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Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
12 Sep

Homeopathy: Can We Please, As a Society, Let This One Go?

dropYou hear us rant almost daily about the ridiculous machinations of the modern medical establishment, namely the reliance on drugs and surgery to “fix” health issues that could often be better dealt with or eliminated with simple lifestyle changes. Modern medicine has become a bureaucratic, money-driven actuarial game wherein individual patient rights are routinely sacrificed for the greater good of large populations. And so you hear, “The operation was a success, but the patient died.” or, “We don’t care that you refuse to get vaccinated. You need to do it so the rest of us don’t die from an epidemic of this obscure disease.” Or “Despite debilitating side effects, this new drug appears to benefit 22% of patients who take it.”

For that reason I am a big fan of “integrated medicine,” which combines the best elements of conventional medical methods with some forms of complementary and alternative medicine – when research suggests that these alternatives might provide better benefits with fewer side effects or complications. A lot of doctors are now embracing this new vision of medicine which includes diet and lifestyle alterations, stress management techniques, biofeedback, and the use of certain vitamin regimens and herbal therapies when drugs or surgery just don’t seem ethical. Good for them and better for us. But often lumped in with that group is another specific “branch” of medicine I find ludicrous and which I need to explore with you, since many of my readers tend to assume it is a legitimate option within the “alternative” camp.

That branch is called homeopathy.

Ironically, many people willingly accept homeopathy as a legitimate form of medicine simply because no one has explained to them how silly it is…despite having been in existence for almost 200 years with no reputable studies to prove that it works. Many assume that homeopathy is equivalent to “herbal medicine” and that those little homeopathy pills or tinctures are just smaller versions of the research-proven herbal extracts that often do have real benefits. But nothing could be further from the truth.

The basic theory behind homeopathy involves stimulating the body’s ability to heal itself by providing minute doses of substances that in larger amounts would cause illness. It is often referred to as “like cures like” or “The Law of Similars”. Take a little of the “hair of the dog that bit you” (literally, in some cases). Now dilute it with water and shake vigorously. Now dilute it and shake it again, and again, until it is so dilute that only one part per billion remains. Sorry, it’s still not dilute enough. To make it even “stronger” we need to dilute it to parts per trillion or less! (This is known in homeopathy as the “Law of Infinitesimals” and in science as “officially nothing”). Under the theory of homeopathy, the substance being diluted confers some vibrational energy that remains in the water and which enables the body to heal itself…or at least deal with the symptoms of the condition, since homeopathy doesn’t seem to concern itself with the origin of the disease.

I am astounded that people today still believe that homeopathy has any place in modern medicine. It was developed in the early 1800s by a “physician” named Samuel Hahnemann on a misguided theory that he could restore the body’s “vital forces” using these diluted and vigorously shaken poisons to release “immaterial and spiritual powers.” Please. Almost more ridiculous is the fact that this theory hasn’t changed much in the ensuing 200 years and yet homeopathy is still practiced by otherwise knowledgeable “doctors”.

Homeopathy is even unofficially recognized by the FDA as a form of treatment. How, you ask, could our government condone such silly practices? Simply because there is no way anyone can be harmed by homeopathic remedies. Remember, the more “powerful” the homeopathic remedy is, the less of anything it contains. The FDA has its hands full trying to prevent myriad needless deaths from countless new drugs. They simply look the other way when a homeopathic remedy claims to treat a disease or condition because they know that no one will be hurt (unless by relying on the homeopathic cure, the patient forgoes more effective treatment). Since supplement manufacturers are not allowed to make disease claims, some unscrupulous supplement companies have even moved into the lucrative homeopathy business just to be able to legally claim their products treat disease.

So how is it that so many people swear by their homeopathic remedies and truly believe they work? There’s your answer right there: belief. Blind faith and the placebo effect. (Wasn’t that Ginger Baker’s third band?) The placebo effect occurs when a patient gets better simply as a result of his/her positive expectations that the treatment will work. Some studies show that 50% of people taking a placebo will experience significant improvement if they believe they were given a strong medicine. The mind is a very powerful tool in healing the body, as any Christian Scientist or Voodoo believer will tell you. And that’s all that’s happening in the case of homeopathy. Blind faith. And maybe there’s nothing wrong with that, except that it takes the focus away from the cause of your affliction.

Bottom line: if you are willing to suspend disbelief and are a sucker for placebos, then homeopathy is just what the doctor ordered. Otherwise, let’s see how eating well, exercising and controlling stress might better address the situation.

The Horse’s Mouth

Quackwatch

Further Reading at the Blog:

10 Dumbest Drugs Ever Invented

10 Worst Health Scams

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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. The placebo effect is used so much today and does seem to work for lots of people. The mind is a wonderful thing when it comes to healing the body.

    Mike wrote on October 27th, 2010
  2. I saw a TED talk where the presenter took an entire bottle of this homeopathic sleeping medicine. He’s been doing that act for hundreds of talks and nothing has ever happened.

    Jeff wrote on November 12th, 2010
  3. There is no such thing as alternative medicine. There is only medicine.

    Something either works or it does not. I tend to place my chips with those medicines that are proven via scientific method. However, if placebos work for some people, then they can be called medicine.

    If dancing around a fire and singing songs makes someone feel better then good for them.

    If placing needles in some un-quantifiable and ambiguous “energy centers” works for someone despite the fact that the “practitioners” cant agree if there are 6,7,8 or 9 “energy centers,” then good for them .

    If drinking saline solution with a couple of molecules of caffeine in it works for someone, then call it Homeopathy and let people spend all their money and fell better.

    If taking a sugar pill helps a patient think they feel better, then good for them.

    But for me, research and data trumps word of mouth every time. But that is just me. I just dont want someone to go to an early grave thinking they are doing something for their illness when they are not. There should be some kind of up front statement that the above “treatments” are not scientifically proven to work and the evidence shows that they may not do anything at all.

    Bryan wrote on July 18th, 2011
  4. I don’t want to tell anyone how to run their website but I am strongly advising that you reconsider your position on homeopathy or you will lose credibility with progressive free thinkers who take their understanding of health serious and unravel the mysteries of healing. I have witnessed the power of homeopathy that couldn’t possibly had any placebo effect. I just started to read your book and so far I find what you say to be excellent but to find your position on homeopathy incorrect is a big let down and now I am forced to read with hesitancy. I am not in any way associated with any institution or company related to homeopathy just a scholar of life.
    Take a look at the book Virtual Medicine by Scott Mumby, this book will fascinate any scholarly individual.
    Pedrillo

    pedrillo wrote on August 11th, 2011
    • I wouldn’t call his position on Homeopathy “incorrect”. I would maybe say that Mark may be “a little close-minded” on this one particular topic. I am a naturopathic med-student and I personally am a little torn on this topic. The bottom line is that the human immune system is the one system in the body that we have soooo much to learn about still (not that there isn’t still much work to do on the other body systems). Making a definitive statement about whether something works or not that interacts mainly with this system of which much is yet to be discovered is getting ahead of one’s self in my opinion. Mark does not claim to know everything and he is certainly entitled to his opinion. To everyone else, you should keep an open mind and accept and understand that we do not know everything about the human body yet (and never will) and that it is possible that things may work in ways that we do not yet understand.

      G wrote on August 30th, 2011
  5. If someone believes in homeopathy, there seems little hope to use reason in a short burst to get them unstuck.

    Blogs like this are still useful to inoculate the public from pseudoscientific claims.

    dubv wrote on September 1st, 2011
  6. This is what’s wrong with homeopathy.

    http://whatstheharm.net/homeopathy.html

    Really, people? It’s nothing about the homeopathy that harms (unless you think that essentially drinking a glass of water is harmful)–it’s about the misguidance and lack of action that harms. People think that all they need is homeopathy to cure, and when they soley rely on homeopathy, and not researched based, clinical trial, proven modern medicine, that’s when people get hurt or in many cases die.

    Non believer wrote on September 30th, 2011
  7. Anthony wrote on December 5th, 2011
  8. This post was absolutely rediculous. Do you not see the irony here? People are saying that because of the lack of scientific PROOF it cannot be valid. That loads of anecdotal evidence is worthless. Well how do you think we all ended up finding this “primal” or “paleo” thing to begin with? By hearing about from other people, hearing that it worked for them. ANECDOTE! I have had great results from homeopathy, even at times when I truly didn’t expect to. My dog has also had DRAMATIC chages in her behavior after taking a constitutional remedy. How could a DOG have a placebo affect??? You guys could learn to open your minds and recognize that we don’t know everything there is to know about human beings. Shouldn’t our experience with diet have taught us not to assume that ideas we aren’t familiar with are not necessarily false? Or at the very least, show a little respect to your fellow human beings who have been helped by homeopathy.

    Kirsitn wrote on February 1st, 2012
  9. Homeopathy is not about “how much stuff is in the water”. It is not chemistry based, it is physics based. Water is not “shaken”, it is agitated to the various degrees (D4, D12, C300, etc) until it gains the same vibration as the chemical component.
    Yes, the final result IS JUST WATER. But this water is vibrating like say… Arsenicum. What happens to a person who takes, for instance the homeopatic remedy of Arsenicum Album? Arsenicum is a poison. Throughout life we get exposed to Arsenicum (second hand smoking for instance) ehich is absorbed by the body. The body gets rid of Arsenicum over time, but this takes time. When a person takes the HOmeopathic edicine of Arsenicum Album, he is not ingesting Arsenicum, he is ingesting just water. But this water molecules are vibrating like Arsenicum. This triggers the body´s response for elimination of Arsenicum and it gest right to it. So, the natural mechanism of clearing up toxins is triggered for the elimination of a specific toxin that is then eliminated more rapidly.
    The same happens if a person takes a Homeopatic Fly vaccine. It triggers the defenses agains the Flu virus.
    We have no problem in doing this with chemistry based vaccines, but we have a problem with physics based vaccines = Homeopathy because somehow Matter seems more reliable to us than electromagnetic energy.
    Except that noone gets poisoned by Homeopathic vaccines, because they only carry the energetic information of the virus in JUst Water, instead of actual dead or weakened viruses in a poisonous chemical solution like regular vaccines.

    Helga wrote on July 7th, 2012
    • Thanks for that reply, Helga. I have experienced incredible relief from bladder infections thanks to homeopathy. I was a true skeptic when I first tried it, but after seeing my own results and that of my little ones, I have no doubt that it works.

      As far as effectiveness from dilution goes, I’m pretty sure that bleach won’t affect mold unless diluted to at least 10 to 1 dilution. It doesn’t make sense, but it works.

      I don’t mind your opinion, Mark. But if I had listened to you when you wrote this, I would still be experiencing debilitating UTI’S. I hope your other readers will keep a more open mind.

      Elizabeth wrote on August 1st, 2012
  10. There is scientific evidence.

    Cherry wrote on January 10th, 2013
  11. You blame the placebo effect for the PROVEN results. The FDA approved of homeopathy after a large scale study in the 80s on rats. It was shown that significant effects on them occurred. I personally was doubtful until I tried homeopathy on my dog for his adverse reactions whenever he got vaccinated, I tried a remedy called thuja, for the firs time in 10 years he didn’t get any reaction. Placebo effect my ass

    Daniel Bechsgaard wrote on February 2nd, 2013
  12. So glad you haven’t fudged on the analysis of homeopathy.
    Loved it when a group of Oxford students deliberately publicly overdosed on homeopathic medicines.
    Funnily enough they all survived perfectly illustrating the point you make that these preparations contain “officially nothing”!

    Temolin Dorjan wrote on March 6th, 2013
  13. If homeopathy is just blind “faith and placebo” – please could you explain why arsenic has an adverse impact on people when present in drinking water at a homeopathic dilution with the American EPA now recommending a reduction in these arsenic level in drinking water and why breast cancer and endocrine disruption occurs when glyphosate is present at a level of 1 part per Trillion?

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23756170

    Eco Witch wrote on June 13th, 2013
    • It’s very simple, the concentrations you’re talking about are NOT “homeopathic dilution”. 1 part per trillion is about equivalent to 5C. For a sense of scale, 30C is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times more diluted, or to put it in layman’s terms, diluted to the point where it is literally impossible for any of the arsenic or glyphosate to still remain. Once you get past 12C it isn’t possible for any of the original substance to remain and so it can only be placebo.

      Adam wrote on June 13th, 2013
  14. Go watch “Homeopathy: The Test” or read the results published: after rigorous scientific testing homeopathy has been disproven.

    Em wrote on August 26th, 2013

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