New evidence for homeopathy

Nov 03, 2008

Two new studies conclude that a review which claimed that homeopathy is just a placebo, published in The Lancet, was seriously flawed.

George Lewith, Professor of Health Research at Southampton University comments: 'The review gave no indication of which trials were analysed nor of the various vital assumptions made about the data. This is not usual scientific practice. If we presume that homeopathy works for some conditions but not others, or change the definition of a 'larger trial', the conclusions change. This indicates a fundamental weakness in the conclusions: they are NOT reliable.'

The background to the ongoing debate is as follows:

In August 2005, The Lancet published an editorial entitled 'The End of Homeopathy', prompted by a review comparing clinical trials of homeopathy with trials of conventional medicine. The claim that homeopathic medicines are just placebo was based on 6 clinical trials of conventional medicine and 8 studies of homeopathy but did not reveal the identity of these trials. The review was criticised for its opacity as it gave no indication of which trials were analysed and the various assumptions made about the data.

Sufficient detail to enable a reconstruction was eventually published and two recently published scientific papers based on such a reconstruction challenge the Lancet review, showing that:

-- Analysis of all high quality trials of homeopathy yields a positive conclusion.
-- The 8 larger higher quality trials of homeopathy were all for different conditions; if homeopathy works for some of these but not others the result changes, implying that it is not placebo.
-- The comparison with conventional medicine was meaningless.
-- Doubts remain about the opaque, unpublished criteria used in the review, including the definition of 'higher quality'.

The Lancet review, led by Prof Matthias Egger of the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine at the University of Berne, started with 110 matched clinical trials of homeopathy and conventional medicine, reduced these to 'higher quality trials' and then to 8 and 6 respectively 'larger higher quality trials'. Based on these 14 studies the review concluded that there is 'weak evidence for a specific effect of homoeopathic remedies, but strong evidence for specific effects of conventional interventions'.

There are a limited number of homeopathic studies so it is quite possible to interpret these data selectively and unfavourably, which is what appears to have been done in the Lancet paper. If we assume that homeopathy does not work for just one condition (Arnica for post-exercise muscle stiffness), or alter the definition of 'larger trial', the results are positive. The comparison with conventional medicine was meaningless: the original 110 trials were matched, but matching was lost after they were reduced to 8 and 6. But the quality of homeopathic trials was better than conventional trials.

This reconstruction casts serious doubts on the review, showing that it was based on a series of hidden judgments unfavourable to homeopathy. An open assessment of the current evidence suggests that homeopathy is probably effective for a number of conditions including allergies, upper respiratory tract infections and 'flu, but more research is desperately needed.

Prof Egger has declined to comment on these findings.

Reference: Lüdtke R, Rutten ALB. The conclusions on the effectiveness of homeopathy highly depend on the set of analyzed trials. J Clin Epidemiol 2008. doi:10.1016/j.jclinepi.2008.06.015
Rutten ALB, Stolper CF. The 2005 meta-analysis of homeopathy: the importance of post-publication data. Homeopathy 2008. doi:10.1016/j.homp.2008.09.008.

Source: National Center for Homeopathy

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User comments : 27

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GrayMouser
4 / 5 (14) Nov 03, 2008
Homeopathy is a sure-fired way to treat weak minds by offloading the stress of having money.
jeffsaunders
4.1 / 5 (10) Nov 03, 2008
@GrayMouser lol. It has taken a while for anybody to bother researching Homeopathy and given the quality of Scientists around these days, I would be surprised if the mehtods used to study the subject covered all the bases.

And, even if they did, I would be surprised even more if the Homeopathy crowd believed it. More like a no-win situation.

Like faith healing and witchcraft, you just cannot disprove this stuff in a way that will convince those that are unconvinceable.
Yes
4.1 / 5 (7) Nov 03, 2008
Proven homeopathy does not exist because:
If they would proof a homeopathic substance is functional, scientifically proven with a blindfolded method with control groups, then somebody would "encapsulate" this substance and suddenly this so called homeopathy would be allopathy.
Homeopathy exists until proven.
bhiestand
4.2 / 5 (11) Nov 03, 2008
What a misleading headline! Where is this new evidence for homeopathy? From the article, it appears there is no actual evidence for homeopathy. The best we can conclude from this analysis is that no solid conclusion can be drawn from scientific studies.
Mercury_01
1.7 / 5 (10) Nov 03, 2008
You people make me laugh. You'll continue to dispute the facts until you're blue in the face. It only makes you look stupid. http://www.physor...502.html
Cairns
4.2 / 5 (11) Nov 04, 2008
Stop polluting physorg with garbage like this article. Do it for the children!
fleem
2.5 / 5 (4) Nov 04, 2008
Besides the article referenced by Mercury_01, it may also be that for at least some illnesses, the body responds ~because~ the symptoms of that illness are present. Thus increasing the symptoms fools the body into thinking it must try harder to alleviate the disease. But then there's also the possibility that this effect might make disease symptoms subside for a time after the homeopathy treatment, causing some to think the disease, itself, has subsided, when in fact it was only the body working on the symptoms.
cardzeus
4.6 / 5 (11) Nov 04, 2008
Someone should tell the author that if he can tell the difference between a homeopathic remedy and water he could win $1M from the JREF.
If you 'dilute' something to the extent that there cannot possibly be even one molecule of the 'active' substance present how can it be anything other than placebo?? This kind of garbage shouldn't make it onto the pages of physorg.
@Mercury_01 - if water has a memory then tap water should be the most potent homeopathic remedy available...
Eco_R1
4.4 / 5 (8) Nov 04, 2008
i had a friend who finished school at the same time i did, i went to study science (hard core fu$%ing science) and he went to study homeopathy....we are not friends any more.... could not stand to watch an intelligent person like him being assimilated by such kak!!!
Bonkers
1.7 / 5 (6) Nov 04, 2008
Hey guys, this is a scientific site, and any study based on scientific principles should be allowed to stand, self-censorship is the enemy. Sure there is a lot of hocus pocus in the alternative therapy market, but it would be wrong to dismiss even teh possibility that there is some benefit to it. It is utterly fair to expose shortcomings in the treatment of the data, this study clearly had its conclusion determined in advance of the analysis, but the power of science is that it allows dispassionate others to repeat the analysis - marred in this case by (deliberately) opaque presentation. Homeopathy works well on animals, allegedly, and for many conditions it is the only alternative, skin conditions for example cannot be treated endlessly with cortisone creams.
With regard to the "dilution to extinction" argument, its an easy target, but most homeopaths dont use quite this level of dilution, and the technique is not that different to mainstream "weakened" flu jabs.

Did anyone see the article in new scientist showing how vanishingly diluted salts (Li , Na , Ca ) caused a spike in the thermal capacity of ice, at three different and characteristic temperatures? this is physical chemistry showing an effect at zero dilution. This proves there is something to be investigated.

Can science rise to the challenge of offering a fair test for this potentially hugely beneficial technology?
On this evidence, clearly not..., well not yet anyway.
Old data, fairly re-examined IS new evidence.

I say that no subject should be a taboo to a scientist, and there are useful lessons to be learned from this endeavour, even if only on matters of correct procedure. Clearly there are vested interests in proving homeopathy does not work, it is only individuals, not mega-corporations who will benefit. For this reason it is our job, as commenters, to keep a line of interest open, and to not self-censor.
marjon
1 / 5 (6) Nov 04, 2008
From AGW to dark matter to cold fusion to ghosts to...homeopathy, it is very unfortunate so many who claim to be scientists, independent thinkers, are so dependent upon what their 'peers' think of them.

Science is a process to explain observations. Why do so many 'scientists' avoid tough challenges?
gopher65
4.4 / 5 (7) Nov 04, 2008
Bonkers: I think that the criticism is less about the study which concluded that the methodology of the previous study was flawed (there is nothing wrong with additional peer review), and more about the ridiculous article that PhysOrg published, claiming that this proves that homeopathy is real.
Modernmystic
3.7 / 5 (7) Nov 04, 2008
I say that no subject should be a taboo to a scientist, and there are useful lessons to be learned from this endeavour, even if only on matters of correct procedure.


Think there are any "lessons to be learned" from revisiting the subject of whether or not the Earth is Flat...or how many angles can dance on the head of a pin?
nano999
4.2 / 5 (5) Nov 04, 2008
Jeez, maybe astrology is real too? And voodoo? Wishful thinking? Invisible pink unicorns? Snake oil?
QubitTamer
4.8 / 5 (4) Nov 04, 2008
If I have some physical condition or ailment and i take the time to participate in ANY kind of clinical trial or study, the one thing that HAS been proven is that my own perception that the drug / pill / shot / whatever i am taking will affect me. It doesn't matter if i am taking the real medicine, a homeopathic concotion, or plain old H2O or sugar pill, my PERCEPTION alone can cause a result to be seen.

The brain controls the body and there is ample evidence that perception of quality medicine alone can have observable and quantifiable effects. Therefore there is NO study on homeopathy that can be done that will NOT show some evidence that it works, no matter how minute.

drel
4.3 / 5 (4) Nov 04, 2008
Therefore there is NO study on homeopathy that can be done that will NOT show some evidence that it works, no matter how minute.


I have to disagree. You could test on animals. They have no perception of medicine.
...or does the Homeopathy treatments only work on Humans?
...or are animals people too?

OMFG Here they come! Save me from the PETA ahhhhh!!!
marjon
5 / 5 (3) Nov 04, 2008
If I have some physical condition or ailment and i take the time to participate in ANY kind of clinical trial or study, the one thing that HAS been proven is that my own perception that the drug / pill / shot / whatever i am taking will affect me. It doesn't matter if i am taking the real medicine, a homeopathic concotion, or plain old H2O or sugar pill, my PERCEPTION alone can cause a result to be seen.

The brain controls the body and there is ample evidence that perception of quality medicine alone can have observable and quantifiable effects. Therefore there is NO study on homeopathy that can be done that will NOT show some evidence that it works, no matter how minute.



Same for all other medical trials, no?
dr_zoinkelstein
1.5 / 5 (8) Nov 04, 2008
There *may* be something to Homeopathy. The truth of the memory of water certainly has better experimental evidence than it did a decade ago, which creates an experimental paradigm for either shooting down or proving this stuff. As scientists, we are ostensibly neutral observers-- but most of us have personal stakes on this issues. This subverts the purpose of the scientific method, and nothing shows that more clearly than an agenda that is pre-placed on *unpalatable* findings.

What is unpalatable to me is arrogance, which pervades the culture of pathological skepticism that is the calling card of modern scientism. This is an egotistical subversion of science which self righteously beats dissent over the head with palpable disregard for actual empirical evidence because "it feels so untrue" to the reductionist tautology, which is the new sacred f!@#ing cow of the prevailing culture amongst scientists.
thales
4.4 / 5 (7) Nov 04, 2008
I don't get it - why would someone prefer a couple molecules of antibiotic when they could have it at full strength? I bet the water remembers medicine best when it's full of it.
Bonkers
1.7 / 5 (6) Nov 04, 2008
thanks all, please keep this one alive till some resolution is found...

It is very easy to dismiss Homeopathy, it is difficult to draw firm conclusions from patient trials particularly where the patient self-assesses the improvement in their condition. Furthermore, Homeopathy is not a simple "compound "X" treats condition "Y"" type of system, it is more akin to medical psychoanalysis, many chronic conditions are the results of many factors, and H asserts that these can be unravelled by a skilled practitioner. I say good luck to them, someone at least is trying to understand a very complex problem.

the method of applying a treatment that aims to exacerbate the symptoms seems quite reasonable and logical to me, if you are out-of-balance, then a push in the "wrong" direction will force you to correct, rather than giving you a crutch to lean on.

on the dilution argument, there is clearly some new physics going on here, and the inorganic chemists are offering some usefully unexplained but clear instances of it, please see:

http://www.newsci...int.html
http://technology...e/dn3817

thank again

smokeAndMirrors
not rated yet Nov 04, 2008
Interesting comments re George Lewith here: http://dcscience.net/?p=131
Doug_Huffman
4 / 5 (4) Nov 04, 2008
Stuff with no side effects generally has no effect at all. Homeopathy is not falsifiable.
Yes
1 / 5 (4) Nov 04, 2008
I am open to new stuff and I always explain that water memory presence must be like Heisenberg's Uncertainty principle. If you try to measure the difference between water and "induced" water, then the difference is gone, unless you are part of the measurement (and that is then homeopathy).
I believe that the true Heisenberg uncertainty relationship is in the spiritual perception.
I would say:
Spiritual perception intensity (SPI) of a certain spiritual event is conversely proportional with rational measurement efforts (RME) of the intensity of that spiritual event.
In Heisenberg's terms:
SPI x RME < some constant

I admit it is weak, but to me it explains things like placebo, suggestion, spiritual experiences and the fact we have no grip on it.
Remember that if as a scientist you look at the impulse or position of a particle then you are not the particle.
If as a scientist you look at the "induced" water then you are not that water.
If as a patient you look at homeopathy, you drink the water and become part of the system.
If you were the particle maybe you could be aware of both your position and impulse.
Also remember that Heisenberg's uncertainty principle is weird and nobody complains about that... or not so much.
Going
2.3 / 5 (3) Nov 08, 2008
Bravo to Physorg for giving publicity to these papers. The braying mob in these comments who who deny any evidence which does not fit their world view are the medievalists. Minds are like parachutes, they work best open.
__o
5 / 5 (1) Nov 08, 2008
Here Here Going!
KB6
not rated yet Nov 09, 2008
"Minds are like parachutes, they work best open."
---
So do garbage cans.
HarshMistress
3.3 / 5 (3) Nov 09, 2008
QubitTamer: "...my PERCEPTION alone can cause a result to be seen."

Marjon: "Same for all other medical trials, no?"

No. The first time angioplasty saved my life, the second time surgical cancer removal saved my life. PERCEPTION couldn't 've resolved those two cases. Perception as an all powerful cure is a New Age pile of BS.