A leading scientist has described homeopathy as a "therapeutic dead end", in an article published in the British Medical Journal's (BMJ) blog.
Paul Glasziou, academic at Bond University in Queensland, Australia, was involved in the publication of a report on the effectiveness of homeopathic remedies for patients suffering from different health conditions, including chronic diseases.
Mandated by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Glasziou and fellow scientists analysed the results of 57 systematic reviews, including 176 individual studies looking at the benefits of homeopathy for treating 68 different illnesses. These ranged from rheumatoid arthritis and inflammations of the mouth due to chemotherapy, to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection.
Homeopathy "should not be used"
After analysing the results, the team said that none of these studies could provide reliable evidence that homeopathy is more effective than a placebo. While a few publications might show positive results for homeopathy, scientists say they are of poor quality, as too few participants were included during the trials.
The NHRMC report therefore concluded that homeopathy is not efficient and should certainly not be used to treat people who are suffering from serious or chronic health conditions.
Such findings may renew interest in an ongoing debate within the medical community. Homeopathy was first developed in the 18th century by German doctor Samuel Hahnemann. The treatment involves giving patients diluted substances coming from plants, animals or mineral resources, but its impact has long divided scientists.
Writing for the BMJ, Glasziou said: "I can well understand why Samuel Hahnemann – the founder of homeopathy – was dissatisfied with the state of 18th century medicine's practices, such as blood-letting and purging and tried to find a better alternative.
"But I would guess he would be disappointed by the collective failure of homeopathy to carry on his innovative investigations, but instead continue to pursue a therapeutic dead end."
Homeopathy's supporters claim it is less aggressive than traditional remedies and that it can improve the symptoms of almost any disease, but a majority of scientists are more cautious.
'Putting health at risk'
In the UK, only two NHS hospitals offer homeopathic treatments. NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) currently does not recommend its use, and in 2010, a House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report on homeopathy reached the same conclusion as the NHRMC, describing homeopathic treatments as no better than placebos.
In the BMJ's blog, Paul Glasziou goes even further, warning that homeopathy may even have disastrous consequences, as it is increasingly given to prevent infectious diseases such as HIV or malaria.
"Given the current effective treatments, that seems a very dubious activity, and it justifies the NHRMC's statement that "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," he says.