Homeopathy is no better than a placebo, scientists claim

Clinicians claim that homeopathy is used to "fool people"

Homeopathic medicines are as effective as placebos at treating illnesses, an Australian scientific body has claimed in a new study.

Doctors have reportedly welcomed the findings, and hope that the study will prevent patients being persuaded to use homeopathic vaccinations instead of orthodox medicines, with the former leaving people prone to life-threatening diseases including TB, it has been reported. 

Proponents of the form of alternative therapy claim that it stimulates the body to heal itself, and is based on the principle of ‘like cures like’.

"A substance taken in small amounts will cure the same symptoms it causes if it was taken in large amounts,” according to the British Homeopathic Association (BHA).

The medicines are made by heavily diluting substances and succession – or vigorous shaking, the BHA explains.

However, a working committee of medical experts at Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) analysed how effective alternative medicine are n treating illnesses and conditions, and concluded that “there is no reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective,” Guardian Australia reported.

Among the 68 ailments that homeopathic remedies failed to treat were: asthma, arthritis, sleep disturbances, cold and flu, chronic fatigue syndrome, eczema, cholera, burns, malaria and heroin addiction.

A member of staff at Ainsworth Pharmacy makes up a homeopathic remedy. A member of staff at Ainsworth Pharmacy makes up a homeopathic remedy.

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To make their findings, researchers also took into account submissions from homeopathy interest groups and the public, but they “did not alter the conclusions” of the NHMRC, in some cases due to the poor quality of the studies submitted.

The researchers concluded that alternative treatments were either no more effective than a placebo, or that there was no reliable evidence to suggest it was.

“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,” read the report’s summary.

It also urged health workers to inform their patients that “not all evidence is of equal value,” and said people should be wary of anecdotal evidence in favour of homeopathic medicine.

“It is not possible to tell whether a health treatment is effective or not simply by considering individuals’ experiences or healthcare practitioners’ beliefs,” the report reads.

 “Obviously we understand the placebo effect. We know that many people have illnesses that are short lived by its very nature and their bodies will cure them, so it’s very easy for people to fall in the trap that because they did ‘A’, ‘B’ follows,” Professor John Dwyer, an immunologist and Emeritus Professor of Medicine at the University of New South Wales, told Guardian Australia.

He added that is was unethical to "fool people" and said that homeopathic remedies should be "put away" once and for all, the newspaper reported.

“In my point of view as an immunologist, the most serious issue was the spreading of the concept that homeopathic vaccinations were harmless and just as good as orthodox vaccinations. People who believe that are not protecting themselves and their children,” he said.

Homeopathic “vaccinations” are offered for standard diseases, as well as some that there are no medical vaccines for, said Dwyer.

“Homeopathic vaccines were being offered for HIV, TB, and Malaria…none of them were effective,” he said.

Last year in the UK, homeopathy advocate Prince Charles was urged to stay out of the debate over its use in the NHS, following claims that he lobbied the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt in favour of the alternative treatment - charges which both parties denied.

At the time, David Colquhoun, a pharmacologist at University College London, told The Independent that homeopathy was “utter nonsense”.

“Homeopathic remedies contain nothing whatsoever. The Americans have spent $2bn investigating these things … they haven’t found a single one that works,” he said.

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