Pseudoscience in the TOI
This article was published in the Times Of India.
Homeopathy key to ovarian cysts?
Nisha didn’t want to take contraceptive pills. Instead, she took a three-month course of homeopathic pills and pain-relieving tablets. After three months, another scan showed the cyst had disappeared.
The key question is, if she had NOT taken the homeopathic pills, would the cyst have disappeared? The answer is probably yes. Indeed, as a two-line quote in the TOI article hastily mentions,
On ovarian cysts, Dr Neerja Batla, additional professor, AIIMS, says cysts less than 50 mm usually regress on their own. “I’m not sure how far homeopathy helps.”
To attempt to give some scientific credibility to this pathetic article, we get
Homeopathy’s efficacy in ovarian cysts was corroborated, says Dr C Nayak, director, Central Council for Research in Homeopathy, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, by an article in the British Homeopathic Journal. The article, ‘Homeopathic treatment of ovarian cysts’, cited a study of 40 women with ovarian cysts. “After nine months of homeopathic treatment, the cysts disappeared in 90% cases,” the article said.
The article which Dr Nayak mentions, published in 1991, can be found here. I don’t have access yet to the complete article, but the abstract states:
Forty women suffering from ovarian cysts, diagnosed and measured by ultrasound, were treated with a single homœopathic medicine according to their specific mental, general and local symptoms. The hormonal disorders suffered by these patients lead to several symptoms, some specifically gynaecological, others general or mental, demonstrating how the health deterioration process effects the general state of the sick person. The ultrasound examination was repeated after about nine months. Results were positive.
- First, In my opinion, the “British Homoeopathic journal” hardly seems like a neutral or unbiased journal
- Then, what exactly are the “general” and “mental” symptoms? (See Parts II and III in the essential reading below, which points out how loosely this term is used )
- Importantly, how was the study conducted? Did they blind the test against placebo effects? Did they have a control group to make sure that the cysts did not regress on its own?
- Also, are these results reproducible and replicated in other studies to ensure that it wasn’t the result of some freak error in conducting the test? Indeed, how credible are these “results”?
I’ve not yet read the study (this will be fixed soon), but I’m pretty confident that the answer to most of these questions will be ‘no’.
External Links and Essential Reading
For more regarding Homeopathy and the current (lack of) evidence, there are a series of brilliant posts by the wonderful people at Science Based Medicine, who point out why “Homeopathic ‘Remedies’ are Placebos“.
- Homeopathy and Evidence-Based Medicine: Back to the Future – Part I
- Homeopathy and Evidence-Based Medicine: Back to the Future – Part II
- Homeopathy and Evidence-Based Medicine: Back to the Future – Part III
- Homeopathy and Evidence-Based Medicine: Back to the Future – Part IV
- Homeopathy and Evidence-Based Medicine: Back to the Future – Part V
For the hardcore and mathematically inclined readers, the series is actually continued where the authors go on to explain why the results of clinical trials can be misconstrued as evidence despite the scientific implausibility of the original claim.
- Prior Probability: The Dirty Little Secret of “Evidence-Based Alternative Medicine”
- Prior Probability: the Dirty Little Secret of “Evidence-Based Alternative Medicine”—Continued Again