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.”
What’s the harm?
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
15 thoughts on “Homeopathy: there’s nothing in it. Part 2”
Great couple of posts, many thanks.
I am appalled by the nastiness and ignorance of the comments in your quackolades column. These people are scum – I should know, I wasted even more money than your hairdresser did!
Keep up the good work.
You quoted a commenter:
Now I’m really confused! I thought it was the chiropractors who saved humanity in the 1918 ‘flu epidemic, not the homeopaths. According to one chiro website, Absolute Life Chiropractic:
Perhaps the aromatherapists, reflexologists, crystal healers, reiki healers and other assorted quacks want to lay claim as well?
Interesting that homeopathy, established in the 1700s, cured Bubonic Plague in the 1300s.
Summary of portions of an article in a US farm journal about homeopathy:
The sequential dilutions and rappings imprint the energetic force of the herbal tincture into the molecular force of the liquid. This continues to higher and higher potencies. Humans are electrical beings, then the vibrational energies in the remedy interact with the energies of the human body. Low potency dilutions of 6C or 12C commonly sold in stores may have no effect and are therefore safe to use and learn about homeopathy, even if you prescribe incorrectly.
So there you have it, complete bafflegab. I could not understand why higher orders of dilution increase the strength since the original tincture is gone, but it must be the energies in the liquid; but that still doesn’t wash. If I presume that the molecules of the alcohol/water absorb an energy and that this is passed on in the subsequent dilutions, there is no way a cc of 6C has any more or less potency than a cc of 30C because I make the assumption that each molecule has the same energy and there are the same number of molecules in each cc, so each cc has the same potency, probably zero.
The last part essentially indicts the OTC homeopathy meds. If you cannot hurt yourself by self prescribing, then you cannot cure yourself.
Homeopathetic summarizes the profession.
They seem to live in some parallel fantasy universe!
Interestingly, the author of the bubonic plague claim also claimed that “500 million Americans” use homeopathy. I don’t know where she found all those extra Americans when only 308 million live in the USA.
“According to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, which included a comprehensive survey of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) use by Americans, an estimated 3.9 million U.S. adults and approximately 900,000 children used homeopathy in the previous year.”
Homeopathy is clearly one of those therapies that relies on the placebo effect. However, the placebo effect is well documented to help in many cases. Since homeopathy cannot do any harm, unlike some of the more aggressive complementary therapies such as chiropractic, should I try it for those minor illnesses that standard medicine cannot provide much help for, such as lower back pain or the common cold? In these cases I’m not interested in trying to cure the underlying condition, which I’m happy to leave to my body’s natural curative powers. But I would like relief from the symptoms. So is homeopathy worth a try? Or can anyone recommend anything cheaper? In general, is there any evidence that a generally sceptical attitude affects the efficacy of the placebo effect?
As far as I know, for the placebo response to be activated you need to believe that a genuine medical intervention is taking place and that it works for the condition you are suffering from.
If you want something similar to homeopathy but cheaper, try drinking some water – it will work just as well, as long as you believe!
The suggestion to drink water is a very good one with or w/o the placebo effect. Moderate exercise has been shown to elevate the activity level of the body’s natural immune system for bacterial and viral infections. There is also some indication that it also helps ward off some cancers as well.
As far as the lower back pain, that has been a chronic problem for me every day for several years. A massage therapist showed me some effective stretches for the thigh muscles. That is the main cause of my back pain. I stretch about 15 min. every day and try to walk a mile a day. My running days are over. The stretches follow a pulsing approach rather than stretch and hold. Lying on my back, I put a strap under my instep and pull my leg as far back over my head as I can counting a slow 1001, 1002. Repeat 10 times for each leg. I then rotate my foot to the left and repeat, to the right and repeat, pull across the other leg and stretch wide. The key is the pull/relax repetition.
The only other thing I have changed is taking vitamin D. There is a lot of preliminary research that shows northern latitude inhabitants are woefully low on D levels. I found a cheap D3 supplement and take 2,000 IU a day. From what I can find there really is not a dangerous level of D and there are no interactions with other drugs. I think homeopathy has been studied for over 200 years and is still not a proven regime.
I disagree with you on whether it cannot hurt you. It certainly will not directly harm you. I don’t think there are any stories of direct harm due to side effects of a highly diluted tincture. I do think that there is harm in not actively pursuing the knowledge of other possible treatment methods. As far as pharma approaches, one investigates these closely and studies the commentaries on side effects. I believe antibiotics cure pathogen caused diseases. I am very careful beyond that. AND yes I got my regular and H1N1 shots this year.
Thanks for the advice – I’ll try the stretching. Like homeopathy, it doesn’t sound as if it can do any harm, and there’s certainly evidence that exercise is good for you!
You’re obviously right about actively investigating treatment methods. But the most reliable investigations into the actions of drugs are double-blind tests, simply to control for any placebo effect. And a fair number of results say something like “Placebo : 20% Drug 50%”. Since a placebo gives a 20% chance of help, without any obvious risk of side-effects, while even the most potent drug can’t be guaranteed to work, especially without any side-effects, why not try it, so long as it’s not too expensive, and it doesn’t mean delaying treatment which is more likely to work.
For example, H1N1 shots for flu are certainly worthwhile. We know roughly how they work, what any side-effects might be, and can explain why they may be ineffective in any particular case. But if I’ve got a mild fever and feel as if I’m coming down with a cold, there’s no sensible advice apart from wrap-up warmly and stay indoors, to avoid infecting other people. In this case, why not try Echinacea? There’s some evidence that it helps strengthen the immune system, although like most herbal remedies there must be a large placebo effect. But I’d be quite happy to be cured by a placebo – in some ways I’d prefer it, since there are fewer side effects. As Skepticat says, placebos may only work if you believe in them. But belief is an unconscious emotional response, not directly controllable by your conscious intellect – how else can you explain the existence of extremely intelligent and well educated people who believe in totally different religions! It would be arrogant of me to say I’m immune to false beliefs just because I read Skepticat’s blog. If my subconscious can cure me because it believes in the effect of small brown pills that my aunt/local herbalist/witchdoctor assure me will work, why not let it?
Wow, so much hate in the quackolades. The active ingredient is ‘quackopathy’ is always water and the immune system, with out that, nothing works. Keep up the good work, hope the hate and negativity doesn’t get you down. Good luck.
I hd a li’l tumour on one of my eyes. I was being adviced for surgery from frndz n relatives. Since d surgery s xpnsv n it s EYE I went 2 a homeopath I was referred by a frnd.
He said, you wl b cured. I started taking up his prescribed medicines d way he wud wnt me 2 tk thm.
after 3-4 months I thot of leaving his medication as the tumour was more visible now n I startd bcoming worried. d othr day anothr frnd said hey it is normal… this happns n u’ll b fine.
I didn’t discontinue n after 6 months in total or so I was COMPLETELY CURED. it ws in 2006 n I hv no side effect or any prob thereafter. the total cure costed me Rs. 250 [$5].
Homeopathy is not for emergency purpose. It takes time. first u need to know whethr u HAVE tht time or not. In case u hv [as in the case of long chronic ailments] I can assure you it’ll cure u completely. Have faith, don’t leave midway. Hang on. It needs A LOT of patience.
How can anyone fail to be convinced by JB’s anecdote? Homeopathy completely cured cancer in his eye, for crying out loud! All you need is faith and a lot of patience. And no conscience about to putting the story out on the web anonymously.
I’m still looking for a translator.