The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has released a draft information paper addressing the effectiveness of homeopathy for treating health conditions, and, friends, it's not lookin' positive for homeopathy. The NHMRC is currently seeking feedback on the paper, the full text of which can be found on the NHMRC website.
The study of "complementary medicine" (which includes naturopathy, homeopathy, and other lifestyle-based disciplines), according to NHMRC, was conducted because "[t]he National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has been concerned with reports of non-evidence based CM being used in place of evidence-based treatments for patients with serious but treatable conditions."
The interesting part of this, for me personally, is that while my family primarily sees Western "modern" medical practitioners, we do also implement some naturopathic (and in the past, some homeopathic) therapies, as well, so I'm particularly interested in the findings. I do agree with the NHMRC in that often patients reject proven, evidence-based medicine and rely on these other options when there is no real proven benefit. The NHMRC says, "[w]ithin our health system, there are practices which are currently not based on good evidence. In addition, outside our health system and its regulation, many other products and procedures are promoted as beneficial to health, often with little or no evidence of their benefit beyond the placebo effect. For these products and procedures, individuals may normally need no more protection beyond that afforded by usual regulatory processes and access to research evidence about them. However, sometimes patients may be misled into rejecting practices and treatments that are evidence-based in favour of non-evidence based practices and treatments."
It is that final sentence that truly hit home for me. When my son was born with severe eczema covering his entire face, weeping and bleeding, none of the doctors, allergists, or specialists believed he could possibly have food allergies. We had tried absolutely everything else, and exhausted the options, so we sought out the advice from some alternative medicine practitioners. I admit that we got suckered more than once by quacks convincing us their tests were legit when the only thing they did was drain my wallet. There are definitely too many of those practitioners out there. I think the bad ones definitely colour the whole practice negatively, and are the ones who prompt reactions like the IFLScience piece about the paper. Hell, I wrote this piece about allergy myths wherein I said allergies can't be diagnosed by naturopathic doctors.
But, here's the thing—while I'm a believer in science, and evidence-based conclusions, I wholly believe that it was Dr. Michelle Peters, BHSc, ND who finally was able to help my son's body regulate itself and put us on the road to health. I have no proof other than my son's skin changes and the fact that he outgrew so many allergies. I have no science to back up these claims, and neither do these "complementary medicines."
So where does this leave us? My hope is that further testing dollars will be put into finding the evidence to back up the claims of the things that do work. I hope they call out those quacks and I hope that natural medicines are studied more and that we're able to have a healthy balance between alternative and modern approaches to health and wellness.
Want to read about another alternative practice under scrutiny? Read this article about oil pulling.