Ever open-minded and keen to unlock the mysteries of the supposedly great healing art known as homeopathy, here’s another post primarily for my friends who are users and practitioners. I hope your responses will bring me to greater understanding.
I can’t help but notice that homeopaths themselves don’t seem to agree on what homeopathy does. In a TV discussion with David Frost and Simon Singh, Jayne Thomas of the Society of Homeopaths, gives her version of what homeopathy does:
It relieves symptoms. We don’t treat individual diseases as disease labels. Homeopathy works by treating people individually; whatever spectrum of symptoms they experience, that’s what homeopathy treats… for me to say that homeopathy treats XYZ disease would not be correct or appropriate. For me to say that homeopathy treats the symptoms that may be related to a particular disease is a far more accurate picture of what homeopathy actually does.
So it doesn’t treat the disease, it treats symptoms. Got that, homeopaths?
Evidently not. It took Google two seconds to find a whole bunch of the rascals that disagree. Here are but a few:
Homeopathy treats the root cause of the illness, not just the symptoms.
HOMEOPATHY stimulates your innate healing powers by addressing underlying causes, rather than suppressing symptoms from without as most conventional pharmaceuticals do.
Conventional medicine treats the symptoms of disease; homeopathy treats the root cause of disease…Homeopathy has had great success in disease treatment because it does not treat the symptoms; it treats the imbalance that originally gave rise to those symptoms.
Not that I really care about homeopaths contradicting each other. What concerns me is the dissemination of misinformation about proper medicine in the examples above, bearing in mind that there are thousands of such websites promoting the same falsehood that conventional medicine only treats or suppresses symptoms rather than treating the causes of disease and that homeopathy is better because it does treat the causes of disease.
Recently, after getting into a scrap, my cat had a painful abscess on his leg. He lost his appetite and just wanted to hide away. The vet was concerned the wound would need reconstructive skin surgery. She gave him an injection of antibiotic and within a couple of hours he was well enough to eat and walk about. The wound started to heal nicely and surgery was avoided.
Here are some questions I’d like homeopaths to answer; my own answers are given below.
1. What made my cat ill?
2. What did the antibiotic do?
3. Why didn’t my cat get a life threatening disease such as feline leukemia from being bitten?
1. Harmful bacteria injected below the skin by another cat’s teeth.
2. It killed the harmful bacteria that were making him ill.
3. I’ve no way of knowing if the enemy cat was infected but if he was, my own cat is up-to-date with his vaccinations and therefore wasn’t in danger.
From my perspective, this would seem to be a good example of conventional medicine treating the cause of the disease. Where am I going wrong, homeopaths?
And what would a homeopath have done? Given him a fucking sugar pill and me a massive vet’s bill when his leg needed sewing back together?
I’m being unfair. I’m sure a homeopath would have asked all sorts of questions about the cat’s preferences and behaviour in order to prescribe an individualised remedy that would stimulate my cat’s innate healing powers and the end result would have been the same. But as there is no scientific evidence that homeopathy can successfully treat bacterial infections, I’d rather not risk it with my cat, thanks all the same.
By the way, you might like to compare the story of what happened to my cat with the one here about the New Zealand woman who refused antibiotics for her baby’s ear infection, preferring to take homeopathic advice.
Two weeks after the initial consultation, the baby was taken again to the homeopath, who expressed concern about its poor health but who did not suggest seeking conventional medical treatment. The mother, a registered nurse, commented that the symptoms looked like meningitis and, two days later, took her baby to her regular doctor. The doctor insisted on the baby being hospitalised immediately and noted that it took some time to convince the mother to do this. The consultant paediatrician at Wellington Hospital, Dr Thorston Stanley, reported a “great sense of frustration in dealing with the mother, who opposed him every step of the way”. Despite intensive treatment, the child died a week later from brain damage as a result of bacterial meningitis.
Isn’t it the case, homeopaths, that homeopathy doesn’t even acknowledge the causes of disease, let alone know how to treat them? I don’t recall reading anything in Hahnemann’s Organon about the various pathogens that cause disease (or, come to think of it, anything about chemical toxicity, radiation or genetic mutations). Which isn’t surprising, seeing as it was written two centuries ago.
Homeopathy “cures” cholera
This brings to mind another argument that homeopathists love. Here’s how it appeared beneath one of my blogs:
Do your own research. Go read how homeopathy cured people with the 1918 Spanish flu or the Bubonic Plague in Europe, or Asiatic cholera. Those same remedies still work to this very day. You don’t have to take a 10-day course of antibiotics. You take the remedy until the symptoms disappear. Educate yourself properly. You will be so glad you did.
Call me a snob but if I don’t consider reading internet articles written by people with a vested interest in promoting homeopathy to be educating oneself “properly”.
The standard response to this argument (apart from agreeing that antibiotics wouldn’t have affected the Spanish flu virus) is, of course, that homeopathic remedies have no active ingredients so, while they couldn’t have “cured” anything, they were safer than much of 19th century medicine, which was positively harmful. Nowadays we know that it is usually better to do nothing to a sick person than to purge and bleed them. But bloodletting was one of the most common medical interventions for nearly 2000 years right up to the late 19th century — it is now used only for a couple of specific conditions. People used bloodletting for the same reason as people use homeopathy — because they genuinely believed it worked, even though we know now that it is mostly harmful and killed untold numbers of people.
Alas, this argument doesn’t really cut it with many defenders of the faith, who can’t comprehend that to defend the evidenced-based medicine of the 21st century isn’t to defend the pre-science medicine of the previous two thousand years. It’s a tricky one to grasp, I know, and many fail. To them, bloodletting, antibiotics and vaccines are all part of “allopathic medicine” and therefore bad, even though it was used in many cultures and is still part of ayurveda.
And another thing. Why is it that, in the fevered imagination of homeopathists, anyone who challenges homeopathy is in the pay of Big Pharma? Even humble bloggers like me! If I’d had a hot dinner for every time this accusation has been levelled at me, my bum would be even bigger than it is now.
As David Gorski puts it:
“As an online discussion of health, in particular vaccines or alternative medicine, grows longer, the probability of the invocation of the ‘pharma shill gambit’ approaches one.”
That’s Gorski’s Law. I quite like it when it happens because, apart from making the accuser sound a bit nuts, it signifies that s/he is defeated by my challenge and is trying to divert attention away from it with a bit of well-poisoning.
But I still don’t really understand the reasoning behind it. Even if you really believe drug companies are scared that homeopathy will put them out of business and even if you really believe they are paying me to write this stuff (I wish!), how does that change the problems that I have, in my various posts, raised about homeopathy?
A reminder of just a few of these:
The Law of Similars
According to the Boots Learning Store, Belladonna treats acne. Please explain how this is treating like with like? To take a random item from the Helios remedy file: chocolate. Please explain what chocolate is used to treat and, again, how is this treating like with like?
I don’t have any particular expertise in physics but I do know that if you dilute something, it becomes weaker. It doesn’t become more potent. I have come to understand this through empirical observation and have repeated my initial experiment millions of times already. With this in mind, please explain this sentence, lifted from here and which I would like to nominate for an award for the way it so aptly illustrates homeoquack lunacy:
Although there are many homeopathic remedies that are made from poisonous substances, this is no area for concern as the remedies are prescribed in high potencies so no toxicity is left in them.
Please don’t bother preaching at me that homeopathy is safe and effective. As I said in my previous post, I am satisfied by the weight of evidence that homeopathy is no more effective than placebo, which means that it very often isn’t effective at all and is, at best, a waste of money.
Granted there are people who swear by their homeopathic remedies and consider them money well spent. I would wager that there are millions of others who, because of the widespread and aggressive promotion of these remedies, try them once or twice, realise they don’t work and abandon them. The hole burnt in my pocket by homeopathy was relatively small. My hairdresser told me that, over a period of several months, he gave a total of over £500 to a homeopath to treat his toddler son’s eczema, having had limited success with conventional medicine. His son is now four and he still has the eczema. My hairdresser considers it an expensive lesson and will never bother with homeopathy again.
Imagine how the husband of Mary Nedlouf must feel. Mrs Nedlouf was diagnosed with an inoperable recurrence of breast cancer in the summer of 2006. By the time she saw a homeopath, she’d already had a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. Her cancer was incurable and conventional medicine could offer only a remission that might last years, months or weeks. Nevertheless, a homeopath fleeced her and her husband of some $41,000 worth of useless treatment before she died. Her husband didn’t blame the homeopath for not being able to cure the incurable but says the false hope and worthless treatments “robbed me of precious time to console her, to come to closure, to prepare for her departure.”
Apart from rare cases of homeopathic remedies actually having active ingredients that have done some damage and of homeopaths fraudulently passing themselves off as proper doctors, skeptics would surely agree that homeopathic remedies themselves are absolutely harmless. There’s nothing in them!
The most important objection to the promotion of homeopathy — and especially when such promotion involves misinformation about conventional medicine — is that you are encouraging people to have faith in an unproven therapy and to rely on it instead seeking the medical help that might cure them, that might even save their lives.
For example, a study in Pakistan indicated that faith in altmed (in 70% of cases this being homeopathy) is a common reason for any delay seeking proper medical advice after initial discover of a lump in the breast. “The delay results in significant worsening of the disease process,” says the report.
I’m sure everyone knows about Gloria Thomas, a wee baby who was condemned to die a slow, painful death by her homeopath father. It wasn’t the first time a homeopath has effectively killed his own child. In 1999, 6-month-old Cameron Ayres died after suffering a defect in his metabolism which caused a swollen stomach and testicles, extensive nappy rash and an enlarged liver. His parents, one of whom was a homeopath, refused to get conventional treatment for him and he died.
Then there was the mother of 16-year-old Katie Ross. Katie had colitis and her mother, instead of seeking proper treatment for her daughter, gave her homepathy. Katie’s life was saved by the intervention of child protection authories but her colon had to be surgically removed.
In a previous blog, I mentioned poor Janeza Podgoršek, who relied on homeopathy to stop him catching malaria while on a trip to Africa in 1996. In spite of the prophylactic drops he’d taken on the advice of a homeopath, he caught the virus and brought it back to his native Slovenia, where he fell ill with malaria and asked the same homeopath to treat him, which she was evidently happy to do. He died.
In 2001, Mineke Kamper, a homeopath living in Ireland, advised an asthmatic woman to give up her conventional medicine while being treated homeopathically. Soon afterwards, the woman had an asthma attack and died. A couple of years later, another of Kamper’s victims, a 49-year-old man, died of a tumour. The coroner said that if he had received proper medical treatment he would still be alive.
I could go on…
By the way, I know 21st century medicine isn’t perfect but, whatever the problems of conventional medicine, pointing them out does not make homeopathy any less of a worthless pre-science cult therapy. In any event, I can’t do anything about conventional medicine. I can do something about the misinformation about quackery being spread by ignoramuses with blood on their hands.
Happy New Year.
Edited to add: This is worth a look – How homeopathy works