Homeopathy in the Cross Hairs

Did the recent news reports about homeopathy catch your attention? Recent headlines have variously described homeopathy as, “A Waste of Your Money”, “Useless for Human Health” and perhaps most discouragingly as “A Total Joke, Doesn’t Work”.

Of all the complementary and alternative medicine modalities, homeopathy is possibly the most polarising. Perhaps it’s because of homeopathy’s unique tenets such as ‘like treats like’ where, for example, homeopathic onion is used to treat the streaming watery eyes of hayfever. And the even more challenging principle that the more you dilute a substance the more ‘potent’ it becomes, to the point that most homeopathic remedies are diluted beyond the point where any of the original substance is left. That’s quite a stretch for those that retain a working knowledge of high school chemistry and a lack of imagination.

What generated the uproar and scathing headlines about homeopathy was the recent NHMRC’s (Australia’s peak medical research body) draft report on homeopathy that found there was a lack of quality evidence to satisfy its panel of experts that homeopathy was effective.

The problem for me with this interim finding is that I personally have had many positive encounters with homeopathic medicine and I’m not alone. There must be hundreds of thousands of Australian’s who, like me, have used homeopathic arnica on their bruises and been astounded at how quickly their body has recovered. It’s impossible to dismiss this and other positive experiences as a highly effective placebo as many good-natured sceptics would like us to do. 

So what to make of the NHMRC’s finding? I would suggest if the current level of evidence is not suitably persuasive then we must be looking in the wrong places for the evidence. The panel of experts did not include anyone with expertise in homeopathy, which indicates to me that not understanding how something works might be part of the problem.

Whilst the drive towards evidence-based medicine is something everyone should celebrate, I would urge caution with interpreting this draft report as conclusive. Whilst clinical trials in pharmaceutical drugs are driven by huge profits in patents the same opportunities don’t exist in homeopathic medicines.  Nevertheless, the report does challenge homeopathic researchers on limited funding to produce the kind of clinical trials the NHMRC will take notice of so that even the hardest headed sceptics have good cause to question their assumptions.