Homeopathy: nothing in it
It’s World Homeopathy Awareness Week, and homeopaths around the world are celebrating their craft and reflect on the 255th birthday of their creator, Dr. Samuel Hahnemann.
Homeopathy was invented 200 years ago by the German physician, and is based on a ‘like-treats-like’ concept: that the symptoms of an illness can be treated by minute quantities of the same substance that caused it.
This is known as the ‘Law of Similars’ and means that a homeopathic medicine for insomnia may include miniscule amounts of coffee or a homeopathic medicine for hay fever may contain tiny traces of grasses, pollens or animal hair.
Supporters of homeopathy claim that their ‘medicine’ is completely safe and free from side effects. Which is difficult to argue with when you understand how homeopathic medicines are made. In some cases it’s the equivalent of putting a drop of vodka into a pool the size of the solar system and hoping you will still get drunk.
Homeopaths begin with a concentrated solution of the remedy, known as the ‘mother tincture’, then they undertake a series of extreme dilutions, shaking or ‘succussing’ the solution thoroughly in between. (Succussion can also involve hitting the solution against a leather bound item, sometimes a Bible).
The process of succussion is supposed to instil a type of ‘memory’ of the original substance in the water or diluent. And one would hope so, since many common homeopathic preparations that you buy off the pharmacy shelf are diluted beyond the point where there is any chance of even one molecule of the initial ingredient remaining.
This point is reached when the dilution level exceeds 1 part in 10-to-the-power-of-23 (1 with 23 zeros).
So how can homeopathy work if it is basically just water or sugar pills? Many homeopaths admit they don’t really know how it works, but ‘it just does’. Yet, science tends not to take their word for it, so we use a process called a randomised controlled trial (RCT) as the best method for determining if a medicine is effective.
Unfortunately for homeopaths, to date, not one properly conducted and peer review published RCT has been able to demonstrate homeopathy works better than placebo, that is, just water or sugar alone.
Recently, homeopaths of the UK were delivered an even bigger blow, when a meticulous parliamentary enquiry into the value of continued government funding for homeopathy via the National Health Service (the equivalent of Medicare) recommended all public funding be withdrawn.
In a 273 page report, The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee further advised that evidence shows homeopathy doesn’t work, explanations for why homeopathy works are ‘scientifically implausible’, and no further clinical trials of homeopathy should occur since homeopathy works no better than placebo.
This doesn’t stop homeopaths from sticking their fingers in their ears and yelling ‘la la la la’ however.
If you’re bored at work today, type homeopathy and an illness of your choice into your favourite search engine and I’ll bet you find something saying homeopathy can be used to treat it.
Try for example, ‘homeopathy, AIDS, Africa’ and you’ll find a plethora of information from homeopaths about how their ‘magic water’ is effective against HIV infection.
You might even come across Homeopaths Without Borders (and no, I’m not joking) who recently sent a team to Haiti after the devastating earthquake to treat ‘..burns, physical trauma and injuries, fear, dizziness, headaches, urinary tract infections, eye problems and dehydration.’ I guess they got one thing right: homeopathy is a pretty good cure for dehydration, being that it is just water.
You might also encounter the undercover operation in the UK where a pharmacy assistant explained how homeopathy for malaria worked; ‘They make it so your energy doesn’t have a malaria-shaped hole in it so the malarial mosquitoes won’t come along and fill that in’ which obviously makes no scientific sense whatsoever.
So I hear you say, ‘it’s just water and sugar, what’s the harm?’ And you’re right in one respect: extremely dilute and expensive water or sugar pills will not do you any direct harm. The harm is in the belief that they do anything at all, leading some patients to discontinue their conventional evidence-based medicine.
A tragic case of this occurred recently, with the death of toddler Gloria Sam from untreated eczema, as a result of her homeopath father shunning conventional medicine and opting for homeopathy instead.
Next time you visit your local pharmacy, take a look at the range of homeopathy they stock, covering coughs and colds, baby care, stress, allergies, pain relief and insomnia.
But before you part with your hard earned cash, be aware of this: homeopathy, there’s nothing in it.
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