Leading medical journal says homeopathy no better than dummy drugs

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Leading medical journal The Lancet has rubbished homeopathy and says it is no more value than dummy drugs.


The journal is also calling for a halt to more studies and is advising doctors to be bold and honest with patients about homeopathy's "lack of benefit".

A review by Swiss and UK researchers of 110 trials has found no convincing evidence the treatments worked any better than a placebo.

However advocates of homeopathy dispute this and maintain the therapies, which work on the principle of treating like with like, do work.

The row over homeopathy has gone on for years, and many previous studies have demonstrated that homeopathy has an effect over and above placebos.

Apparently someone suffering from an allergy, for example, would use homeopathic medicines in an attempt to beat it with a highly diluted dose of an agent that would cause the same symptoms.

American illusionist James Randi in 2002 offered $1m to anyone able to prove, under observed conditions in a laboratory, that homeopathic remedies can really cure people; as yet, no-one has passed the preliminary tests.

In the UK, homeopathy is available on the National Health Service and some argue for it to be more widely available, while others believe it should not be offered at all.

In it's report on complementary and alternative medicine in 2000, the UK Parliamentary Select Committee on Science and Technology, declared that "any therapy that makes specific claims for being able to treat specific conditions should have evidence of being able to do this above and beyond the placebo effect".

According to Professor Matthias Egger, from the University of Berne, and Swiss colleagues from Zurich University, along with a UK team at the University of Bristol, homeopathy has no such evidence.

In their review the team compared 110 trials that looked at the effects of homeopathy versus placebo, with 110 trials of conventional medicines for the same medical disorders or diseases.

Included were trials for the treatment of asthma, allergies and muscular problems, some large and some small.

For both homeopathy and conventional medicines, the smaller trials of lower quality showed more beneficial treatment effects than the larger trials.

However, the researchers found that when they looked at only the larger, high-quality trials, they found no convincing evidence that homeopathy worked any better than placebo.

Professor Egger says they acknowledge that to prove a negative is impossible, but says good large studies of homeopathy did not show a difference between the placebo and the homeopathic remedy, whereas with conventional medicines an effect is still seen.

Egger believes the fact that some people report feeling better after having homeopathy can be attributed to the whole experience of the therapy, and the time and attention the homeopath devotes to the individual.

He says it has nothing to do with what is in the medication.

The Lancet however also reports that a draft document on homeopathy by the World Health Organization (WHO) says the majority of peer-reviewed scientific papers published over the past 40 years have demonstrated that homeopathy is superior to placebo in placebo-controlled trials.

It also says that homeopathy is equivalent to conventional medicines in the treatment of illnesses, both in humans and animals.

All of which is very confusing for the public.

Professor Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine at the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, said the draft WHO report seemed overtly biased and that all of the trials cited happened to be positive, and are not the most rigorous ones, nor the most recent.

According to a spokeswoman from the Society of Homeopaths, many previous studies have demonstrated that homeopathy has an effect over and above placebo, and it has been established beyond doubt and accepted by many researchers, that the placebo-controlled randomised controlled trial is not a fitting research tool with which to test homeopathy.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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