NHMRC: no good evidence for homeopathy

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) today released a statement concluding that “there is no good quality evidence to support the claim that homeopathy is effective in treating health conditions”.

The long-awaited release follows “a thorough review of the evidence, conducted as part of NHMRC’s responsibility to provide advice and support informed health care decisions by the Australian community,” the statement says.

Australian Skeptics applaud this outcome.

“The medical fraternity, along with skeptical groups worldwide, have for some time pointed out that the theory behind homeopathy, as anything other than a medical placebo, goes beyond being faulty – it is basically nonsensical,” said Australian Skeptics executive officer, Tim Mendham.

“To suggest that you could dilute a substance to the extent that there is less than a molecule left, and yet still retain some sort of effective treatment, requires a stretch of the notion of scientific evidence to breaking point.

“And the common response from supporters of homeopathy that the diluted substance holds a ‘memory’ of the original substance creates even more concern – that our drinking water retains a memory of everything that ever lived, died or was flushed into the ocean,” he added.

“After hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on the NHMRC study, and in the face of continued criticism by some alternative medicine groups, it’s good to see a result that encapsulates both science and sense.”

The NHMRC assessed more than 1800 papers, of which 225 studies met the criteria to be included in the examination of the effectiveness of homeopathy.

“The review found no good quality, well-designed studies with enough participants to support the idea that homeopathy works better than a placebo, or causes health improvements equal to those of another treatment.”

While some studies did report that homeopathy was effective, the NHMRC report says that the quality of those studies was assessed as being small and/or of poor quality.

“These studies had either too few participants, poor design, poor conduct and/or reporting to allow reliable conclusions to be drawn on the effectiveness of homeopathy.”

NHMRC CEO Professor Warwick Anderson drew particular attention to the NHMRC Statement on Homeopathy’s advice that homeopathy should not be used to treat conditions that are chronic, serious, or could become serious.

“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. People who are considering whether to use homeopathy should first get advice from a registered health practitioner and in the meanwhile keep taking any prescribed treatments.

“It is important that the public has access to independent, high quality advice when it comes to making decisions about their health care.

“From this review, the main recommendation for Australians is that they should not rely on homeopathy as a substitute for proven, effective treatments.”

He said that the NHMRC statement was “the result of a rigorous examination of the evidence and used internationally accepted methods for assessing the quality and reliability of evidence for determining whether or not a therapy is effective for treating health conditions.”

“NHMRC is aware of strongly held views on this topic so it is important to note that the process was thoroughly consultative and that the public was invited to submit information and evidence, all of which was considered by our expert working committee.”

The findings of the homeopathy working group’s review are summarised in the final NHMRC Information Paper: Evidence on the effectiveness of homeopathy for treating a clinical condition, which was also released today. Its release follows public consultation on the draft information paper in 2014.

The statement, information paper and FAQs are available on the NHMRC website.