24 February 2010

'Homeopathy a placebo'

Britain's National Health Service (NHS) should stop funding homeopathy, which was merely a placebo, a UK parliamentary committee recommended recently.


Britain's National Health Service (NHS) should stop funding homeopathy, which was merely a placebo, a UK parliamentary committee recommended on Monday.

A placebo is customarily a pharmacologially inert substance - such as a sugar pill - given to patients with the assurance that it will make them better.

In a report released on Monday, the science and technology committee also said homeopathic product labels should not be allowed to make medical claims without evidence of efficacy.

'Mismatch' of evidence

The committee said it had found a "mismatch" between the evidence on homeopathy, and government policy.

Though the government acknowledged there was no evidence that homeopathy worked beyond the placebo effect, where patients got better because of their belief in the treatment, it did not intend to change its policies on NHS funding.

"In the committee's view, homeopathy is a placebo treatment and the government should have a policy on prescribing placebos," the committee said.

Prescribing placebos, which usually relied on some degree of deception of the patient, was not consistent with informed patient choice, which the government claimed was very important.

Bad medicine

"Beyond ethical issues and the integrity of the doctor-patient relationship, prescribing pure placebos is bad medicine," the committee said.

"Their effect is unreliable and unpredictable and cannot form the sole basis of any treatment on the NHS."

It said the product labelling for homeopathic products under all current licensing schemes failed to inform the public that homeopathic products were sugar pills containing no active ingredients.

Public mass overdose of homeopathic remedies has forced the New Zealand Council of Homeopaths to admit openly that their products do not contain any "material substances".

No molecule of original substance

Council spokeswoman Mary Glaisyer admitted publicly that "there's not one molecule of the original substance remaining" in the diluted remedies that form the basis of this multi-million dollar industry.

Homeopathic remedies are prepared by repeatedly diluting substances, and giving the result - which may not contain any of the original substance - to patients.

Part of the dilution involves repeatedly striking the container against a firm surface, known as "succussion", a process which historically used to be done against a Bible.

More esoteric homeopathic remedies allegedly include diluted essence of x-rays, sunlight and thunderstorms.

Last month a group of sceptics in New Zealand staged a public "overdose" of homeopathic medicine, and reported no ill effects. - (Sapa, February 2010)


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