Natural Foods Merchandiser

Homeopathy suffers bad vibes

The homeopathy industry reacted strongly to an analysis published in the Aug. 27 issue of British medical journal The Lancet which asserts that homeopathy, the curative science that uses natural substances in microscopic doses to stimulate a sick person?s innate defenses, is no more effective than a placebo.

The study, conducted by Swiss scientists, compared 110 homeopathy trials and 110 corresponding conventional medicine trials, and concluded, after taking into account biases present in placebo-controlled trials, that ?there was weak evidence for a specific effect of homoeopathic remedies, but strong evidence for specific effects of conventional interventions.?

Dana Ullman, author of nine books on homeopathy, said that homeopathy is popular for one main reason: It works.

?When you consider that homeopathy first became popular in the United States and Europe in the 1800s due to its incredible successes in treating various infectious disease epidemics of that day—typhoid, cholera, yellow fever, amongst others—it is highly doubtful that these results were primarily due to its placebo effects,? he said.

Ullman also cites other studies in which homeopathy has been proven effective. ?Previous meta-analyses, including one published in The Lancet [September 1997], showed a significant difference between homeopathic treatment and placebo. One study in the treatment of the common flu has been replicated in four large-scale multicenter studies, and each found statistical significance,? he said.

Ronald Boyer, M.D., medical director at Boiron Laboratories, a homeopathic company in Newtown Square, Pa., called the study unsound. ?The article is not a meta-analysis of clinical trials in homeopathy. It is a comparison of two series of clinical trials: a series of trials with homeopathic medicines and a series of exactly the same number of allopathic trials done on the same pathologies,? he said. ?[The researchers] partition the studies and compare what is not comparable; that is, the studies of best quality of one of the groups with studies of best quality of the other group. These studies are not in equal number—8 percent for allopathy and 19 percent for homeopathy. This method is scientifically unacceptable since the goal of a meta-analysis is to present a globalization of the results.?

However, Edzard Ernst, Ph.D., professor of complementary medicine at Peninsula Medical School in England, believes that the study was well-conducted and ?performed by a group with a high reputation with no axe to grind.? Ernst contends that the study?s findings do not necessarily spell doom for homeopathy. ?If one accepts that homeopathic remedies are placebos and that patients nevertheless benefit from them, the inescapable conclusion is that somehow homeopaths are very good at generating a placebo response,? he said. ?This is a thought-provoking notion, which opens fascinating avenues for research.?

Christine Spehar is a Boulder, Colo.-based freelance writer.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 10/p. 11

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