Homeopathy, the form of alternative medicine in which proponents claim that small doses of natural substances can cure patient’s ailments, has come under fire recently—Australia deemed the practice “useless” in 2014, and last year the FDA considered cracking down on unregulated treatments sold over the counter. Now homeopathy has received another blow: Paul Glasziou, a professor of evidence-based medicine at Bond University in the United Kingdom, called homeopathy a “therapeutic dead-end,” according to a blog post published on the website of the British Medical Journal last week and covered by The Independent.
When Glasziou first started weighing the evidence for homeopathy, he writes, he had an open mind: “I had begun the journey with an “I don’t know” attitude, curious about whether this unlikely treatment could ever work.” But after considering 57 review studies that covered a total of 176 trials, he found no evidence that any of the experiments showed any positive results beyond the placebo effect. And while the placebo effect is certainly powerful enough in its own right, it can’t stop the spread of infectious diseases like HIV or malaria. Delaying effective treatments in the hope that a homeopathic remedy will work is dangerous and risky, Glasziou writes.
But as scientists and journalists increasingly tout the lack of evidence supporting homeopathy, it’s still big business in the U.S. 50 percent of Americans use some form of alternative medicine, supporting an industry of $34 billion per year, according to a 2013 book by Paul Offit, an infectious disease expert at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. But now, consumers have started to wonder about the efficacy and contents of other alternative treatments like nutritional supplements. And regulators in the FDA are paying more attention.
By calling homeopathy a “therapeutic dead-end,” Glasziou implies that enough resources have been spent trying to prove that homeopathy works and it’s time to use that funding to discover treatments that might be more effective than mere placebo. If that happens, maybe the tide will slowly shift away from homeopathy in the U.S., too.