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

Homeopathy is (Mostly) Hogwash

homeopathyOn 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…?

“Entanglement”

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. Can someone please explain to me how homeopathic teething tablets are supposed to help? Sorry, but my screaming daughter gets Tylenol, not fairy dust.

    There is a hilarious video from the UK (in case someone hasn’t already posted it above): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMGIbOGu8q0

    Buttercup wrote on January 30th, 2011
    • I guess it’s something that once was in contact with something which causes teeth to hurt.

      MikeEnRegalia wrote on January 31st, 2011
  2. P.S. – I don’t understand why so many people are “disappointed” in Mark. OMG, people! He is an individual with his own thoughts and opinions. This seems obvious, but apparently many don’t realize this. While we all come here to fraternize over PB, if we stayed and delved long enough, we’d all find things we don’t agree with or like about each other. Can we please be adults about this?

    I found Mark’s argument fair, insightful, and rational. Unlike many of the responses: “Wah! You don’t agree with me and now I’m mad at you!” This is supposed to be a civilized debate, so reply in the spirit in which it began, please don’t drag us all down with your anecdotal, over-emotional, defensive retorts.

    Buttercup wrote on January 30th, 2011
  3. Luc Montagnier, Nobel Prize Winner, Takes Homeopathy Seriously

    Dr. Luc Montagnier, the French virologist who won the Nobel Prize in 2008 for discovering the AIDS virus, has surprised the scientific community with his strong support for homeopathic medicine…

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dana-ullman/luc-montagnier-homeopathy-taken-seriously_b_814619.html

    Jennifer wrote on January 30th, 2011
    • Surprise? Hardly. Many might see him as an authority merely because of the Nobel prize glamour … but it was for the discovery of a virus. IMO the guy is a prime example of the worst science that you can possibly do.

      http://www.quackometer.net/blog/labels/Luc%20Montagnier.html

      “Not content with merely trying to perpetuate the discarded nonsense of previous homeopathic quacks, he appears to picks up the ideology of the homeopathic mindset. Montagnier appears in the AIDS denialist film House of Numbers saying that HIV can be ‘cleared naturally’ by nutritional means. All it requires is to have a ‘good immune system’. I see no evidence to support such claims. Now, many scientists were misrepresented in this disingenuous film, but it looks hard to see how Montagnier was. These views are not without terrible potential consequences. Such views lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people who are dependent on governments to provide a decent level of care for people with HIV.”

      This is truly awful. Boo times two.

      MikeEnRegalia wrote on January 31st, 2011
  4. I am very skeptical of homeopathic remedies and yet… I tried a few and they actually seemed to help me. One good one especially is arnica which is great for bruises, sprains & sports related injuries.

    Denise wrote on January 31st, 2011
  5. Once I tried a homeopathic yeast infection medicine that I spotted at the grocery store. Well, the infection just continued to progress. Finally I bought the regular stuff and it worked like a charm. Thanks homeopathy for the extra three days of discomfort. Booooooo.

    Tina wrote on January 31st, 2011
  6. what i love..

    …using PubMed to prove your points against opposing positions (homeopathy in this instance), etc

    then bashing orthodoxy when it’s too behind the times and contrary conlusions in nutrition to say advocates of meat laden Paleolithic nutrition/diets, etc.

    classic…

    part of the scientific method is observation, and if i observe 90 out of 100 times that B follows A, then i will be clear headed enough to follow it and give credence to it, damn the compartmentalized testing results (usually funded by opponents with their antagonist agenda)…

    veternarians use homeopathy extensively with horses.. the success/positive result rate is astounding and objective, i.e, HORSES HAVE NO PRECONVENIVED BIAS, therefore no placebo…

    only takes 1 exception to break the rules…

    informed citizen wrote on February 2nd, 2011
    • “if i observe 90 out of 100 times that B follows A”

      This doesn’t tell you if B wouldn’t have followed anyway without applying A. Consider Denise’s post above – bruises and sprains heal by themselves. Administer a homeopathic remedy and you might think that it speeds up the healing process … but how can you tell if it wouldn’t have healed as fast without it?

      MikeEnRegalia wrote on February 3rd, 2011
  7. law of similars——same for conventional allopathic medicine—peruse a PDR and you will see that the side effects of almost all meds include the symptoms of the problem for which the med is being used. That was one curious thing I encountered on my path to become a nurse.

    law of proving—-what is different from the procedures of pharmaceutical companies? Well, openness and truth, for starters, followed by a serious plan to actually prove the worth as a treatment and not the worth as an investment.

    law of potentization—-for more of this idea read a book called “The Primal Blueprint” — especially check the exercise program.

    entanglement—pretty much espoused by Andrew Weil too. And by decent allopaths who really care about patients and not just moving people in and out in ten to fifteen minutes to maximum cash flow.

    During the years of the so called Spanish Flu that really probably originated around the Great Lakes area of the USA, the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was especially hit hard. Allopaths had next to no effect. Homeopaths worked wonders.

    For years the Hahnemann Hospital of Philadelphia was a homeopathic hospital and was valued more by many people of the city then any of the other hospitals. There are many homeopathic pharmacies in the city that provide wonderful and efficacious care to many people. Often people who try allopaths and osteopaths without success for some condition find that the homeopathic cures work for them.

    The homeopath with his case of treatments was a familiar site going to houses in the neighborhood during my youth. I don’t remember too many people wanting to use allopaths until sometime in the mid fifties.

    Hector wrote on February 15th, 2011
    • you can puruse the pdr all you want. as long as you are looking for examples of the “law of similars” , that is all you will find. this is called the post hoc fallacy.

      law of proving? are you kidding me?

      entanglement – hey! if you want someone to hold your hand for 30 minutes while you cry and complain about how your husband doesn’t understand you, by all means see a homeopath. Your illness is probably psychosomatic anyway. But if you have a strep infection and really should be home in bed, why spend more than the minimal time with a doctor? You need diagnosis and a prescription, not a pat on the head.

      In my experience, people who have the word “allopath” in their vocabulary are doomed.

      Ray Bulters wrote on February 16th, 2011
  8. Interesting reading this post makes,the comments that follow make it more so.

    As to homeopathy’s efficacy, there seems to be two opinions, as far as I know, people who go to homeopaths generally stick with them.

    Disclaimer: I don’t, haven’t had the need to.

    The naysayers, many of them at least, seem to be on a rationalist binge rather than having actually tried it out. They are out there arguing, of all things quantum physics, which seems more important than efficacy.

    To the patient who is in dire straits, anything that promises a cure is heaven sent, even if it is a placebo.

    To the modern rationalist, anything he does not understand or fall within his understanding can safely be placed under the placebo blanket.

    It is only when the science is done by real scientists, that the rationalist wakes up and adds it to his list of OK stuff.

    Metaanalysis, my foot…reminds me of Feynman…what if the base study were base wrong?

    Notice that the rationalist only builds up a list of stuff that he OK’s, he never or rarely does the research himself.

    A person who is real sick is also a scientist in the sense that he is not talking crap, but searching for a cure.

    If he finds it with homeopathy, all the chemistry in the world is not going to change his opinion, or his placebo.

    I have but one experience with homeopathy and that was for my three year old. She was falling ill frequently, with strong and recurrent fevers, and while allopathy did work, it left her weak and tired.

    Despite my skepticism, her grand parents took her to a homeopath who said that he required a series of visits so that he could fine tune the medicine.

    Once the medicine was done, it became kind of regular. She did get fever once in a while, but a shot of the homeopaths concoction was enough to pull it down, and on the first day.

    It so happened that while we were shifting our residence to a new location, sans her grandparents and medicine, she caught fever again, and we were caught in the swirl of allopathy again.

    To cut the story short, her grandparents came scurrying with her homeo medicine, and once the first dose was given, her fever disappeared.

    I guess the grandparents were the placebo…that is if three year olds can have such a thing.

    I have heard that homeopathic treatments work for animals too, I do not have direct experience with it, but it does make sense, if people can have placebos, so can animals.

    I am not defending the science or its seemingly our of the world theories, but need to say that we should give it the benefit of doubt, particularly when so many people seem to benefit from it, even if such be from a placebo.

    To run it down just because it does not dovetail into current science does not make for good sense or good behavior.

    When Einstein’s predecessor first suggested that things contract while they move at speed close to light, he was laughed at, only Lorenz took him seriously enough to work out a theory for it, Einstein worked it out to completion so that there would be no laughing again.

    Who knows when homeopathy’s deliverance would be, or its debunking be. Till then let us not talk about what we know not of, not in terms of disapproval where none is called for.

    After all more people have died from Western medicine that by the hands of homeopaths, so even if they are doing wrong they are doing little wrong to the general population. Let the believers be, until the whole thing be sorted out.

    And please, no quantum physics again, my head is swirling with the sense of understanding that has been demonstrated here.

    mockingbuddha wrote on May 31st, 2011
  9. My word. People DO get worked up about this.

    My two cents? I have seen homeopathy remedies have astounding effects– multiple times on myself (so you could blame it on the placebo effect), but also on a very skeptical aunt and entirely unaware younger siblings (you could have been giving them smarties for all they knew). They don’t always work. But they often do and I’m keeping them around.

    As for chiropractic, it’s the bomb. I don’t believe it can cure everything– I don’t think there IS a universal cure-all out there– but chiropractic is an incredible tool when applied correctly.

    Rebekah wrote on September 7th, 2011
  10. Re: Homeopathy is obviously absolute bunk snakewater.

    This is quite a stupid statement, since it is also “obvious” that plenty of people, professionally trained as MD’s, past and present, and intellectually of far greater caliber than this individual, have made use of homeopathy.

    It is true, of course, that it doesn’t square with ordinary medicine, since the higher potencies do not have a molecular presence in the medicine. This, finally, is the main argument of modern science against homeopathy. We might remember, however, that “science” has often been a ferocious enemy of what later it accepted as a matter of course, since it proceeds largely by hypothesis and experiment, and has in view that which in nature is quantifiable.

    The idea that quantum physics might be helpful in comprehending the viability of a “potentized” substance, is not entirely mistaken. See, for example, Wolfgang Smith’s “Quantum Enigma.” Smith is a world class mathematician and was the person who solved the mathematical difficulties involved in the re-entry of space craft. Also an expert in algebraic topology. Before we insist that the world is flat, or that science has discovered it all, or that reality is as one-dimensional as some “true believers” would have it, that “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

    Jim wrote on February 4th, 2012
  11. For most up-to-date news you have to pay a visit the web and on internet I found this web page as a most excellent website for hottest updates.

    Lawanna Pizzico wrote on February 7th, 2012
  12. Hello. remarkable job. I did not anticipate this. This is a splendid story. Thanks!

    fruit carving instructions wrote on February 13th, 2012
  13. You say homeopathic medicines are FDA approved…? They are not regulated the same way. They are like vitamins in a sense, nutraceuticals. FDA can advise what to put on label and good manufacturing practices but usually this is not enforced.
    And to quote “Nowadays though, new OTC drugs are subjected to thorough testing and review by the FDA for both safety and effectiveness before they can hit the shelves, but oddly enough this requirement doesn’t apply to homeopathic drugs. These medications are, however, required to meet certain legal standards for strength, quality, purity, and packaging.

    **In 1988, the FDA began requiring all homeopathic medicines to be labeled as “homeopathic.” Their labels must also list the ingredients, dilutions, instructions for use, and what specific medical problems the medicine is intended to treat. In the FDA’s opinion, homeopathic medications contain little or no pharmacologically active ingredients, so there’s no real safety concern and that’s why the FDA isn’t as strict about the regulations.”

    http://www.ritecare.com/homeopathic/guide_general.asp#Are%20Homeopathic%20Medicines%20Tested%20by%20the%20FDA

    Patty Amas wrote on April 30th, 2012
  14. Sick? Not feeling well?
    Eat some vegetables.
    Still no luck?
    Try eating vegetables other than the pre-chopped kind in a plastic container you get from the grocery. You know, kale, collard, chard, spinach.
    Still no luck?
    Eat more than a couple measly cups of vegetables a day. Like 10. Add an organic, grassfed beef steak to that for dinner, and a salmon for lunch. Do that. Forever. Add seeds, nuts, berries, and you’re set.
    If you think think homeopathy will do a better job of curing an illness than the above diet, you’re daft beyond even arguing with.
    And don’t whine about superfoods being expensive; you put food INSIDE you, so it’s worth it. Plus, it’s a lot cheaper than diabetes or heart disease.

    KavewomanKyndal wrote on February 22nd, 2013

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

© 2014 Mark's Daily Apple