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15 Apr 2014

The nation’s peak medical research organisation has found that claims homeopathic treatments work are groundless, underlining concerns that patients turning to homeopathy to treat ailments are putting their health at risk.

In a heavy blow for the nation’s 2000 homeopaths, the National Health and Medical Research Council has issued a Draft Information Paper ( which examined research on homeopathic treatments for 68 different health complaints and found “there were no health conditions for which there was reliable evidence that homeopathy was effective”.

“Evidence from research in humans does not show that homeopathy is effective for treating the range of health conditions considered,” the paper concluded.

The findings were based on a world-wide examination of systematic reviews of studies that compared homeopathy with placebo and other treatments, conducted on the NHMRC’s behalf by professional research group Optum.

The Council said the 57 systematic reviews used for the paper only included studies that were prospectively designed and included controls.

It admitted that the quality of the evidence was “generally low”, but concluded “there were no health conditions for which there was reliable evidence that homeopathy was effective”.

The Council said several studies that reported homeopathy was more effective than placebo were “not reliable” because they were not well designed or did not have enough participants.

Lead author of the study, Professor Paul Glasziou of Bond University, told The Australian the results, if confirmed in the final report, suggested homeopathic treatments were a waste of money, and could lead to harm.

“There is not only the financial cost, but also the potential for an opportunity cost, that you are missing out on something effective,” Professor Glasziou said.

The Draft Information Paper, which is open for public comment until 26 May, could deliver a hefty blow to the homeopathy industry.

Homeopathy is a treatment based on the belief that substances that cause symptoms or illness in healthy people can, if administered in very small doses, provide relief from those symptoms. Part of its ethos is that highly diluted substances retain a ‘memory’ of the original substance.

Homeopaths typically charge between $80 and $100 for an initial consultation, and prescriptions cost around $10. The World Health Organisation estimated that Australians spent around $8 million on homeopathic medicines alone in 2009.

The NHMRC’s draft findings come at an awkward time for the complementary and alternative medicine industry, with a review being conducted by the Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Baggoley into the eligibility of so-called natural therapies for private health insurance rebates.

The Australian Traditional Medicine Society voiced concern about the possibility the NHMRC’s report could send practitioners out of business.

The Society’s Chief Executive Officer Trevor Le Breton said the “results and potential implications of the Draft Paper threaten the livelihood of hundreds of practitioners who rely on their current health fund status to make homeopathy accessible to their clients and the general public”.

Mr Le Breton said the Paper’s main finding was the lack of quality evidence available, and this highlighted the need for Government-supported clinical studies to “establish compelling scientific evidence so that homeopathy is afforded the same level of opportunities and recognition as other modalities”.

Adrian Rollins

Published: 15 Apr 2014