By Rob Verkerk PhD
Founder, executive and scientific director

 

Homeopathy has long been considered the easiest target of those not well predisposed to non-pharmaceutical medicine.

For those who attack it, it’s a no brainer. There’s no measurable active ingredient, so homeopathy can’t work. Their blindness means they must ignore evidence of clinical effects (see below) or an effect from high homepathic potencies.

However, to use – or abuse – science to prove it doesn’t work is harder than it might seem.

Typically, a balance of evidence approach using the highest quality evidence available is regarded as the best of way for determining if a given treatment works. This is normally done as either a systematic review or a meta-analysis, with randomised controlled trials (RCTs) being widely regarded as the highest level of evidence.

Using this approach, 5 out of 6 systematic reviews or meta-analyses have yielded evidence of beneficial effects, with just one (that has been heavily criticised here and here) showing no difference compared with controls (Table 1).

Stop saying there’s no evidence!

Despite this balance of available evidence, Lionel Milgrom argued persuasively (2013) that double-blind RCTs are not an appropriate methodology for evaluating complex interventions associated with the therapeutic process, including homeopathy. If Milgrom is right, it means that real-world results may be even more positive than that shown by the trials, and might explain the continued popularity of homeopathy among the public.

Table 1. Systematic reviews and meta-analyses of homeopathy trials


Homeopathy systematic reviews or meta-analyses demonstrating a beneficial effect compared with placebo


  1. Mathie RT, et al. Randomised placebo-controlled trials of individualised homeopathic treatment: systematic review and meta-analysis. Syst Rev, 2014; 3: 142.
  2. Cucherat M, et al. Evidence of clinical efficacy of homeopathy – A meta-analysis of clinical trials. Eur J Clin Pharmacol, 2000; 56: 27–33.
  3. Linde K, et al. Impact of study quality on outcome in placebo controlled trials of homeopathy. J Clin Epidemiol, 1999; 52: 631–6.
  4. Linde K, et al. Are the clinical effects of homoeopathy placebo effects? A meta-analysis of placebo-controlled trials. Lancet, 1997; 350: 834–43.
  5. Kleijnen J, et al. Clinical trials of homeopathy. Br Med J, 1991; 302: 316–23.

Homeopathy trials revealing no difference from controls


  1. Shang A, et al. Are the clinical effects of homoeopathy placebo effects? Comparative study of placebo-controlled trials of homoeopathy and allopathy. Lancet, 2005; 366: 726–32.

The Australian stitch-up

In 2015, Australia’s self-governing statutory authority for medical research funding, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) published its report on homeopathy.

It wasn’t the NHMRC’s first stab at evaluating the data. It appears, there was an earlier version that found evidence of overall benefit, but this report never saw the light of day. Concealing the positive evidence involves setting inclusion criteria for studies that are so tight that they exclude the vast majority of studies – especially those that yielded positive findings.

An extensive detailed investigation by the Australian Homeopathic Association (AHA) involving around 200 FOI requests, combined with an in-depth scientific analysis of the report by our friends at the Homeopathy Research Institute (HRI), revealed evidence of serious procedural and scientific misconduct in producing this report

It also publicised the release of a documentary film, Just One Drop, that features HRI’s work with the AHA to uncover the gross scientific misrepresentation by the Australian report and, most importantly, file a complaint about it to the Commonweatlth Ombudsman (4 August 2016).

View Just One Drop trailer and documentary

The film describes homeopathy as “the most controversial system of medicine ever invented.”

Our sense is that it’s just a matter of time before certain forms of currently accepted pharmaceutical care will be viewed in a similar light.

Rachel Roberts, chief executive of HRI told us:

“The impact of the NHMRC’s flawed report on homeopathy cannot be overstated. It is of grave concern to see such a misleading and inaccurate piece of research being quoted at an international level, influencing decision-makers around the world. In the interests of scientific integrity, we are relieved that the Commonwealth Ombudsman is now conducting a thorough investigation and look forward to hearing the outcome in the coming months.”

An enlightening presentation by Rachel Roberts shines a light on some of the problems associated with the Australian report.

The science has been laid bare, it has been pushed, pulled, twisted and criticised. More will undoubtedly follow. But now we must await the decision of ombudsmen as arbiters in the current, Australian chapter of the ongoing debate over this 200-year-old system of medicine.

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Comments

  1. I hope you are right. I have just started a homoeopathic course of treatment and it has not worked yet! I continue in expectation.

    1. Hi Anne, as homeopathic medicine helps your body to heal itself, it can take some time before you notice a difference. Often it’s not until you review after a few months, that you really notice the changes as they often happen gradually over time.

      Good luck with your healing journey.

      Warm Regards
      Melissa

    2. I have not used a lot of allopathic medicines, but those few what i used, they never kept the promise. So as a normal sceptic I made my mind.

  2. All I can say is that it worked wonderfully well on my children when they were small. They were able to avoid antibiotics. Sometimes it worked like a miracle, for example in the case of ear infection. Homeopathy was also used by my son when there was an epidemics of mumps at university. He took the homeopathic vaccine and was perfectly fine. Homeopathy, acupuncture, nutrition and osteopathy should be on the NHS. There would be fewer deaths from medicine as they do not have bad , dangerous side effects.

    1. Thanks for your comment Fabienne. We are in complete agreement. People need to take more responsibility for their own health and learn not to rely on drugs to suppress symptoms.

      Warm regards
      Melissa

  3. if I have a health concern, I run to homeopathy. I have not been near conventional medicine for 30 years (I am now 70). In my 40s I had had asthma for some 5 + years, I did what orthodox told me to do and the asthma worsened, I ended up on a nebuliser. I tried homeopathy in desperation – which worked, very quickly. However, it is complicated, there are so many remedies and the homeopath needs to understand the make up of the patient and the underlying problem – a remedy helping one person may not help another, it is very individualistic. So keep trying. If after three months, no improvement, try another homeopath! However, to help or keep up any improvement, the body must be nutritionally satisfied – I also take quite a few nutritionals – and with a mother who suffered from the age of 50 with cancer till she died 10 years later, I’ll keep doing what I do.

  4. Another very intesteting and informative article. Thank you Melissa.
    There seems to be one important variable that is not taken into account in homeopathic (and much other) research. This is the preference of the patient. The logic for including it is that the preference of the patient for homeopathy or other types of treatment is an important political factor and therefore it is highly likely that there are associated psychological factors and therefore it is also likely that there are physiological factors related to that preference.
    It seems to me to be a reasonable proposition that the preference for a particular type of treatment reflects physiological and psychological adaption to that treatment and/or experience of benefit from that kind of treatment and lack of benefit from other kinds of treatment.
    Therefore until we have data indicating that there is no measurable effect of the preference on the efficacy of the treatment none of the research can be used to make decisions that relate to whether particular treatment should be publicly funded.

    1. Hi David, thank you for sharing your thoughts. We agree that there are many other components behind the efficacy of CAM therapies that are difficult to measure. It’s why we think we should go back to the roots of EBM and take clinical case studies into account when researching efficacy.

      Warm regards
      Melissa

  5. Stop saying there’s no evidence!

    Sure. Evidence in the past 17 years? One: “Mathie RT, et al. Randomised placebo-controlled trials of individualised homeopathic treatment: systematic review and meta-analysis.”

    Fully debunked, cherry-picked reviews with vested interests by Robert T Mathie of HRI:
    http://edzardernst.com/2014/12/homeopaty-proof-of-concept-or-proof-of-misconduct/

    So to refute your position. There is neutral ZERO evidence to support homeopathy. ZERO.

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