pharmacy Guild - hmmm conflict of interest Id say!!

Griffith University states her qualifications as -
http://www.integramedshortcourses.com/evelin-tiralongo.html
Dr Evelin Tiralongo is a German trained and registered pharmacist with an Honours degree in herbal medicine and a PhD in biochemistry. Evelin gained extensive practical experience in integrative medicine in German pharmacy practice, and has recently completed her Australian registration as a pharmacist. At Griffith University Evelin is employed as a senior lecturer at the School of Pharmacy and as a researcher within the Griffith Health Institute.
As a Chief Investigator, Evelin has lead numerous clinical, practice and laboratory based complementary medicine (CM) research projects funded by the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, the National Institute of Complementary Medicine and the nutraceutical industry.

Evelin has integrated CM education into the pharmacy curricula at Griffith University and received two teaching awards. She designed online CM resources for the 2nd and 3rd editions of Pharmacology for Health Professionals by Bryant et. al. and has also contributed to the 3rd and 4th edition of Herbs and Natural supplements - An evidence based guide by Braun & Cohen.

While we are again discussing homeopathy ...

One thing that would be useful for a rational discussion of this topic would be for proponents and opponents to explain what they mean when they use the word "homeopathy."

The classical definition involves infinite dilution of the claimed medicinal agent. By the laws of chemistry and physics - there is no medicinal agent in the drug - this flavor of homeopathy is unequivocally nonsense.

Many other times homeopathy is used to describe some sort of "non-traditional" remedy. Sulfur, eye of toad, wing of bat, whatever... In these cases the matter has to be investigated further to come to a reasonable conclusion.

The bark of the willow did, indeed, contain salicylates (aspirin like materials) with medicinal properties.

Which is why aspirin

became part of medicine (although its side effects might give the FDA pause if aspirin were to be introduced today).
Two hundred years ago, the field of medicine was divided between homeopathic medicine and allopathic medicine (which became modern medicine).
Allopathic medicine has dominated the field because it is a living discipline which has continued to improve and become more effective.
Homeopathy, OTOH, is a living fossil.
Lobbying has kept it alive despite the fact that its risks outweigh its benefits.
The risks include pre-empting effective treatment and the fact that its ingredients are not always inert. 'Natural' is not always safe: hemlock and arsenic are natural substances.
Of course, one answer is to dilute it until there's nothing there, but then there's nothing there!

White willow bark

Paul, you are a little befuddled. I guess you don't consider nanoparticles anything either?
White willow bark is actually becoming very popular, which is what the pharmaceutical companies made into aspirin. It's a petroleum product! The natural is safer - no stomach bleeding. Salicylic acid is natural and is contained in many plants. So maybe you think it's safer to go to a doctor and have a petroleum product daily? Not for me, and not for a lot of other people. That's why we have CHOICE in this country. Susan should have done her homework.

Conventional medicine is its own worst enemy

The proof that homeopathic medicine is effective lies in the millions of personal testimonials of effective cures with homeopathy. Conventional medicine is its own worst enemy. When a medical doctor throws a chronically ill patient on the garbage heap of failed attempts to cure or even manage their illness, they look for alternatives and find homeopathy. They do not care about the rants of skeptics who cry it’s not “proper science” and that RCTs are the only way to “prove homeopathy works”. Over the past 250 years, the thousands & tens of thousands of skeptics have not and will not change the health care consumers’ belief in homeopathy and it’s ability to cure, not just manage.

Conventional medicine is its own worst enemy

You are correct. The implication is that the clinical reports and case studies clearly demonstrating a powerful curative effect from Homeopathy way above placebo trumps the artificiality of the double blinded placebo controlled randomized testing.

In addition, we must make note that in the process of withdrawing failed pharmaceutical drugs which have bad "side" effects...it is not the Randomized Controlled Tests (RCTs) that are used to make this determination...it is clinical reports and case studies ....exactly the thing which they claim is invalid in evaluating homeopathy ! Double standard !

Actally no, they don't

"The proof that homeopathic medicine is effective lies in the millions of personal testimonials of effective cures with homeopathy."

Testimonials are marketing material, not scientific data. If you are source of such a testimonial it only proves that you didn't actually need medical treatment, you're illness resolved itself or was not properly diagnosed in the first place. Lucky for you.

Yep

Should just have skipped this one, so much scientific ignorance. Why don't we just skip to magic and cut out the half measures. I'm sure the "alternative medicine" folks would just claim a conspiracy and provide testimonials about the "healing" properties of chanting Alakazam!

How?

How was the study conducted? Was it conducted according to homeopathic method, with individual consultations, or were they just testing over-the-counter mixtures? How do you explain the effectiveness of Arnica gel in relieving pain? It is used by medical professionals for that purpose. Why do you take a press release from a medical study and treat it as news?

You obviously didn't read the article

You obviously didn't read the article. If you had, you'd have discovered that it was not one study, but a meta-analysis of a very large number of the best studies of homeopathy. And what do you find when you look at the best studies? Homeopathy has no specific effects over placebo.

As for your comment about arnica gel, firstly, they are usually contain 7% to 10% arnica (not homeopathic dilutions) and secondly, there is no good evidence it relieves pain - unless you can provide some good evidence?

Homeopathy comes out on top!

I am amazed at how people that have never used homeopathy ridicule and make claims it doesn't work. Susan Perry should make a conflict of interest statement I think. I guess millions of people that use it are all deluded? I don't think so. It must be taking a share of pharma's profits. I think it's a fantastic healing method, and I can't imagine a reason not to use it. I haven't been to a doctor (and have not had any emergencies, thank goodness) in 20 years. I love the fact that it can be used without harm. I've heard there were more colleges for homeopaths at the turn of the 20th century than allopathic doctors. Most were both. And BTW, any meta analysis can pick and choose which studies they want to include, so it's rather a silly way to expect an unbiased opinion. Seems pharma is getting nervous when their pile of money is threatened.

No good evidence

No, Nancy. It's the homeopaths who have failed to provide good evidence that it does what homeopaths claim it does. And please see previous comments about anecdotes.

But it you have any good evidence that Susan Perry has an undeclared COI, please feel free to tell us all about it.

Any you owe me an irony meter when you complain about cherry-picking papers.

30c is the most common homeopathic dilution

This corresponds to a 1 ml volume of a particular substance in 1,191,016 cubic light years. Really.

What this means is that we are all already receiving the full benefits of homeopathic remedies with every breath we take, and with every drop of water we drink.

Vigorous shaking is a very important part of the process, but surely the Big Bang and the processes leading to the original formation of the earth took care of that aspect for us. So from a homeopathic standpoint, I think I'm good.

Kinda funny

When people bring their "testimonials" which are classic marketing strategies into a conversation about all the money being made in health care. Homeopathy is clearly about consumerism, not medicine.

By the way, 100 years ago they were still bleeding people to cure Yellow Fever and your life expectancy was half what it is now. Wisdom of the past?