Once in a while I like to step away from my typical themes, and address an issue that I feel deserves attention. Today, that issue is Homeopathy.
Now, I do realize that this article is going to make some people uncomfortable, and others will entirely disagree with me. I urge you to keep reading, please don’t dismiss this post outright, consider the evidence presented here, do your own independent research, and come to your own conclusions.
Homeopathy is one specific branch of Naturopathic medicine. Let me make this abundantly clear: I am NOT talking about the entire field of Naturopathic medicine, which I believe has much to offer people seeking complementary, holistic, alternative health treatments. Homeopathy is ONE branch.
In this post, I will explain why I feel that homeopathy is not only a sham and a waste of money, but also a dangerous and irresponsible system of alternative treatment. That said, I believe most of the practitioners who are prescribing homeopathic treatments are doing so with good intentions, and incredibly bad science.
When it comes to health, it can be really difficult to know who to trust. Sometimes, conventional treatments come with side effects that can be as bad as the symptoms of the illness. Pharmaceutical companies have a bad reputation of being motivated only by money, and of pressuring doctors to promote their products. Often, doctors have little time to deal with patients thoroughly and in a holistic manner, often missing things or dismissing patient concerns. It is easy to understand why people would lose faith in the system and seek alternatives. These are some of the reasons why alternative health care has gained so much momentum.
When we find a remedy on the drugstore shelf labelled as “Safe and Effective,” how many people would question that? When we see that Health Canada has assigned a Drug Identification Number which technically requires the substance to be “safe and effective,” who are we to argue?
Most wouldn’t, and one source states that over $2.9 Billion was spent in 2007 on Homeopathic products in the USA, and that number has continued to increase dramatically. I couldn’t find a more current number that didn’t conflate all natural products and homeopathic remedies, but you can bet it is much higher.
What is Homeopathy?
(This description of homeopathy comes from the website of the Canadian College of Homeopathic Medicine)
Homeopathy was conceived by Samuel Hahnemann in the late 1700s. It is based on something called the “law of similars.” Overall, homeopathic medicine is intended to stimulate the body to heal itself. The way practitioners claims it can do this, is by exposing the body to a minute amount of the problematic substance, and letting the body figure it out from there.
(It sounds almost logical, until you look closely at the actual mechanism.)
A common example is the remedy for insomnia. The theory is that if large doses of caffeine cause sleeplessness, then minute amounts will do the reverse. The amounts are so minute that there will be no side effects or addiction.
Now, let me explain what they mean by “minute.”
Here is an instructional page for practitioners on how to dilute a substance.
When you look at a label on a remedy, 1C (sometimes written 1CH) means that 1 part of the “mother tincture” is combined thoroughly with 99 parts water and alcohol. 2C would add 1 part of the 1C dilution to 99 parts water and alcohol, and mixed thoroughly. 3C = 1 part of that to 99 water and alcohol…and so on.
A label of 200C means this dilution procedure was repeated 200 times. According to homeopathic practitioners, the higher the C value, the more potent the substance becomes.
Here is a direct quote: “By the time the homeopathic remedy has been potentised to the stage of 12C or 24X it is impossible to detect any molecular trace of the original substance within it. It has become a “sub-molecular” medicine free of chemical side effects.“ Remedies are often diluted thousands of times more.
No. Molecular. Trace.
Alarm bells going off yet?
THERE ARE NO ACTIVE INGREDIENTS IN HOMEOPATHIC MEDICINE, and the less likely it is to contain active ingredients, the stronger it is.
Still following? Just wait for it….
This brings us to “water memory,” or the idea that water retains a memory of the substance it was originally in contact with. A drop of the water is dripped onto a sugar pill and then allowed to evaporate.
These sugar pills are what you buy in the store. Safe? Yes. They are sugar pills. Side effects? No. They are sugar pills. Effective? They are sugar pills. You tell me.
Interestingly, the Canadian College of Homeopathic Medicine links directly to a Wikipedia page to describe the founder and his work. Wikipedia goes on to completely discredit homeopathy. (I find that amusing.) Look here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homeopathy While I don’t use Wikipedia as a perfect source of information, it is a useful tool for finding relevant links to good sources.
The principles on which Homeopathy is based contradict basic principles of modern medicine, chemistry and physics.
Are Homeopathic Remedies Effective?
There are plenty of things in the world that we don’t understand that still work. Let’s suspend our disbelief of the mechanism for a moment, and take a look at efficacy. If double-blind, randomized clinical trials were to establish efficacy, that could indicate there is something at work here we simply don’t understand.
But, unfortunately for homeopathy, actual science screams NO. You can search for the evidence if you like (please look at both sides), but a massive meta-study, published in Australia in 2015, concluded: “Based on the assessment of the evidence of effectiveness of homeopathy, NHMRC concludes that there are no health conditions for which there is reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective.”
Why do people think they work?
Many theories have been postulated about why people think homeopathic remedies work. The most common is the placebo effect. If people think they are receiving an effective treatment, they are likely to feel better. This is basic psychology. Article on placebos. They are also often paired with reassuring images.
This article concludes that the better the scientific methodology in a study, the lower the evidence for homeopathy’s effectiveness. Poor science can lead people to false conclusions, and more opportunities to have results that are tainted by bias. There is also a common problem in journals, where positive outcomes are published, and negative outcomes are not. This also leads to inflated perceptions of positive effects (even for real medicine).
In addition, holistic medical practitioners are more likely to spend longer with patients, address many issues at once, and look at the whole body as a system. This type of attention goes a long way toward making a person feel better, and should definitely be incorporated into mainstream medicine. Too many things are missed by doctors focusing only on one particular symptom or system in the body. The expensive remedies prescribed and often sold by homeopathic practitioners have nothing to do with this, but it would be easy to make that mistake.
So people waste their money and think they feel better. What is the harm?
People waste their money on all sorts of questionable things. Justin Bieber’s hair clippings sold on e-bay in 2011 for $40,668. How is this different?
I believe that people should know what they are buying. I suspect that the person buying Justin Bieber’s hair might be upset if they found out it was just some water from Lake Huron, where he probably went swimming once, and would therefore have a memory of his hair.
Also, homeopathic remedies are often prescribed for serious life-threatening illnesses, as an alternative to actual medicines. See here: http://www.cancure.org/12-links-page/121-homeopathy. These “treatments” may be perceived as preferable to unpleasant treatments such as radiation or chemotherapy, because they have no side effects (for obvious reasons). But, in these cases, avoiding or delaying real treatment is dangerous and irresponsible on the part of the practitioner.
Homeopathic “alternatives” to vaccines are called “nosodes.” These are made by diluting infected specimens (such as infected saliva or feces) to undetectable levels. When these are administered in place of actual vaccines, children run the risk of catching and spreading diseases that can be effectively avoided with traditional vaccines. The anti-vaccine movement has been responsible for the alarming resurgence of diseases such as measles.The Canadian pediatric society agrees nosodes are no substitute.
Aren’t they approved by the government?
There is a great deal of debate about how homeopathic remedies in general should be regulated or tested by the government. I found that Health Canada is surprisingly lenient when it comes to natural remedies. Health Canada approves natural remedies with very little evidence, provided the substances pose no harm to consumers. Efficacy is not tested.
Nosodes are NOT approved by Health Canada as an alternative to vaccines, and there are certain rules about labeling the products. However, I strongly believe, like this journalist, that the government should be banning these substances altogether.
Here are some very disturbing videos by CBC Marketplace that shed light on the industry:
In the following episode link, Marketplace journalists set out to get approval from Health Canada for an entirely made-up “remedy.” http://www.cbc.ca/marketplace/episodes/2014-2015/drugstore-remedies-licence-to-deceive.
This episode describes Homeopathy in detail: http://www.cbc.ca/marketplace/episodes/2011-episodes/cure-or-con
After all of this, I hope you will examine the evidence further. There are plenty of people claiming to offer evidence for homeopathy’s effectiveness, but their methods, controls and sample sizes should be carefully evaluated. Systematic reviews that evaluate results and methodologies across many studies are often the best way of determining real effects.
PLEASE DO NOT SIMPLY TAKE MY WORD FOR IT. I am not a medical doctor, and am not qualified to offer medical advice. I am only hoping to shed some light on an issue that I feel is not well understood. But, in my opinion, Homeopathy is something best left in the history books, along with bloodletting, heroin-laced cough syrup, and rubbing mercury on cuts and bruises.
Live long and prosper, my friends!