Can Homeopathy Cure Mastitis in Cows?


A new study has been published in The Journal of Dairy Research looking at if you can use homeopathy to treat mastitis in cattle.

The paper fails to demonstrate that you can. And as such, that is not a surprise. These cows will have been given water drops as if it is medicine: homeopathy is a superstitious hang-over from 18th Century ways of thinking about health. Of course it does not work.

What is surprising is that the homeopathic world is again leaping on this negative study as if it is proof of the positive benefits of homeopathic pseudoscience.

Dana Ullman, America’s chief propagandist for homeopathic treatment, has been posting on the web that homeopathy is as effective as antiobotics for treating mastitis. Is he right? Let’s look at the paper.

The paper was written by a team from Witzenhausen in Germany (a beautiful small market town, where I first kissed a girl, just to gratuitously add a little personal element.) Entitled Efficacy of homeopathic and antibiotic treatment strategies in cases of mild and moderate bovine clinical mastitis(1), the paper looked at how cows responded to homeopathic water drops, antibiotics or no treatment (placebo).

A total of 136 cows were divided into three groups and either given ‘classical homeopathy’, antibiotics or a placebo.The cows were tested on days 0, 1, 2 and on days 7, 14, 28 and 56 after they became infected with the bacterium that causes mastitis – an inflammation of the udder caused by infection.

Now, a word of warning: I only have access to the abstract of the paper, so everything I say is subject to the caveats that the details of the paper may be significant. [update: Thanks to several people for supplying the paper]  However, the abstract is quite revealing and contradicts what the homeopaths are crowing about.

Dana Ullman tells us that the result of the trial is that the homeopathy proved to be as effective as the antibiotics and that this effect was greater than the placebo group. What does the paper actually tell us? Here is the abstract,

On days 28 and 56, treatment strategies did not differ significantly with respect to the clinical outcomes and the total cure rate in cases of bacteriological negative mastitis (n=56). In cases of pathogen-positive mastitis (n=91), the cure rate after 4 and 8 weeks was similar between the two treatment strategies, homeopathy and antibiotic treatment, but the difference between the homeopathic and the placebo treatment at day 56 was significant (P<0.05).

The authors then make a bold claim,

The results indicate a therapeutic effect of homeopathic treatment in cases of mild and moderate clinical mastitis.

To be caveated with a most important point,

However, independent of treatment strategy and bacteriological status, the total cure rate was on a low level, revealing limitations in the effectiveness of both antibiotic and homeopathic treatment strategies.

So, what can we make of this?

The authors appear to be making the claim that homeopathy has a therapeutic effect based on the fact that they saw a statistically significant difference between the homoeopathically treated cows and the placebo group on day 56 with a p value less than 0.05.

P-values are the standard way clinical researchers use to see if a result is more likely to be due to treatment than to chance. If after doing the sums, it looks like the result is higher than 95% of the results you would get by chance, then you can start to be confident that you might be seeing something real. However, there are many ways you can easily be misled by p-values. One way is to make many measurements in an experiment and claim a positive result if one of them shows ‘significance’.

This looks exactly like what the Witzenhausen researchers have done. They have tested the cows on multiple days with three different treatments. On just one of this measurements is there a statistically significant result. If you make 20 measurements with a one in twenty chance of having a random result above significance, then it should be no surprise when you get a ‘positive’ result, even with a completely ineffective treatment. The chance of this trial producing a false positive result on one or more of the measurements look to be greater than 50:50. Well conducted research takes account of the multiple measurement problem – the Werner mastitis trial does not look as if has done so.

And so it is not surprise that the researchers note that neither homeopathy or antibiotics appear to have created a high ‘cure rate’. It looks like all arms of the trail were pretty much indistinguishable from placebo.

But, surely, shouldn’t the antibiotic group have at least cured some cows? Well, not necessarily. Mastitis is a difficult problem to control. To minimise the effect of infection, you really have to take an ‘holistic’ approach, part of which may be antibiotic use. Proper hygiene controls, feeding and herd management are required. Antibiotic resistance may be a problem and some cows tend to suffer chronic infection which may re-infect other cows within the herd. Simple antibiotic use in itself is not enough, and low and moderate infection may remain despite treatment. It may not be a big surprise that the antibiotic use group did no better than the controls, especially if other herd management controls were not in place during the trial.

So, it looks like the best you can say from this trial was that homeopathy was as good as an ineffective treatment regime. Not a ringing endorsement.

But not so for the homeopaths.

On the Dana Ullman post, homeopaths are celebrating a new victory for homeopathy, as they can now say it is as good as conventional treatment. Debby Bruck, leader of the forum, tells us that, “perhaps more veterinary studies of this kind will provide further reason for farmers to use homeopathy”, despite the fact that this study failed to show that homeopathy was effective. Dr Muhammed Rafeeque says, “Such information clearly disproves the ‘placebo effect’ propaganda promoted by the skeptics.”, despite the study failing show a consistent effect over the placebo control. Dr. Sushil Bahl says, “the scientific world always is in denial mode”, presumably thinking this study is good evidence of an effect for superstitious medicine. It is clear that none have even read the abstract, and if they did, have not critically appraised it.

This is how homeopathy continues. Weak or non–existent evidence is trumpeted as success. People who ought to know better, such as Dana Ullman, leap on poor quality evidence and pretend it proves an effect. We can be sure that this study will be dragged out into the light to show that cows can be treated with homeopathy and so “it cannot be placebo”. Other people will point out the weaknesses in the study, but no homeopath will take this on board. Their religion will not be shaken. This paper will be added to the large pile of junk science that is used to promote the nonsense of ultra-dilutions. And, if any farmer is fooled by this, it is their cows who will suffer.

And more on that point soon and how an ‘ethical’ UK supermarket appears to be happy to have its animals treated with such nonsense.


(1) Journal of Dairy Research doi:10.1017/S0022029910000543 Efficacy of homeopathic and antibiotic treatment strategies in cases of mild and moderate bovine clinical mastitis Christina Werner,  Axel Sobiraj and Albert Sundrum

32 Comments on Can Homeopathy Cure Mastitis in Cows?

  1. Dana Ullman Misrepresenting a homeopathy Trial? Said Trial not showing any conclusive or reliable support for Homeopathy? Dog Bites Man?

    *Braces self for inevitable waves of Dana Ullman Comments later on*

  2. Hi, folks,

    here is news about the data forgery committed in homeopathic “research”:

    Wie Homöopathen mit Hütchenspielertricks einen Preis kasselieren…
    « on: August 25, 2010, 09:38:16 PM »

    Da gibt es in Kassel (weiß jemand, wo das liegt?) eine, …,..,…nun ja, sie nennen es “Universität”. Da sind auf der einen Seite der Schranke Rindviecher und auf der anderen Seite… bin ich mir nicht so sicher…

    Dort wird geforscht. Und promoviert. Und damit kriegt man Preise. Itzo ist es wieder mal soweit…

    Bis auf eine klitzekleine Kleinigkeit: Homöopathie funktioniert nicht. Wie haben die dann die Promotion zusammengebäschelt?

    Erst mal der Titel der Doktorarbeit:

    “Klinische Kontrollstudie zum Vergleich des homöopathischen
    und chemotherapeutischen Behandlungsverfahrens
    bei der akuten katarrhalischen Mastitis des Rindes”

    Betreuer: Prof. Dr. Axel Sobiraj, Prof. Dr. Albert Sundrum;
    Gutachter: Prof. Dr. Axel Sobiraj, Prof. Dr. Albert Sundrum, PD Dr. Peggy Braun, Dr. Michael Zschöck

    Also ein Professor, ein Professor, ein Privatdozent und ein normaler Doktor.

    Die Tierärztin Christina Werner bekam von denen den Doktorgrad verliehen. Und als Krönung dann anno 2010 der “Preis für hochwertige Forschung zur Wirksamkeit der Veterinär-Homöopathie”.

    Hochverehrtes Publikum, bitte achten Sie auf das Wort “hochwertige Forschung”.
    (An dieser Stelle gäbe es bei einer Rede einen Tusch, man möge sich den bitte vor Ohren führen.)

    Der Preis wird verliehen von der “Gesellschaft für Ganzheitliche Tiermedizin e.V.” (GGTM). Das riecht ja schon mal verdächtig nach Stallgeruch… Streng homöopathischem Stallgeruch…

    Den “GGTM-Forschungspreis 2010” gibt es, wie gesagt, “für hochwertige Forschung zur Wirksamkeit der Veterinär-Homöopathie”: eine Dissertation an der Veterinärmedizinischen Fakultät der Universität Leipzig aus dem Jahr 2006. Also hängt die Universität Leipzig auch mit drin…

    Und das folgende wollen wir ganz besonders luftig auf die Wäscheleine hängen:

    Zitat aus der Mitteilung der GGTM:

    In der randomisierten Studie wertete sie 147 akute katarrhalische Mastitiden von vier Milchviehbetrieben aus, bei denen die Kühe chemotherapeutisch, homöopathisch oder mit einem Placebo behandelt wurden. Bei allen Mastitiden unabhängig eines bakteriologischen Erregernachweises, gab es nach vier und acht Wochen keinen Unterschied in der Heilungsrate der chemotherapeutisch oder homöopathisch behandelten Tiere – dabei war bei beiden Versuchsansätzen die Rate nach acht Wochen signifikant besser, als nach Verabreichung eines Placebos. Frau Werner belegt mit ihren Ergebnissen die Wirksamkeit der Homöopathie für diese Indikation; sie weist aber auch darauf hin, dass eine umfassende Diagnostik grundlegend ist. Die Arbeit wurde finanziert vom Bundesministerium für Ernährung, Landwirtschaft und Verbraucherschutz.

    Ein Ministerium hängt also auch noch mit drin…

    Die erkrankten Tiere wurden in drei Gruppen aufgeteilt:

    H: bekam Homöopathie
    C: bekam chemische Pharmazeutika
    K: die Kontrollgruppe, kriegt Placebo

    Jetzt gibt es aber ein Problem: Was ist, wenn die Behandlung nichts bringt? Antwort: Dann wird dem Tier einfach Chemie verpaßt:

    Ein Wechsel der homöopathisch behandelten Fälle in die Chemotherapie-Gruppe (Gruppenwechsler Homöopathie, GWH) war immer dann angezeigt, wenn mit den oben genannten Abweichungen der Lokalsymptome Störungen des Allgemeinbefindens einhergingen. Des Weiteren wurde ein Wechsel zur chemotherapeutischen Behandlung nach mehrmaligem Mittelwechsel innerhalb der homöopathischen Therapiegruppe, bedingt durch mehrfache Änderungen der Symptome, vorgenommen. Der Wechsel vom chemotherapeutischen zum homöopathischen Behandlungsverfahren (Gruppenwechsler Chemotherapie, GWC) wurde nur bei nachweislich negativem Keimgehalt in der VAG vom Erkrankungstag vollzogen, kombiniert mit einer Nicht-Besserung der Symptome innerhalb der ersten Woche.

    Insgesamt wurde bei 39 der 147 therapierten Euterviertel (26,5%) das Behandlungsverfahren gewechselt.

    Das ist DAS klassische Verfahren der Homöopathie: Wenn es dem Kranken schlecht geht, wird er in die Klinik gekarrt, und wenn die pöhse wissenschaftliche Medizin den Kranken nicht wieder zum Leben erweckt, dann zeigt das mal wieder, daß die pöhse wissenschaftliche Medizin nicht heilen kann, jawoll! Die Homöopathie ist niemals schuld!

    Das ist Datenfälschung, Manipulation!

    Irgendwie muß denen da in Leipzig und sonstwo schon klar gewesen sein, daß sie murksen. Wörtlich heißt es in der Dissertation:

    Die erzielten Ergebnisse belegen eine Wirksamkeit des homöopathischen Behandlungsverfahrens bei der Therapie von akuten katarrhalischen Euterentzündungen. Der Wirksamkeitsnachweis ist jedoch eng verknüpft mit den spezifischen Ein- und Ausschlusskriterien der Studie, die eine angemessene Diagnostik auf Bestands- wie auch auf Tierebene, vor allem zur Klärung des Erregerspektrums, erfordern.

    Wie war das noch mal?

    Betreuer: Prof. Dr. Axel Sobiraj, Prof. Dr. Albert Sundrum;
    Gutachter: Prof. Dr. Axel Sobiraj, Prof. Dr. Albert Sundrum, PD Dr. Peggy Braun, Dr. Michael Zschöck

    Also ein Professor, ein Professor, ein Privatdozent und ein normaler Doktor.

    VIER MANN HOCH ist die Truppe.

    VIER MANN, die diesen Murks absegnen. Selbst Hahnemann würde sich für die schämen. Der hätte sich wenigstens nicht erwischen lassen.

    Und sie wurden erwischt… 🙂

    Prof. Dr. Gerhard W. Bruhn, Fachbereich Mathematik der TU Darmstadt:
    “Kommentar zur Dissertation von Frau Dr. Christina Werner, Universität Kassel”

    Wie schreibt Herr Prof. Bruhn am Schluß so schön:

    “Der Autorin, Frau Dr. Werner, wurde eine Gelegenheit zu einer Stellungnahme an dieser Stelle angeboten.”

    Herr Prof. Bruhn ist übrigens jener Prof. Bruhn, der zusammen mit PD Dr. Klaus Keck, Konstanz, und Prof. Dr. Erhard Wielandt, Stuttgart, schon zweimal der Universität Leipzig wegen einer vergeigten “Studie” von Homöopathen gehörig die Leviten gelesen hat.

    Hier ist Lesestoff zu den homöopathischen Bruchlandungen der Universität Leipzig:

    Herausforderung an die Universität Leipzig

    Der Fall Nieber : Pfusch im Labor

    Pseudowissenschaften an der Universität Leipzig
    Der Preis für den Wirkungsnachweis homöopathischer Mittel,
    den die Leipziger Pharmazeuten Apothekerin Franziska Schmidt,
    Prof. Karen Nieber und Prof. Wolfgang Süß 2003 erhalten haben,
    beruht auf einer Falschmitteilung
    Kommentar von Prof. Dr. rer.nat. Gerhard Bruhn, Darmstadt
    Prof. Dr. rer.nat. Erhard Wielandt, Stuttgart
    PD Dr. rer.nat. Klaus Keck, Konstanz

    Pseudowissenschaften an der Universität Leipzig
    Dr. rer. nat. für die Messung “geistartiger Moleküle”
    Kommentar von
    Prof. Dr. Gerhard W. Bruhn, Darmstadt
    Prof. Dr. Erhard Wielandt, Stuttgart
    PD Dr. Klaus Keck, Konstanz

    Did you know that in Germany homeopaths use dog shit as a remedy?
    Here it is:

    The latest news: The ICD-10 or Homeopathy was published recently:


    Der ICD-10 für Homöopathie

    Wednesday 1 September 2010 @ 2:09 am

    Nach einer internationalen, langjährigen, hochkomplexen, Fachdiskussion der international angesehensten, kompetentesten Experten wurde jetzt der ICD-10 für Homöopathie vollendet.

    Dies ist die internationale Ausgabe als Gesamtwerk:


    The complete international edition:


  3. So as well as being confined, constantly impregnated, genetically manipulated for staggering milk yields, deprived of their young, spent and slaughtered years before their time, with mastitis rates of 300 per 100 – or often 60% (John Webster, Animal Welfare,1994 Blackwell, p175)and even worse rates of chronic lameness (ibid p172ff), dairy cows may now run the risk of not even receiving proper treatment (not that antibiotics have much success, as pointed out) for this distressing condition. I frequently have occasion to point out to “natural” enthusiasts that homeopathy uses animal parts – and whole animals – indiscriminately in its “remedies” and is no more concerned with animal welfare than it is with the rules of logic. Poor bloody cows.

  4. To use a homeopathic remedy one needs the repertorium, that is the list of symptoms derived from provings.

    To make a homeopathic proving of animals one needs the spoken description of the animals how they feel.

    Now, who on earth ever made homeopathic provings with animals as probands?

    Who on earth ever got animals as probands to tell him verbosely how they feel?

    Facit: There does not exist an animal homeopathy. All claims about animal homeopathy are fraud, and this judgement is based on the homeopaths’ very own way of thinking.

    If one does not believe this, just think about provings with one of the most-used homeopathic remedyies: belladonna. Ever tried that with cows, mice or the thousands of different bird species? And how about giving a squid some homeopathic “sepia”?

  5. This is a completely unrelated nitpick, but your explanation of p-values is slightly off.
    You say that “If after doing the sums, it looks like the result is higher than 95% of the results you would get by chance, then you can start to be confident that you might be seeing something real.”

    What you should say is something like: “Let’s assume that we test for a difference between homoeopathy and placebo on 100 different samples – can be the same cows on different days, can be different cows on the same days, can be different cows on different days. A p-value of 0.05 means that if there is no difference between homoeopathy and placebo, we’ll see a positive result like the one reported in the study in five of the 100 samples.” And that leads neatly into the multiple comparison problem.

    I’d love to see the stats they used. Unfortunately, the comment in German doesn’t address the stats – it only highlights that cows were reassigned to antibiotics if they were really sick and several changes in homoeopathic dosage didn’t work. The authors claim they only did this for coos w/ negative bacterial cultures, but still …

  6. Unless each one of these cows was diagnosed separately and an individual remedy created for them, then the whole ‘individualisation’ aspect of homeopathy falls apart. It’s one of the great contradictions of this nonsense: the belief that real clinical trials can’t be done because of the need to treat each patient individually and the belief that you can treat an entire herd of cows in one go. But as with all the other contradictions you get in CAM, you’ll never find these two groups of homeopaths arguing and challenging each other, because to settle this debate would require evidence and neither side has any.

  7. >Unless each one of these cows was diagnosed
    >separately and an individual remedy created
    >for them, then the whole ‘individualisation’
    >aspect of homeopathy falls apart.”

    RIGHTO! The homeopaths break their own rules, again and again.

    Also, with respect to the “individualisation”, one should note a most important fact: The provings are done with just a handful of persons. How can from those few persons an extrapolation can be made to 7 billion people!? That is STRONGESTLY against the individuality of 7 billion persons!

    Look at WHEN the provings were done. That began in 18xx and lasts up to now. The provings were begun at a time when no diagnostic of even the most simple things was possible. There diagnoses can not be compared with what is done today.
    Look at if provings were done at all. For thousands of homeopathic remedies sold today, not even one proving was done.
    How can these remedies be used? There is no repertorium list for them!

    Homeopathy is insane.

  8. Those of you who can’t access the full text but are speaking German might be interested in having a look at Ms Werner’s dissertation. I’ve only skimmed through it (cows aren’t that interesting), but I would have thought that the problem of multiple measurements was less important than that they switched the treatment for some cows during the trial.

    I don’t want to go into all the details but from what I understand they reassigned homeopathy (“H”) cows to pharmacological treatment (“C”) if they didn’t improve (after trying different “remedies”) or if their symptoms worsened; “C” cows were only reassigned if they didn’t improve after week one and bacteriolical tests were negative; Placebo (“K”) cows were reassigned to either “H” or “C”.
    I’m not very knowledgable in medical study design, but up until now I thought that once the patient had been assigned to one group he either stayed in that group or dropped out of the study altogether. Doesn’t this reassigning of patients undo randomization to a degree?

      • But neither is the quackometer a link dumping ground.

        All on topic, polite contributions will be published – but you are sailing close to the wind. I would ask you to concentrate on writing clear and concise points that do not depend on readers having to wade though dozens of links.

  9. Here is one more withcraft university:

    Prof. Dr. med. Peter W. Gündling, M.Sc. MME, Facharzt für Allgemeinmedizin, Naturheilverfahren, Balneologie und Klimatologie, Chirotherapie, Akupunktur, Sportmedizin, Ernährungsmedizin in Zusammenarbeit mit nationalen und internationalen Universitäten und namhaften Dozenten wie Prof. H. Heine, Prof. K. Jork, Prof. K. Kraft, Prof. N. Peseschkian und Prof. F.-A. Popp.

    Do the names ring a bell?

  10. “Le Canard Noir on September 15, 2010 at 2:20 pm

    But neither is the quackometer a link dumping ground.

    All on topic, polite contributions will be published – but you are sailing close to the wind. I would ask you to concentrate on writing clear and concise points that do not depend on readers having to wade though dozens of links.”

    What we do need is short an plain facts, and not gossip.

    Newspapers and advertisement-snappers need gossip, they need the ever-lasting roundabout of people endlessly circling through web-pages.

    But a scientific discussing can only exist if FACTS are SHOWN.

    You are in the internet. So do use it.

    In the Net the references are made with URLs. That is a plain fact. If you do not understand it, go into your garage and polish your car.

    • OK. Last warning.

      I do publish links. But sometimes they get sent to moderation as an algorithm rates them as being high risk of spam. Unfortunately, spammers like to target my blog. So, this strategy is the best I have come up with so far.

      And also, I provide a comments space to allow discussion of the points I make. Any other use will likely see comments deleted. I am on the web, but my site is not a free for all. My site. My rules. There are other places you can go if this is not to your liking.

      No other discussion on this issue will be acceptable. Further posts – off topic – will be removed.

  11. LCN, now you’ve (hopefully had time to) read the paper, can you enlighten us as to their ‘flexible’ treatment group methodology? Were those coos that switched treatment included in an analysis with a properly designed statistical methodology?

    Otherwise, how on earth did this get published?

  12. i am sorry you are so negative
    i have used homeopathy on my pets – it suited one but not the other
    i am fully aware that it kept my cat alive for an additiona1 2 years
    i know from experience what this treatment can do – science does not have all of the answers

    i hope you do not dismiss until you have tried

  13. Iam a veterinary science degree holder with forty years of field vety practice.I have tried homeo medicine in mastitis with good result

  14. If I poke your red swollen arm and you squeal in pain. I most certainly know how you feel. Cows limp, bellow in pain, lethargy, have sore udders, etc. Case closed. You don’t need human speech to know how a cow feels.

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