In August of 2005, the prestigious British medical journal the Lancet published a review comparing clinical trials of homeopathy with trials of conventional medicine. The conclusion of this study, which was widely hailed as evidence that homeopathy is worthless quackery, stated that homeopathic medicines are non-effective and, at best, just placebos. What’s more, an accompanying editorial in the Lancet said this “evidence” should close the door on the non-toxic, alternative treatment method, and flatly proclaimed this review should mark “the end of homeopathy”.
Now two newly published studies, one in the journal Homeopathy and the other in the mainstream medical Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, have both gone on record to say the Lancet review was enormously flawed and downright inaccurate. Instead of showing homeopathy doesn’t work, the conclusion should have been that, at least for some ailments, it is effective.
Homeopathy involves giving very small doses of substances called remedies that, according to homeopathy, would produce the same or similar symptoms of illness in healthy people if they were given in larger doses. The goal of homeopathy is to stimulate the body’s defense system in order to prevent or treat illness. Homeopathy treatment is tailored to each individual and homeopathic practitioners work to select remedies according to a total picture of the patient, including not only symptoms but lifestyle, emotional and mental states, and other factors.
The original claim made in the Lancet review that homeopathic medicines are worthless treatments (other than being placebos) was based on six clinical trials of conventional medicine and eight studies of homeopathy. But what trials, exactly, were studied? It turns out the Lancet did not reveal this most basic information and, as the new studies point out, seriously flawed assumptions were made about the data that was presented. There are a limited number of homeopathic studies so it is not difficult to pick and choose facts to interpret selectively and unfavorably, which appears to be just what was done in the original Lancet anti-homeopathy article.
Bottom line: the Lancet’s report showing homeopathy is worthless lacked the academic care and scientific approach called for in medical journals. In fact, it could well be seen as a hack job.
In a statement to the press, George Lewith, Professor of Health Research at Southampton University in Great Britain, stated: “The review gave no indication of which trials were analyzed 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 two recently published scientific papers that investigated the previous Lancet review conclude that an analysis of all high quality trials of homeopathy show positive outcomes. What’s more, the eight larger and higher quality trials of homeopathy looked at a variety of medical conditions. The new studies point out that because homeopathy worked consistently for some of these ailments and not others, the results must indicate that homeopathic remedies can’t be simply placebos. In addition, the studies conclude that comparing homeopathy to conventional medicine was a meaningless apples-and-oranges approach. There are also concerns that the original anti-homeopathy review used unpublished criteria. For example, the researchers didn’t bother to define what they meant by “higher quality” homeopathy research.
The new studies not only cast serious doubts on the original Lancet review, which was headed by Professor Matthias Egger of the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine at the University of Berne, but they strongly indicate Egger and his team based their conclusions on a series of hidden judgments that were prejudiced against homeopathy. So far,Professor Egger has declined to comment on the findings of the new studies in Homeopathy and the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology.