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

Posted By Mark Sisson On September 12, 2007 @ 2:01 pm In Health,Hype,Marketing,Reviews | 69 Comments

You 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 [7]

Quackwatch [8]

Further Reading at the Blog:

10 Dumbest Drugs Ever Invented [9]

10 Worst Health Scams [10]

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