Evidence is clear that homeopathy is not an effective treatment

18 Apr 2010

Current evidence showing that homeopathic medicines are ineffective treatments is not biased against homeopathy, as some homeopaths have argued, according to a review published in the Medical Journal of Australia

Prof Edzard Ernst, Director of Complementary Medicine at the University of Exeter, UK, writes that about 150 controlled clinical trials have been published on homeopathy – a therapeutic method that often uses highly diluted preparations of substances that, when administered to healthy people, create the same effects as the disorder in the unwell patient. 

Prof Ernst said in situations where the results of these trials were neither all negative nor all positive, some commentators resorted to “cherry picking” those findings that fit their own preconceptions.

“The problem of selective citation is most effectively overcome by evaluating all reliable evidence, an aim best met by systematic reviews,” Prof Ernst said.

He searched the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews – generally considered to be the most reliable source of evidence – in January this year for reviews that had the term “homeopathy” in their title, abstract or keywords. Of the six articles that met the inclusion criteria, none provided compelling evidence for the effectiveness of homeopathic remedies.

“Homeopaths have argued that systematic reviews that fail to generate positive conclusions about homeopathy are biased,” Prof Ernst said.

“However, as most of the reviews I appraised were authored by homeopaths, it seems unlikely that they were biased against homeopathy. In fact, one might argue that they were biased in favour of homeopathy.

“For instance, one reviewer deliberately set out to select only the positive evidence and omit all negative evidence.”

Prof Ernst said some homeopaths argued that the controlled clinical trial was not suited for the study of homeopathy and that observational data, which appeared to suggest that homeopathy was effective, demonstrated the true value of the method.

“A more rational explanation would be that the positive outcomes of observational studies are caused by the non-specific aspects of homeopathic treatments, while the controlled trials demonstrate that homeopathic remedies are placebos,” Prof Ernst said.

The Medical Journal of Australia is a publication of the Australian Medical Association.

The statements or opinions that are expressed in the MJA  reflect the views of the authors and do not represent the official policy of the AMA unless that is so stated.

CONTACT:    Prof Edzard Ernst        +44 (0)1392 430802 / +44 (0)1392 424989

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