It’s official – homeopathy doesn’t work!

The National Health & Medical Research Council draft information paper on the effectiveness of homeopathy finds that “There is no reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective for treating health conditions.”

This is a view that Australian Skeptics has been propounding for some time, and thus thoroughly endorses.

“It is especially timely during ‘Homeopathy Awareness Week’ – due to start on April 10 – though the findings might not reflect the type of ‘awareness’ that the homeopathy industry would want,” said Skeptics’ president, Richard Saunders.

The NHMRC draft report, released on April 9, repeatedly says that studies claimed to support the efficacy of homeopathy are unreliable: not good quality (in terms of design and in practice) or too few participants, or both.

“Based on all the evidence considered, there were no health conditions for which there was reliable evidence that homeopathy was effective,” the report says. “No good-quality, well-designed studies with enough participants for a meaningful result reported either that homeopathy caused greater health improvements than placebo, or caused health improvements equal to those of another treatment.”

The draft report concludes that:
• People who choose homeopathy instead of proven conventional treatment may put their health at risk if safe and evidence-based treatments are rejected or delayed in favour of homeopathic treatment.
• Homeopathy should not be used to treat health conditions that are serious, or could become serious.
• People who are considering whether to use homeopathy should first get advice from a health professional (eg GP, specialist, nurse practitioner or pharmacist). Those who use homeopathy should tell their health professionals, and should keep taking any conventional medicines that they have been prescribed.

Professor Rob Morrison, professorial fellow in the School of Education at Flinders University in South Australia and vice-president of Friends of Science in Medicine, said that “The draft paper is welcome, if belated, as other advanced countries concerned about useless treatments that waste taxpayers’ money have long ago reached the same convincing conclusion that homeopathy is among them. Politicians agonise about the burgeoning costs of health care in Australia, and subscriptions to health funds are climbing out of reach for many. You have to wonder why well researched reports of this kind, which clearly distinguish between health treatments which work and those that don’t, and which could save millions of dollars spent on useless treatments are so few and far between. The report might also have included a section to show that, if homeopathy actually did work, the well-established, scientifically-validated principles of chemistry, physics, physiology and pharmacology must all be wrong.”

Saunders added that “For many years we have pointed out the problems with the ‘evidence’ for homeopathy, and despite the best efforts of homeopathy ‘boosters’, the practice remains one area where we can say with confidence that good evidence just does not exist.”

In 2012, the Skeptics issued its annual Bent Spoon Award to the Homeopathy Plus organisation and its founder Fran Sheffield for “continued promotion of some of the most ludicrous claims for an already ludicrous product”. Australia’s consumer watchdog body, the ACCC, described some of those claims, regarding homeopathic treatment of whooping cough, as “misleading and deceptive”.

The NHMRC says it is “concerned that unconventional products and procedures are often promoted to improve people’s health when there is little or no evidence of their benefit, except for the benefits people experience when they believe that a treatment is effective (the placebo effect). Sometimes patients may be misled into rejecting practices and treatments that are proven to be effective.”

Some of the conditions that proponents of homeopathy claim can be treated include HIV infection, ADHD, asthma, depression, acute trauma, malaria and even heroin addiction. For none of these conditions, as well as many others, did the NHMRC find any reliable supporting evidence that homeopathic treatment was any better than placebo, or that the evidence wasn’t even good enough to make that claim.

Saunders said that “Overall, the NHMRC draft report supports the view held by Australian Skeptics, and by skeptics groups around the world for many years: it just doesn’t work!”

“We therefore affirm and support the findings, and we encourage the various relevant government bodies to act on the findings accordingly. Our aim is to see the public protected from misleading claims; hopefully this draft report is one positive step in that direction.”

The NHMRC is also looking into the funding of complementary medicine through government support of health funds, and this report on homeopathy should feed into that.

Professor John Dwyer, Emeritus Professor of Medicine at the University of New South Wales and president of FSM, said that “Homeopathic preparations should not be available in our pharmacies, no private health insurer should provide any rebate for homeopathy and those few universities that lower our scientific standards by providing credibility for homeopathy in their health courses should cease doing so immediately. Australians can save more than eight million precious health care dollars a year by accepting the advice in this report. We await now the Chief Medical Officer’s report to government on a range of other unscientific modalities that are likely to be assessed as being equally useless. It is more important than ever that credible scientific evidence of clinical effectiveness underpins our delivery of health care.”