Most Kiwis believe homeopathy is scientifically proven but probably do not even know what it is, according to new research.
A study by research company UMR, released to the Sunday Star-Times, shows that 51 per cent of New Zealanders believe that homeopathy has been scientifically proven.
Tauranga medical professional Dr Shaun Holt said homeopathy was based on "nonsensical" theories. It is grounded in tenets created by German physician Samuel Hahnemann in 1796 who essentially believed that diluting something and shaking it vigorously would create a potent substance. The water molecules would then "remember" the original substance, Holt said.
He said natural products, which had some medical benefit, could be diluted in homeopathic practise but this could also venture into the bizarre including the dilution and shaking of mobile phone radiation, whale song and dog testes.
"It's absolute nonsense."
The research results came as a surprise to Christchurch homeopath Elizabeth Fink who thought that negative connotations of homeopathy in the media had damaged its reputation.
"We constantly get that it's never been proven and it's not working but that is not true. I am surprised that many people out there are better informed."
She said people could now get their information on the internet and do their own research.
The New Zealand Council of Homeopaths claims that homeopathy can help with mental illness, fertility and behavioural issues. It points to accounts from the 1918 influenza epidemic and cases of success in homeopathic hospitals. It also had an account from New Zealand homeopath Julia Schiller who told of a woman who could not get pregnant after her first child. Schiller gave her a homeopathic remedy. A few weeks later the woman had a positive pregnancy test.
The research showed 59% of women and 59% of people living in rural areas believed homeopathy was scientifically proven. Under 30-year-olds (37%) and Asians (35%) were less inclined to believe that this was the case.
UMR Research Director Gavin White said it seemed likely that many New Zealanders understood the term "homeopathy" to include a much broader range of natural remedies.
Holt agreed with this explanation.
"In general people don't know what it is. They get it confused with naturopathy. It's not just members of the public it's doctors as well."
Holt estimated the vast majority of the public got their information on the treatment from friends or other homeopaths.
"Homeopaths can sound very convincing to someone who is not an expert."
There had never been one high quality scientific paper done proving the benefits of homeopathy, he said.
There were perfectly natural explanations to explain people getting better without hailing homeopathy as a cure-all. Unless an illness or disease was deadly, people and animals naturally got better over time. He also said if one was sick they would generally take better care of themselves which allowed time for the body to heal.
However, Holt would fall short of banning homeopathy. Holt said homeopaths often had long consultations with patients which made them feel good.
- Sunday Star Times