Monday, July 05, 2010

It's Never Been Tested, But We'll Treat Everything With It Anyway

Homeopaths are at the forefront of amassing rigourous scientific evidence of the incredible power of water to heal every disease and illness known. They are particularly favoured of the customer satisfaction survey, conducted some time after providing a non-blinded treatment.

It appears homeopathy is equally effective in horses.

There are more than 138 randomized controlled trials of homeopathy in human medicine, but fewer than 20 have been performed in all of veterinary medicine and not one has involved horses.

To gain insight regarding the kinds of problems that veterinarians in the UK treat via homeopathy and owner-assessed changes after homeopathy, twelve members of the Faculty of Homeopathy veterinarians recorded data systematically at 777 consecutive homeopathic appointments for horses over a period of 12 months.1 A spreadsheet enabled the recording of information, which included:

date of appointment;
horse and owner identity (anonymised);
sex of horse;
main medical problem treated;
whether the condition was chronic or acute;
whether the appointment was new or a follow-up;
owner-assessed clinical outcome on a seven-point scale, ranging from -3 to +3, compared with the first appointment; homeopathic medicine(s) prescribed;
and whether any conventional or other complementary/alternative medicine (CAM) was being used concurrently to treat the condition.

Data from 289 horses comprised a total of 305 individual conditions identified as chronic in nature, of which 234 had a follow-up assessment. At the final appointment for chronic cases during the study period, 4.3 per cent were receiving conventional medication and 17.1 per cent were being given another CAM treatment in addition to homeopathy.

The homeopathic veterinarians treated more than 100 different conditions. The eight chronic conditions most frequently treated with homeopathy were:
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
sweet itch
Cushing’s syndrome

At the time of the final appointment, owners assessed the impact of the homeopathy on a scale from -3 (major deterioration) to +3 (major improvement) compared to the first appointment.

For the 234 cases, a final score of +2 or +3 (moderate or major improvement) was reported in 86.7% of cases.

1. Mathie RT, Baitson ES, Hansen L, Elliott MF, Hoare J. (2010) Prescribing for chronic conditions in equine veterinary practice in the UK. Vet Rec. 2010 Feb 20;166(8):234-8.

Unfortunately, EoR's institutional subscription doesn't include The Veterinary Record, so he's unable to assess the full paper, but the summary provided is cause for concern. Where was the control group? Why use a vague 'improvement' assessment scored by someone (the owner) who is not a medical expert? Why only assess "clinical outcome" at final appointment (which, presumably, was anywhere up to twelve months later than the initial appointment). Why only choose those with chronic conditions (homeopathy is claimed to be able to treat anything)? What was done to eliminate the natural variability of chronic conditions? Of all the amazing numbers given (777 appointments, which then becomes 289 horses, which then becomes 234 horses that were actually part of the survey) why isn't the most important (the actual number of owners making the satisfaction survey response) given?

Most importantly, if there's never been a study of homeopathy to treat equine conditions, why is it being promoted so liberally?

And, finally, were all the vets involved paid up members of the The British Veterinary Voodoo Society?

1 comment:

  1. Here's the major flaw I see in this study: assessments of how the horse was doing were made by the owners. Animals may not be susceptible to the placebo effect, but people are, including owners. If they're the ones making the judgments, then there's your problem.

    I think it's actually more cruel to give placebos to a horse than to a human. At least the human might get some psychological benefit out of the deal; the horse won't. So really the whole thing is designed to make owners feel better, not horses.


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