Is homeopathy effective for specific conditions? The FACULTY OF HOMEOPATHY (FoH, the professional organisation of UK doctor homeopaths) say YES. In support of this bold statement, they cite a total of 35 systematic reviews of homeopathy with a focus on specific clinical areas. “Nine of these 35 reviews presented conclusions that were positive for homeopathy”, they claim. Here they are:

Allergies and upper respiratory tract infections 8,9
Childhood diarrhoea 10
Post-operative ileus 11
Rheumatic diseases 12
Seasonal allergic rhinitis (hay fever) 13–15
Vertigo 16

And here are the references (I took the liberty of adding my comments in blod):

8. Bornhöft G, Wolf U, Ammon K, et al. Effectiveness, safety and cost-effectiveness of homeopathy in general practice – summarized health technology assessment. Forschende Komplementärmedizin, 2006; 13 Suppl 2: 19–29.

This is the infamous ‘Swiss report‘ which, nowadays, only homeopaths take seriously.

9. Bellavite P, Ortolani R, Pontarollo F, et al. Immunology and homeopathy. 4. Clinical studies – Part 1. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: eCAM, 2006; 3: 293–301.

This is not a systematic review as it lacks any critical assessment of the primary data and includes observational studies and even case series.

10. Jacobs J, Jonas WB, Jimenez-Perez M, Crothers D. Homeopathy for childhood diarrhea: combined results and metaanalysis from three randomized, controlled clinical trials. Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal, 2003; 22: 229–234.

This is a meta-analysis by Jennifer Jacobs (who recently featured on this blog) of 3 studies by Jennifer Jacobs; hardly convincing I’d say.

11. Barnes J, Resch K-L, Ernst E. Homeopathy for postoperative ileus? A meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, 1997; 25: 628–633.

This is my own paper! It concluded that “several caveats preclude a definitive judgment.”

12. Jonas WB, Linde K, Ramirez G. Homeopathy and rheumatic disease. Rheumatic Disease Clinics of North America, 2000; 26: 117–123.

This is not a systematic review; here is the (unabridged) abstract:

Despite a growing interest in uncovering the basic mechanisms of arthritis, medical treatment remains symptomatic. Current medical treatments do not consistently halt the long-term progression of these diseases, and surgery may still be needed to restore mechanical function in large joints. Patients with rheumatic syndromes often seek alternative therapies, with homeopathy being one of the most frequent. Homeopathy is one of the most frequently used complementary therapies worldwide.

Proper systematic reviews fail to show that homeopathy is an effective treatment for rheumatic conditions (see for instance here and here).

13. Wiesenauer M, Lüdtke R. A meta-analysis of the homeopathic treatment of pollinosis with Galphimia glauca. Forschende Komplementärmedizin und Klassische Naturheilkunde, 1996; 3: 230–236.

This is a meta-analysis by Wiesenauer of trials conducted by Wiesenauer.

My own, more recent analysis of these data arrived at a considerably less favourable conclusion: “… three of the four currently available placebo-controlled RCTs of homeopathic Galphimia glauca (GG) suggest this therapy is an effective symptomatic treatment for hay fever. There are, however, important caveats. Most essentially, independent replication would be required before GG can be considered for the routine treatment of hay fever. (Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies September 2011 16(3))

14. Taylor MA, Reilly D, Llewellyn-Jones RH, et al. Randomised controlled trials of homoeopathy versus placebo in perennial allergic rhinitis with overview of four trial series. British Medical Journal, 2000; 321: 471–476.

This is a meta-analysis by David Reilly of 4 RCTs which were all conducted by David Reilly. This attracted heavy criticism; see here and here, for instance.

15. Bellavite P, Ortolani R, Pontarollo F, et al. Immunology and homeopathy. 4. Clinical studies – Part 2. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: eCAM, 2006; 3: 397–409.

This is not a systematic review as it lacks any critical assessment of the primary data and includes observational studies and even case series.

16. Schneider B, Klein P, Weiser M. Treatment of vertigo with a homeopathic complex remedy compared with usual treatments: a meta-analysis of clinical trials. Arzneimittelforschung, 2005; 55: 23–29.

This is a meta-analysis of 2 (!) RCTs and 2 observational studies of ‘Vertigoheel’, a preparation which is not a homeopathic but a homotoxicologic remedy (it does not follow the ‘like cures like’ assumption of homeopathy) . Moreover, this product contains pharmacologically active substances (and nobody doubts that active substances can have effects).


So, positive evidence from 9 systematic reviews in 6 specific clinical areas?

I let you answer this question.

8 Responses to Another attempt by the UK ‘Faculty of Homeopathy’ to mislead the public

  • Are there any homeopaths aware of the huge intellectual industry among professional scientists and physicians/surgeons to critique research publications? All around the planet, informal groups within institutions meet within the umbrella characterization of ‘journal clubs’ to bash newly published papers in the participants’ specialist fields. At national and international medical meetings, speakers reviewing treatment possibilities for particular diseases commonly describe weaknesses in published clinical trials. (‘Big Pharma’ even plays a positive role in this context: company A will often sponsor meetings where speakers explore the flaws in trials describing competitor company B’s drug.)

    The journal clubs are usually aimed at strengthening the self-critical faculties of PhD students and postdocs. The bigger meetings typically have the goal of providing a balanced assessment of state-of-the-art diagnosis and treatment of particular diseases. It’s amazing how often a publication once thought to be of high quality is brought down to size because of an omission or even a major flaw that’s spotted by one or more other investigators. These exercises in serious critical thinking and research appraisal make science (and science-based medicine) a wonderfully stimulating and exciting pool in which to swim. One’s research efforts always need to be self-critical.

    Edzard Ernst’s critiques on this blog are one-man examples of this type of rational critical thinking. Many of the frequent commentators are equally adept and often offer devastating pin-pricks that burst pseudo-medical balloons in specialist medical fields.

    Why is it that we never see the same self-critical attitude among SCAM proponents? The list of references from the Faculty of Homeopathy is typical of every branch of pseudo-medicine. Promotional, uncritical and dissembling to the point of untruth. It has been pointed out many times before that SCAM-artists are seldom critical even of branches of Big Snakeoil other than the one they practise: it’s almost as if there’s a conspiracy among non-medics to support even the most lame-brained treatment claim.

    • Professor Frank Odds, it you up to your old rhetorical tricks again.

      I have been writing comments on Professor Ernst’s posts for some time now, obviously I don’t expect you to have read them all but if you read just a few then you should know that your statement: ‘Why is it that we never see the same self-critical attitude among SCAM proponents?’ is WRONG.

      As I mentioned before Frank, it is tough to decide whether you or Bjorn are at the top of the table. (Dr Rawlins and Thomas are close behind but I doubt they will catch you and Bjorn).

      • Homeopathy’s proponents undermine the industry they strive to promote. Their claims and arguments are flawed by incredible assertions, ignorant factoids, incompetent analyses and intended misdirection. They, this includes you Greg, do a disservice to their cause with such transparently unfounded diatribes.
        To persuade us, specifically me, otherwise please deliver credible claims, demonstrable facts, competent analysis and honest evaluation.

    • I’m afraid that ‘critical, rational thinking’ is way over the horizon in homeopathic circles, and that any ‘self-cleansing’ of homeopathy is something that doesn’t happen in this universe at all.
      As long as homeopaths in general won’t even dismiss or distance themselves from utterly ludicrous things such as shipwreck-based remedies, diluted light of Saturn, homeopathic sound files and many, many more examples of human foolishness, one can only dream of the day that these people will actually engage their critical faculties and start using their brain in a rational manner.
      (At which point they won’t be homeopaths any more…)

      • Homeopaths are literally unable to exercise critical thinking about any of the mutually contradictory claims of their various schools of thought and that disability extends to other modes of SCAM. It’s hard for a homeopath to criticise radionics or remedies recorded onto CDs because their advocates have exactly the same evidence base as the normal homeopaths.

      • To paraphrase Aron Ra’s words after explaining evolution to creationists: “… once exposed to explanation, you can either be honest or a homeopath, but not both… there is no third category.”

  • Never mind the quality, just look at the dates on those studies.

    This is archaeology not modern medical science.

    Have they just given up?

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