Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Homeopathy Evidence Diluted

By Stephen Luntz

A study has poured more cold water on the evidence for homeopathy.

A study published in the Medical Journal of Australia has confirmed the mountain of evidence that homeopathy is scam, not science.

Although many studies have found that homeopathy lacks any benefits other than those offered by placebos, including a review by the UK’s House of Commons Science and Technology Committee (see p.38), a few have been used by the alternative medicine industry to make claims of scientific evidence. These claims have provided a fig leaf to medical insurers that have bowed to consumer demand for coverage of homeopathic treatments as part of their policies.
Prof Edzard Ernst tested the basis for these assertions by conducting a systematic review of all studies in the Cochrane Reviews database. The findings refute two key contentions made by supporters of homeopathy.

First, the claim that reviews are biased against homeopathy was easily dismissed since most of the reviews were conducted by homeopaths. “One might argue they were biased in favour of homeopathy,” Ernst notes.

Furthermore, the actual content of the reviews provided no support for homeopathy. Although two reviews found some weak evidence for benefits from homeopathy (trumpeted by the authors), Ernst notes that this can be attributed to non-homeopathic factors. In one case pharmacologically active ingredients were classified as homeopathic even though they were far less diluted than those sold by homeopaths. Another review promoted statistically insignificant benefits.

Ernst argues that anecdotal evidence for the benefits of homeopathy may well indicate something that patients are gaining from the “empathetic and lengthy consultations typical of homeopathic services” – something from which conventional doctors might learn.

The poor quality of most of the reviews was clear. One review of the effectiveness of homeopathy as a treatment for dementia had no primary data.

Ernst is Director of Complementary Medicine at the University of Exeter, undermining claims that he is biased against alternative medicine.