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It’s Homeopathic Awareness Week!

Via Dave Gorski, I’ve learned that it’s Homeopathic Awareness Week. Homeopathy, in case you’re not aware, is the belief that incredibly dilute solutions of non-pharmacologically active herbs can somehow cure disease. Basically, it’s making magic potions, minus the magic part. Also, minus the curing disease part. To celebrate, here’s a great sketch on the subject from the BBC show That Mitchell and Webb Look (also a hat tip to Gorski).

Suffice to say, the clinical evidence that these remedies work is non-existent.

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About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp writes about pretty much everything under the sun, including politics, art, religion, philosophy, sports, music, culture, and science.

Comments

  1. DC Loser says:

    I wouldn’t be so dismissive of homeopathic or herbal medicine. Western medicine is incredibly dismissive of traditional herbal medicine although we really don’t understand how they work. Civilizations throughout thousands of years have developed herbal remedies that can be quite effective. I’ve come to the believe that ingesting all kinds of chemicals into your body in the name of medicine is also not such a good idea. I’m willing to give herbal medicine a try as an alternative to modern pharmaceuticals.

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  2. Alex Knapp says:

    DC -

    Rigorous clinical testing of homeopathic remedies all have the same result – they don’t perform. Period, end of story. You can’t “understand how they work” because all the available evidence suggests that they don’t work at all.

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  3. John Burgess says:

    There’s really not much overlap between herbalism and homeopathy, other than that the latter claims that non-existent doses of herbs might be effective.

    Herbalism certainly does show results, not always benign, not always as advertised, but herbs certainly can do things to the body. Hemlock or marijuana, belladonna or aconite, they’ve all demonstrable effect.

    On the other hand, homeopathic solutions can be demonstrated to have zero effect outside of their placebo effect.

    Oh, they do have one other effect: They separate fools from their money very effectively.

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  4. The theory is that the water remembers. That’s all anyone has to know about homeopathy.

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  5. Brett says:

    Yeah, “homeopathy” is basically just a different way of saying “It’s magic”.

    Of course, there’s a lot of New Age stuff that can be described that way. Think of Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret. A more blunt way of describing the “secret” would be to call it what it is – wishful thinking – but this type of self-help stuff is popular.

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  6. Brett says:

    Civilizations throughout thousands of years have developed herbal remedies that can be quite effective.

    Through a process of trial and error that got rid of many that didn’t work (but not all of them). Besides, homeopathy ruins even that, by reducing the dosage down to nearly nothing.

    I’ve come to the believe that ingesting all kinds of chemicals into your body in the name of medicine is also not such a good idea.

    You ingest “all kinds of chemicals” every time you drink a glass of non-distilled water, or breath air outdoors. Dosage is the key.

    I’m willing to give herbal medicine a try as an alternative to modern pharmaceuticals.

    I’ll take medicine tested in double-blind trials over some random herbal medicine whose effectiveness is entangled with the placebo effect anyday.

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  7. Ben says:

    I wouldn’t be so dismissive of homeopathic or herbal medicine. Western medicine is incredibly dismissive of traditional herbal medicine although we really don’t understand how they work. Civilizations throughout thousands of years have developed herbal remedies that can be quite effective.

    There is no “western medicine” or “alternative medicine”. The things that have been shown to work (whether we know the precise mechanism or not) are collectively known as “medicine”.

    I’ve come to the believe that ingesting all kinds of chemicals into your body in the name of medicine is also not such a good idea.

    As has already been stated, you ingest thousands of chemicals every single day by eating, drinking and breathing. That doesn’t mean that any of them are necessarily harmful. I’ll never understand the pervasive paranoia people have developed about anything that is “lab-created”, “chemicals”, or “unnatural”.

    I’m willing to give herbal medicine a try as an alternative to modern pharmaceuticals.

    And I’m willing to wager that the only thing that you will be rid of is your money.

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  8. John Burgess says:

    Here’s a brief list of toxins, mutagens, carcinogens, and other treats found in ‘natural’ foods.

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  9. steve says:

    It has been years, but I used to give a regular lecture on herbal medicines. Many of them do have beneficial effects, but there is a lack of controlled studies on most of them. Europeans, especially the Germans IIRC, have published some good stuff. One of the other big problems is knowing exactly what and how much you are getting when you take an herbal remedy. It is not always labeled and quality control is lacking. Homeopathy makes no sense. Go with chants and leeches, much more entertaining.

    Steve

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  10. MarkedMan says:

    On a recent trip to England, there was an interesting column in one of the papers about the fact that the national health service was still reimbursing for homeopathic medicines despite there being tons of studies showing they were completely ineffective. Some interesting points:
    1) Prince Charles is a big supporter of homeopathic medicine.
    2) The bottom line was that too many people wanted this stuff and the government wasn’t going to start saying no as it feared retaliation (see number 1 above). And before someone points to this as an advantage of the US based system where an insurance company could just cut it off, be aware that there are a number of insurance companies that have a policy of supporting this junk. They know it isn’t effective, but it keeps people from getting more expensive, effective treatments.
    3) The really scary part? An MP, a physician, went around to a couple of dozen pharmacies and asked the pharmacist for recommendations for an infant that had severe diarrhea for four days. 70% recommended homeopathic treatments. A child can die under these circumstances! They are missing salts and other minerals from their body. There is nothing in homeopathic treatments but water, even the homeopathic promoters acknowledge this, even brag about it.

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  11. Grewgills says:

    About as believable as this.

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  12. Franklin says:

    I’ll never understand the pervasive paranoia people have developed about anything that is “lab-created”, “chemicals”, or “unnatural”.

    You’ll really never understand this?

    I had my first child a few years ago. Do you know how sick I felt to my stomach after they announced how dangerous BPA was and that I discovered we had been feeding him with a bottle made of one for well over a year?

    And then there’s asbestos, lead, nanotechnology, that crap triclosan they put in antibacterial soap (that news just came out a few days ago), etc. Several times a year we discover how some random new chemical that was thought to be safe is nowhere near safe.

    But to you, that would be no problem whatsoever. Who cares if my kid grows up impotent from the BPA, right? Glory be to our corporations, spitting out thousands of new untested chemicals every year! It’s capitalism, right? The invisible hand is perfect, as always!

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  13. MarkedMan says:

    You’ll really never understand this?

    I had my first child a few years ago. Do you know how sick I felt to my stomach after they announced how dangerous BPA was and that I discovered we had been feeding him with a bottle made of one for well over a year?

    And then there’s asbestos, lead, nanotechnology, that crap triclosan they put in antibacterial soap (that news just came out a few days ago), etc. Several times a year we discover how some random new chemical that was thought to be safe is nowhere near safe.

    I understand your concern, and it’s better safe than sorry. BPA appears to have problems but it is hardly the end of the world. As for asbestos, we, as a nation have wasted billions of dollars pulling it out of places it was doing no harm. As of a few years ago, no link between asbestos insulation and disease had been shown, except for the very, very real problem of the workers who made it in the first place.

    Lead on the other hand, is a very real and concrete threat and it took over 50 years to get it out of gasoline. I’m old enough to remember the conservative mantra about that – “It will ruin your engines if we don’t have lead!!”. Interestingly, that was at a time when odometers didn’t even go past 99,999 miles, because who would keep a car longer than that? Damn tree-huggers!

    The bottom line: don’t believe everything you read. If something is truly bad there will be dramatic differences. If it is only marginally bad, like BPA, there will be years going back and forth until the science is settled, and it will probably be settled at a relatively low risk factor. Real, but not run-around-with-your-hair-on-fire real.

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