Tag Archives: homeopathy

France to stop reimbursing homeopathic treatments

Under the current system, people can purchase homeopathic products and the government will partially reimburse the cost of the treatment. This is about to change.

Woman looking at homeopathic ‘remedies’. Image credits: Casey West.

The healthcare system in France (as in most of Europe) is very different from that in the US. It’s a universal health care system largely financed by government national health insurance. It’s free and consistently ranks among the best ones in the world, despite the average spending being way below that of the US.

Of course, the system is not perfect. For instance, one thing which medical scientists have long objected to is the reimbursement of homeopathic costs.

France has a long history with homeopathy, this being the most popular alternative treatment. Its prevalence rose steadily since the 1980s, despite the fact that research has consistently shown that there is no reliable evidence to support homeopathic products (read our in-depth explanation of why homeopathy sometimes seems to work here). France also hosts the global leader of homeopathic products, Boiron — a company with yearly revenues in excess of $650 million.

Boiron has strongly protested against this measure but as government representatives point out, the country spends a hefty sum reimbursing homeopathic treatments that just don’t work. According to official figures, French social security in 2018 paid back patients some 126.8 million euros ($142.2 million) for homeopathic treatment — out of a total of 20 billion euros ($22.4 billion) refunded for medicines in total.

That will now stop.

Unlike conventional treatments, which can be fully reimbursed by the government, the reimbursement of homeopathic products is currently limited at 30% of the price. French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said the reimbursement will be gradually phased out, going down to 15% in 2020 and 0% in 2021.

Buzyn, a leading French hematologist and university professor, had no previous experience in politics before joining the government in 2017. She has consistently emphasized the importance of implementing science-based policies, even if the decisions are unpopular — which is the case here.

The decision was met with substantial backlash from a part of the French population, which considered it a breach of their individual freedom. However, Buzyn emphasizes that doctors will still be free to prescribe homeopathic treatments, and people are still free to buy them if they so choose. Still, in order for the government to offer reimbursements, there needs to be some evidence supporting homeopathy — which, at the moment, isn’t the case. In fact, the principles behind homeopathy have long been disproven.

It’s a small but significant step for a country where homeopathy is very prevalent. The government is sending a strong message: homeopathy has time and time again been disproven and shown to be no better than a placebo — so why fund it?

Homeopathy is ineffective against children’s cold and flu

Add another one to the pile: a new review of randomized controlled trials on the common cold, influenza, and pneumonia found no evidence that homeopathy is effective in any way.

Homeopathy doesn’t work, and according to everything we know about science — it can’t work.

If it’s your first time on ZME Science — first of all, welcome — there’s one thing you should know about us: we love science — and like everyone who loves something, we hate it when something else masquerades as that something we love. In this case, we’re talking about pseudoscience.

Sure, you can argue that most (if not all) people believe in something illogical. Most of the time, that doesn’t do any harm — after all, what difference does it make if you read the daily horoscope or not? But some beliefs are more dangerous than others, especially when it comes to medical science. Obviously, medicine isn’t perfect and there’s still a lot of room for improvement but thanks to medical science, we live longer and healthier than all the generations before us. So why, then, would you doubt and reject it?

Homeopathy goes against everything we know about chemistry, biology, and medicine. It’s completely implausible from a theoretical standpoint, and study after study has shown that the practical effects just aren’t there. It might seem like it works (and here’s why), but the data suggests otherwise.

In a new study published in the prestigious Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, a team of researchers looked at how good homeopathy is in dealing with the cold, the flu, and pneumonia.

Common homeopathic ‘treatments’ for these conditions include Arsenicum album (arsenic trioxide), Euphrasia (eyebright plant), and natrum muriaticum (or as most people call it, table salt). A particular flu remedy called Oscillococcinum is derived from duck liver and heart. If that’s not enough to dissuade you, then the preparation mechanism likely will.

Homeopathic substances are heavily diluted in water, often times by a factor of a trillion or even more. Sometimes, they’re diluted so much that not a single molecule of the original substance remains — by everything we know about chemistry, there’s nothing but water left in these substances. Supposedly, this dilution makes substances stronger — which again, goes again everything we know about physics.

The researchers scoured the literature to find any studies comparing oral homeopathy medicinal products with identical placebo or self‐selected conventional treatments. They found eight such studies, and this is where it gets interesting.

Researchers did find eight suitable studies. A few of these studies did suggest some benefits, and at a quick glance, you’d say that it’s good enough — it’s published in a journal, it passed the test of peer-review, so why not? But when researchers looked closer, they found all sorts of problems, ranging from major inconsistencies to a blatant conflict of interest — three of the studies were directly funded by homeopathy manufacturers. In these studies, even the reviewers were dubious of their claims.

“One study showed a reduction in disease severity for the homeopathy group at some time points. The other study showed a reduction in number of respiratory infections over the following year in the treatment groups, although more than a quarter of participants were not accounted for in the results,” the reviewers wrote.

Meanwhile, the more rigorous studies consistently find no benefits to homeopathy. The authors give a stern conclusion:

“There is no convincing evidence homeopathic medicinal products are effective in treating ARTIs in children.”

Intriguingly, advocates of homeopathy often claim that it’s a “true” healing practice, unlike modern medicine, which is “all about the money.” However, these people conveniently disregard the fact that in the US alone, homeopathic and herbal remedies are a multi-billion dollar industry.

When you draw the line, homeopathy doesn’t work, it even can’t work (based on pretty much everything we know about science), and still it makes a lot of money. So why is it still a thing? It’s hard to say, but as always, we encourage you to leave your opinion in the comment section.

CDC: Homeopathic “healing bracelet” dramatically increases lead levels in babies’ blood

Tests have confirmed that the bracelet is to blame.

In all honesty though… why would you put this on your baby? Image credits: Kimberly Dubanoski, Manchester Health Department, Connecticut.

The problem came to light in September 2016, when a routine screening of a female infant aged 9 months in Manchester, Connecticut, revealed that she was suffering anemia and had lead blood levels over five times the normal limit. Now, the lead source was finally identified.

CDC officials conducted an environmental assessment of the house the baby was living in. They did find two interior window wells with peeling lead-based paint. However, the baby had no access to the window wells, and her siblings had significantly lower lead levels in their blood (way within normal limits), clearly indicating that a different source was to blame. That’s when the parents told doctors the baby had been intermittently wearing a “homeopathic magnetic hematite healing bracelet.”

The bracelet was worn for “teething related discomfort” and the baby would sometimes chew on it. Since lead poisoning is often caused by oral ingestion of lead containing products, this immediately stood out so the CDC analyzed the bracelet, identifying its spacer beads as the source of toxicity.

The parents say they bought the bracelet at a fair and no warnings or branding was found on it. Doctors Patricia Garcia and Jennifer Haile, lead treatment specialists at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center tried to trace down the produced, but they couldn’t. At this point, it’s unsure how many other such bracelets are on the market and who manufactures them.

Since lead is a potent neurotoxin, it can affect every system in the body. It is especially associated with lowered IQ and numerous behavioral problems. Needless to say, the bracelet couldn’t do anything to help. For dealing with teething pains (which are fairly normal), doctors recommend gentle gum massage, cold teething rings, and cloths.

This serves as yet another reminder to stick to real, evidence based medicine. Not only is homeopathy completely ineffective, but crack medicine can be very dangerous — as was the case here. If the problem hadn’t been identified this early, things could have gotten a lot worse.

British National Health Service (NHS) to stop prescribing homeopathy, other “low value” treatments

Drastically underfunded and facing troubling times, the NHS has decided to cut down on some of their treatments. While some have sparked controversy, the decision to drop homeopathy was hailed by scientists and medical doctors.

Homeopathy and herbal remedies will be removed from the NHS free treatment options.

The British health system, like most countries in Europe, is drastically different from that in the US: everyone’s insured. The NHS constitution clearly states:

“Access to NHS services is based on clinical need, not an individual’s ability to pay; NHS services are free of charge, except in limited circumstances sanctioned by parliament.”

This system works. A peer reviewed study has recently found the NHS to be one of the best health systems in the world, overcoming those of France, Germany, Australia, and Canada. Among those, the US came in last by a large margin — spending more money for less support. But recently, the UK’s government has subtracted more and more resources from the NHS, starting discussions that they want to privatize the health system and make it more like that in the US. With more and more budget cuts, the NHS is having to give up more and more things.

As a result, they’ve announced new measures which will help them save almost £200m a year ($260 million). According to the draft consultation, homeopathic prescriptions cost NHS England £92,412 in 2016 and more than £578,000 over the past five years. It’s certainly not the biggest part of these cuts, but it’s one that sparked a lot of discussions.

Time and time again, studies have shown that homeopathy doesn’t work — it’s simply no better than a placebo.

“Homeopathy is based on implausible assumptions and the most reliable evidence fails to show that it works beyond a placebo effect. It can cause severe harm when used as an alternative to effective treatments,” said Edzard Ernst, emeritus professor of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter.

“Therefore, it is high time that the NHS stops funding it and instead employs our scarce resources on treatments that are backed by sound science.”

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) also praised removing homeopathy “which has no scientific or pharmacological basis from NHS supply” as being “long overdue”. Similar cuts will be made to herbal medicines.

But other cuts weren’t so well received. Several popular drugs, including Lidocaine plasters and anti-depressants were slashed, drawing criticism from the RPS, which says that low earners will be “disproportionately affected”.

The biggest cut will be on Liothyronine, a thyroid hormone sometimes used as an augmentation strategy in treating major depressive disorder, alongside antidepressants. The NHS will save £34.8m on this drug alone. Here are all the proposed savings:

  • £19.8m on Trimipramine, an anti-depressant. Again, one of the preferred treatment options for major depressive disorder, especially where sedation is required
  • £19.3m on Lidocaine plasters for treating nerve-related pain
  • £11.5m on Tadalafil Once Daily, a drug similar to Viagra
  • £10.9m on Fentanyl immediate release, used in palliative care
  • £9m on the painkiller Co-proxamol
  • £7.8m on Doxazosin Modified Release (MR), a drug for hypertension
  • £6.3m on omega-3 fatty acid compounds
  • £5m on Oxycodone and Naloxone, used to treat severe pain
  • £4.5m on travel vaccines
  • £4.3m on muscle pain relieving rubs and ointments
  • £2.7m on the anti-depressant Dosulepin (formerly dothiepin)
  • £2m on Paracetamol and Tramadol Combination product
  • £1.5m on Lutein and antioxidants (e.g. vitamin A, C, E and zinc) supplements
  • £0.5m on Perindopril Arginine an ACE inhibitor used in heart failure, hypertension, diabetic nephropathy and prophylaxis of cardiovascular events
  • £0.4m on Glucosamine and Chondroiton, nutrients taken to improve pain associated with osteoarthritis
  • £100,009 on herbal medicines
  • £92,412 on homeopathy items

Guess what? Homeopathy doesn’t work on cows, either

The practice of “animal homeopathy” is disturbingly widespread, although to put it bluntly — it doesn’t work. A new review study conducted by German researchers confirmed that there is absolutely no evidence that homeopathy works on livestock.

Livestock antibiotics

I wish people would just stop trying to milk homeopathy. Image via Pixabay.

We give homeopathy a lot of flak… but it’s pretty well deserved. It’s not just that the principle is scientifically invalid, and that it is a method relying simply on diluting substances until those substances aren’t even there anymore. Study after study has shown that homeopathy doesn’t work, and it often prevents people from using a medical approach which actually works. This is why the World Health Organization warns against using it and the FDA says that it is “not aware of scientific evidence to support homeopathy as effective.” You can search far and wide, but no reputable organization or research institute supports its usage. This is why it seems even more bizarre that people are using it — not only on themselves but also on animals. While this study will likely not convince hardcore homeopathy-quackery fans, it can go a long way towards promoting awareness around the lack of efficiency of homeopathy.

No one really likes antibiotics in livestock, but we use them for a simple and straightforward reason: they work. Risking disease spreading in animal farms is a recipe for disaster, and antibiotics block the spread of diseases or even prevents their development completely. With most farms being extremely crowded and not the most hygienic places in the world, the need for antibiotics is evident.

However, there are also concerns generated by this widespread usage. A report by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that nearly 90% of the total use of antimicrobials in the United States was for non-therapeutic purposes in agricultural production. Globally, 70% of all antibiotics administered are used for livestock, and many of these drugs are misused or simply administered for the purpose of weight gain — not something particularly healthy. To make things even worse, the ever-growing danger of drug-resistant pathogens looms largely in this antibiotic usage, and both farmers and researchers are looking for alternatives. Probiotics, prebiotics, and bacteriophages have all been discussed, but much more work is required before these can become viable methods.

Others, however, have turned to something else.

Ho-moo-opathy

From the perspective of many farmers, homeopathy provides a natural and healthy alternative to antibiotics, so why not use it? After all, they likely hear lots of people telling them it works (either due to ignorance or simply with an intention to sell) and it seems medicinal enough. Unfortunately, however, it doesn’t work — and this is exactly why such studies are so important. The study reads:

“‘Antibiotic-free’ or ‘raised without antibiotics’ labelled products are enjoying increased popularity in both Europe and the USA. This development is fuelled by, among others, mis- and overuse of antibiotics in human and animal medicine, which has promoted the development of resistant strains of bacteria worldwide (Laxminarayan and others 2013). Correspondingly, many farmers and veterinarians see homeopathy as an alternative for treating diseases in farm animals and thus reducing the consumption of antibiotics.”

They started out by digging up all the studies which mentioned homeopathy usage in animals. From these 4,448 publications, they selected a mere 48 which fit the relevance and overall scientific criteria. Yes, as you may have realized by now, quality studies on animal homeopathy are pretty scarce. Even so, almost all studies were published in questionable homeopathy journals, most likely because non-homeopathy journals wouldn’t publish this type of effort. Fifteen doctoral theses on homeopathy in livestock were available, and some of them featured several clinical trials. All in all, the studies included 52 clinical trials, with a mixed back of backgrounds and a mixed bag of results.

The review couldn’t really assess the efficacy of homeopathy because they found serious flaws in the studies. They found 28 studies which reported some improvement following homeopathy — interestingly, most studies focusing on pigs. Cattle and poultry were less responsive to homeopathy.

Wait… doesn’t this mean that homeopathy works?

Well, the problem when working with pseudoscience is you publish in pseudoscience journals, which means that the scientific standard is often just not there. The studies fell short in terms of reproducibility, rigor, and quality. Small sample size and lack of double-blind conditions were also ubiquitous. For instance, pigs who were given homeopathic solutions likely receive better overall treatment than those who receive nothing at all — so it’s impossible to attribute any improvement to the solutions alone.

Oh, and those are the studies that did find a difference. In almost half of the studies published by homeopathy, in homeopathy journals, found no difference between the method and a placebo.

“The remedy used did not seem to make a big difference,” coauthors Caroline Doehring and Albert Sundrum, both of the University of Kassel in Germany, wrote in their paper. “Looking at all the studies, no study was repeated under comparable conditions.”

Even more, they found significant conflicts of interest for the authors, something which again, should not be tolerated in scientific publishing.

“Often, studies were financially supported, eg, by the producer of the homeopathic or conventional remedy,” Doehring and Sundrum wrote. “In one trial, all of the researchers worked for the supplier of the homeopathic remedy.”

It’s essentially impossible to prove a negative, so you can’t really show that livestock homeopathy is not effective, but they did show the lack of evidence when it comes to the method. The study concludes:

“The current evidence of studies providing evidence in favour of homeopathy lacks reproducibility and therefore cannot claim to have sufficient prognostic validity. No general conclusions can be drawn as to whether a homeopathic remedy shown to be significantly more effective than a control treatment in a specific context is also effective in a different context or under different conditions (as the previous trial describes). It cannot be concluded whether it is better, worse or ineffective.”

Journal Reference: C. Doehring and A. Sundrum — Efficacy of homeopathy in livestock according to peer-reviewed publications from 1981 to 2014. http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/vr.103779

Red pill

Homeopathic products will be labeled as bogus unless there’s scientific proof that they work

Producers of homeopathic treatments must make proof of efficacy or specify on their product’s label that there is “no scientific evidence that the product works”, the Federal Trade Commission has decided.

Red pill

Image credits TheDigitalWay / Pixabay.

Homeopathy can trace its roots back to 1796 when Samuel Hahnemann developed the theory by studying the anti-malaria properties of cinchona. The bark was traditionally believed to fight the condition due to its astringency, and Hahnemann noted that other astringent drugs do not have any use against malaria. So he tested the bark on himself, by ingesting various quantities, and found that it induced malaria-like symptoms.

From this, he concluded that “like cures like”, as he considered that “that which can produce a set of symptoms in a healthy individual, can treat a sick individual who is manifesting a similar set of symptoms.” Further work on this theory led him to the conclusion that diluting certain substances under their point of toxicity would make these solutions cure the associated symptoms.

[ALSO READ] Everything you wanted to know about homeopathy but didn’t ask

We’ve had a lot to say over the years about just how wonderfully useless homeopathy is as a medical approach. And we’re not the only ones doing so — the practice is and has long been dismissed by any form of serious science discussion. Still, the US homeopathic remedy market is still going strong, with an estimated $3bn in sales in 2007.

Luckily, the US government has decided to step up and make it clear for customers that what they’re buying is smoke and mirrors. Homeopathic product manufacturers have to come up with proof of their products’ efficiency or clearly point out on labels that there is “no scientific evidence that the product works”.

“Homeopathy, which dates back to the late-eighteenth century, is based on the view that disease symptoms can be treated by minute doses of substances that produce similar symptoms when provided in larger doses to healthy people,” said a notice, filed earlier this month by the Federal Trade Commission.

“Many homeopathic products are diluted to such an extent that they no longer contain detectable levels of the initial substance. In general, homeopathic product claims are not based on modern scientific methods and are not accepted by modern medical experts, but homeopathy nevertheless has many adherents.”

The FTC said that a homeopathic drug claim that is not substantiated by competent and reliable scientific evidence “might not be deceptive if the advertisement or label where it appears effectively communicates that: 1) there is no scientific evidence that the product works; and 2) the product’s claims are based only on theories of homeopathy from the 1700s that are not accepted by most modern medical experts.”

Completely useless: Homeopathy no better than placebo, study confirms

While there is a full scientific consensus that homeopathy is a pseudoscience many people still believe in it. As a result, many researchers are still trying to disprove homeopathy and yet another study did just that: it showed that homeopathy is no better than a placebo for 68 different illnesses.

Professor Paul Glasziou, a leading academic in evidence based medicine at Bond University set out to verify 176 trials of homeopathy dealing with 68 different illnesses to see if it actually works or not. The review found “no discernible convincing effects beyond placebo” and concluded “there was no reliable evidence from research in humans that homeopathy was effective for treating the range of health conditions considered”. The results were so convincing that he gave up after 57 systematic reviews: there simply was no evidence of a single case where homeopathy worked.

“As chair of the working party which produced the report I was simply relieved that the arduous journey of sifting and synthesising the evidence was at an end. I had begun the journey with an ‘I don’t know attitude’, curious about whether this unlikely treatment could ever work… but I lost interest after looking at the 57 systematic reviews which contained 176 individual studies and finding no discernible convincing effects beyond placebo.”

Old homeopathic remedy, Hepar sulphide. Photo by Wikidudeman.

Homeopathy is a system to treat people developed in 1796 by Samuel Hahnemann based on his doctrine of like cures likeThis is the claim that a substance that causes the symptoms of a disease in healthy people would cure similar symptoms in sick people. Homeopathy is often times wrongly presented as science despite heavy evidence that it doesn’t actually do anything. Any positive feelings that follow treatment are simply the placebo effect and normal recovery from illness. Hahnemann believed the underlying causes of disease were phenomena that he termed miasms. Yes, homeopathy is a method developed in the late 18th century that believes diseases are caused by something called miasms – and yet millions of people still believe in its capacity.

Glasziou continues:

“I can well understand why Samuel Hahnemann- the founder of homeopathy- was dissatisfied with the state of 18th century medicine’s practices, such as blood-letting and purging and tried to find a better alternative. But I would guess he would be disappointed by the collective failure of homeopathy to carry on his innovative investigations, but instead continue to pursue a therapeutic dead-end.”

Despite what your personal beliefs and convictions may be, the reality of it is that homeopathy doesn’t work. Hopefully, we can turn this page once and for all and start focusing on treatments that actually have a chance to work.

Homeopathy conference ends in chaos after everyone gets high on hallucinogenic drug

Almost 30 delegates were rushed to a hospital in Germany, suffering from hallucinations and cramps. The “alternative medicine conference” went astray when delegates took a hallucinogenic drug somewhat related to LSD (2C-E – Aquarust in Germany).

Image via NDR.

I really thought I wasn’t going to write about homeopathy; we discussed it in great length, we discussed studies that prove it’s bogus, and we were baffled by some of its practitioners. But this… this is something else. “All members consumed hallucinogenic substances” is something you expect to hear about a rave, not an actual conference (even one on pseudoscience).

Over 150 medical staff and police raced at the site to investigate what happened and take the delegates to the hospital. Torsten Passie, a member of the German government’s expert commission for narcotics, told NDR:

“It must have been a multiple overdose. That does not support the view that the people concerned took the hallucinogen knowingly. One has to assume that people were not told about the substance, its effects and risks before taking it.”

Tests on their blood and urine confirmed they took a drug called 2C-E, also known as Aquarust. No one recovered sufficiently to be interviewed by the police.

Right now, police are trying to investigate if this was an experiment, a prank, or simply a case of everyone taking the same drug willingly.

But what if (what if!) a drop of water which had once had the drug in it was added to the water supply and retained the memory of the drug and got everyone buzzed? That would be crazy, right? Well no, that would be homeopathy. Needless to say, things don’t really work like that.

homeopathy debunked

Homeopathy doesn’t treat any health condition, most comprehensive study to date finds

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Australia’s top medical research body, found that homeopathy doesn’t improve or alleviate any medical condition after systematically studying 225 research papers on homeopathy. While it’s true some people might feel better after a so-called homeopathic treatment, the researchers conclude that these benefits are no better than ingesting a sugar pill – a placebo.

homeopathy debunked

Image: Science Based Pharmacy

This isn’t the first study to conclude that homeopathy bears no added benefit to health, nor is it the first we’ve reported. It’s true that western medicine didn’t give homeopathy much of a chance, but it’s easy to understand why once you know its premise. Basically, a homeopathic medicine works its ‘magic’ by containing a minute dose of the illness-causing substance. The substance is diluted so heavily in water or alcohol that many times the end solution that ends up being ingested by the patient that eventually there might not even be one single molecule of the original substance left inside. Homeopathic experts claims this makes little difference since the treatment is based on the fact that the solution retains ‘memory’ of the original ailment-causing substance. I don’t know about you, but a treatment that i need to constantly describe in quotation marks definitely raises a red flag for me. More about why homeopathy is preposterous in a previous ZME Science article. (note: to avoid confusion, homeopathy does not refer to herbs, teas or other natural care products. These actually contain active substances that interact with your body)

Nevertheless, the Australian researchers, like others before, put the idea to test for the greater public good. In addition to the homeopathic papers analyzed, the researchers also went through 57 systematic reviews, a high-quality type of study that assesses all existing, quality research on a particular topic and synthesises it to make a number of strong, overall findings. The findings are clear: while some homeopathic papers report improved health for various medical conditions, these were too flawed to count. These were either poorly designed, failing to account for many other factors which could have explained the improved medical condition, or didn’t have enough participants to report a significant statistical response. In other cases, the report health benefits were indiscernible from placebos.

“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,” the report concluded.

“People who choose homeopathy may put their health at risk if they reject or delay treatments for which there is good evidence for safety and effectiveness.”

homeopathy

While homeopathic medicine doesn’t cause harm per se, but it might pose an indirect threat to public health. Patients might reject proven western medicine treatments or delay such action, in favor of homeopathy. Besides this, there’s a perverse market surrounding homeopathy. Of course, people are free to use their money however they wish – they might as well throw it out the drain. The problem is that homeopathic medicine is available in many pharmacies and these products are often covered by insurance companies. Expect rebates for homeopathic products to fall, in Australia at least. There are also many homeopathy courses which charge up to thousands of dollars, which are accredited by the Australian government. According to Dr Ken Harvey, a medicinal drug policy expert and health consumer advocate,  the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency (TEQSA) in Australia should rigorously evaluate private colleges who offer homeopathy courses once their accreditation expires.

“There will be a tail of people who won’t respond to this report, and who will say it’s all a conspiracy of the establishment,” NHMRC Homeopathy Working Committee, Professor Paul Glasziou said.

“But we hope there will be a lot of reasonable people out there who will reconsider selling, using or subsiding these substances.”

Helpful links:

  • NHMRC information paper
  • NHMRC statement on homeopathy
  • NHMRC FAQ on homeopathy

Originally, the first paragraph read the “homeopathy does improve or alleviate… health conditions”. It does NOT. Apologies for the confusion. 

New Zealand MP demoted after suggesting homeopathy use in Ebola fight

Photo / Getty Images

Green MP Steffan Browning was slammed by the public opinion and has subsequently been stripped of one of his portfolios after he suggested fighting Ebola with homeopathy.

I have  to admit, I couldn’t help a chuckle on finding this out. I mean, the fact that a Member of the Parliament of a developed country suggests treating one of the most contagious and dangerous diseases in the world with a technique with no scientific merit is so absurd you just couldn’t take it seriously… if it wasn’t real.

Last week, Mr Browning signed a petition started by Australian Fran Sheffield which called on the World Health Organisation (WHO) to “End the suffering of the Ebola crisis. Test and distribute homeopathy as quickly as possible to contain the outbreaks.” Uhm, yeah, homeopathy doesn’t have any effect on human health aside for a placebo and other purely psychological effects. If you’re still not convinced yet, feel free to check out the linked articles – I’ve explained (and quote scientific studies) time and time again how it doesn’t work.

But back to the situation, I’m glad to say that Greens co-leader Metiria Turei said the party caucus had decided to remove Mr Browning’s responsibility for the natural health portfolio. They say it’s part of “rebuilding confidence” in the party. I was hoping the move was about supporting real science and fighting bogus claims… but it’s better than nothing.

Mr Browning accepted the decision, even though he said he doesn’t oppose homeopathy “on a personal level” – something which he clearly doesn’t, seeing as he signed a petition promoting it in the fight against Ebola.

“We are in politics and issues come up. But I am real happy to get on with my other portfolios and you’ll see me perform on those.”

I’m just curious when (or rather, if) we’ll start seeing demotions like this in other countries… like, you know, the USA?

Everything you wanted to know about homeopathy but never asked

Last week we described a study which concluded that homeopathy is nothing more than a placebo effect — it was just one of the many scientific studies which found the same thing. But many people swear by homeopathy and, judging from what’s happening in the comment section and our inbox, they feel very strongly about it. So let’s take a step back, analyze what’s happening with homeopathy, and then we can all our own conclusions.

The mechanism behind homeopathy

Samuel Hahnemann, the originator of homeopathy, 1796. He believed that “Like cures like”, dilution increases potency, and diseases are caused by miasms.alleged predispositions to a particular disease.

Homeopathy is a system of alternative medicine proposed in 1796 by Samuel Hahnemann, based on his doctrine of “like cures like”. Essentially, the belief is that the same thing which makes you sick can be used to heal you. Hahnemann believed that all diseases are caused by miasms, and homeopathy can be used to eliminate them. Not familiar with the term? Probably because it’s long been disproven.

Truth be told, not all homeopaths today believe in the so-called miasm theory — but all homeopathy is based on like-cures-like — using “active substances” to address all sorts of problems.

These active substances are things which cause symptoms similar to that of a disease, in the belief that if the body recognizes the symptom, it will start to fight the real disease. But it has to be diluted — a lot.

Hahnemann has this idea that undiluted doses intensify the symptoms and exacerbate the condition, sometimes causing dangerous toxic reactions. He specified that the substances be diluted due to his belief that succussion activated the “vital energy” of the diluted substance and made it stronger.

So the proposed cures are prepared by dilution. You take the active substance (whatever that may be) and usually dilute it by putting one drop of it in 1 liter of alcohol or distilled water, and then you mix it. After the mixing, you take 1 drop of this newly obtained substance and put it in another fresh liter of alcohol or distilled water, rinsing and repeating the process many times, until well past the point where none of the original molecules remain. The more diluted the substance is, the more effective the “cure” will be. The idea is that the alcohol or distilled water will somehow “remember” the molecule and have an impact on your body. Right of the bat, this goes directly against basic science — not something a pharma company or another is saying but against well-established, basic medical (and chemical) science.

But wait, you’ll say, how can you be sure that there is no more molecule in the substance? Well, we’ll have to get a little familiar with Avogadro’s number. Avogardo was a brilliant chemist (not related to homeopathy in any way). He showed that for every mole (unit of substance) of a substance, there are 6.02214129(27)×1023 constituents (atoms or molecules). For example, in a mole of OH, there are 6.02214129(27)×1023 molecules of OH – and the same goes for every substance. Let’s not get into how he arrived at that conclusion as that’s a different discussion, but his number is one of the very foundations of modern chemistry.

homeopathy2

Via Popular Science.

So if you have a substance and you dilute it up to the point where its concentration starts to outweigh Avogadro’s number, you end up with no more molecules of the initial substance. Say, if you take a gram of a substance and you put it in a kilogram (1000 grams), the concentration will be 10-3. If you take a gram of the new substance and put it in another fresh kilogram, it will be 10-6 and so on. If you do this 8 times, you reach a concentration of 10-24, which outweighs Avogadro’s number — and that’s when you don’t have any more molecules of the initial substances. Homeopathy often goes way past that number, and there’s just nothing left in to have an effect — even if you assume that the method works.

But does the method really work?

What science says about homeopathy

There is little room for discussion or interpretation here — although there’s been no lack of trying. Study after study has tried to find evidence or even just a workable mechanism for homeopathy, but they’ve found the exact opposite. There’s no mechanism behind homeopathy, and there’s no effect past a placebo.

If this was the case, and water did have a “memory,” we would have to rewrite all of science as we know it. Even ignoring the centuries of scientific research disproving homeopathy, a simple thought experiment can show go a long way when it comes to the process.

Just imagine: in its history, water will have contacted literally millions of other substances, and by this thought process, it has a memory of all of them — so just drinking a glass of regular water should make you immune to a swarm of diseases, right? So then why even have homeopathy — water is naturally diluting all sorts of things, so we should kind of be immune to everything, right?

Lastly, even if there were any active substance, and even if water would have a memory, something that causes symptoms similar to the X disease doesn’t cure X disease. That’s just wishful thinking, and there is nothing to suggest that this works. The scientific consensus is pretty strong on this case. Here are just a few studies:

The list goes on and on.

So why does it seem to work?

OK, but by quoting some of the common responses, lots of people still stand by homeopathy. You often hear things like “This worked for me”, “It worked for millions of people”, and “How can you say it doesn’t work?” Well, here are some of the reasons why homeopathy may appear to work:

a) unassisted natural healing – Your body is awesome at self-healing. Some people are more resilient than others, but generally speaking, your body heals itself all the time. It can eliminate even strong diseases on its own.

b) the placebo effect – Simulated treatments are surprisingly effective in many cases. Combine this with your self-healing, and you get quite a powerful tool.

c) the consultation effect – Modern research has shown that if you just go to the doctor and receive a consultation, the care, concern, and reassurance a patient experiences when opening up to a compassionate caregiver (read: homeopath) can have a positive effect.

d) unrecognized treatments – An unrelated food, exercise, environmental agent, or treatment for a different ailment may have occurred. Maybe you drank a lot of green tea, or that trip to the ocean did wonders for your lungs.

e) regression towards the mean – Many diseases and conditions are cyclical — the symptoms get naturally stronger and weaker in time. Since patients tend to seek care when discomfort is greatest, it’s pretty likely that the symptoms will naturally get weaker.

f) cessation of unpleasant treatment – Many times, homeopaths recommend the ceasing of conventional treatments — this is extremely dangerous and should never be done without consulting an actual medical doctor. Oftentimes, the conventional treatment causes some unpleasant side effects, perhaps even more so than the disease’s symptoms. When you stop taking the treatment, the side effects may go away, but the disease remains and gets.

But even so, what harm can homeopathy actually do?

You may try to go for a win-win strategy, and take both conventional treatments and homeopathic treatments — what have you got to lose, right? Well, technically, nothing. Homeopathy doesn’t do anything bad because, well, it doesn’t really do anything!

The main problem is using only homeopathy as a treatment. This can be very dangerous, as has been shown numerous times; when homeopathy is used in place of real medicine, the risks are real. From Calgary, an avoidable child death has been linked to the use of homeopathy instead of medicine. In 2002, 1-year-old Isabella Denley was prescribed medications for her epilepsy. Instead of using them, her parents consulted an iridologist, an applied kinesiologist, a psychic and an osteopath. She was being treated purely with homeopathic medication when she died. The infant girl, Gloria Thomas, died of complications due to eczema which was treated only with homeopathy. Eczema! This is an easily manageable disease, and her parents were declared guilty of manslaughter — and rightfully so.  By the time she died, she was the weight of an average three-month-old, her body was covered with angry blotches and her once black hair had turned completely white.

These are not isolated cases. Using homeopathy instead of real treatment is dangerous, and you should not do it! If you are rejecting medicine and treating your child only with homeopathy, you’re putting him or her at risk. That’s the bottom line, and there’s no going around it. As Bad Astronomy’s Phil Plait puts it, it is “perhaps the most ridiculous of all ‘alternative’ medicines, since it clearly cannot workdoes not work, and has been tested repeatedly and shown to be useless.” Even though this relatively simple and highly manageable disease killed his daughter, Thomas Sam stood by his beliefs in homeopathy — don’t make the same mistake!

Spoiler alert: no, they are not.

I’d like to make a special mention of homeopathic vaccination — not receiving your (or your child’s) vaccines is especially dangerous, and, as with other treatments, homeopathic vaccinations don’t do anything.

A note on natural remedies

There is a lot of confusion with people mistaking homeopathy with naturopathic treatments. That’s a separate discussion, but for now, let’s just say that the two things are very different. Natural remedies (herbs, teas, plants, etc) are not homeopathy. You should always consult with your doctor or pharmacist before taking anything, and only follow treatments prescribed by an authorized physician.

Homeopathy = placebo, extensive study concludes

Homeopathy is bust, it doesn’t really do anything, it’s just a make-believe treatment. Why do I have to write another article debunking it? Well, because people still buy it. People are still tricked by non-medics non-scientists into using “treatments” which are just a placebo. Homeopathy lacks biological plausibility and the axioms of homeopathy have been refuted for some time; and guess what ? Yet another study concluded the same thing.

Homeopathic remedies are no better than a placebo. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

The draft paper by Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) assessed research into the effectiveness of the alternative medicine on 68 health conditions and concluded “there is no reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective”.

The basic principle behind homeopathy is fairly simple, and sounds logical (which is perhaps why it’s so successful despite no scientific basis). The main idea is to “let likes treat like” – you give the patient highly diluted forms of the ailment it is treating, basically “training” the body against a weaker enemy to defeat the actual disease.

The review showed that homeopathy had no impact on a range of conditions and illnesses including asthma, arthritis, sleep disturbances, cold and flu, chronic fatigue syndrome, eczema, cholera, burns, malaria and heroin addiction. Basically, for all the 68 diseases which were studied, the effects were similar to that of a placebo.

“No good-quality, well-designed studies with enough participants for a meaningful result reported either that homeopathy caused greater health improvements than a substance with no effect on the health condition (placebo), or that homeopathy caused health improvements equal to those of another treatment,” read the report’s summary.

Not really surprisingly, doctors hailed the achievement – they want real treatments, not make-believe.

“Obviously we understand the placebo effect. We know that many people have illnesses that are short lived by its very nature and their bodies will cure them, so it’s very easy for people to fall in the trap that because they did ‘A’, ‘B’ follows,” said Professor John Dwyer, an immunologist and Emeritus Professor of Medicine at the University of New South Wales.

As he explains, one of the biggest problems occur when homeopathy is used instead of vaccines.

“In my point of view as an immunologist, the most serious issue was the spreading of the concept that homeopathic vaccinations were harmless and just as good as orthodox vaccinations. People who believe that are not protecting themselves and their children,” he said.

So there you have it – yet another study, yet another piece of evidence, all indicating the same thing – homeopathy doesn’t work.

 

The most absurd explanation you’ll hear today

Well, the talk is on homeopathy, but this is really not about homeopathy. It’s about the “physics” explanation, and how it manages to be so absurd that it basically urinates on pretty much modern science in just 5 minutes (which is quite an achievement, truth be told). With no disrespect, how she got the “Dr.” title is beyond me, and I hope this is a joke. Actually, I hope she’s on some hard drugs; heavy stuff, really. Then, I could understand. So without further ado, here’s the easiest way to get dumber I’ve come across: