Homeopathy is sometimes promoted as a safe, natural treatment for autism. But multiple studies debunking homeopathic treatments for autism show it doesn’t work.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder which affects communication and behavior. People with ASD have varying degrees of symptoms from minor to severe, and several different therapies are available to help — but this is no known medical cure. So, if you are a parent of a child with autism. or an adult on the autism spectrum, and you hear that homeopathy is a supposed safe and effective treatment, that claim could get your attention.
However, it’s important to get the facts before assuming that claims in ads and articles full of hype and false hope about homeopathic treatment for autism have any proven validity.
Understanding homeopathy and claims about autism therapy
Homeopathy, also called homeopathic medicine, is an alternative medical system developed in Germany more than two centuries ago. It’s based on the premise “like cures like.” What that means, according to homeopathic practitioners, is that disease can be cured by administering extremely diluted substances that supposedly produce the same symptoms of disease in healthy people.
What’s more, homeopathy is based on the “law of minimum dose” — a claim that the lower the dose of a homeopathic medicine, the stronger its effect in healing disease.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine (NCCIH) notes it’s not surprising many people try homeopathy when faced with a diagnosis of a disease or condition with no known cure. What’s more, many parents try complementary health treatments, most often alongside conventional medical care, for their children with autism.
However, there is no scientific proof to back claims that homeopathy is an effective treatment for autism. In fact, numerous researchers in several countries have tried to find evidence homeopathy might help any health problems — but the results have resulted, instead, in debunking homeopathic treatments.
What research shows about homeopathy and autism
Researchers have delved into homeopathy claims for decades. Back in 2002, a study by a University of Exeter complementary medicine expert, published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, analyzed 11 studies of homeopathy and concluded “the hypothesis that any given homeopathic remedy leads to clinical effects that are relevantly different from placebo or superior to other control interventions for any medical condition is not supported by evidence from systematic reviews.”
Common homeopathic treatments for autism include:
- Gluten- and dairy-free diets
- Fish oil and other omega-3 fatty acid supplements
- Melatonin to improve sleep
- Chelation therapy (designed to flush heavy metals from the body)
- Relaxation techniques
In recent years, more studies have also come away with undeniable results showing a lack of proof for homeopathy claims.
For example, Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council assessed more than 1,800 studies on homeopathy and could only find 225 which were conducted under recognized and rigorous enough scientific standards to analyze. The report concluded “no good quality evidence to support the claim that homeopathy is effective in treating health conditions.”
We can’t emphasize this enough: Don’t rely on homeopathy to treat autism
Despite the studies debunking homeopathic treatments, some extreme claims have been made in recent years about how the complementary practice could supposedly cure autism.
Both in the UK and British Columbia, some homeopathy practitioners have erroneously told patients vaccinations cause autism and that CEASE (Complete Elimination of Autistic Spectrum Expression), a practice that uses homeopathic therapies, can treat and cure ASD.
“It’s absolutely appalling,” Carol Povey, who works with the UK’s National Autistic Society, which helps develop best practice for treating autism, said in an interview with The Guardian. “As healthcare practitioners, homeopaths should still be working on evidence-based practice and looking at national guidelines.”
Homeopaths using the discredited CEASE therapy and claiming "complete elimination of autism spectrum expression" also ran into problems with medical authorities in British Columbia.
In an interview with CBC, Bonnie Henry, MD, the British Columbia Provincial Health Officer responsible for monitoring the health of all British Columbians, said homeopathy for autism is “certainly not based on science, it’s based on a belief system.”
Bottom Line? There’s no evidence homeopathy helps autism
While there is no cure for autism, many therapies ranging from behavioral strategies to medication can help, but all cases of autism are different and need to be treated individually. That’s why relying on medical experts skilled in the treatment of ASD are the best way to help people with autism.
It’s important to note that early intervention can greatly improve the development of a child with autism, according to the NCCIH. Relying on unproven and debunked therapies, such as homeopathy, can delay proven medical strategies, which can hurt rather than help children with autism.
May 21, 2021
Janet O’Dell, RN