The world may be beating a path to the doors of homeopathic practitioners as an alternative to conventional medicines, but according to a new study they may just as well be taking nothing.
The study, published in Friday’s edition of the respected Lancet medical journal, is likely to anger the growing numbers of devoted practitioners of and adherents to alternative therapies that include homeopathy.
“There was weak evidence for a specific effect of homeopathic remedies, but strong evidence for specific effects of conventional interventions,” the study concluded.
“This finding is compatible with the notion that the clinical effects of homeopathy are placebo effects,” it added after examining findings from 110 homeopathy trials and an equal number of conventional medical trials.
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 personalized care,” the journal said.
Entitled “The end of homeopathy”, the editorial queried how homeopathy was growing in popularity by leaps and bounds when for the past 150 years trials had found it ineffective.
“It is the attitudes of patients and providers that engender alternative-therapy seeking behaviors which create a greater threat to conventional care -- and patients’ welfare -- than do spurious arguments of putative benefits from absurd dilutions,” it said.
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.
In Britain alone, sales of homeopathic medicines have grown by a third in the past five years to 32 million pounds in 2004.
The study’s lead author and statistical analyst Matthias Egger of Switzerland’s University of Berne, said once data from small, less rigorous trials was extracted and evident bias 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 wrote.
But the British Homeopathic Association (BHA), which says it has 1,000 doctors on its books, strongly disagreed.
“The report should be treated with extreme caution. It is being heavily spun,” Peter Fisher, clinical director at the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, said on behalf of the BHA.
“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 told Reuters.
“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.”