In his defence of homeopathy, Dr Malthouse lists a number of publications that have drawn favorable conclusions and asserts that the positive evidence “goes on and on.” In a sense, I agree. There truly is a huge amount of material that promotes homeopathy. But observers seeking objective proof will not be satisfied by poorly conducted research or even meta-analyses where low-quality trials rife with errors are lumped together to give a gloss of scientific credibility where none has been earned. Unfortunately, the references listed by Dr Malthouse are not in keeping with a much larger body of better-quality research that gives a very different picture.
Dr Malthouse calls for us to think outside the box and not to reject new ideas, but homeopathy has been with us for over 200 years. While the medical establishment is far from perfect, it has very quickly accepted any treatments proven effective, and it is not because of a fear of the unusual that the scientific community has found homeopathy sorely lacking.[1-5]
Open-minded observers will, for example, ask whether the best clinical research (studies with the fewest opportunities for bias) has borne out the claims of homeopathy. The answer is no. Nor have we any examples of consistent, positive results replicated by disinterested parties for any one medical condition. But the relevant evidence doesn’t end with clinical trials—what about the fact that the tenets of homeopathy fly in the face of basic chemistry and physics?
A Nobel Prize would surely be bestowed on anyone proving that remedies diluted to the point of nothingness could have the profound and broad-ranging effects claimed by homeopathists.
Every day, in hundreds of labs around the world, solutions are diluted down to be used as negative controls and physicists fail to find the bio-photons, water-memory, or other arcane processes claimed to provide the basis for homeopathic treatments.
Dr Malthouse asks if homeopathy is threatening. While it is hard to claim that nostrums diluted beyond the point where a single atom is present pose any direct threat to human health, one might consider the harm done by supplying consumers with misinformation. Patients may well place enough faith in a provider of homeopathy to delay seeking proper treatment. They could be misdiagnosed and go untreated altogether. In addition to the misspent time and financial outlay, other patients might follow the reportedly common advice of homeopaths, as Dr Malthouse may be aware, not to immunize their children. The suggestion that homeopathy be used to treat pandemic flu could, if taken seriously, have grave consequences.
Dr Malthouse makes a good point when he calls for us to try new treatments. But with compelling contradictory basic science in place and the vast majority of good clinical trials in the negative, one wonders if proponents of homeopathy are really interested in examining the evidence.
—Lloyd Oppel, MD
Vice-Chair, BCMA Council on Health Promotion
1. Shang A, Huwiler-Müntener K, Nartey L, et al. Are the clinical effects of homoeopathy placebo effects? Comparative study of placebo-controlled trials of homoeopathy and allopathy. Lancet 2005;366:726-732.
2. The end of homoeopathy. Lancet 2005;366:690.
3. BBC. Homeopathy: The test—Programme summary.www.bbc.co.uk/science/horizon/2002/homeopathy.shtml (accessed 12 August 2007).
4. Quackwatch. Homeopathy: The ultimate fake. www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/homeo.html (accessed 12 August 2007).
5. Swissinfo. Homeopathy gives rational voters a headache—29 November 2006. www.swissinfo.org/eng/feature/detail/Homeopathy_gives_rational_voters_
a_headache.html?siteSect=108&sid=7300660&cKey=1164798714000 (accessed 12 August 2007).
6. Ernst E. The attitude against immunisation within some branches of complementary medicine. Eur J Pediatr 1997;156:513-515.
7. Malthouse S. Homeopathy and influenza—the Spanish flu experience. Presented at the Body Heals Conference, Victoria, BC, 26 May 2007.
8. Vickers AJ, Smith C. Homoeopathic Oscillococcinum for preventing and treating influenza and influenza-like syndromes. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2006;3:CD001957.
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