There is very little evidence that homeopathic medicine can prevent or treat infectious diseases in farm animals, according to a comprehensive review published this week in the journal Veterinary Record.
Organic farmers around the world have started using homeopathic medicine on their livestock as a natural alternative to antibiotics.
The alternative medicine works on the theory that “like cures like,” meaning an ailment can allegedly be cured by giving the patient a very diluted amount of a natural substance that would cause the same symptoms.
For example, the homeopathic “treatment” for an inflamed udder in cows is belladonna, an extract of the poisonous deadly nightshade plant.
The new review assessed 48 studies published between 1981 and 2014 on the effectiveness of homeopathy in cattle, pigs, and poultry. While 22 of them showed no medicinal benefit to homeopathic treatments, 26 appeared to suggest that the treatments were superior to a placebo, or sugar pill, treatment.
The problem with those 26 studies was that none of them were able to be replicated (or repeated with similar results) by an independent research team, something that’s considered a gold-standard of health research.
Researchers cannot recommend the use of homeopathy
In the new review, potential conflicts of interest, low sample size, selective reporting, and bias were also found in the majority of the trials. These are other tricks that scientists aren’t supposed to get away with, and why there are very few homeopathic research papers in respected journals such as Science, Nature, and The Lancet.
“A certain remedy which proved efficacious in a scientific trial may not be effective under farm conditions,” the authors said in a statement. “The current evidence of studies providing evidence in favour of homeopathy lacks reproducibility and therefore cannot claim to have sufficient prognostic validity.”
Farmers first turned to homeopathy because of the overuse of antibiotics in livestock. Diseases spread very quickly through livestock, and often farmers simply add antibiotics to animals’ food on the off-chance they are already sick. However, this is incredibly dangerous in the long run and has led to antibiotic resistance.
A certain level of drug-resistant bacteria lives everywhere, but the non-resistant strains and other bacteria keep it in check. If all competition is suddenly wiped out, these resistant strains can thrive and then farmers are in real trouble when it comes to getting treatment for their animals.
It’s a good idea to find an alternative therapy and limit the use of antibiotics in farming — but homeopathy is not the answer.