health & science

Homeopathic treatment claims to ‘cure’ autism in NZ

A controversial homeopathic treatment blames vaccines for contributing to autism - and claims to cure autism with diluted vaccines.

A homeopathic treatment regime invented to ‘cure’ autism is in use in New Zealand.

Complete Elimination of Autistic Spectrum Expression, or CEASE therapy as it is known, has drawn international condemnation and the United Kingdom advertising watchdog is now cracking down on false claims made by hundreds of homeopaths offering the treatment.

There is no cure for autism and there’s no medication to treat it. Some treatments target symptoms, but nothing has been found which affects the underlying condition.

Eighteen New Zealand homeopaths are listed online as CEASE practitioners. Training entails a three to five-day course.

The concept behind CEASE therapy is autism is caused by toxins. The inventor, the now-deceased Tinus Smits, claimed 70 percent of toxins come from vaccines.

His treatment regime aims to clear the toxins using very dilute amounts of the same toxins. This includes dilute versions of vaccines. 

There’s no robust peer-reviewed scientific evidence CEASE therapy - or homeopathy - works any better than a placebo.

How homeopaths say homeopathy works

Homeopathy works on a concept of 'like-cures-like'. - if something makes you sick, homeopaths will treat you with the same thing, except dilute it.

The logic gets mind-bending. Homeopaths believe the more dilute something is, the more therapeutically potent it is. For example, homeopaths believe a treatment with five drops of active ingredient in 100 mil of water would be weaker than a treatment with only one drop of active ingredient.

A common homeopathic dilution of ingredient with water is 30C. A 30C solution contains less than one part per million million million million million million million million million million of the original ingredient.

The treatment is shaken vigorously between dilutions. Homeopaths believe this activates treatment by releasing a spirit-like healing force. Another theory is water retains a memory of what has been in it.

CEASE therapy raises a number of questions.

How do homeopaths get hold of vaccines to dilute?

In New Zealand you can’t just pick up a vial of MMR vaccine from the chemist to water down and sell as a homeopathic treatment.

Vaccines are prescription medicines. The Ministry of Health told Newsroom vaccines fall under section 43 of the Medicines Act. The purchase, possession and rights to administer vaccines lie with health professionals, or people with what’s found as a “reasonable excuse”.

A spokesperson said: “A person purchasing/procuring a vaccine in order to manufacture another therapeutic product from it (such as a homoeopathic vaccine) is unlikely to have a reasonable excuse under s43 unless that person is one of the authorised health care professionals.”

Many New Zealand CEASE practitioners do not have websites listed, and those that do mention it in passing. Auckland-based The Healing Haven’s Lee-Ann McCall offers CEASE therapy and has a page devoted to it. The website page does not claim to cure autism, but it does mention the treatment was initially designed to treat people on the autism spectrum and could be useful for others “as we all suffer from toxicity”.

Prior to Newsroom contacting McCall about the service, the webpage said she has treated vaccinated children who have allergies:

“Several cases are allergy cases including hayfever, asthma, and food allergies in children who have been previously vaccinated. Although they are only just beginning their journey with this method, having only had a few doses of the homeopathic remedy made from the vaccine they are already noticing some lessening in their sensitivity to allergens.”

McCall told Newsroom she was too busy with clients to provide comment for the article and said Newsroom did not have permission to use her name. The following day, mention of treating children with vaccines had been removed from the website, but the page offering CEASE therapy remained.

The highlighted text has now been removed from The Healing Haven website. Image: Screenshot

Three complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority have been made by members of the public regarding various claims made on The Healing Haven’s website over the past four years. The complaints were all settled or upheld, with the website or digital advertising being changed as a result.

Newsroom also contacted the New Zealand Council of Homeopaths with questions and is waiting for a response. Currently the council is promoting an event on its website: Remedy Autism: Meeting the Challenge of Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

A possible scenario is vaccine treatment was purchased from a New Zealand wholesaler importing already diluted products from the United Kingdom. The wholesaler, who lists “remedies” including MMR, meningitis and polio vaccine said the company further dilutes the products it buys and sells them to homeopaths.

Homeopathic products where the active ingredient is not more than 20 parts per million don’t normally need ministerial consent as long as the label and advertising material does not contain therapeutic claims.

University of Auckland’s Helen Petousis Harris thinks for CEASE therapy, the dilution level used would mean it would be unlikely to have any of the original molecules in it.

“They would only need one vial to last them for probably 100 billion doses.”

Wait, there are homeopathic vaccines?

As well as treating what Smits calls the toxins from vaccines, homeopathy offers its own version of vaccines which proponents suggest protect people, or animals from disease.

Petousis Harris looked into homeopathic prophylaxis - the use of homeopathic vaccines - during a measles outbreak in 2016 when people presented certificates of homeopathic prophylaxis as evidence of immunity.

While the dilute treatments, supposedly containing what homeopaths call disease “nosodes”, are likely harmless water, people’s belief they are protected against disease is worrying.

“That’s the real danger. Forgoing proven treatments for potentially dangerous diseases.”

A randomised blinded placebo-controlled trial showed homeopathic vaccines work as well as the placebos of sugar pills and saline injections. People given them failed to develop an antibody response.

She said she sees CEASE therapy as a whole new level of homeopathic "woo".

“They’re predatory, they’re making money out of this. While it might not cause chemical harm to somebody, it’s pretty low, despicable behaviour really.”

A vaccination certificate used in the 2016 measles outbreak. Image: Supplied

What does Autism NZ think of this?

Autism NZ chief executive Dane Dougan said it had been definitively proven vaccines do not cause autism. 

He knows of CEASE therapy but had not heard of it being used much in New Zealand, which he thinks is probably a good thing.

“As an organisation our comment on all of these [unproven therapies] is we don’t look for a cause and don’t look for a cure. To be frank it’s quite offensive to be doing it.”

He said the organisation’s focus is helping individuals and families to live with autism. Scientific evidence is looked at to see what’s best to “help those people live the best life they can live”. He gave the example of medication for epilepsy to help control seizures.

He said some of the unproven therapies prey on some of the most vulnerable people in society.

“They should be evidence-based and proven science. Not just people coming up with an idea.”

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