Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
25 Jan

Homeopathy is (Mostly) Hogwash

On the docket today: a meaty, slippery, jam-packed can of worms. Makes you just lick your lips in anticipation, doesn’t it? Last week’s direct to consumer health testing post got this one going. I mentioned this do-it-yourself health trend comes with both the good and the bad – as yet unproven and unsound alternative therapies like homeopathy being such a potential snare. From that point, a healthy and robust debate ensued in the comment board. Yes, that’s exactly the way it should be. I always appreciate and, indeed, relish the active discourse of our comment board. Folks offer up their experiences, questions, and perspectives in ways that thoughtfully challenge and extend the discussion of the post itself. It’s the beauty of a blog – and the “Internets” as a whole, wouldn’t you say? At times, I find these conversations stand by themselves. Other times, I’ll pick up on a certain thread that I think could use more Primal-based clarification and a further targeted discussion. Today I’m taking up the homeopathy debate and giving the full of my two cents. I’m up for it if you are. Let’s roll up our sleeves and dig in, eh?

First, what homeopathy isn’t. It’s not herbal medicine, Traditional Chinese medicine, or even flower essences. It’s not naturopathy or isopathy (pus anyone?). It’s doesn’t include nutritional supplements, energy work, or body manipulation. It’s not a catch-all term for all of CAM (complementary and alternative medicine). I say this because the term is sometimes mistakenly used in these ways, and I want to be clear about what I have on the dissection table today.

Here’s, in a nutshell, what it is. First, key caveat… In the space of a reasonable blog post, I cannot tell the entire history of homeopathy or touch on every study ever performed. I’ll go out on a limb and say that my decision to do so does not, by its own merit, discredit my critique. I’ve read many more books and many more individual studies and reviews – from both conventional and CAM journals –than I’ll mention here. Anyone else is free to similarly delve in while forming their own opinion about homeopathy or any other subject. (PubMed is a fantastic, thoroughly addictive site that I spend entirely too much time perusing.)

O.K. now what it is. First, the historical basics. Homeopathy is a medical practice first envisioned and designed by Samuel Hahnemann in the late 18th Century. As a philosophy, it fit within the vitalist framework and held that illnesses were the manifestations of disturbances to an individual’s life force. Effective intervention, according to Hahnemann, necessitated the rousing or provocation of the life force with a small (understatement) amount of a single, relevant substance. In the spirit of that approach, homeopaths today assess both a patient’s symptoms and overall mental and physical condition – usually through an extensive interview and a varying physical examination. Based on the findings, they determine a particular “remedy” that has been prepared according to homeopathic principles.

We could chat for long, languorous hours about all of Hahnemann’s principles. (PrimalCon, anyone?) Today, let me give particular attention to a few central tenets.

“Law of Similars” (a.k.a. like treats like)

Hahnemann believed that the ideal treatment for a patient’s symptoms was a substance that elicited the same physical signs in healthy individuals. The assigned homeopathic remedy is an artificial means intended to stimulate the disturbed life force into a self corrective mode – based on the similarity of symptoms, yes. In this process, the body will supposedly defuse the observed illness and rid itself of it. (Yeah, I don’t get it either really.)

“Law of Proving”

Because he believed like treats like, Hahnemann focused his proving (i.e. testing) on healthy subjects. He used large groups of volunteers, instructed them on lifestyle restrictions and recommendations during the testing period, and asked them to keep exhaustive journals of any and all symptoms or sensations they experienced. From this standpoint, he initiated early characteristics of the modern controlled clinical trial. (Hat tip.) He then matched these tested substances with diseases that displayed similar symptoms. (See above.)

“Law of Potentization”

Long story short, along the line Hahnemann decided that diluting the original substance would make it more potent. (Yes, do the double take.) He even developed his own scale for diluting his remedies – the centesimal or C measure. Each C indicates dilution by a factor of 100. Given Hahnemann’s penchant for a 30 C dilution, you can imagine – well, actually you probably can’t imagine – how dilute that would be. We’re talking exponentially diminishing here – as in there may or may not be a single molecule of the original substance or not. Ummmm…?


The power of a homeopathic remedy solution allegedly resides not simply in the remedy itself but in the full relationship and dynamic interaction among the homeopath, patient, and remedy. (This is one of the reasons those in the homeopathic field reject the applicability of conventional “blind” clinical trials.)

O.K., let me start by saying this. Compared to the rather brutal approaches of the medical community in his time, Hahnemann’s new take on treatment must have felt downright civilized, enlightened, and sophisticated. I’d rather take a small diluted remedy than have my blood let any day. And as irrational as his belief in super ultra mega diluting was, it must have seemed remarkably, even comfortingly precise when held up against the generally sloppy, arbitrary, and clueless practices of apothecaries.

In a system where most of us are lucky if we get five uninterrupted minutes with our physicians, I appreciate the extensiveness of the repertory interview homeopaths undertake with patients. Finally in a very generalized way, I even loosely sympathize with the idea that treating a condition with conventional medications can simply mask it and drive it deeper into the body. (Granted, I see it more as metaphor in these modern times, but it’s a good one. We do a lot of ineffectual “band-aid” work in Western medicine.) Oh, and the life force thing sounds pretty groovy.

I’m afraid that’s pretty much where I part paths with Hahnemann and homeopathy. Call me too close-minded, but I stand with homeopathy’s critics when it comes to its shortfall in the scientific principle department. Let’s say you momentarily accept the life force concept as metaphor and just put aside the law of similar out of sheer frustration. (The alleged vaccine comparison, I’ll simply say, is another ball of wax entirely and fodder for another day.) Even then, there’s still the ginormous elephant in the living room (yes, the one that every critic focuses on because it’s kind of important) – the dilution issue otherwise known as active ingredient-free medicine. Yes, recall that it’s supposed to not simply be present but be more potent. Yes, homeopathy supporters claim that the original substance leaves a residual energy imprint of sorts in the remaining diluted solution (a.k.a. water memory). Theories have been put forward regarding movement and cohesion at the molecular level, “dynamic ‘ordering’” of the water’s intermolecular bonds and the like. (Random thought: if water that contained a homeopathic agent still can retain an active, potent energy imprint, does my waste water treatment plant do a good enough job of removing the imprint of sewage, industrial chemicals, and other refuse particles?)

In all seriousness, I realize that science is still evolving, particularly in the area of nanophysics and the like, but everything about this potentization concept flies in the face of scientific principle, defies all known laws of chemistry and physics, and appears to exist primarily in the hazy, moving shadows of ambiguity. I’m all ears if it’s ever pinned down, but it’s no dice right now.

A few readers last week said it was ironic that I was badmouthing another health related area subjected to the same rejection as many tenets of the Primal Blueprint (e.g. the dietary fat boogeyman.). It’s true that the PB gets its share of quackery accusations. I wholly support being skeptical when the establishment dismisses a health philosophy out of hand. Nonetheless, I don’t see homeopathy in that situation. I’ve read many studies over the years and paid attention to the reviews that have been conducted. When it comes to research, homeopathy just doesn’t bear out.

Reviews suggest that the evidence is inconclusive at best for a myriad of conditions like asthama, anxiety, dementia, migraine, ADHD, cancer, and cancer treatment side effects.

Yes, there’s the claim that true homeopathy can’t be accurately assessed within the current clinical trial system. There’s the issue of individualization of remedy – that an individual’s treatment also is influenced by their overall well-being, personality, etc. Then there’s the concept of entanglement – that dynamic, misty interaction among the perceived triad of homeopath, patient, and treatment. I don’t know how you’re going to overcome those hurdles. Right now it’s a deadlock, but I’m going to have to side with hard science for now.

I’ve given my critique. Here’s what I think works about homeopathy, and – mind you – I’m being wholly earnest. I know what you’re thinking: placebo. Well, yes, but let me explain. The placebo effect, ladies and gentlemen, is nothing to shake a stick at. As mentioned before, it can claim a 30% effectiveness rate, and that number can go higher based on the people receiving the treatment. Some of us are more likely to experience physical effects from a placebo not because we’re gullible saps but probably because we’re more in tune with our mental power, so to speak. Some of us, for example, can creatively visualize our way through the intense physical pain of a medical procedure or the pain of childbirth. Some can’t as much. The placebo effect is such a force that a recent study showed the pretense isn’t necessary. And if your doctor believes that the “placebo” is actually an effective treatment, the effect is even stronger.

Much has been made lately of the therapeutic impact of the doctor-patient relationship itself – the connection, the empathy, the listening, and the basic human touch of the physical exam. Imagine the result if your caretaker took two hours instead of ten minutes to listen to your concerns, asked about your general well-being, and inquired about your life overall. Is it much of a stretch to see that there would likely be a more intensive healing element to this relationship itself?

My final thought on homeopathy is this. I can’t accept it as a medical practice given what is currently known. I leave room for the effectiveness of a few substances when given in a non-traditional formula (actually present in the solution). Furthermore, I respect the humanistic elements of homeopathy practice and wish conventional medicine would learn a thing or two in this department. I understand why people might be interested in its therapies and experience suggested relief from the idea of a gentle treatment that gets them thinking about the power and essential balance of their bodies. The truth of its impact, however, lies outside the bounds of medical science.

The floor is now open. Good Primal ladies and gentlemen, please avail yourself of the comment board.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. To the earlier posts on Chiropractic, I have great success with a Chiropractor I trust. I broke my neck when I was 19 in a bad accident (C-3 and C-4), and had bone fragments kicking around in there from a previous accident the year before.
    After many years of brutal spasms that would leave me with NO mobility (couldn’t turn my head) and numbness in my arm, hand and fingers..And the only offer of help was a prescription for pain killers, anti-inflammatory drugs and muscle relaxers, I was pretty desperate for relief. I was too young to be in constant pain, but I refused surgery to fuse everything together.
    While being treated for a rib injury, (another long story), I developed a trusting relationship with a young chiro who was referred to me by (gasp) my primary physician. As we worked on my ribs and spine, he told me he had gotten a great job offer halfway across the country. But he wanted his DAD to take over my case, and he thought his dad would have the expertise to win my trust and let him work on my neck. I did, thank God. He took x rays, tested my strength and mobility, had me use a different pillow (12 yrs later I still use it!)and worked on straightening me out. It did initially take awhile, but I am SO thankful I stuck with it!
    I see him occasionally once a year or two for a few sessions when I get jammed up..we are always amazed how long it has been!
    Love my Chiropractor!

    juliemama wrote on January 25th, 2011
  2. I’m going to remain neutral on the homeopathy issue… I just haven’t done enough personal research to decide, and it’s not something I use, so it isn’t a priority. What does worry me is when people use homeopathy in place of nutrition of healthy habits. I know some use it in place of conventional medicine, but I don’t think that is the biggest issue.
    Take, for example, some members of my extended family: They still eat grains, sugars, and PUFAs because they are “less expensive to buy” but use over $1,000/month of supplements, homeopathic remedies and herbs. I think supplements and herbs have a definite place, but they are no substitute for a solid foundation in nutrition. I don’t worry so much when I see people avoiding conventional treatment for minor issues, but I do think it is a waste of money to use any of these products if you aren’t giving your body the advantage of a good primal diet. Like I’ve tried to explain to them… you can’t out exercise or out supplement a crap diet!

    Katie wrote on January 25th, 2011
    • Absolutely! I have so many people around me like that.

      Kelda wrote on January 26th, 2011
  3. Anyone heard of Masaru Emoto?

    He has done some interesting(and very questionable!) research on our thoughts and their effects on water.

    Jesse wrote on January 25th, 2011
  4. Mark,

    I appreciate the information and I was completely uninformed about homepathy. But after reading your post, I can say the principles behind it just doesn’t make sense to me. Starting at light force and then dilution, anytime someone saids diluting something makes it stronger I know their science is horrible. I think I figured that out at 8 when I tried to dilute Coke to make more Coke (yes in my sugar addict days).

    Trevor wrote on January 25th, 2011
  5. My anecdotal experience has proven to me that homeopathy does work at times. My daughter used to suffer from horrible growing pains that nothing seemed to touch until I found a homeopathic remedy and tried it. I suspected it was a placebo effect until I ran out of that remedy one night and subbed another that looked exactly the same and she kept screaming her head off. I restocked and again had very positive results. I’m working very hard with my daughter on primal eating and primal supplement recommendations but will continue to use the occasional homeopathic remedy.

    Stephanie wrote on January 25th, 2011
  6. Homeophaty is basically an alternative medicine. This is why it is not being recommended by physician per se. However, when the patient would like to try something outside of the traditional ‘western’ medicine, it can be tried out i.e. similar accupuncture and others.

    Gary wrote on January 25th, 2011
  7. I continue to find the term “hogwash” offensive.

    There is no scientific basis for homeopathy. Nevertheless, I believe in it. I also believe in astrology, faith healing and reincarnation. Flame that.

    Harry wrote on January 25th, 2011
    • Belief can lead to some dangerous actions. The fact that anyone finds the term “hogwash” offensive does not detract from it’s appropriateness at times.

      fritzy wrote on January 25th, 2011
    • So you believe in hogwash … bunk, huey, baloney. And now you’re criticising others for merely pointing that out?

      This isn’t about “flaming”, it’s about being rational.

      MikeEnRegalia wrote on January 25th, 2011
  8. I think homeopathy is just as effective as those silly holographic power balance wristbands.

    Lizzychan wrote on January 25th, 2011
  9. For some reason I find myself disappointed by this post. I’m in school right now studying to be a Naturopathic doctor. I’m also a supporter of the paleo diet. But this post wasn’t really about diet and though I understand there will always be skeptics I’m sad that your voice just might have convinced some people not to try this modality.

    Of course people shouldn’t try homeopathy for severe diseases or delay the “tried and true” methods as you might suggest and potentially worsen their condition. But the truth of the matter is, a good practitioner will refer when it is necessary and have no shame in it, they wouldn’t try to treat someone and risk someone getting worse if they knew it wasn’t in their best interest. I also think it’s fair to say that nine times out of ten people try “alternative” medicine when they’ve already tried the western medicine approach and it didn’t work. So at that point, there’s no harm in trying something else.

    You also didn’t mention the fact that it’s a constitution-based medicine, very similarly to Chinese Medicine and ayurvedic medicine. Meaning that many people practice it incorrectly if they try to treat themselves from their local herb shop. A proper practitioner should figure out the person’s constitution first, and then treat them accordingly. I hope others can see this blog as a great nutrition source, but seek their medical info elsewhere.

    Rhoni wrote on January 25th, 2011
    • I totally agree, and failed to mention it in my recent post. I think Mark was sharing a strong personal opinion, wrong though I think he is, and it really had no place here. But, since he did share it, I would like to see him research homeopathic use in babies and animals, and follow-up with what he learns. Better yet use homeopathy, correctly, for a year or two…and then let us know what you think! :)

      sherry wrote on January 26th, 2011
  10. What makes me very uncomfortable is my boss using homeopathic vaccinations for her horses when traveling out of state. I wonder what the horses would opt to take, given a choice.

    Samantha Moore wrote on January 25th, 2011
  11. For an hilarious skit on homeopathy, go to youtube and look up “mitchell and webb homeopathic”, then click on “That Mitchell and Webb Look: Homeopathic A&E”

    John wrote on January 25th, 2011
    • Yes! I was going to post that! Homeopathic Emergency Room FTW!

      Roland wrote on January 25th, 2011
  12. I always wondered what homeopathy really was. Cool read.

    Nicky Spur wrote on January 25th, 2011
  13. English is not my native language, so please bear with me.

    My anecdotal experience has proven to me that homeopathy works for myself. Also: my wife gave birth to a child a few weeks ago and the nurse told us that they work very successfully with homeopathy to heal vaginal injuries coming from the birth. I also know first hand examples where cows and other animals were healed with homeopathy, because it is cheaper than normal medical treatments (placebo with cows?????).

    It doesn’t bother me at all whether “experts” think that the approach is “scientific” or not. Just leave “us” alone then…

    Dany wrote on January 25th, 2011
  14. People will already have their mind made up especially after reading this post if they have never used homeopathy. That is a shame. I have used homeopathy for a couple issues and with good results. Sorry for those who can’t grasp that is does work. Like everything, it has it’s place and shouldn’t take the place of common sense for treating ailments. I also use chiropractic care and naturopathic doctor, so I guess I’m really nuts. But I spend, especially at my age, much less than others on my health (because I don’t use one prescription or over the counter drugs). I’m here for Mark’s advice on diet and exercise and will just have to excuse him on this one point. Hopefully, someday, why it works will be sorted out. I also was a skeptic, but sometimes you just can’t argue when it works.

    I had severe nerve pain from a fall on my tail bone and could hardly walk when given a remedy for nerve pain and found relief, as in being able to sit and walk without pain. It was a little sore still, but the relief was welcome and came about in just a couple doses. Again, sorry, but I just won’t go without because someone says it’s not scientifically probable. I know it is possible. And don’t even begin to tell me it was all in my head.

    Karla wrote on January 26th, 2011
  15. If people are interested in this subject I’d strongly recommend they check out the book “Bad Science” by Ben Goldacre.

    Not only does it contain a thorough debunking of homeopothy, but also has a great section on the placebo effect, and how to spot bad science yourself.

    Simon wrote on January 26th, 2011
    • +1

      Excellent read and it provides some good ammo against Big Pharma.

      Kirk A wrote on January 26th, 2011
  16. There are some general patterns here with those who argue in favor of homeopathy:

    1. They produce personal anecdotal evidence
    2. The conditions that they claim homeopath is effective in improving are usually conditions that are quite “fuzzy” when it comes to symptoms, and they can often improve on their own (“it comes and goes”).
    3. They emphasize that they keep an “open mind” but they ignore the fact that homeopathy failed in properly conducted double-blind trials, saying that “science doesn’t know everything”.

    About 1: The human mind is not a computer. I strongly recommend the book “Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)” – it’s about how our mind can play tricks on us, we are subject to problems like confirmation bias etc..

    About 2: The problem is obvious. Remember the experiments with pidgeons, where pigeons in a cage would get a reward (food from a food dispenser) in random intervals? After a while the pidgeons will repeat behavior which they were doing when they received a reward, thinking that the behavior triggered the reward. They will keep doing this even if repeating the behavior clearly doesn’t trigger the reward. Similarly, people will become convinced that a homeopathic remedy has an effect if they once took it and *remember* that it seemed to work. The key is the word “remember” – as I explained in the previous point, the mind can play tricks on us. As time goes by, our rememberance of a specific event can get distorted … our brain tries to resolve dissonances. In the book I mentioned they used the analogy of a pyramid. When an event just occurred, you’re at the top of the pyramid. As time goes by, you slide down one of its sides – until you’re quite removed from the original facts. In the case of homeopathy, you can either slide down the skeptic side, or the “there must be something to it” side.

    About 3: I’ll just paraphrase Douglas Adams:

    “It’s good to be open-minded – but not so much that your brains fall out”

    I’d like to think that I’m keeping an open mind. But when it comes to homeopathy, there are two facts:

    – It’s only water/sugar. None of the initial “active” chemical is left in the pills or drops.
    – Randomized/double-blind trials fail.

    The latter is often ignored by people in favor of their personal anecdotal evidence. But like I explained above, that evidence has been shown to not be reliable. Especially when you’re faced with objective evidence that’s in conflict with your personal opinion, I think it’s clear that independent of concepts like “open-mindedness” letting go of your personal opinion in favor of the objective evidence is the better choice.

    MikeEnRegalia wrote on January 26th, 2011
    • Lifted this from Wikipedia (yeah, yeah) but it is illustrative of the scale we are talking about:
      30C is a common homeopathic dilution and the one advocated by Hahnemann for most purposes: on average, this would require giving two billion doses per second to six billion people for 4 billion years to deliver a single molecule of the original material to any patient. Must be all about the life force in the water…unless it’s in the sugar pill delivery system that some use.

      Mark Sisson wrote on January 26th, 2011
      • Hi folks, just came across this debate and am finding fascinating.

        I’m a nutritional therapist, and work in a multi-discipline clinic with all types of practioners, two of which are homeopaths.

        All I can say is people never question what works for them, i have used homeopathy very successfully with tri-athletes competing at very high European competition levels with great success, for many sport related traumas and injury.

        As for what science says, much of what is advocated by Mark and this website/blog would be regarded by main stream nutritional science to be excessive and potentially dangerous to ones health, say with regards to recommended daily allowances of nutrients, Traditional food pyramids, or indeed what a traditional clinical dietitian would recommend. There s a mountain of “reliable science” which advises a diet of wholegrains and 5-a -day to keep you ticking over nicely!

        So does that make what Mark says wrong? yes to some and no to others. To me, what is advocated in Marks book and site regarding nutrition and exercise makes perfect sense, excellent read, loads of really good science behind it.

        As for his opinion on Homeopathy, I’ve heard it all before and appreciate that this system of healing is easy pickings when comes to discrediting. As for water memory, if its good enough for the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences its good enough for me, maybe one step closer to understanding Homeopathy?

        As for laws of physics, reliable science, etc, its a bit about content, allot about context, relative versus absolute, Newtonian vs Quantum, allopathic versus the world, cause if everyone believed “reliable science” we wouldn’t need nutritional supplements, cholesterol would be the most significant predictor of cardiovascular risk and all be prescribed statins over 50yrs old, need not worry about mobile phones, or global warming and just accept that our genes control everything anyway!

        cillin cleere wrote on January 26th, 2011
      • mark, bought your book last year and have thoroughly enjoyed the advice and this website. Having grown up the son of an acupuncturist/chiropractor, i probably have some different views on some alternative health modalities, and,yes, i am aware you are far from extolling the virtues of conventional medicine. Wondering what take you might have on something such as energy medicine, such as yuen method? Here’s a great link: Not a regular viewer of Dr. Oz but i hear that he has been showing this attention on the show lately and i know it wont be the last time he does. Thanks for your service .

        wayne wrote on February 7th, 2011
  17. This has made for a very interesting series of comments.

    Personally I believe that the body has evolved and is programmed to heal itself and it does its level best to keep the right balance in order to reproduce and continue its genetic pattern. After all the very success of that evolution is evidenced by the fact that we all come to be sitting at individual screens all around the world pontificating the finer nuances of what is science and what is not!

    For many of these conditions I think the body heals itself – if we have taken something we assume it has worked but not taking something might have worked equally well. As Mr Grok is very fond of saying ‘we can’t know the path we didn’t take’.

    I also believe that we have a far greater control over our wellbeing through harnassing our mental energies than many believe. And I don’t mean this in a mystical sense at all. There are studies that show that folks in old people’s home can show increased bone density and muscle strength from being taken through weights routines in their heads. They do not raise any weights, they simply think through the exercise. What appears to be happening is the brain is firing all the appropriate physical/neurological pathways that would be involved in the actual movement.

    The very fact you can raise your heart rate by thought alone to trigger stress responses shows me there is most certainly an untapped power available to us.

    So, perhaps with homeopathy the people that believe it works are simply receiving the necessary thought stimulation (the placebo effect!) to heal themselves.

    What I do know is that we are the most incredible collection of nuerons, hormones and all the rest (and we don’t understand even 10% of it yet) and we owe it to our fabulous evolution to feed and move right and live in a way that nurtures us so we can do Grok proud.

    Kelda wrote on January 26th, 2011
  18. Hey, really great blog post… I’ve enjoyed reading through it because of the great style and energy put into the writing. I actually run my own health blog where I muse about diet and lowering cholesterol. If you’re interested, I would love to have you on as a guest blogger. Please send me an e-mail: bob.mauer65(at)gmail(dot)com, and I can give you more information.
    Looking forward to hearing from you.

    George wrote on January 26th, 2011
  19. (Sigh)… Sorry to be a bit didactic here, but it is VERY important that we distinguish here between Science, and its myriad conceptions, an the Scientific Method, which is easy to define, and which guides all logic and reason in our culture. Science describes a collection of an enormous number of disciplines studying subatomic particles, galaxies, kangaroos, trees, the price of cheese, fashion trends, and rocks, to name a few. Some of these disciplines are better at using numbers to describe what they study, and each discipline has some practitioners who are awesome and some who totally suck. What enables people to evaluate these disciplines, the individual findings, and the people doing the research is the Scientific Method. There are slight variations in the way this is defined, but this link is pretty good at summing it up (with pretty pictures, too!):
    Basically, if I believe something to be true (Oh, I dunno, say… saturated fat causes heart disease, to pick a completely random example). I then try to design a study as best I can to DISPROVE my hypothesis. Ideally, however I design the study initially, anyone collecting data will know as little as possible about the people and things they are researching (by which I mean the identities, not the science), so bias is minimized; so, if I am on the team of people gathering data, I won’t know if the blood I am analyzing is from someone in the group that ate steak and drank coconut milk, or from the group that ate couscous and drank juice. Then the data is analyzed, and a bunch of fancy statistics are calculated, and we can make a conclusion (or not). THEN, people who don’t like the results can make their own study and try to DISPROVE mine. That is the scientific method, more or less. It ain’t perfect, but it is far superior – when discussing what is good or bad for EVERYONE – than anything else we’ve got, including “I used it, and now I feel great; in fact, I can see the future and read my cat’s mind!”Individuals making choices for themselves can use any method they like, but professionals making recommendations for others should be doing their homework regarding the research. The problem with homeopathy is twofold: the Principle behind it has been proven false by a basic knowledge of Chemistry (Avogadro, to name one awesome person), AND it has never been proven to work better than placebo in scientific studies. This makes sense, because a substance diluted down to zero or near zero molecules IS A PLACEBO. All of this is coming from someone who takes many vitamins and herbal supplements, meditates, and occasionally plays the lottery, so make of it what you will: we are all irrational in our behavior from time to time, but when have a discussion about acts, Reason Rules. Okay, I’ll shut up now.

    Bob wrote on January 26th, 2011
  20. I miss the good old days with leeches and bleeding out the bad humors…

    Poppabear wrote on January 26th, 2011
    • … and when they put those funny little glass bulbs vacuumed onto your body?

      (chuckling) that “bring out your dead” skit from Python….

      DaiaRavi wrote on January 26th, 2011
    • They still use leeches (to remove congested blood from wounds)! and maggots (to remove dead wound tissue)! :) They have very reproducible results in treatment though. 😉

      Dino Babe wrote on January 26th, 2011
  21. Thank you Mark for explaining the difference between homeopathy and naturopathy. I admit to once being a person who used the terms interchangably.

    I would like to point out to some other commentators who seem to be mocking old medical practices that leeches and maggots do have a place in medicine today. The leeches are used to help encourage renewed blood flow into amputated and reattached body parts and the maggots used to debride dead and decaying tissues from wounds without damaging new tissues.

    I will admit to not knowing of any current use for blood letting except in the form of blood donation.

    Becky wrote on January 26th, 2011
  22. Great article! This is the best introductory explanation of homeopathy I’ve ever read. Much better that what’s available even on homeopathy websites. Very fair and balanced too.

    I personally have had very good results with homeopathy, but I can appreciate that our current scientific understanding doesn’t provide any credible explication for it’s method of action.

    CavePainter wrote on January 26th, 2011
  23. Two points:

    1. No therapy, drug, regimen, surgery, et al will work
    with every human body at all times. Bodies have
    unique make-ups so that some will do well with
    aspirin, some not, some get a certain type of
    oper-ation and do well, others get the same
    operationfor a similar reason and it’s a no go,
    2. The body will tell you what works and what does
    not. And in pretty clear terms. It isn’t hard to
    get the hang of listening and it’s well worth
    it. It saves a bundle of time, money and
    suffering to know quickly (and/or permanently)
    what works and what does not.

    bev wrote on January 26th, 2011
  24. Reading the debate about homeopathy sparked my memory of the Jonah Lehrer article in The New Yorker titled, “The Truth Wears Off– Is there something wrong with the scientific method?” Highly recommend reading it in light of this recent discussion. I will try to put the link below. If not, it was in the 12/13/2010 issue.

    Claire Gordon wrote on January 26th, 2011
  25. I couldn’t see any reference to remedies prepared by dilution AND succussion to release and potentise the energy. See University of Maryland article (with a host of references … lots of those studies people say were never done) for an explanation … You’ve also ignored the fact that it works on animals and the very young. Not a member of the Flat Earth Society are you? I can follow paleo elsewhere. You’ve lost me.

    GirlinOz wrote on January 26th, 2011
  26. All I can say is we have an 11 month old who is teething 4 molars and 2 eye teeth. She is usually placid as can be. She began just crying and tantrums and incredibly clingy when they popped out–constantly. We gave her baby motrin with oragel, no change. When we gave her homeopathic teething drops or gel…we welcomed back Ms. Placid. I can’t believe it myself. But we were willing to try anything. The homeopathic options work great and work for her–compared to the other options…

    Kristen wrote on January 26th, 2011
  27. @ all you haters-why do you care? Just don’t take homeopathy yourself and go argue about more pressing issues.

    Kristen wrote on January 26th, 2011
  28. Homeopathy worked wonders for my babies acute ailments…no possibility of the placebo effect there!! Many vets successfully use homeopathy for horses, dogs and cats…no possibility of a placebo effect in animals!! Now that my babies are children, we continue to use homeopathy for all of our acute illnesses and injuries…we swear by its effectiveness. The only night time cough remedy that consistently works for any of us is a homeopathic one!! Hmm…And then there is England, where the Royal family has relied on homeopathy for 4 generations, not to mention that the majority of “commom folk” use it as well. As a matter of fact, 40% of the time, Drs. will send a patient to a homeopathic doctor!! There are homeopathic hospitals and colleges as well…it’s all an accepted part of their excellent National Health Care system!! (UKrs, please weigh in here). I believe homeopathy is very commonly used with great success in India, France and many other countries. So, try it if you haven’t…do your own research, and see what you think. It will never hurt you…ever, and will most likely help any acute condition immediately! Chronic conditions are more time consuming and stubborn, taking more patience and money to see a certified homeopath, but it’s worth a try! Good luck to all! :)

    sherry wrote on January 26th, 2011
  29. I’m not going to way in on the debate (I already did that in the first blog post and I’m pro-homeopathy) but I’ll share a hilarious spoof of homeopathic (and alternative) medicine by the brilliant British comedy show “That Mitchell and Webb Look”:

    PS- they also have a great nutrition spoof:

    Erin wrote on January 26th, 2011
  30. Unfortunately this is the type of subject matter that reveals peoples prejudices clearly. We are all comfortable with that which we know. Homeopathy has existed in Europe as an accepted medical practice for decades. In fact, French MDs are taught homeopathy; German pharmaceutical companies have also been homepathic manufacturers. The unexplainable phenomenon around us is often classified as `hooey’ until we learn new methods of exploring these things. The BP cuff was originally mocked, as were EEGs and hand-washing for doctors. We heard for decades that acupuncture is hypnosis or placebo. Now there are books which account the physiology of acupuncture (despite what some `doctors’ still say). Read Keith Scott-Mumby, MD. PhD `Virtual medicine’; Robert Becker, MD `The Body Electric’ and `Cross-Currents’; David Hawkins, MD, PhD `Power Vs Force”;Richard Gerber, MD, `Vibrational Medicine’. There are subtle energies everywhere that we are only beginning to be aware of. Just perhaps there are a few things we aren’t yet aware of and `science’ has not uncovered. BiioPhysics is one of these new realms (google Fritz Popp – Biophotons/ Biophonons). Lasers were this way years ago. Microcurrent therapy is there now. In regards to homeopathy its the Succussion (the impacts) which are a critical factor in their creation. There are energies all around us which affect us – Resonance. Everything has it. One day in the not too distant future we’ll understand these phenomenon better. “Any technique of significant advancement is indistinguishable from Magic” Arthur C. Clarke

    Dr. John wrote on January 26th, 2011
    • Amen, and thank you Dr. John.

      Karla wrote on January 26th, 2011
  31. still didn’t touch on how infants and animals — scientifically not considered to be capable of placebo affect — respond so well to homeopathy.

    Zoebird wrote on January 26th, 2011
  32. With a title like this one, I should have realised it would be a trashing of homeopathy.

    Mark, this really is quite disappointing.

    I’ve been reading your blog for a little while now and given how strong you are in your beliefs regarding primal eating even when conventional wisdom says otherwise – “scientific” research that “proves” the detrimental effects of saturated fats like coconut oil and “proves” how beneficial whole grains are, I’m really surprised that you would believe these same scientists who attempt to debunk homeopathy.

    As some other readers have mentioned, there are a myriad of things in this world that we don’t understand (because we don’t know how to measure or test them within our current means) and we just accept them as they are. Do you not think that homeopathy could fall within this realm?

    Homeopathy is a truly amazing form of healing, one that homeopaths and patients alike who have seen results from it understand.

    On reading Hahnemann’s Organon, one may think that it is easy to choose the correct remedy – it is in the case of first aid and acute situations. When it comes to chronic health issues, or ones that have been muddied by conventional wisdoms’ drugs, then it becomes more difficult to choose an accurate remedy. It takes time and patience and unlike conventional medicine, if the wrong remedy is prescribed, no death will occur. I’m sure you yourself are familiar with the exorbitant number of hospital/doctor/medicine caused deaths each year in the United States.

    While trauma medicine definitely has it’s place, I don’t believe doctors are doing their patients any favours by scoffing at homeopathy. Nor are you doing your readers any favours by showing such ignorance when it comes to homeopathy. It is people like you who have such influence in a community such as this, that could make an extraordinary difference in peoples’ understanding of homeopathy. Instead you have done the complete opposite.

    Helena wrote on January 27th, 2011
    • What he has done is this:

      He preferred rationality and reason over anecdotal evidence.

      One can “challenge conventional wisdom” in many ways. In the case of homeopathy, there is no science whatsoever to back up the claims. In the case of for example “saturated fat and cholesterol don’t cause heart disease” there are tons of studies and research results which back it.

      If homeopathy is as superior to conventional medicine as you claim it is, how come that there are no studies that confirm it? Sure, studies can be wrong. But that doesn’t mean that having no favorable studies at all is suddenly not a problem.

      You claim that for some conditions there are homeopathic remedies which improve them – and not because people believe in the effect (placebo), but because of water memory of the active agent. I don’t know about you, but a double-blind study seems to be perfectly suited to determine whether that’s actually the case. Voila, it fails.

      MikeEnRegalia wrote on January 27th, 2011
      • “Voila, it fails.”

        Lol. Now there’s a great open-minded scientifically sound conclusion *before* any study has shown any evidence to interpret in order to come to a conclusion.

        Without the study, what is your factual basis for presumed failure?


        imogen wrote on January 27th, 2011

          Biases are present in placebo-controlled trials of both homoeopathy and conventional medicine. When account was taken for these biases in the analysis, there was weak evidence for a specific effect of homoeopathic remedies, but strong evidence for specific effects of conventional interventions. This finding is compatible with the notion that the clinical effects of homoeopathy are placebo effects.”

          Boo indeed.

          MikeEnRegalia wrote on January 28th, 2011
        • Mike, there’s no “reply” after your post, so I used this one, but I’m addressing your retrospective comparative “study” of the literature where an “odds ratio below 1 indicated benefit.”

          The use of the terms “strong” and “weak” when using such varied numbers as “(0·39—0·85)” and “0·65—1·19” stops seeming very relevant to real-life experience.

          I had a VBA2C, and was urgently warned that my risk of uterine rupture was DOUBLED and I was endangering myself and child!!! It was up to me to discover that the risk was doubled from 0.02%. I don’t personally find that significant. I don’t care if a study does or not.

          It was also up to me to point out that the risk of death from another c-section was potentially 100%, given that dr negligence nearly killed me and my baby the second time.

          This is the “study” you reference for your conclusion? I can point out several flaws in its design just from reading the summary.

          I wish there were more honest scientists: we need this conclusion, so design a study to find it, even if it means *not* studying it, and making insignificant findings look significant by using qualitative language.

          Still boo.

          imogen wrote on January 28th, 2011
        • Imogen,

          “The use of the terms “strong” and “weak” when using such varied numbers as “(0·39—0·85)” and “0·65—1·19″ stops seeming very relevant to real-life experience.”

          The comparison included 110 studies assessing homeopathic remedies and 110 which assessed allopathic remedies. I think that the numbers are significant, especially considering that the allopathic studies were much more heterogeneous. This only further underlines that the conventional medication actually has an effect, which is sometimes helpful, and sometimes maybe has side effects, but it actually does something, whereas the homeopathic remedy does nothing (how could it do anything, being just water/sugar), and thus the results are more homogeneously insignificant.

          Had they limited the consideration to the “upper 50%” of the studies in terms of suggested efficacy (e.g. only compare the top 55 homeopathic studies with the top 55 allopathic studies), the difference would only have been more pronounced.

          MikeEnRegalia wrote on January 29th, 2011
  33. I think there is way too much evidence, both scientific and anecdotal, to dismiss Homeopathy out of hand. It is used on infants, unconscious persons, pets, livestock and plants so no placebo effect can be attributed in these cases. My entirely family uses it with great success. My nephew no longer has asthma, I no longer have gout, everyday complaints are usually addressed quickly (colds, nausea, flu, toothache, skin problems). For over two centuries it has had a long history of successes. For example, during the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918, which killed 100 million people worldwide, those treated by conventional medicine experienced a 28% death rate (aspirin seemed to be especially fatal) while those treated by homeopathic methods experienced only a 1.1 % mortality rate.

    Recent notes from the scientific community:
    Luc Montagnier, a French virologist and winner of a Nobel prize, has published research allegedly detecting electromagnetic signals from bacterial DNA after serial agitated dilution in water. He made the following statement regarding homeopathy and homeopathic doses: “I can’t say that homeopathy is right in everything. What I can say now is that the high dilutions are right. High dilutions of something are not nothing. They are water structures which mimic the original molecules.” He has further plans to study electromagnetic waves that emanate from the highly diluted DNA of various pathogens in China.

    A quote from William A. Tiller, Ph.D., professor emeritus of Materials Science and Engineering at Stanford University: “It is clear we are going out of the age of chemical and mechanical medicine and into the age of energetics and homeopathic medicines.”

    These guys are not twerps off the street

    A good book further reading: The Impossible Cure: The Promise of Homeopathy by Amy Lansky, Ph.D.

    Some interesting videos are the ones by John Benneth on youtube where he directly addresses the placebo effect and presents scientific facts that are compelling if not stunning.

    A good website to explore:

    My advice: Do a little research, give it a try.

    David Michael wrote on January 27th, 2011
  34. I’m waiting on an explanation for why homeopathy is effective for treating babies and animals.

    I don’t even need a funded study to see results that defy the conjecture and speculative assertions without basis of pseudo-scientists and blind followers.

    Here’s something else:
    A few years ago, I used homeopathy to treat a specific problem. I needed a lot of phos-types. After taking them for a couple of days and finding relief (which could be placebo, if I’m open-minded about that possibility, which I am), the extremely dry, bleeding skin on the tops of my hands had become completely supple, and completely healed. Over time, it returned to its poor condition (which was the way my hands were for many years previously as well). Then the initial problem started again, so I took the phos-types again, and again my hands healed, but it was this time that I realised the connection, not the first time. My hands healed without any expectation I had.

    I turned out that the homeopathy was treating an adrenal problem (learned that later, too- I treated for symptoms), and that my hands were a symptoms of that adrenal problem, so they healed because the homeopathy addressed an underlying adrenal problem that I still didn’t even know I had.

    I was not an advocate, had no reason to be sure this would work, and had nothing to gain or lose by trying. I just wanted to try it because I had so many health problems that I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with what, or how to fix it. It was just a shot-in-the-dark for me, and my part was to read through a compendium of symptoms and write down the remedy suggested for it. Then once I had my list compiled, I grouped all of the remedies and symptoms and decided which remedies to try. It took a few hours to read through it all.

    Anyway, I have since used it for my chidren’s symptoms without telling them what they’re taking it for, and seen those symptoms abate, in most cases permanently. In my case, the relief has been usually for a short time because I have not dealt with the cause, but in their cases, it almost always addresses the issue and it doesn’t return.

    I don’t have any explanation for any of this. But I cannot unsee what I’ve seen, and this is the same it seems for a lot of people.

    I don’t believe in miracles. I am not a mystic. My values are aligned with reason, and I enjoy knowing what is true and how evidence supports it. I mean no disrespect to bohemian divinity hippy-dippies; I am just not of that temperament and have no desire to support lies or falsities.

    And while I cannot explain homeopathy, I won’t lie about it to retain my intellectual, reason-based reputation. I have seen it heal, without plausibility for placebo effect. I don’t understand it, but it does work, even unintentionally. It even has “side-effects” like healing issues one doesn’t even recognise (I thought my hands were just really dry from the arid region I moved to).

    Voila. It’s real.

    imogen wrote on January 27th, 2011
  35. You have to wonder about the placebo effect. I recently read that a group of people are going to get together and purposely “overdose” on homeopathic medicine to prove that it has no effect.

    John wrote on January 27th, 2011
    • This is a stunt. It has no validity.

      Are you going to select for specific symptoms or try the already accomplished publicity stunt that had a bunch of people without sleeping problems, take homeopathic remedies for problems sleeping, in the middle of the afternoon, not surprisingly to no *immediate* (like within minutes) effect?

      First, if you are going to attempt a seemingly clever ineffectiveness “study”, at least learn what homeopathy is intended to do.

      Are you going to follow up with giving a bunch of happy optimists a course of CW-touted, dr-approved, big pharma-profiting, antidepressants to prove how ineffective they are?


      imogen wrote on January 27th, 2011
      • John, not you personally- the *you* that does such things as though they had validity.

        imogen wrote on January 27th, 2011
  36. …and most of the time it’s an elective. *sigh*

    But right on about blanket statements, look at Ornish, Hyman, and Fuhrman, for example.

    Josh wrote on January 27th, 2011
  37. I had a cold last week, and recovered after spending a few days playing the harmonica. Clearly this means that playing the harmonica cures the common cold.

    Adam Frost wrote on January 27th, 2011
    • Adam, that’s astonishing! If it happened to you and you are reporting it here, it must have merit – I will try to play the harmonica next time I get sniffly, although my usual go-to medicine is chicken soup.

      Seriously, most minor ailments work themselves through and END without any input from us. But if you take medicines during the illness period, you will of course attribute your recovery to whatever medication you took, and relate that info to others to be helpful.

      HillSideGina wrote on January 28th, 2011
  38. Another common theme among the posts in favor of homeopathy:

    “It works on infants, anmimals and so forth – the it clearly can’t be attributed to the placebo effect.”

    Yes, it can. The only difference is that in this case the one who observes the effects is not the patient, but the one who administers the pills/drops. And obviously, this person is biased … they are convinced that homeopathy works. Combine that with the other aspect that I already mentioned: Homeopathic remedies are often used to cure conditions that are quite fuzzy in terms of symptoms and/or tend to come and go, or it’s possible that the body simply heals itself. If that coincides with taking a homeopathic remedy, you get the conditioning that I described in the experiments with the pidgeons which received random rewards – causation is assumed from, in this case, a subjective/anecdotal observation. This is clearly inferior to properly conducted trials.

    MikeEnRegalia wrote on January 28th, 2011
    • so when the homeopathic (in this case) treatment is used on a horse, with say a nonrespondant malignant TUMOR on their leg, and subsequently starts to recede/dissolve away, this is the biased observation of the administrator of the homeopathic remedy?

      interesting…. maybe i was imagining the tumor shrinking in quick succession after the routine administration of the homeopathic treatment….

      odd how those uncanny coincidences always happen…

      please repeat for me as all the automatons always do, “correlation is not causation” blah blah blah…
      that’s true, but if someone hits their head on a hard surface and a large welt/bump follows, i don’t need a clinically controlled, db, placebo controlled study to evidence for me that the head hitting the hard surface CAUSED the welt, no if’s and’s or ‘butts…

      informed citizen wrote on February 2nd, 2011

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