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No evidence homeopathy is any better than a placebo, major Australian study says

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The founding precept of homeopathy, set forth more than 200 years ago by a German scientist, is deeply counter-intuitive. It holds that “like cures like.” It’s a hypothesis that maintains an illness can be cured if it is treated with a highly-diluted form of the ailment or symptoms that’s attacking the patient.

Confused yet? There’s more.

This complementary therapy dilutes the substances that produce the similar symptom in either water or alcohol under the premise that “substances become more potent the more you dilute them,” according to Ian Musgrave writing in The Conversation. Homeopaths claim that those substances, if diluted properly, will trigger a healing process in the body. This is called the “law of minimum dose.”

There’s just one problem. It doesn’t work. There is nothing new about this. Homepathy has been debunked any number of times — just take a look at this 2002 report in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. But never, perhaps, quite as thoroughly or convincingly as Wednesday morning when Australia’s foremost medical research institute released a report debunking a therapy that nearly 4 million Americans used in 2006, according to the U.S. Department of Health.

“There is no good quality evidence to support the claim that homeopathy is effective in treating health conditions,” the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council said in a statement. “… The review found no good quality, well-designed studies with enough participants to support the idea that homeopathy works better than a placebo, or causes health improvements equal to those of another treatment.”

The conclusion was based on a review of more than 1,800 papers, the institute said. Of those, only 225 papers met its criterion in either quality or number of participants. The overwhelming bulk of studies that reported homeopathy was successful “had either too few participants, poor design, poor conduct and or reporting to allow reliable conclusions.”

The only reliable conclusion the institute could come to was this: Homeopathy is bunk.

“People who choose homeopathy may put their health at risk if they reject or delay treatments for which there is good evidence for safety and effectiveness,” Australian scientist Warwick Anderson said in a statement. “…There is no good quality evidence to support the claim that homeopathy works better than a placebo.”

Then why do some people love it so much? For one, it’s highly individualized and can mean many things to many people, allowing for great flexibility in its regimen. It hits all the right semantic tones, calling its solutions “remedies,” that involve things like “mountain herbs” and “crushed whole bees.” Put another way: Whole Foods shoppers love it. In 2006, according to the U.S. Department of Health, Americans spent $2.9 billion on homeopathic medicines and an additional $1709 million going to see a homeopathic practitioner.

Wasted money, scoff doctors. “Obviously, we understand the placebo effect,” John Dwyer of the University of New South Wales told the Guardian last year. “We know that many people have illnesses that are short lived by its very nature and their bodies will cure them, so it’s very easy for people to fall in the trap that because they did ‘A,’ ‘B’ follows.”

So is that it? Should medical professionals stop studying a matter long derided as pseudoscience? Yes, says Australian journalist Melissa Davey. “It’s about time we stopped wasting everyone’s time commissioning reports into ‘therapies’ we already know are junk ‘science,'” she wrote on Wednesday. “#Homeopathy.”