Homeopathic Medicine is an Oxymoron May 30, 2010

Homeopathic Medicine is an Oxymoron

Next week, the British Medical Association may “lobby for homoeopathy to be banned from the UK National Health Service.”

It’s a long overdue move.

Homeopathic medicine is nothing but a placebo that gullible people choose to take. The government shouldn’t be paying for their delusional thinking.

Pratik Kanjilal writes in the Hindustan Times that this would be a foolish move. Here’s just one excerpt from his irresponsible piece:

… homoeopathy is routinely denounced because no one knows how it works. But a physician should be asking a simpler question: does it work for my patient? The doctor’s primary concern is to offer a cure, or at least comfort. Ruminations about its scientific basis come later. Many patients turn to alternative schools when mainstream medicine fails and leaves them facing chronic disability and pain, or the inscrutable mystery of death. Unless homoeopathy is unequivocally proven to be quackery, which is not the case, it is irresponsible of doctors to bar access to it. It smacks of scientific fundamentalism.

It. Is. Quackery. Unequivocal quackery.

Hell, watch a group of skeptics “overdosing” on homeopathic medicine:

Nothing happens to them. Because there’s nothing in those pills.

As if it ought to be the last word, Kanjilal finishes his piece with this:

And by the way, did I mention that Queen Elizabeth II has a personal homeopath?

Wow…. who cares.

I would think the Queen also has a real medical staff to look after her.

This whole article is representative of the homeopathic side: the pills make them feel good, so there must be some science involved.

Onetechmonkey points out flaws throughout the piece and is worth a read.

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  • Claudia

    Homeopathy has been proven to be quackery and spending money on placebos that could go to actual medical treatment is unethical and…

    ahh why bother?

    Anyone who rails against “scientific fundamentalism” when arguing for their particular brand of quackery is beyond persuasion. One can only hope to limit the number of children who die at their hands.

  • My favorite website on the subject is: How Does Homeopathy Work?

    The answer is a resounding, “It doesn’t.”

  • Just in case anyone has any doubts that Hemant is right… some homeopathic preparations have so diluted whatever ingredients were in them that you may not even have a single molecule of the substance left in the entire bottle of “medicine”… but a homeopath will tell you that this dilution just makes it even more potent.

    And the ingredients aren’t the sort of active ingredients you’d find in actual medicine. For example… a homeopathic “treatment” for a bee sting might be made of diluted bee venom. Or a homeopathic “treatment” of poisoning could be diluted deadly nightshade. Homeopathy is based off of the non-scientific concept of sympathetic magic – that is, “like cures like;” something similar to whatever caused the problem can cure it.

    Brian Dunning’s Skeptoid podcast has a fantastic episode about it that I suggest everyone listen to.

  • JD

    The slightly more accurate answer is that homeopathy only works by letting the user think it works, basically a fancy placebo. Maybe they’re good treatments to give to hypochondriacs that can’t be persuaded that they’re perfectly fine.

    People with real medical illnesses should get real medical treatment. Having an illness that “mainstream” medicine can’t treat doesn’t mean people should be running to snake oil.

  • Aegis

    Don’t worry. It makes *homeopathic* sense.
    Drink in enough of the nonsense, you’ll eventually have enough of it sloshing around your brain to wash away that sickness of skepticism.
    /unwieldy sarcasm

  • Alex

    I’m allergic to most any medication you can think of, and I’ve had success with a few natural remedies when I started as skeptical as you all. I’m not arguing it’s better than Western medicine, because obviously it’s not, nor did I expect it to “cure” more than manage symptoms or treat any major illness like cancer. My menstrual cycle causes terrible, debilitating migraines that result in vomitting and blurred vision. I have heart problems that are even exacerbated by the most low-dose birth control pills like Mircette, so my regular gynecologist didn’t know how to treat me besides large doses of Maxalt. I ended up speaking to a friend who knew someone who drank honeybush tea while she was nursing to manage hormones and got her email address. We were able to figure out a blend of feverfew, peppermint, white willow, and raspberry leaf I take about a week before I start and I can’t believe how much it’s helped. Feverfew contains borneol, camphor, melatonin, parthenolide, and tanetin. White willow is used in aspirin. Peppermint helps with the nausea. And so on and so on. It’s not all quackery, though I’d be hard pressed to find anything beyond stress control acupuncture actually does. Banning isn’t the answer. Warning lables probably are. We’re not all hippies afraid of doctors and needles.

  • amey

    @Alex – herbal teas are different from homeopathy.

  • Alex

    Would it be any different if I said I took a dilution of feverfew? I just don’t want to let this grow into a greater attack on alternative medicine, some of which does work.

  • Claudia

    @Alex, an herbal tea is by no means the same thing as a homeopathic “remedy”. Herbs have chemical substances in them. Some can be helpful and others not. I drink chamomile tea when I have an upset stomach.

    Homeopathy consists in ultradiluted substances. When I say ultradiluted I mean so diluted the chance there is ANY of the original substance in the final solution is infintesimal. The standard dilution is 30C. This means 1 part of the active substance diluted in an amount of water that is 1 with THIRTY zeroes behind it. Keep in mind that a 1 in 10 solution would be just one zero and 1 in 100 2 zeroes. Lotta water eh? Read the wiki on homeopathy for a good laugh.

    I’m not even suggesting it be banned. Like prayer, whatever insane and ineffective thing someone wants to do to try to treat themselves is their business. But NHS is tax-payer funded healthcare and ONLY scientifically sound treatments should be funded.

  • Casimir

    Would it be any different if I said I took a dilution of feverfew? I just don’t want to let this grow into a greater attack on alternative medicine, some of which does work.

    “You know what they call ‘alternative medicine’ that’s been proved to work? Medicine!” –Tim Minchin

  • Bob

    Well, we’re essentially indulging in ‘homeopathic education,’ (small doses of the ‘essence’ of education have the same effect as the real thing) and we can all see how well THAT’s working for us.

  • Mark

    In Canada, we have a simple solution to keeping this kind of crap from being covered by the public system. Only “necessary” medical procedures are covered by the public system. Since you can’t prove that homeopathy works, you can’t show it’s necessary.

    There are people in Canada who want “alternative” medicine covered by the public system, but the “necessary” qualifier gets in the way, and trying to remove the “necessary” qualifier isn’t a politically winnable argument.

  • Autumnal Harvest


    Banning isn’t the answer.

    A clarification is in order here. The “banning” being discussed here isn’t a ban on using homeopathy. It’s a decision on the part of the government not to pay for it. Even if you have an “open mind” with regard to homeopathy, it’s reasonable for the government to not want to pay for a treatment without evidence that it works.

    With regard to your specific treatments: I’d say that some things that are considered “alternative medicine” may turn out to be effective. There are plausible reasons to think that many traditional herbal remedies might be effective (although I wouldn’t want the government to pay for one without scientific evidence that it was effective). With homeopathy, it’s not just that we “don’t know how it works” – it’s that it makes no sense that it would work, and we have no evidence that it works.

  • EK

    There are homeopathic medicines with ingredients that work. I once tried to figure out what was in a medicine for coughing children. My sister gives it to her children. It appeared that it had substances of plants that are not used in regular medicines anymore because of possible dangerous side effects.

    Regarding all ingredients, it was as if that company took a recipe from the 19th century, added some sweeteners and now sells it as homeopathic/natural.

  • Stephen P

    To clarify something that may not be clear to everyone: there are (at least in Europe) three different things that go under the name of “homeopathy”.

    1) Classic homeopathy: this is based on the ‘similia’ principle, high dilutions and individual consultations. According to classic homeopaths it is essential that the treatment be specifically tailored to the patient (how precisely is never properly explained); this is their excuse for not submitting to double-blind testing.

    2) Mass-market homeopathy: this is also based on the ‘similia’ principle and high dilutions, but further on the assumption that the same treatment is applicable to everyone and that individual consultations are not necessary.

    Obviously these two forms are in direct conflict. If anyone says to you that homeopathy works, be sure to ask them which homeopathy they are talking about. (Odds are that they don’t even know what the difference is.)

    3) Herbal medicines: not homeopathic at all, but sold as homeopathic because (a) EU law exempts suppliers of homeopathic treatments from demonstrating their effectiveness (aaaargh) en (b) doesn’t properly define what homeopathic treatments actually are (aaaargh squared).

  • gribblethemunchkin

    I was part of the 1023 protests in Manchester. My first piece of skeptical activism. Was quite amusing, not sure many people around us knew what was going on, although we did get to explain the whole thing to some friendly cops. They turned up after our organiser was spotted on CCTV handing out pill vials like a particularly middle class drug dealer. One of the cops was a little concerned for us all overdosing but after we explained that its just sugar, she was ok.
    Its almost a done deal now that the National Health Service (which by the way, is great, I feel awful for you yanks that your healthcare reform didn’t get you single payer) is going to stop funding homeopathy.
    Sadly in the recent elections we lost the best skeptic in parliament, Evan Harris, and it remains to be seen how woo-friendly the new coalition will be. The Tories have a strong god/queen/country wing in their party.

  • Rosanna

    It’s freedom of thought! Since the pill does something for them, EVEN IF it is just a placebo effect, we can’t and shouldn’t prevent them from taking it. If it has no effect, than it can cause no harm. Everybody has his/her own placebo… there’s the ones who use watching soccer as a placebo, others who use books in order to constantly validate their opinions (and never disprove it). As long as they keep on using that stuff on themselves – and paying the consequences for that (IF there are, and whatever they are), I say they are entitled to take whatever they want.

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