The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Australia's top medical research body, found that homeopathy doesn't improve or alleviate any medical condition after systematically studying 225 research papers on homeopathy. While it's true some people might feel better after a so-called homeopathic treatment, the researchers conclude that these benefits are no better than ingesting a sugar pill - a placebo.
This isn't the first study to conclude that homeopathy bears no added benefit to health, nor is it the first we've reported. It's true that western medicine didn't give homeopathy much of a chance, but it's easy to understand why once you know its premise. Basically, a homeopathic medicine works its 'magic' by containing a minute dose of the illness-causing substance. The substance is diluted so heavily in water or alcohol that many times the end solution that ends up being ingested by the patient that eventually there might not even be one single molecule of the original substance left inside. Homeopathic experts claims this makes little difference since the treatment is based on the fact that the solution retains 'memory' of the original ailment-causing substance. I don't know about you, but a treatment that i need to constantly describe in quotation marks definitely raises a red flag for me. More about why homeopathy is preposterous in a previous ZME Science article. (note: to avoid confusion, homeopathy does not refer to herbs, teas or other natural care products. These actually contain active substances that interact with your body)
Nevertheless, the Australian researchers, like others before, put the idea to test for the greater public good. In addition to the homeopathic papers analyzed, the researchers also went through 57 systematic reviews, a high-quality type of study that assesses all existing, quality research on a particular topic and synthesises it to make a number of strong, overall findings. The findings are clear: while some homeopathic papers report improved health for various medical conditions, these were too flawed to count. These were either poorly designed, failing to account for many other factors which could have explained the improved medical condition, or didn't have enough participants to report a significant statistical response. In other cases, the report health benefits were indiscernible from placebos.
“Based on the assessment of the evidence of effectiveness of homeopathy, NHMRC concludes that there are no health conditions for which there is reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective,” the report concluded.
“People who choose homeopathy may put their health at risk if they reject or delay treatments for which there is good evidence for safety and effectiveness.”
While homeopathic medicine doesn't cause harm per se, but it might pose an indirect threat to public health. Patients might reject proven western medicine treatments or delay such action, in favor of homeopathy. Besides this, there's a perverse market surrounding homeopathy. Of course, people are free to use their money however they wish - they might as well throw it out the drain. The problem is that homeopathic medicine is available in many pharmacies and these products are often covered by insurance companies. Expect rebates for homeopathic products to fall, in Australia at least. There are also many homeopathy courses which charge up to thousands of dollars, which are accredited by the Australian government. According to Dr Ken Harvey, a medicinal drug policy expert and health consumer advocate, the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency (TEQSA) in Australia should rigorously evaluate private colleges who offer homeopathy courses once their accreditation expires.
“There will be a tail of people who won’t respond to this report, and who will say it’s all a conspiracy of the establishment,” NHMRC Homeopathy Working Committee, Professor Paul Glasziou said.
“But we hope there will be a lot of reasonable people out there who will reconsider selling, using or subsiding these substances.”
- NHMRC information paper
- NHMRC statement on homeopathy
- NHMRC FAQ on homeopathy
Originally, the first paragraph read the "homeopathy does improve or alleviate... health conditions". It does NOT. Apologies for the confusion.