There has been no doubt in my mind for a long time that homeopathy is total bunk. For it to work as it’s supposed to several laws of physics must be violated and our understanding of the human immune system thrown out the window. I have no issue with people self-prescribing these things however the fact that many practitioners advocate their remedies in favour of actual medicine is what draws my ire. Thankfully the Australian government has begun to show an intolerance for such charlantry and recently commissioned a review of the research done on homeopathy. The results are, unsurprisingly, not in homeopathy’s favour finding that in their review of the literature that it is no more effective than a placebo for a total of 68 illnesses.
The study was conducted by the National Health and Medical Research Council, Australia’s peak funding body for medical research that oversees some $700 million in funding per year. Their study included materials from 57 systemic reviews which covered some 176 individual studies. Additionally information that was submitted directly to the NHMRC through its public consultation phase was also included. Studies were only concluded if they were well designed (done by comparing them to international standards for conducting such trials) and placebo controlled. The results showed that, for all well designed and properly controlled studies, there was no evidence to suggest that homeopathy was any more effective than a placebo was. Indeed the only positive results were found in studies of poor quality and design which would likely have led to spurious results that were not supported by data. For the remaining studies there was simply not evidence to make a conclusion one way or the other.
Whilst these results are unsurprising it does beg the question about the regulation of things such as this. Australians spend some $10 million a year on these remedies a figure that continues to climb every year. However the body of evidence is so strong against them that it begs the question about whether they should be sold at all. I think they get a pass since they really have no potential to cause harm in and of themselves however it’s the abstinence from proper medicine that has the real potential to cause harm. So potentially we need to regulate against the practitioners rather than the remedies themselves.
It feels like beating a dead horse at this point but the fact that homeopathy is still around, and becoming more popular, shows that research like this is needed. I know it won’t convince everyone but hopefully those who are on the fence about it will be convinced that homeopathy is total bunk.
Most of the time with alternative medicine I take the stance that as long as you’re not hurting anyone else and it works for you then you’re free to do whatever the heck you want. I do this as I’ve been in more than a couple situations where I’ve caused serious offence to people when I’ve started heavily questioning their beliefs and I’m not the kind of person who takes joy in getting people angry at me. Thankfully its pretty much a non-issue for the company I regularly keep as we’re all well aware of what topics are potential minefields for arguments that’ll lead down a rabbit hole from which no winner will ever emerge.
However I have in the past made my stance known on several pseudo-science issues before and I’m saddling up to do so again. This time I’ve got my sights set on homeopathy because it seems to be the last little bastion of woo I’ve yet to tackle seriously.
I haven’t really had much to do with homeopathy since I firs heard about it 5 years or so ago but I can remember clearly reading up on it to figure out what it was. Whilst at first I was intrigued by the notion that dilution increase potency (because anything that posits something that crazy has to have some fun stuff backing it up) when I read about the actual process required to prepare homeopathic remedies I instantly twigged that it was nothing more than water and any effects people were ascribing to it were just a simple function of the placebo effect. Surely, I thought, given enough time people would come to realise this and the movement would fade back into the obscurity from whence it came and I’d never hear about it again.
It would never be that simple, of course.
Cue my honeymoon trip to Turtle Island off the northern coast of Fiji. The beautiful temperate weather dulling the more harsh sides of personality with the great food and plentiful booze ensuring that I was in no mood to go on a sceptical rampage. What else would happen but a conversation about homeopathic remedies where a surgeon was looking for something to ease his nagging shoulder injuries. I fobbed it off, enduring the conversation for as long as it lasted, and instead focused my attention to other, more pleasurable endeavours (read: the booze). Thankfully it seemed that the only people that really believed in it were a singular couple as the surgeon friend said it did nothing for him.
I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that factually we can’t put any more faith in homeopathy than we do in sugar pills. The research clearly shows that homeopathy is ineffectual in treating the ailments it claims to be able to and any effect is simply the placebo effect in action. If a remedy seems to work for you fine but don’t let me catch you trying to peddle that nonsense to anyone else as you’re far more likely to do someone harm than any amount of good. If the treatment is as good as you think it is then they will find it on their own and I have no problems with consenting adults putting whatever rubbish they want into their bodies (just not other people’s bodies).