By Drs. David Niesel and Norbert Herzog, Medical Discovery News
Many families rely on homeopathy, an alternative or complementary form of healthcare. Until now, there has been little scientific data to support or debunk their use. However, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council reviewed scientific evidence of the use of homeopathy in treating a variety of clinical conditions, and concluded that there is no reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective.
While conventional medicine is now commonly accepted, complementary and alternative medicines have persisted throughout history. Homeopathy is the oldest form of CAM from Europe. It originated with the German physician Samuel Hahnemann, who lived from 1755-1843. He stumbled upon the cinchona, the bark of a South American tree that was used by the indigenous people to treat fevers. Among the active ingredients in the bark is quinine, which is still used to treat malaria. If a healthy person took cinchona, it mimicked malaria with mild, intermittent fevers not associated with any pathology. In 1796 and 1810, Hahnemann published essays on the two theories of homeopathy: substances that cause illnesses or symptoms in people can be used in small doses as treatment, and molecules in a solution can be highly diluted and the solution will retain a "memory" of that molecule. Supporters of homeopathy viewed it as a safe, patient-centered system that was simple and easy to understand. Hahnemann claimed he could cure any and all illnesses using homeopathic principles.
The Australian council sought to evaluate this claim once and for all. Their assessment was based on the analysis of 57 published systematic reviews encompassing 176 individual studies, independent evaluation of evidence provided by homeopathy interest groups and the public, and clinical practice guidelines and reports on homeopathy from other governments. Studies were only considered if they were case-controlled, meaning they compared a group of patients receiving homeopathic treatments with a control group. The council who oversaw this review consisted of experts in conventional-based medicine as well as complementary and alternative medicines. As a guideline, for a treatment to be considered effective, it must result in health improvements that cannot be explained by the placebo effect, these improvements must be meaningful for a person's overall health and the results have to be seen consistently in several studies. A draft of the report was reviewed by a group of independent experts in complementary medicine research and opened up for public consultation before it was finalized.
Ultimately, the council found no reliable evidence that homeopathic treatments were effective. Studies that did find homeopathy to be effective were overall of poor scientific quality, used too few patients or lacked evidence on which to base their conclusions. Rejecting proven medical treatments in favor of homeopathy for chronic or potentially serious conditions could place people at risk. As always, use of homeopathic or other remedies should be discussed with your physician in order to make informed healthcare decisions.
Medical Discovery News is hosted by professors Norbert Herzog at Quinnipiac University, and David Niesel of the University of Texas Medical Branch. Learn more at www.medicaldiscoverynews.com.UTMB.