Homeopathy: someone should tell the government that there’s nothing in it
Saturday December 31, 2005
My first new year’s resolution is to write less about homeopaths, partly because teasing them is starting to bore me, and partly because we’ve won. Yes. Won. I’m talking about huge meta-analyses, summing together vast numbers of little trials, adding all the numbers up, and finding that overall, homeopathy is no better than placebo. That’s not absence of evidence that it works. That’s positive evidence that homeopathy does not work better than placebo.
Before we go any further, I have two special messages for the alternative therapists reading this: firstly, please, if you’re going to write in to the letters page, alluding triumphantly to some single obscure positive homeopathy study, can you at least explain why this string of huge meta-analyses are not valid? It’s getting a bit embarrassing the way you all just pretend they don’t exist. The British Homeopathic Association doesn’t even list them – the biggest, most definitive studies on homeopathy – in its list of research on homeopathy at Trusthomeopathy.org .
And secondly, please, a plea on behalf of the state: it was very expensive to do all these trials, and if you make us do that for every little notion you concoct from your imagination, you will bring the country to its knees. If that was the plan all along then I salute you.
Anyway, as I said, I was going to shut up and leave them alone, but they’re not making it easy. Because, quietly, the government, headed by our first new-age premier, is sneaking through an amendment to the regulation on labelling homeopathic tablets in shops, due to come into force this year.
Now, homeopathic tablets in shops are a bit of a weird one for the homeopaths because most of the clever ones have retreated from all the placebo controlled literature – showing homeopathy is rubbish – by saying that homeopathy is all about the ritual of the consultation, not about the pills, and that makes buying them over the counter in shops pretty useless, even by the homeopaths’ own espoused belief system.
But no matter: at the moment, the law forces all homeopathic tablet peddlers to admit that their products are without an evidence base and prominently display the following text on the label: “Homeopathic medicinal product without approved therapeutic indications.” This goes for all homeopathic tablets, unless they’re very old, and happen to have a licence to claim efficacy in a particular condition left over from before the current laws came in, in 1968. “No deviation from this wording is permissible” says the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, the people who run medicines regulation.
But under regulations due to come in on January 1 these homeopathic remedy peddlers, sorry salespeople, sorry, selfless public servants, are able to apply for a licence for their homeopathy tablets, where they are allowed to print what their sugar pill “treats” on the label. All you need is evidence of manufacturing quality and safety, and “bibliographic evidence that the product has been used in the indications sought”.
What you don’t need, of course, is any evidence that your tablets treat the thing you’re selling them as treating. Which is lucky since there is evidence, and it says, collectively, that homeopathic remedies don’t work.
By now the pound signs are bouncing about all over the place in the magically gleaming eyes of the industry barons. Over to Robert Wilson, chairman of leading homeopathic medicines manufacturer Nelsonbach, who said, in Natural Products magazine (a publication to which I am naturally a subscriber): “This is a breakthrough for the industry as a whole. The fact that therapeutic indications may now be included on the packaging of licensed homeopathic medicines not only opens up the practice of homeopathy to new users but also gives it added credibility as a safe and natural complement to orthodox medicine.”
We are changing the regulations, a year after the axe finally fell on homeopathy. Bravo and ker-ching.
(sorry to be late posting this on the site, I’m nowhere near computers at the mo…)