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HEALTH: Correspondance with Alliance Healthcare About Dodgy Homeopathy Leaflet

Homeopathy doesn't work. (http://gu.com/p/3z92f) No credible medical evidence supports claims that it is effective against threatening health conditions.

So when I saw the following leaflet displayed above the kiddie rides in my local shopping centre (The Spires in Barnet), I decided to tweet it about and test out the response from the atheist and skeptic community on the Twat-o-sphere.



Taking my cue from Adam Reakes of the infamous 'Herd Mentality' podcast, I thought I'd write to Alliance Healthcare to request evidence for their claims. Pasted below is the record of our comments to date, with personal details removed.

Enjoy!
------------------

Dear Sir or Madam,

I picked up one of your leaflets today in Barnet Spires shopping centre. It advertises homeopathic treatments for the following problems:

- ear infections and glue ear
- head lice
- fevers 
- asthma 
- cold and flu 

Could you provide evidence that these conditions can be cured with
Homeopathy?

Yours,

D K


----------

Dear Mr K,

Thank you for your email and apologies I didn't reply earlier.

You didn't give me any clue as to why you are enquiring about homeopathy, 
whether you wish to find out more about it in general or think about
addressing a specific problem that someone you know has.

How I wish there were more proper studies available on the effectiveness of homeopathy.
Clearly there aren't and so I can't rise up to your challenge to provide evidence that homeopathy can cure
certain conditions. In fact most studies compare effectiveness of homeopathy (or other alternative methods) 
against effectiveness of orthodox treatments. 

Perhaps this link (and references within) will help to answer some of your questions:

For me, as for many other homeopaths, the introduction to homeopathy came about
because orthodox medicine could not solve the health issues faced by my family.
My then 4-year old daughter had recurring ear infections, recurring bronchitis, 
and what followed, diagnosis of glue ear and progressing deafness.
After two years of many visits to various doctors (many of them private),
unsuccessful antibiotic treatments and many many tests showing the
continuing deterioration of hearing, I'd finally given up on the conventional treatment, 
only to come across a homeopath (in India) who sorted the problem in two weeks.
Two weeks of taking 'sugar' pills and her hearing returned to normal, ear infections have since disappeared
and she has never been diagnosed with bronchitis again... in fact she has not visited a 'doctor' after that.  

I have since spent years studying homeopathy and become a homeopath myself,
and can only hope that I can provide to others the health benefits similar to those my daughter was fortunate enough
to receive in the past. Subsequently I have witnessed many health 'recoveries' and my family and myself
we never looked back. So far any and all health issues that we faced have been successfully addressed
by homeopathy without the need to see GP, A&E, antibiotics, pain killers, etc.
This is not to say we don't need GPs or A&Es, of course we do, but clearly there are
other approaches to health too, which should be explored alongside orthodox medicine.

I can only hope that other people have similar good experiences first time round
they try homeopathic treatment. I don't think any amount of studies will change their minds,
what will make the difference is when they themselves see the benefits. 
This is essentially why I offer free homeopathic clinics (on most Tuesdays), 
so that anyone wishing to see for themselves how and if it's effective for them, can come and try the treatment.  
Anyone is welcome, there are no charges. Whilst clearly not many people will be 'cured' after initial visit,
I hope that the health benefits they may experience as a result, will at least open their minds.

It's an open invitation, no strings attached.

Kind regards
A K

PS. By the way, as a homeopath I have to be very careful about the 'claims' I make (advertising standards) and so wish to point out that the leaflet in question does not refer to 'cures', but points out that certain conditions respond well to homeopathic treatment. In any case I'm glad you came across the leaflet. 

--------------


Dear A,

Thank you for your response: it was very kindly worded.

I got in touch as a skeptic of homeopathic treatment, as I was surprised at the claims made by your leaflet. Although - as you have pointed out - the Alliance leaflet does not state homeopathy 'cures' anything, even the weaker claim that serious medical conditions such as ear infections 'respond well' to homeopathic treatment strikes me as exaggerated and potentially misleading.

I don't doubt the sincerity of your experience with your daughter's difficulties with glue ear. I am also relieved to hear she has recovered. However, the 'sugar pills' (as you call them), have nonetheless never been shown to be more than exactly that. Your daughter took sugar pills and meanwhile, her condition improved.

The evidence you cited from the British Homeopathic Association shows that systematic reviews have shown results in controlled randomised testing for only 6 conditions "childhood diarrhoea, hay fever, post-operative ileus, respiratory tract infection, rheumatic diseases and vertigo". It is my understanding that even these results are heavily disputed in the medical community.

If your leaflet were offering free advice for unspecific complementary treatments, I would not be concerned. But given you are claiming homeopathic treatment is 'effective' against specific and threatening medical conditions (flu, fever, ear infection), I must once again press you to back up these claims with reliable, peer reviewed evidence.

My greatest worry of all is that your leaflet was placed above the children's rides in a shopping centre, clearly targeting parents with small children. As you are a mother yourself, I am sure you would not wish parents to believe such serious medical problems can be treated 'effectively' with homeopathy, if there is no substantial evidence of its effectiveness. This could delay parents from seeking urgent medical treatments for their children.

Once again, I would like to thank you for taking the time to reply. Looking forward to hearing from you.

Yours,

D K

------------

Dear David,

I'll keep it short this time. My wish is to heal not to debate. 
I don't think words (or clinical evidence) would have persuaded me when I was a skeptic, but the results did.

I can assure you that NOBODY comes to a homeopath as a first stop for any illness, let alone serious one. The patient arrives when everything else fails.  

I'm very aware of which conditions I'm allowed to treat
and which I'm not and would treat (or refer to GP) any patient according to the current regulations. I'm also very aware of which conditions I, as a homeopath,
feel comfortable with, and which I do not.

If you ever feel that you would like to give it a go... just because you are skeptical, or because you want to try a different approach, please do get in touch, who knows you may change your mind. 

Kind regards,
A
---------------

Dear A,

Thank you for taking the time to reply once again.

I'm glad to hear your aim is not a debate, neither is mine. Your response is once again well-meant and kindly worded, but fails to provide evidence for the claims made in your leaflet.

Three points you have raised concern me.

Firstly,

I don't think words (or clinical evidence) would have persuaded me

This suggests that clinical evidence is a minor issue to be brushed aside in brackets and is a matter of belief. It is not. If you make the claim in your leaflet that your treatments are effective and name specific illnesses, you must be able to back this claim up with evidence. If you have none, then this claim is misleading.

Secondly,

The patient arrives when everything else fails.

This is not stated in your leaflet. Even if it were, it has no bearing on the effectiveness of homeopathic treatment. A patient suffering from the flu who isn't seeing any results with standard medical treatments has a virus. Does spending £25 on a consultation for sugar pills make any difference? If so, where is the evidence.

Thirdly, 

I'm also very aware of which conditions I, as a homeopath, feel comfortable with, and which I do not.

I am glad you have given this pause for thought. As you are aware of the appropriacy of homeopathy to treat such conditions as fevers and ear infections, surely you can give specific evidence.

To illustrate this, one of my fellow skeptics noted that one of the studies listed on the BHA website you cited is described as 'widely accepted' but has a sample size of 21.

Although once again I appreciate your kind intentions and do not doubt you mean to heal through the work you do, I feel it is important that you provide evidence for what is after all a medical claim. So far, you have not provided any to back up the statement that your work is 'effective' against the specific illnesses I have mentioned above.

I hope you will reconsider advertising such claims in Barnet and elsewhere.

Sincerely,

D K

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