Homeopathy - You Just Know They're Making This Shit Up

Saturday, April 12, 2008
This week is "National Homeopathy Week." I didn't know much about homeopathy before I learned about this, but I decided to try and educate myself a bit, just for general purposes.

I came away thinking, "They're making this shit up, right? Surely they know they're just making this shit up."

Unfortunately, it appears they do not know they're making this shit up, and that many, many people actually believe in this, and base their medical decisions on that belief.

In a nutshell, here's the deal on Homeopathy from Wikipedia:

"Homeopathy (also homœopathy or homoeopathy; from the Greek ὅμοιος, hómoios, "similar" + πάθος, páthos, "suffering" or "disease") is a form of alternative medicine first defined by Samuel Hahnemann in the 18th century. Homeopathic practitioners contend that an ill person can be treated using a substance that can produce, in a healthy person, symptoms similar to those of the illness. According to homeopaths, serial dilution, with shaking between each dilution, removes the toxic effects of the remedy while the qualities of the substance are retained by the diluent (water, sugar, or alcohol). The end product is often so diluted that materially it is indistinguishable from pure water, sugar or alcohol. Practitioners select treatments according to a patient consultation that explores the physical and psychological state of the patient, both of which are considered important to selecting the remedy."

So let's see if I understand this correctly.

If someone has a cold, you take a "substance that can produce, in a healthy person, symptoms similar to those of the illness," like say, snot, and you dilute it with water. You then shake the crap out of it, then dilute it again, then shake the crap out of it again, etc., etc. until there are no snot molecules left in the water.

Then you give the non-snot water to the patient, and voila! Their cold disappears.

Do I need to tell you that scientific and clinical studies have resoundingly proven that Homeopathy does not work beyond the placebo effect?

When Homeopathy was first proposed (the late 1700's), the other option for medical treatment was bloodletting and purging. So, if I lived in the late 1700's, I can see where drinking water to cure my ills might be preferable to bleeding out or bulimia. Sensible, yes?

But I don't live the late 1700's, and I just don't get how people can seriously believe this shit. While my credentials in science fall somewhere between "interested observer" and "fan-girl," I do have critical thinking skills, and this just doesn't wash.

I think I'll stick with my modern, science-based medicine. I'm just narrow-minded that way.

25 comments:

Tom said...

When I first heard about homeopathy I found it quite silly. I couldn't believe people would pay big bucks for the ultra-diluted "medicines." This seems to be big business in Britian, which I find less hard-to-believe.

I'd say this adequately demonstrates the "placebo effect."

Cindi in CO said...

Good Lord. I don't even know what to say to this.

And if anyone thinks I'm drinking any snot they're obviously high.

Janiece Murphy said...

Tom, I think silly is the perfect adjective.

Cindi, I don't know that they actually dillue snot. I was taking poetic license because the entire concept is so retarded.

Jeri said...

I think homeopathy is odd, as are a few other naturopathic practices. (Colonic therapy, anyone?)

However, I do think that many physicians make a mistake when they treat the human body as a physical entity only. I think the concept of 'holistic health care' has tremendous merit - because our bodies, emotions and mind are one, and if one of those is unhealthy it will affect the others.

For example, stress can cause depression, migraines, back problems, heart disease. Just prescribing pain pills and blood pressure drugs doesn't solve the problem.

Anyway, I did go to a nurse practitioner/naturopath in Alaska. She was very focused on whole person care and preventive care, but also very practical in the therapies she suggested - and, she was unafraid to prescribe drugs when necessary.

Janiece Murphy said...

Jeri, I don't object to treating "the whole person" in the manner you describe. I, also, believe there is a direct correlation between emotional and physical health.

But this kind of tripe is simply the placebo effect, and I think it's really unethical for practitioners to try and convince people it has medicinal value on the level of modern medicine.

Anne C. said...

How interesting. I had thought homeopathy was a category of treatment, including acupuncture and chiropractors and stuff. I have never heard of the shaking and dilution and whatever.

I believe similarly to Jeri and have tried both acupuncture and chiropract(ing?). In both cases, it gave me immediate relief, but was not worthwhile for the long term.

Janiece Murphy said...

Anne, I think Homeopathy is a sub-category of "non-standard medicine" or "holistic medicine."

While I think Homeopathy is a load of crap ("Crap-Based Medicine!"), I've used acupuncture and massage therapy myself, and had experiences similar to yours.

I don't automatically assume all holistic medical practices are Crap-Based Medicine, but I do think Homeopathy qualifies.

vince said...

I agree with you - homeopathy is nonsense.

But the recent record of high-profile medications with either life-threatening side effects (Vioxx, Prexig), the non-effectiveness and/or danger of many over-the-counter drugs (cough medications, pulled cough and cold medictions for children) and drugs that are supposed to improve life expectancy but don't (Vytorin and Zetia fail to reduce heart disease, Avastin slows the progress of breast cancer but doesn't impact overall survival) also gives one pause.

Worse, it's become more and more apparent that many drug companies place profits over health. Developing new drugs is expensive, and drug companies have a right to make a profit. But Merck & Co and Schering-Plough Corp, who jointly developed Vytorin (annual sales of about $5 billion), waited nearly two years to release the results of the study.

No wonder people are looking for alternatives.

Michelle K said...

Homeopathy is a subset of holistic medicine. And is one of the things, IMHO, that gives holistic medicine a bad name.

The snot example is close, but not quite right. In homeopathy they take a *toxin* or *poison* that creates the same symptoms as your illness.

Then they dilute it until it's nothing but water with maybe a single molecule of the toxin, if that.

The belief is that the toxin somehow *changes* the water to give it healing properties. Kinda like learning through osmosis, or getting cooties from touching a boy.

Considering the amount of actual drugs that are in our water supply, I'd say they'd have a greater affect on health than homeopathic "remedies".

Massage therapy and acupuncture have actually been shown to work, although the manner by which they work is unknown/not understood. (The study I remember hearing about had physicians using less than half the usual amount of anesthesia when performing surgery.)

And Chinese medicines, from which acupuncture comes, is pretty fascinating. I worked with people who were Chinese doctors, and they had to do a "traditional medicine" rotation. Apparently, the good doctors could diagnose patients surprisingly accurately by feeling their pulse (different from taking their pulse), looking at the tongue, and looking at the patient's eyes.

It was very interesting that these women (who could not and did not practice in the US) combined western and Chinese medicine without blinking.

If you're really interested, Andrew Weil has written some easy to access books on holistic medicine, and refers to peer reviewed studies whenever they exist.

Michelle K said...

In case you couldn't guess, I am fascinated by holistic medicine. Well, actually by health, wellness, and illness in general.

I can also ramble at length about the flu if you like. ;)

Janiece Murphy said...

Vince, I understand what you're saying. As a consumer and someone who is responsible for your own health and well-being, it's tough to know what to believe.

I know Matthew Jarpe reads HCDSM occasionally, although he never comments. As a scientist (biochemistry, I believe) who has worked in the pharmacological industry, I'd be interested in his thoughts, if he cared to share them.

Yes, Matt, that is an extremely unsubtle hint.

Anne C. said...

Thanks for the sum up, guys (particularly Michelle). "Holistic Medicine" was the term I was mixing up "homeopathy" with.
When I tried acupuncture (for a knee injury), I was happy to find that my doctor (a young guy) is open to holistic medicine like acupuncture. Not that he prescribed the acupuncture, or would, but I would have bolted from the exam room if he had ranted about western medicine being the only way to go. That shows a bias that is not helpful to me.

PS - Nice correlation, Vince!

Sayeed said...

Homoeopathy is the best pathy and it is natural and spiritual and effective in the hands of a well qualified homoeopath who treats the patient as a whole based on the principles laid down by the Father of homoeopathy, Dr. Samuel Hahnemann.

Dr. Sayeed Ahmad

Michelle K said...

Uh, yeah. Right.

Not so much with the convincing evidence and peer reviewed studies, are we?

Janiece Murphy said...

Dr. Sayeed Ahmad, what Michelle said.

If you can provide one peer reviewed study (and not a meta-analysis) from a prestigious journal such as NEJM (and not some self-serving, self-published clap-trap from the hackneyed institution where you got your degree), then I'll consider revising my opinion and publishing my revision.

Can you do so?

MWT said...

I've read Andrew Weil's "Spontaneous Healing." Intriguing stuff. Oddly enough, it was his descriptions of Bob Fulford (an osteopath entirely unlike most western medicine osteopaths) that convinced me to try chiropractors. And my chiropractor has done me quite a lot of good.

Janiece Murphy said...

MWT, I'm glad your chiropractor is making you feel better. While the studies I've read indicate chiropracty is not as effictive as the practice would have us believe, I understand YMMV.

Michelle K said...

mwt,

I really liked "Eating Well for Optimum Health" but have not read "Spontaneous Healing"

I think what I like best is that he doesn't discount what works for individuals.

The Mechanicky Gal said...

Dr. Sayeed, I, for one, am waiting.......

Steve Buchheit said...

Well, homeopathy is one of a number of "alternative medicine" choices. The method of transmission in the wikipedia is one of the many methods (and one that isn't used a lot). Also keep in mind that it was only ten years ago that chiropractic, herbalism vitamins, and acupuncture were also dismissed in the same way (and still are in most medical circles).

In the last century, as the FDA was being formed, there was a huge battle in the medical world between methodologies. Homeopathy was one of many accepted standards of treatment at the time. The doctors supporting allopathic practices, though, won out at the time (through various political moves).

As to the "science" behind "modern" medicine, it's going to be very interesting once the initiative to publish all the medical research is available to the general public. Many drug trials are statistically rigged to show results (out of 100 people in the study, 3 fall ill to a disease in the control group, only 2 fall ill in the drug group, a 1% difference in effect that shows a 33% efficacy of the drug, and in most drug trials, this is the margin of efficacy).

Homeopathy is a different model of treatment than "modern" medicine. With our current model we talk about diseases and the treatment for those diseases (such as, you have a cold, take this; cancer, follow this treatment program). Homeopathy doesn't follow the same lines. For two patients showing the same allopathic disease, their treatment path in homeopathy might be completely different because homeopathy could see them as having different disease (depends on the symptoms). This method of treatment doesn't fit into the FDA testing practices well (because those practices were specifically written to promote allopathic medicine).

Is homeopathy for everything? No. Have a broken bone, you need an allopathic doctor, homeopathy won't help you get it set. Having an attack of appendicitis, find a surgeon. Heart attack, you certainly want allopathic medicine.

Also, since you used the example of a cold, most cold medicines, when they work well (other than those that affect symptoms such as decongestants) only reduce your discomfort form the disease, not cure you. And yet we still sell them as "miracle cures." However, Zicam(tm) does reduce the time you're sick, which is why they're allowed to state that on the label.

Just some food for thought. Why, yes, my wife does have a PhD in ethnobotany, why do you ask?

Janiece Murphy said...

Steve, I don't think anyone is saying that "natural remedies" don't have a certain level of efficacy. Pharmacology tells us that simply isn't true, although I have an issue with quality control.

And I'm still not convinced about "chiropractic, herbalism vitamins, and acupuncture." The plural of anecdote is not evidence, as they say.

However, if you are aware of any double-blind, peer reviewed studies that would reasonably be considered to be compliant with the scientific method that speak to the efficacy of Homeopathy (of any variety), I would be very interested in them.

Michelle K said...

Steve,

It really sounds like you're confusing homeopathy with holistic medicine.

Holistic medicine as practiced by naturopaths or osteopaths is similar in many ways to traditional Chinese medicine. In those cases results can be quantified, although the mechanism for those results may vary.

In regard to this, the case for herbal and traditional medicines is very strong, as it has been repressed by many in favor of expensive. And many modern medications have their basis in traditional or herbal medicines (aspirin and digitalis being two that jump to my mind.)

Homeopathy as a single treatment type, where the patient is given water with the essence of a toxin or poison, is something else entirely.

And I'm sorry, but I see selling a patient water as a cure very disturbing.

As far as the publication of research trial database, I can't wait for this to go live. It will be interesting to see everything out in the open.

However, just as you mentioned that an osteopath might apply different treatments based upon an patient differences, so I think we need to keep in mind that the same may be true for pharmaceuticals.

Just because a complex medication doesn't have a 100% effectiveness rate doesn't mean it's ineffective. I think medications used for the treatment of mental illness are a prime example of this. One medicine works perfect for some people, while others can't tolerate it at all. IMO, the more complex the illness, the less likely there will be a one size fits all treatment.

As far as seeking "cures" rather than alleviation of symptoms, that's a problem across the board in the US. If something is wrong people want treatment now. They don't want to be told that it's going to take 7 to 10 days for symptoms to disappear.

We're spoiled and live for instant gratifaction. Well, it doesn't work like that, and I'm not sure whether the fault likes primarily in the hands of the doctors or the hands of the consumers. I think there's plenty of blame to go around.

Dr. Nancy said...

Homeopathy cures where Convenntional Allopathic Medicine (CAM) fails

Michelle K said...

Wow!

Again with the lack of anything resembling a double-blind trial or even animals studies, never mind a high quality peer-reviewed journal

Just a bare sentence by someone adding doctor to their moniker.

Well, I have to say *I'm* convinced.

Janiece Murphy said...

Well, I have to say, I'm with Michelle.

Prove it, Dr. Nancy.

Or stop making unsubstantiated claims on my blog.