Confessions of a Quackbuster

This blog deals with healthcare consumer protection, and is therefore about quackery, healthfraud, chiropractic, and other forms of so-Called "Alternative" Medicine (sCAM).

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Homeopathy ineffective, study finds

Homeopathy ineffective, study finds

People who take homeopathic medicines may as well be taking a sugar pill, according to the latest review that finds this form of complementary therapy acts no better than a placebo.

The review was published in yesterday's issue of the Lancet journal.

"There was weak evidence for a specific effect of homeopathic remedies but strong evidence for specific effects of conventional interventions," the review concludes.

"This finding is compatible with the notion that the clinical effects of homeopathy are placebo effects."

Practitioners of homeopathic medicine, invented in the late 1700s by German physician Samuel Hahnemann, believe that the weaker the solution, the more effective the medicine.

Homeopathy is also based on curing "like with like", namely that a condition can be cured by a substance that produces the same signs and symptoms in a healthy person.

But the reviewers, led by Swiss researcher Professor Matthias Egger from the University of Berne, found there was no evidence for the effectiveness of homeopathy.

They drew their conclusions after reviewing 110 homeopathy trials and an equal number of conventional medical trials. Drugs in the studies included those for respiratory infections, gut problems, musculoskeletal disorders, and for surgery.

In an editorial, the Lancet urged doctors to tell their patients they were wasting their time taking homeopathic medicines but also to make more time to connect with the patients rather than just prescribing and forgetting.

"Now doctors need to be bold and honest with their patients about homeopathy's lack of benefits, and with themselves about the failings of modern medicine to address patients' needs for personalised care," the journal says.

Growing popularity

Entitled "The end of homeopathy", the editorial queries how homeopathy has been growing in popularity when for the past 150 years trials had found it ineffective.

"It is the attitudes of patients and providers that engender alternative therapy-seeking behaviours which create a greater threat to conventional care, and patients' welfare, than do spurious arguments of putative benefits from absurd dilutions," it says.

Egger says that once data from small, less rigorous trials was extracted and evident biases in both taken into account, the conclusions were inescapable.

"We acknowledge that to prove a negative is impossible, but we have shown that the effects seen in placebo-controlled trials of homeopathy are compatible with the placebo-hypothesis," he writes.

But the British Homeopathic Association, which says it has 1,000 doctors on its books, strongly disagrees.

"The report should be treated with extreme caution. It is being heavily spun," said Peter Fisher, clinical director at the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital and a spokesman for the association.

"For a prestigious medical journal it is a strange bit of reporting. It is a small sample and they don't even tell you what they are basing this on. Yet they come to these very sweeping conclusions and write this very strongly worded editorial," he said.

"Homeopathy has been suffering these types of attacks for 200 years but it goes from strength to strength because people want it and many studies prove it works."

- Reuters/ABC Science Online

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