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Medicine Australia Science

Homeopathy Turns Out To Be Useless For Treating Medical Conditions 447

MightyMartian writes It should prove to be no surprise for most rational people, but a group of Australian researchers have determined that homeopathy is completely useless at treating medical conditions. Researchers sifted through 1,800 research papers on homeopathy and found no reliable report that showed homeopathic remedies had any better results than placebos. Of course, anyone with compelling evidence to the contrary (or better yet, proof to the contrary) is encouraged to post links in the comments below.
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Homeopathy Turns Out To Be Useless For Treating Medical Conditions

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  • First Post (Score:5, Funny)

    by MerlynEmrys67 ( 583469 ) on Thursday March 12, 2015 @06:09PM (#49245319)
    I'm Cured
    • by mellon ( 7048 ) on Thursday March 12, 2015 @06:11PM (#49245333) Homepage

      No, that's too weak. You need to dilute it until it's a .0000000001st post.

  • by kheldan ( 1460303 ) on Thursday March 12, 2015 @06:12PM (#49245337) Journal
    I think I saw some research somewhere showing that the same people who believed this also bought thousand dollar specialty speaker cables, HDMI cables, and specially crafted wooden volume control knobs for their home stereos, 'because it improves sound quality'.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      They actually go for the special cables that dilute the signal.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 12, 2015 @06:33PM (#49245527)

      Well humans are about 65% water and we remember things so clearly 65% of what we remember must be remembered by water QED.*

      *The science in this statement was diluted at least 1e10 times before being used.

    • by l0ungeb0y ( 442022 ) on Thursday March 12, 2015 @07:38PM (#49246039) Homepage Journal
      Yeah, there' plenty of rip-offs out there, but some high end audio products are really worth the money Just a few months ago I shelled out $500 for a digital audio enhancer that sits between my receiver and amp You can really hear the soft roundness of the 0's and the 1s are so sharp and crisp.
    • Here's a tip - homeopathic speaker cable - buy about 10 lengths of cheap doorbell wire. Then sneak into a HiFi shop and rub one piece against a length of $500-per-foot premium speaker cable. Go home and rub the first piece of cheap cable against the second piece - continue and then hook up your speakers with the 10th length of cable.

      What happens is that the quantum entanglement caused by brief contact with the high end cable forms a virtual conduit for the frequencies blocked by the cheap cable. You will i

  • Unfair comparison (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 12, 2015 @06:12PM (#49245339)

    Of course they found similar results when compared with placebo. Placebos can actually be effective. To infer that the treatment is useless is actually false. The treatment consists of tricking someone into thinking they're going to get better. Occasionally, this will psychosomatically heal them.

    • by batkiwi ( 137781 ) on Thursday March 12, 2015 @06:22PM (#49245427)

      Comparison against placebo is the gold standard for medical research. Why is it unfair to do the same comparison that modern medicine is put to?

      • Re:Unfair comparison (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Derekloffin ( 741455 ) on Thursday March 12, 2015 @06:27PM (#49245481)
        Because research has shown placebo's do have in fact, while small, a significant effect on health. As noted this is likely purely due to psychosomatic effect rather than any medical benefit but nonetheless it happens. It is a bit of a catch 22 though, since it is psychosomatic, for it to be effective, it has to actually seem like legit treatment even though it's nothing more than a trick. We humans are very strange in that regard.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by amicusNYCL ( 1538833 )

          placebo's do have in fact, while small, a significant effect on health

          A significant small effect?

          • Re:Unfair comparison (Score:5, Informative)

            by Derekloffin ( 741455 ) on Thursday March 12, 2015 @06:56PM (#49245721)
            Significant as in statistically significant.
            • Re:Unfair comparison (Score:5, Interesting)

              by rgbatduke ( 1231380 ) <.rgb. .at. .phy.duke.edu.> on Thursday March 12, 2015 @09:08PM (#49246665) Homepage

              It's not that small.

              Placebos have as high as a 30% response rate for many things. That's why the gold standard is to compare double blind placebo controlled data. It isn't no response rate that matters, it is the response rate relative to sugar pills that somebody tells you are medicine. Telling somebody that roasted rat pellets (convincingly) are medicine means that you will get a positive response.

              Add to this data dredging, confirmation bias driven studies, tenure decisions made in your favor only if you see a positive response in your new cancer treatment, and the fact that "significant" is generally a statistical absurdity like p = 0.05, and it's no real surprise that we end up with lots of (ultimately) silly conclusions.


          • Re:Unfair comparison (Score:5, Informative)

            by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Thursday March 12, 2015 @07:02PM (#49245771) Homepage

            Things that reach statistical significance are often rather small differences clinically. So unless you clarify exactly what type of significance you are looking at it the effects can be quite small. You see this is 'regular' medicine quite a bit. A drug company will advertise a 'significant difference' between drug x and placebo, but they are looking at one of various statistical tests showing that the effect is real. However, when you look at it in clinical terms, it's perhaps 2-3% better - an effect you would never see in practice. But it's real....

            Placebos can be effective in clinical terms - sometimes up to 10 - 20% effect which, although not earth shattering, is on par with many 'regular medicine' treatments. Homeopathy is basically a placebo effect. It's a fairly harmless one - if it is actually water. The caveat being it might prevent the patient from seeking 'real' medical attention in a timely fashion. That can be devastating at times, other times it can actually be useful.

            It gets complicated.

        • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

          Placebos usually have a fairly large effect. On average it's about 30%, which is greater than the additional advantage afforded by lots of actual treatments. In certain areas, like pain and depression, the placebo effect is more like 50%.

        • Re:Unfair comparison (Score:4, Interesting)

          by TFAFalcon ( 1839122 ) on Friday March 13, 2015 @03:15AM (#49247923)

          Wasn't there a study that found that placebos had positive effects even when the patients were told that they were placebos?

      • by sirwired ( 27582 ) on Thursday March 12, 2015 @07:04PM (#49245789)

        Double-blind randomized clinical trials are the "gold standard" for medical research, not necessarily placebos.

        Sometimes the control in such a study is indeed a placebo. This is the case for which there is no treatment of overwhelming effectiveness and/or ones amenable to psychosomatic healing, like psychiatric illnesses or some forms of pain.

        But for many other conditions, you could bring up a research up on criminal charges for using a placebo instead of the current standard treatment. We'd never do such a thing in, say, a study for curable cancers, diabetes, blood pressure, serious infections, heart attacks, or even a birth control pill.

        In a study for a drug to treat, say, Type I diabetes, we'd NEVER use a placebo. The control group in such a study would be Insulin, since no treatment at all would be swiftly fatal.

      • Because homeopathy is based on the placebo effect. That does not mean it has no effect, it can have a great effect. It just means that the effect is based in the placebo effect.

        IMHO what the homeopathy studies SHOULD be looking for is whether there are unwanted side effects. Those should be non-existent because you can always find a placebo with no side effects. In that regard they should be held to a higher standard than non-placebo medicine.

        To conclude that the homeopathic medicines do nothing because the

    • Re:Unfair comparison (Score:5, Informative)

      by Atzanteol ( 99067 ) on Thursday March 12, 2015 @06:30PM (#49245511) Homepage

      This represents a gross misunderstanding of the placebo effect.

      Placebo has no physiological effect (like homeopathy). Often people taking placebo, homeopathy, etc. will *report* feeling better - but this does not mean they are better in any meaningful sense of the word.

      More info here: http://www.csicop.org/si/show/... [csicop.org]

      It is very unethical to sell somebody a treatment which does not *treat* anything.

      • by Anubis IV ( 1279820 ) on Thursday March 12, 2015 @06:47PM (#49245643)

        Often people taking placebo, homeopathy, etc. will *report* feeling better - but this does not mean they are better in any meaningful sense of the word.

        True, though in some cases, reporting you feel better is the same as actually BEING better. Antidepressants, for instance.

        Either way, I agree with your premise. Just because something happens after taking a "cure" does not mean that the "cure" caused the effect. In this case, it's likely the subject's belief in the "cure" that's causing the effects to occur, rather than the "cure" itself. That said, I might be okay with doctors charging $100/pill for placebos if the high cost managed to convince a patient it could work, so long as they didn't try the trick in cases where the patient was at risk and they refunded the patient afterwards if it didn't work. ;)

        • Re:Unfair comparison (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Atzanteol ( 99067 ) on Thursday March 12, 2015 @07:03PM (#49245779) Homepage

          though in some cases, reporting you feel better is the same as actually BEING better. Antidepressants, for instance.

          This still isn't quite correct. For example: patients may want their doctors to feel as though a treatment is working and thus report an effect that isn't real ("yeah, sure - I feel better"). But the minute they walk out the door they feel just as crappy as when they entered. Other "effects" from placebo are simply bias in the study on the part of the researchers. Or the "observer" effect where people change simply because they're being watched. Placebo is a catch-all for any reported result that isn't explained by a real treatment.

          Also - something quacks^Hhomeopaths never want you to know is that any reported effect *size* is minuscule from both homeopathy and placebo. So a small percentage of people reporting a tiny improvement? Your money is best spent elsewhere.

          • No disagreement from me, and that's a great clarification. I did overgeneralize a bit with that statement, so thanks for catching it and setting it straight.

      • by ljw1004 ( 764174 )

        Often people taking placebo, homeopathy, etc. will *report* feeling better - but this does not mean they are better in any meaningful sense of the word.

        Curiously, I'd say that's the only meaningful sense of "feel better".

        If I took treatment which genuinely cured me of some physical ailment but didn't make me feel better, I honestly wouldn't care for it and wouldn't do it again. If I took a placebo which didn't cure the physical ailment but made me feel better, I'd be all over it. I guess I'd just assumed that this was obvious and everyone would have the same reaction. Apparently you don't.

        Maybe I'm influenced by endurance sports (e.g. I've done many 10+ mi

      • Placebo can have physiological effects.

        "Physical changes are real. For example, studies on asthma patients show less constriction of the bronchial tubes in patients for whom a placebo drug works."

        https://www.psychologytoday.co... [psychologytoday.com]

      • Placebo has no physiological effect (like homeopathy). Often people taking placebo, homeopathy, etc. will *report* feeling better - but this does not mean they are better in any meaningful sense of the word. It is very unethical to sell somebody a treatment which does not *treat* anything.

        Assuming that research says one day that foot massages have the same effect as placebo, or have the same effect as just resting your feet, no more and no less, at least not anything that can be effectively measured objectively on the longterm health of people, I guess that you would consider therapeutic foot massage establishments unethical as well. Because obviously, the customer is not always right, the customer can't be trusted to evaluate his own feelings objectively, and that we should probably shut do

      • This is not really accurate, as it says in your link, placebos do indeed work for things like pain. You report feeling less pain because you do in fact feel less pain. This works without drugs. There are even studies that show the effects of placebos can persist for long periods (weeks, months, maybe years). The relationship between medicine and the placebo effect is a lot more complex than the article you link to suggests. Ben Goldacre's "Bad Science" book makes this pretty clear and is written by a hard c
      • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

        That's not true. Placebos do usually have physiological effects. Very few clinical trials use "how you feel" as an endpoint. Instead they use objective measures like change in tumour size, lung capacity and did the patient die? Placebos do improve those things. They also have effects on body chemistry.

        We generally consider it unethical to claim something is medicine if it doesn't have any intrinsic effect of it's own. That's not the same thing as not having any physiological effect.

      • In Dr Goldacre's talk [youtube.com] at nerdstock 2009, he mentions a study in which there were measurable physiological changes. Particularly in the non-placebo group those that were given a muscle relaxant had high muscle relaxant levels in their blood plasma than those who were given the muscle relaxant and were told it was a placebo.
    • Placebos generally cost a lot less

      • If you doubt the effectiveness of placebos then you have not read anything from the pharmacology literature for the last 50 years. Antidepressants and other mood altering drugs are subject to significant placebo effects, and even surgical placebo effects have been well documented. Yes, it is psychosomatic, but how people feel after a treatment is undeniable. There is probably a large component of reduced stress after going through a treatment the person thinks is going to help. Less cortisol is released, an

      • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

        Actually, the more expensive a placebo is, the better it works. What countries with public health care systems need to do is let doctors prescribe cheap placebos for cases where real treatment isn't available or warranted, but tell patients that they're actually getting very expensive drugs.

    • Research has shown that the more someone pays for a placebo the more effective it becomes.

    • Of course they found similar results when compared with placebo. Placebos can actually be effective.

      And that's why they compare things like this to placebos, and not poisons.

      The purpose of such testing to see if the medicine in question is actually having an active, biological effect against disease. Placebos don't have any sort of active biological effect on people; they have a more passive, mental effect. If your effect is statistically indistinguishable from a placebo, than all you really have is a different type of placebo. If you do statistically better than a placebo, then we infer that there is

    • Crucial difference. Placebos are cheaper.
    • > Of course they found similar results when compared with placebo

      Meaning it's a placebo. *That's the definition.*

      > Placebos can actually be effective

      Of course, that's why we always test against them.

      > To infer that the treatment is useless is actually false

      And herein lies your entirely misunderstanding.

      There is absolutely no suggestion that the treatment is *useless*. Placebo's work. Really. Almost every time. Having a doctor hand you aspirin rather than the nurse makes it work better. This is wide

  • by Higaran ( 835598 ) on Thursday March 12, 2015 @06:12PM (#49245347)
    LOL, I guess some men really do want to watch the world burn.
  • Products purporting to be medical treatments backed by zero evidence and pseudoscientific gobbeltygook theories don't work? Whodathunk!
  • by sribe ( 304414 ) on Thursday March 12, 2015 @06:13PM (#49245351)

    Yeah, but aren't placebos effective? I thought even the FDA [theonion.com] agreed ;-)

  • Expecting to find positive results at a dilution of 1/1800 is not the homeopathic way. Positive results are diluted by approximately 10^-12 amidst the null results.
  • In other news, water turns out to be wet.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Thursday March 12, 2015 @06:26PM (#49245465) Journal
    Numerous homeopathic remedies can treat mild dehydration(though you have to watch your electroyte balance; because there isn't much there there). Take that, Big Pharma!
  • I'm fairly sure the Placebo Effect is effective. If it wasn't we wouldn't have an issue with it in medical studies. Who am I to take away someones perfectly functioning Placebo by convening them it's not actually doing anything? Also there are medications that are less effective than the placebo effect for some people. Some people are just far more susceptible to it. Good for them. They can feel better as long as they think they're doing something that'll make them feel better. Much harder to pull off that
    • I'm fairly sure the Placebo Effect is effective.

      Well, then you'd simply be wrong.

      You see, there isn't one "Placebo Effect". The effect is different for different ailments.

      An example: you have a patient who is suffering from a migraine. You give them a placebo. In 10 minutes, they say they feel somewhat better. That may be the "placebo effect".

      A second patient comes in who has had a heart attack. They aren't breathing, and there is no pulse. You give them a placebo. In 10 minutes, they're dead.

      When constructing studies with placebos, you typically

  • by Ralph Siegler ( 3506871 ) on Thursday March 12, 2015 @06:26PM (#49245471)
    I've been homeopathically poisoning the planetary water supply of this study's authors with sewage, every time I go to the bathroom.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 12, 2015 @06:28PM (#49245483)

    ... just have a small glass of water. You'll feed much better.

    Incidentally, alternative medicine doesn't exist. There's medicine. And there's stuff that doesn't work.

  • by al0ha ( 1262684 ) on Thursday March 12, 2015 @06:29PM (#49245495) Journal
    He offered $1,000,000 to anyone who could prove homeopathy works. Nobody won though some quack named George Vithoulkas, whose International Academy for Classical Homeopathy is based on an island in Greece, claims Randi backed out of a previous challenge issued early in the 21st Century; don't know about that and the new challenge was instated in 2011 and not a peep from George Vithoulkas as far as I'm aware.

    http://www.wired.co.uk/news/ar... [wired.co.uk]
  • they didn't test the right medical condition.
  • ... if symptoms persist, take one.

    • If symptoms persist, take one.
      If symptoms persist, take one-half.
      If symptoms persist, take one-quarter.

      By the way, has anyone seen what dogs do with grass? Ok, it varies a bit by dog. Some eat grass (and throw it up later) while others simply bite at the grass (swallowing little or none and not throwing it up later).

      The point is, why do they do it?

      I postulate, with the second category of dog, that they are getting a hint, an "essence of grass", and using that as an intentional "almost at homeo
  • by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Thursday March 12, 2015 @06:41PM (#49245599) Homepage Journal
    I like to think of stuff like homeopathy as the chlorine in our gene pool. We've made the world so safe for stupid people that if they didn't have outlets like this, we'd be devolving into lawyers and politicians faster than we already are. You know the saying that's popular around here, "You can't cure stupid"? If there's one thing homeopathy might be able to cure, it's that. It'd just take a couple generations to do it.

    It's clear that the Aussie researchers were paid off by Big Pharma®!!!


  • by burtosis ( 1124179 ) on Thursday March 12, 2015 @06:43PM (#49245615)
    Is it safe? Imagine if someone drank absolutely pure water - wouldn't you overdose and die? Thank goodness for natural minerals and man made pollution in my water that saves my ass every day.
  • by smellsofbikes ( 890263 ) on Thursday March 12, 2015 @06:44PM (#49245625) Journal

    If they think Homeopathy doesn't work, they're just not using enough.

    Or, wait, sorry, they're using too much.

    The less homeopathy you use, the stronger it is.

    The logical conclusion is that if you use none at all, you'll see the greatest improvement, especially financially.

  • Selling a "convincing" placebo to people might be a good idea if homeopathy confined itself to "treating" harmless conditions. But Homeopaths think they can treat real diseases for which we have medical treatments of known effectiveness.

    Homeopaths think they can treat cancer, diabetes, hypertension, arrhythmia, allergies, viral illnesses of all sorts (from the common cold, to influenza and ebola), gout, parasites, etc.

    If people believe that their homeopathic remedy "cured" them of insomnia, they might turn

  • I was sick like all the time as a small child (constant sinus infections, often also in my ears and throat and lungs, it was awful). First stop was all kinds of doctors that put me on all kinds of medication, at the end of which I was even worse. Finally my mom tried taking me to an alternative place that turned out to be a homeopathic clinic, not that she actually believed in it, but she was about ready to try just about anything. She actually called the pills they gave her to give me "placebo pills", whic

  • Those that believe the placebo effect or homeopathy works and have kidney disease should test their theory. Enter a medical experiment where they are given a choice of of this treatment or the medically approved treatment of dialysis followed by kidney transplant when a kidney is available or homeopathy and check the results. We all know pretty much what the results will be: death for the homeopathy treated patients and likely much longer life for the traditionally treated patients.
  • by Rudisaurus ( 675580 ) on Thursday March 12, 2015 @07:14PM (#49245863)
    ... on alternative "medicine" generally, especially homeopathy: Simon Singh, PhD and Edzard Ernst, MD, "Trick Or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine", Norton, 2009 (ISBN 0393337782)
  • I saw this article first on IFLScience, and wowee... the comments were the equivalent of repeatedly thwacking multiple hornets nests with sticks. The sheer number of people up in arms about this study is jawdropping.

    While not really surprising, it is depressing. Especially when you consider the fact that the majority of people who were outraged had no idea what homeopathy actually was. Countless comments about how willow bark, st. johns wort, etc worked for them and therefore the study was just a big con

  • by KPexEA ( 1030982 ) on Thursday March 12, 2015 @07:28PM (#49245969)
    Everything you wanted to know is fully explained here: http://www.howdoeshomeopathywo... [howdoeshom...hywork.com]
  • ... the placebo effect is real, and only works if people believe in the remedy.

    • by narcc ( 412956 )

      As it happens, it works even when people know they're receiving a placebo. Weird, isn't it?

      Even stranger, there are measurable physiological effects. It's not just patients reporting on their subjective experience.

  • by UpnAtom ( 551727 ) on Thursday March 12, 2015 @07:56PM (#49246207) Homepage

    Placebos have undoubtedly successfully treated more people than any medical procedure. [We can say this because treatments are rarely twice as effective as placebo. As such, placebo can be considered to be responsible for typically 50-100% of a treatment's effectiveness.]

    There are many health issues where treatments don't outperform placebo by 10% eg mental health.

    Now if you or your public health service is on a budget, a cheap placebo might well be the best option.

    A couple more points:

    - Many treatments are impossible to test against placebo eg osteopathy and the like. Homeopathy is perfect to test against placebo -- it is scientifically indistinguishable from water. Therefore we know with far more certainty than anything else that homeopathy doesn't outperform placebo. We could still be wrong but we can be surer of that than any other complementary treatment.

    - Double blind is a necessity for testing against placebo. Single blind cannot give a positive result -- but a negative one means your treatment is pretty bad. But double blind methodologies are often flawed and should always be tested by asking the patient what they think they took. If > 55% guess correctly, you have a problem.

  • by Theovon ( 109752 ) on Thursday March 12, 2015 @08:23PM (#49246387)

    The reason that so many people believe that homeopathic medicines is that most of them actually WORK, because they are "contaminated" with actual medicine. For instance, there's this zinc-based nasal spray that is advertized as homeopathic, but in fact it contains a non-trivial amount of the active ingredient. It's advertized as homeopathic (a) as a marketing gimmick for those who buy into this stuff (note: people who believe in homeopathy don't read labels or even understand what's on those labels) and (b) probably some way to get around FDA regulations.

    Ever heard of grapefruit seed extract? Supposedly it's this powerful antimicrobial agent. Except it's not. Often the product also contains an actual antimicrobial compound as an "inactive ingredient."

    I have no idea how companies get away with this. I mean, if it works, that's fine, but to lie through their teeth about what does what in the product?

The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable. -- John Kenneth Galbraith