Balneus

Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Homeopathy awareness week… haw haw!

Posted by Dave Bath on 2008-04-16


It’s Homeopathy Awareness Week, and I wish more people were aware of just how silly is the thinking behind homeopathy.

I’ve often said "Never go to a homeopath with multiple stab wounds".

Don’t worry, the only reason I know about Homeopathy Awareness Week is because of my alerts from Nature, which points to this blog post at Nature.  It’s full of pointers to debunkers and FAQs.  Enjoy.

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9 Responses to “Homeopathy awareness week… haw haw!”

  1. Hmm, I always try to be openminded. Personally I have benefited from some alternative therapies such as Bowen Therapy, acupuncture and the like.

    But a few years back, a friend of mine got into an extreme sort of “spiritual healing”, whereby it is said that serious illnesses can be healed magically with the mind. I have had to bite my tongue, and I’ve stopped seeing this friend much because I just can’t deal with it. I am longing to ask the question, “If I shot you in the arm right now, could you heal yourself?”

    I think I have a particularly dim view of such things because (a) if the treatment doesn’t work, it’s generally said to be the patient’s “fault” rather than the lack of use of the therapy and (b) it might encourage credulous people to stop going on essential medication. My best friend is an insulin dependant diabetic. Obviously, no amount of “spiritual healing” is ever going to be able to fix that, and it’s not because she has a closed mind. To suggest otherwise is negligent bullsh*t (sorry for swearing but I get very cross about this).

  2. Dave Bath said

    My problem with homeopathy is it’s basic theory: exacerbate whatever the body is doing (e.g. give a pyretic to someone with a fever). This can often be the worst thing to do. Hence my comment about multiple stab wounds – the homeopath will say “bleeding is the body’s reaction, and therefore a good thing, so I’ll just make more happen”, then get the axe out!

    Now, I’ll grant that some “alternative” therapies have mechanisms of action that may explain some benefits.

    (1) We know that acupuncture stimulates endorphin release within the spinal column, and that these can potentially cross to a nearby nerve that supplies a completely different part of the body. Hence the potential for analgesia, and perhaps some other things.

    (2) Meditation can lower stress, thus lower cortisol production, and thus allow some white cells to do the job. This is well demonstrated with cancer patients. The immune system has to recognize a nasty, and then attack it. If you have “big guns”, but cannot tell what to fire at, then you are in trouble. Even a slight drop in cortisol might be enough to let the “spotters” do their job, so the “big guns” can be brought to bear.

    The only naturopath I had any time for was also a registered nurse, studied pathology with me, and was big on evidence-based treatment decisions. He simply had compounds in his armoury that had not yet been put through the grinder of trials, but also recognized that most herbals medicines are produced by plants as toxins to avoid being eaten, and that if a plant had an effect on the body, it could also have a bad effect. I used to joke “I’d rather have a guaranteed 500mg of aspirin and 5mg atropine than chew willowbark and belladonna that has variable growing conditions and the dog might have p*ssed on”.

    It’s worth noting that the EU has come down hard on herbal medicines, demanding that the same quality controls (consistent dosages in tablets, etc) are required for herbal medicines as for those from the typical pharmaceutical company.

    And “swearing” with an appropriate number of stars (more stars for worse words, so f*** is more obscured than sh*t) is fine.

  3. nigel said

    Firstly, homepathy and homeopathy are completely different things so lets delineate terms.
    Homeopathy as described by wikipedia gets a thumping:
    Homeopathy is scientifically implausible[14][15] and “is diametrically opposed to modern pharmaceutical knowledge.”[16] For example, the common use of remedies that are so highly diluted that they contain no molecules of the substance being diluted is in contradiction to mainstream science’s basic understanding of how nature works.[17] The lack of convincing scientific evidence supporting its efficacy[18] and its reliance on remedies without molecules have caused homeopathy to be regarded as pseudoscience;[19] quackery;[20][21][22] or, in the words of a 1998 medical review, “placebo therapy at best and quackery at worst.”
    Now, as a non expert on this practice and given that wikipedia have deleted most of my references to many issues pertaining to OZ politics im inclined to research the practice to understand it more. Anything in wikipedia which is so readily attacked as quackery im inclined more towards…I mean why is something diametrically opposed to pharmaceutical knowledge instantly relegated to the quackery department…enough to make you think :)

  4. Dave Bath said

    Ouch – typo. The “homeo” (same) root is the one I’m talking about, rather than the “dilute it until it ain’t there”. Fixing….

    As to the strain of thought you are talking about, consider the water cycle, and the fermented fruit that has existed for aeons, as well as the amount of water that has been part of an alcoholic drink at some stage…. why don’t we get drunk drinking water from the tap?

    At least the “give pyretics for a fever” has SOME mechanism involved – (fever does increase white cell activity and increases the strength of the immune reaction, and the length of the “memory” of an antigen) – but to use that as the rationale for all treatment is dangerous. (Mind you, it points to inappropriate use of antipyretics, which IMHO should only be used when the fever risks causing harm such as frying your brain).

    I’ll criticize Big Pharma as much as anyone for improper use of research, misinformation and corruption. You can take the lad out of the lab, but you can’t take the lab out of the lad, even after a few decades.

  5. I actually tend to avoid things like naturopathy too – because I’m allergic to so many plants and pollens! Therefore, like you, I’d prefer to take a panadol than chew willowbark – because I know exactly what’s in a panadol and whether there’s anything there that I might be allergic to!

  6. Dave Bath said

    It’s salicylate, not panadol, in willowbark (“salix” if you know your Latin). Panadol is actually more dangerous than aspirin (except for children who have a one-in-a-zillion chance of aspirin causing the very serious Reyes Syndrome – and when I was studying we didn’t know why this happened).

    Paracetamol is a rather nasty liver toxin (especially with alcohol in the system), having a TI (Therapeutic Index – dose to kill over dose to give the effect you want) of about 25, so an overdose of between 25 and 50 panadol (if absorbed) will put you in the queue for a liver transplant.

    Aspirin has a TI of about 50 (it takes between 50 and 100 tablets to kill you), and affects blood acid/base balance which ultimately stops the breathing reflexes – although medical action (basically fixing the acid/base balance and supporting your breathing for a day) leaves no life-threatening after-effects.

    BTW: Alcohol has a TI of about 10: 0.05% and you are merry, 0.5% and you are probably dead.

  7. joe soap said

    sorry mate, try finding out more about something before you cut it down
    homeopathy works, im living proof, without it i would be soap.

  8. Dave Bath said

    Joe,

    I’d rather give the credit to the power of your own determination, and mind over matter. This is exactly the same as having some admiration for Indian gurus who can manipulate physiological states (e.g. breathing, body temperature) and cancer patients who improve their 5-year survival rates by improving their immune system through meditation.

    I blitzed in pathology, pharmacology, toxicology, etc, and no decent randomized double-blind study has found a significant difference between the efficacy of homeopathic and placebo treatments.

    Note I am also highly critical of a lot of claims of the pharmaceutical industry for their products, because the studies can be sloppy, and the publication of adverse studies is suppressed.

    Similarly, I’ve got a lot of time for the efficacy of some plants that have not been given due attention, because if their active ingredients are easy to isolate, industry won’t be able to make huge profits, and so studies are not done. At the same time, I worry about the under-regulated quality control of many “naturopathic” products, and happy that the EU has clamped down on this after quite a few deaths.

  9. […] Dave Bath gives short shrift to homeopathy.  Enter your email address to receive Missing Link in your email inbox: […]

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