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.
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:
When Penelope Dingle chose to take the advice of her homeopath husband and treat her rectal cancer with homeopathic remedies, the results were tragic — her death was, according to the coroner, the result of being “influenced by misinformation and bad science.” There are real dangers in using homeopathy in place of real medicine.
If only homeopathy is used, even relatively commonplace ailments can lead to severe consequences. Gloria Thomas was nine months old when her parents chose to treat her eczema exclusively with homeopathy. When she was finally admitted to hospital, she had developed sepsis, and died shortly after admission. Her parents’ confidence and faith in homeopathy ultimately led to this tragedy, and they were subsequently jailed for manslaughter.
In 2006, the [British TV show] Newsnight investigation revealed that homeopaths told undercover reporters that homeopathic preparations could be used to prevent malaria — this advice was roundly condemned as dangerous and potentially life-threatening. Nevertheless, homeopaths still claim to treat malaria — the list of people harmed by choosing homeopathy instead of seeking out real medicine is continually growing.
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.