Does homoeopathy have a place alongside the practice of medicine? The world of homoeopathy has a history of being a divider of science and alternative medicine, and confusing everyone along the way.
A debate has been recently published in the British Medical Journal about whether doctors should practice homoeopathy alongside evidence-based medicine. The debate came out in response to a study from the Australian Government's National Health and Medical Research Council, which was released this March. It concluded that there was no reliable evidence that homoeopathy was effective in treating a range of health conditions.
Peter Fisher, from the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine, thinks that the review omitted key pieces of evidence. He points out that the reports state "there are no health conditions for which there is reliable evidence that homoeopathy is effective." Fisher responds to this by saying that "the fact that one homeopathic treatment for a condition is ineffective doesn't mean that another is also ineffective."
This seems like an exceedingly weak statement since medicine doesn't work on the basis of "it hasn't shown to be effective yet so let's keep using it anyway."
Edzard Ernst, professor of alternative and complementary medicine, is adamant that the practice has no place in modern medicine, stating that "the axioms of homoeopathy are implausible, its benefits do not outweigh its risks, and its costs and opportunity costs are considerable. Therefore, it seems unreasonable, even unethical, for healthcare professionals to recommend its use." He thinks that training professionals to use homoeopathic solutions, even if they confer the same benefits as a placebo, is detrimental in the long term as it promotes a confusing message. This can have serious consequences if people start replacing effective therapies (for example, vaccines or antimalarials) with homoeopathic alternatives, which are essentially sugar and water and therefore inert.
At the same time that this study was released, a BBC feature revealed that the contents of some high street natural remedies actually had none of the allegedly beneficial ingredient in them at all. A team of researchers tested the content of 30 ginkgo products, available on the high street or by online retailers, that are often used for memory disorders. Shockingly, eight of these products had little to no ginkgo extract in them whatsoever.
These new findings, which expose how herbal food supplements are sometimes labeled misleadingly, also identified one milk thistle product that contained no milk thistle. Instead of milk thistle there were some suspect, unidentified substances. The findings were reported by University College London and BBC Health for the series titled "Trust Me, I'm a Doctor," which examines the state of the healthcare system in Britain.
These findings seem fairly outrageous. It seems shocking that products, sold under the guise of being beneficial for your body, actually contain none of the advertised ingredients. Products that had the ingredients advertised were under the regulation of the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority (MHRA), whereas the products that had no trace of the advertised ingredients slipped under the radar under the regulation of the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
By implementing homeopathic remedies alongside medicine, consumers are vulnerable and at risk of buying deceptive products, the BBC argues.