Homeopathy, the medical concept based on the premise that “like cures like” has been around for over 200 years. Practitioners of homeopathy dilute a substance that produces a given symptom with water or alcohol with the counterintuitive belief that diluting a substance will make it stronger. The only problem? It doesn’t work. At all.
While past studies have debunked the supposed effectiveness of homeopathy, a new meta-analysis of over 225 studies conducted by Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council provides the strongest and most convincing evidence to date disproving the alternative therapy.
“Based on the assessment of the evidence of effectiveness of homeopathy,” the report reads, “NHMRC concludes that there are no health conditions for which there is reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective… 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.”
For the study, researchers analyzed data from 225 existing research papers that evaluated the effectiveness of homeopathy compared to placebos. The researchers actually had a body of more than 1800 papers to sift through but whittled those down to the most rigorous studies so that they could be sure that the research they were looking at would allow them to make solid conclusions. In addition to this, the NHMRC also analyzed 57 systematic reviews of homeopathy-related research, allowing them to make recommendations based on even more data.
Homeopaths claim that illnesses can be cured by exposing people to minute traces of the germ that has caused them to be unwell, or by using minute traces of other substances, such as caffeine, to treat ailments. Homeopaths employ a method of diluting germ substances in water or alcohol many times over and claim that, despite diluting the substances to the point where none of the original substance exists, the water retains a kind of memory of the germ that can trigger an immune response in the patient, without harming them, or help to ward off their being sick in the future.
Critics say that this dilution provides nothing but water, and that at best this practice misleads patients and at worse may cause them to forego medical treatments because they believe homeopathy can cure them of their diseases. Critics have long pointed out that no credible and extensive research has ever shown homeopathy to work.
The NHMRC researchers confirmed that criticism, saying there are 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.”
The study describe numerous problems with the research on homeopathy. To start, many of the studies were poorly designed: they didn’t include enough participants to have meaningful results, or the researchers failed to limit bias and control for confounding factors. But even the high-quality studies did not find that homeopathy performed better than a placebo or another available treatment for a range of health conditions, including asthma, anxiety, chronic fatigue syndrome, colds, and ulcers. The studies that reported homeopathy had some health benefit were so flawed and poorly designed they were unreliable, the researchers found.
If homeopathy is so thoroughly debunked, then why did Americans spend $2.9 billion on homeopathic medicine in 2006 alone? Why the hype?
“Obviously, we understand the placebo effect,” said John Dwyer of the University of New South Wales in an interview with the Guardian. “We know that many people have illnesses that are short lived by its very nature and their bodies will cure them. So it’s very easy for people to fall in the trap that because they did ‘A,’ ‘B’ follows.”