Homeopathy no better than a placebo, says study

Homeopathic treatment is no more effective than a placebo, the dummy substance used in medical trials, according to a study appearing in Saturday’s issue of The Lancet, the British medical weekly.

That is the conclusion of a team of doctors in Britain and Switzerland, who reviewed a mountain of published evidence.

They compared 110 trials of homeopathic remedies against a placebo with 110 trials of conventional medicines, which were also tested against a placebo.

The ailments being treated in these trials included respiratory-tract infections, pollen allergies and asthma, gynaecological and obstetric problems, muscle and joint ache and intestinal upsets.

The researchers found that in small trials which they deemed to be of poor quality, both homeopathic and conventional medicines appeared to fare better against placebos.

But in larger trials that were of high quality, there was no credible evidence that the homeopathic treatment worked any better than the placebo.

But conventional drugs clearly outperformed the dummy lookalike. “Our study powerfully illustrates the interplay and cumulative effect of different sources of bias,” says the new study, lead-authored by Aijing Shang and Matthias Egger at the University of Berne.

Homeopathy originated in Germany in the early 19th century. The idea behind it is like cures like—in other words, a disease can be cured by a medicine capable of producing symptoms similar to those experienced by the patient in a healthy person.

A homeopath typically conducts a long interview with the patient to determine the symptoms and then draws up a remedy.

This usually a single substance derived from a plant, mineral or animal.
It is then subjected to a lengthy process of high dilution and shaking aimed at bringing out its desired ingredient.

Homeopathy was in vogue in Europe in the 19th century, when as many as one in seven of medical practitioners were homeopaths.

It went into decline in the 20th century with the rise of antibiotics and other modern medicines, but in the past decade has staged a comeback, igniting a controversy at the same time.

Many doctors are dismissive of homeopathy, and some do not hesitate to call it quackery.

Even so, homeopathy has a fervent vocal lobby of supporters, and health insurance schemes in Europe are under increasing pressure to include it in their coverage.

In a typical drug trial, volunteers are split into two groups, with one taking the proposed drug and the other taking a placebo, a harmless pill, powder or fluid that looks just like the drug being tested.

The results from these two groups are then compared, to see whether the drug is effective. - Sapa-AFP

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