European Committee for Homeopathy
For immediate release 3 November 2008
New evidence for Homeopathy
Two new studies conclude that a review which claimed that
homeopathy is just a placebo, published in The Lancet, was seriously flawed.
George Lewith, Professor of Health Research at Southampton University
comments: ‘The review gave no indication of which trials were analysed nor
of the various vital assumptions made about the data. This is not usual
scientific practice. If we presume that homeopathy works for some conditions
but not others, or change the definition of a ‘larger trial’, the
conclusions change. This indicates a fundamental weakness in the
conclusions: they are NOT reliable.’ The background to the ongoing debate is
as follows: In August 2005, The Lancet published an editorial entitled ‘The
End of Homeopathy’, prompted by a review comparing clinical trials of
homeopathy with trials of conventional medicine. The claim that homeopathic
medicines are just placebo was based on 6 clinical trials of conventional
medicine and 8 studies of homeopathy but did not reveal the identity of
these trials. The review was criticised for its opacity as it gave no
indication of which trials were analysed and the various assumptions made
about the data. Sufficient detail to enable a reconstruction was eventually
published and two recently published scientific papers based on such a
reconstruction challenge the Lancet review, showing that:
• Analysis of all high-quality trials of homeopathy yields a positive
• The 8 larger higher-quality trials of homeopathy were all for different
conditions; if homeopathy works for some of these but not others the result
changes, implying that it is not placebo.
• The comparison with conventional medicine was meaningless.
• Doubts remain about the opaque, unpublished criteria used in the review,
including the definition of ‘higher quality’.
The Lancet review, led by Prof Matthias Egger of the Department of Social
and Preventive Medicine at the University of Berne, started with 110 matched
clinical trials of homeopathy and conventional medicine, reduced these to
‘higher-quality trials’ and then to 8 and 6 respectively ‘larger
higher-quality trials’. Based on these 14 studies the review concluded that
there is ‘weak evidence for a specific effect of homoeopathic remedies, but
strong evidence for specific effects of conventional interventions’. There
are a limited number of homeopathic studies so it is quite possible to
interpret these data selectively and unfavourably, which is what appears to
have been done in the Lancet paper. If we assume that homeopathy does not
work for just one condition (Arnica for post-exercise muscle stiffness), or
alter the definition of ‘larger trial’, the results are positive. The
comparison with conventional medicine was meaningless: the original 110
trials were matched, but matching was lost after they were reduced to 8 and
6. But the quality of homeopathic trials was better than conventional
trials. This reconstruction casts serious doubts on the review, showing that
it was based on a series of hidden judgments unfavourable to homeopathy. An
open assessment of the current evidence suggests that homeopathy is probably
effective for a number of conditions including allergies, upper respiratory
tract infections and ‘flu, but more research is desperately needed.
Prof Egger has declined to comment on these findings.
Lüdtke R, Rutten ALB. The conclusion on the effectiveness of homeopathy
highly depend on the set of analysed trials. Journal of Clinical
Epidemiology, 2008. doi: 10.1016/j.jclinepi.2008.06.015
Rutten ALB, Stolper CF. The 2005 meta-analysis of homeopathy: analysis of
postpublication data. Homeopathy, 2008. doi:10.1016/j.homp.2008.09.008.
For further information, please contact: Prof George Lewith Tel: +44 7970
067884 email: email@example.com Rainer Lüdtke Tel: +49 201 5630516 email:
firstname.lastname@example.org Dr Lex Rutten Tel: +31 765 227340 email: