Homeopathy for asthma
I wrote a couple of weeks ago about well-meaning but misleading information from Asthma UK on complementary and alternative treatments for asthma. This was prompted by a flurry of activity on Twitter about Asthma UK's website, as a result of which Asthma UK said they would review the information they provide on homeopathy for asthma. However, as I write this, their information remains uncorrected.
This is what Asthma UK has to say about homeopathy:
- Homeopathic treatments can vary, but the most common involves preparing a medicine that includes a very small amount of the substance to which a person is allergic, eg pollen or house-dust mites.
- Research into a form of homeopathy called homeopathic immunotherapy has shown some encouraging results in people with asthma and rhinitis.
- Although some research has shown homeopathy to be helpful in asthma, more research is needed to study larger groups of people.
That is dangerously misleading stuff. For one thing, homeopathy does not usually include "a very small amount" of the substance: although that can occasionally be true of some homeopathic remedies, many homeopathic remedies contain a zero amount of the substance. That's a pretty important difference.
For another thing, no credible and reproducible research has shown homeopathy to be helpful in asthma. Any studies that claim to show a positive effect are either biased or small studies with fluke results.
Why is this dangerous? Surely if homeopathy is inactive, it can't do any harm can it? Well, no, it can't, but visiting a homeopath certainly can. Homeopaths not only dispense homeopathic treatments, they also give advice to their clients about their existing conventional medicines. It is worrying to think that someone with asthma may decide to consult a homeopath after reading this stuff. Consulting homeopaths for asthma can have tragic consequences, and the body that is supposed to maintain professional standards for homeopaths in the UK does not make any attempt to take action against its members when they offer advice which is clearly detrimental to their clients' health.
So, as Asthma UK appear to be struggling to know what to do with their website, I would like to offer them the following text which they could use in place of their existing section on homeopathy. If they wish to use the next paragraph on their website, I shall be delighted for them to do so and would not dream of charging them any fee.
Homeopathy is based on 18th century ideas about medicine, which have since been thoroughly discredited. It consists of diluting substances to the point where literally none of the original substance remains. A homeopathic tablet is therefore nothing more than an inactive sugar pill. The overwhelming weight of scientific evidence has shown that homeopathy is no more effective than placebo (ie inactive) treatment. Homeopathy is not an effective treatment for asthma, or indeed any other condition. If, despite this, you are tempted to consult a homeopath, it is extremely important that you do not follow any advice a homeopath may give you about your existing treatments without first consulting a qualified medical practitioner. Homeopaths, unlike doctors, are not required to follow any professional standards, and have frequently been known to give dangerous advice. On occasion, advice given by homeopaths has even proved fatal.
Homeopathy is not the only alternative-to-medicine described on that page, but I think it's the section with the most serious misinformation. If anyone wants to have a go at correcting any of the other sections on Asthma UK's page, you are welcome to do so via the comments form below.