What may be the most exhaustive review yet of the evidence for homeopathy has come to a very strong conclusion: the treatment doesn't work, and people should stop wasting their time, money, and potentially their health on what amounts to junk science.
In 2012, the Australian government set out to examine all the best available research evidence on homeopathy as part of a look into the effectiveness of alternative therapies commonly used by Aussies. Homeopathy is extremely popular in the US, too: at last count, Americans spent a whopping $3 billion on the treatment.
The main ideas behind homeopathy are that extremely diluted versions of a substance that's causing someone to be sick can actually make them better, and that these watered-down potions retain a "memory" of the original substance. Scientists have long taken umbrage with these claims, since, when examined, homeopathic treatments do not actually contain traceable amounts of the original plant or animal material they were supposedly diluting.
This week, the Australian government published its findings based on the results of 176 studies on the health impact of homeopathy.
"There was no reliable evidence from research in humans that homeopathy was effective for treating the range of health conditions considered," researchers wrote. They added: "Homeopathy should not be used to treat health conditions that are chronic, serious, or could become serious."
"People who choose homeopathy may put their health at risk"
The Australian study found numerous problems with the research on homeopathy. To start, many of the studies were poorly designed: they didn't include enough participants to have meaningful results, or the researchers failed to limit bias and control for confounding factors.
But even the high-quality studies did not find that homeopathy performed better than a placebo or another available treatment for a range of health conditions, including asthma, anxiety, chronic fatigue syndrome, colds, and ulcers. The studies that reported homeopathy had some health benefit were so flawed and poorly designed they were unreliable.
This means that not only did homeopathy treatments perform no better than other medicines, but they also failed to outdo sugar pills. This isn't entirely surprising, considering that homeopathy tablets and potions are essentially sugar pills or drops.
"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," the report reads. "People who are considering whether to use homeopathy should first get advice from a registered health practitioner. Those who use homeopathy should tell their health practitioner and should keep taking any prescribed treatments."
We don't need more evidence that homeopathy is bogus
This isn't the first report to come to such dismal conclusions about homeopathy. There have been numerous studies, books, and investigations demonstrating that this therapy is bogus.
In fact, there's so much evidence on homeopathy's failure to help people that some researchers have wondered when enough will be enough and we will finally stop investing our research funding on this alternative therapy in favor of putting it into treatments that might actually help people.