Never in a million years would I have dreamed I would be able to say this, but I actually recommended a homeopathic remedy today. To briefly review, for anyone who may be under the mistaken impression that homeopathic remedies actually do anything – they don’t. Here’s why in a nutshell:
Homeopathy is an unscientific and absurd pseudoscience, which persists today as an accepted form of complementary medicine, despite there never having been any reliable scientific evidence that it works.
So what on earth possessed me to seriously recommend it? I’ll tell you.
I saw a beautiful little four-month-old today whose mother thinks he might be teething. Everyone thinks their four-month-olds are teething because they start getting more drooly as their hand-mouth coordination improves, allowing them to get more things into their mouths. Most of the time they don’t actually get their teeth until about six months, though four month olds pop out teeth often enough to keep us on their toes. I told her this. She’s cool. Here’s her problem:
“The daycare is getting fussy. They want me to bring in the Oragel. I don’t really think he needs it, and I don’t like the idea of giving medicine when it’s not really necessary.”
Daycares can be fussier than babies sometimes. That’s when I realized that a homeopathic teething remedy is the perfect solution:
The baby is happy because someone’s rubbing his gums.
Mom is happy because the baby’s not getting any medicine.
Daycare is happy because they’re “doing something.”
Regular readers of the Better Health blog are familiar with the shoddy science behind homeopathy (an outdated system of “medical” treatment that relies on water dilution and shaking to ‘”strengthen” the effects of drugs). But because homeopathic placebos have been marketed so successfully (even receiving paid endorsements from hockey teams), the Ontario government has decided to regulate homeopathic practices.
In this terrific news exposé, reporters ask if it’s appropriate for the government to regulate health scams. In doing so, are they not lending credibility to modern-day snake oil? Check out these videos and let me know what you think. Is there a roll for government in regulating homeopathy?
David Kroll, Ph.D. and I share more than an appreciation for bibs and crab legs (pictured at left during our recent “academic” rendezvous) – we are pro-science bloggers who want to understand the evidence for (or against) health treatment options, both in the natural product world and beyond. At our recent meet up at The Palm we discussed homeopathy – a bizarre pseudoscientific approach to medicine often confused with herbalism. Homeopaths believe that “like cures like” (for example, since an onion causes your eyes to water and nose to run, then it’s a good cure for a cold) and that homeopathic remedies become more potent the more dilute they are. So if you want a really strong medicine, you need to mix it with so much water that not even a molecule of it is left in the treatment elixir. Of course, homeopathy may have a placebo effect among its believers – but there is no scientific mechanism whereby tinctures of water (with or without a molecule of onion or other choice ingredient like arsenic) can have an effect beyond placebo.
David graduated with his B.S. in toxicology from one of the most prestigious schools in the country, the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science (PCP&S). In the early 1900s PCP&S graduates were critical players in combating snake oil hucksters and establishing chemical standards, safety, and efficacy guidelines for therapeutic agents. So it was with utter amazement that he received recent news that PCP&S was planning to award an Honorary Doctorate of Science to a major leader in homeopathy – on Founders’ Day, no less.
“Our founders would be rolling in their graves,” David told me. And he wrote a letter of complaint to the University president which you can read here. This is a choice excerpt:
Awarding Mr. Borneman an Honorary Doctor of Science is an affront to every scientist who has ever earned a degree from the University and, I would suspect, all current faculty members who are engaged in scientific investigation. Homeopathy is a fraudulent representation of pharmacy and the pharmaceutical sciences that continues to exist in the United States due solely to political, not scientific, reasons. Indeed, homeopathic remedies are defined as drugs in the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act [21 U.S.C. 321] Section 201(g)(1) as a result of the 1938 actions of U.S. Senator Royal Copeland (D-NY), a noted homeopath of his time. But scientifically, homeopathic remedies are nothing more than highly-purified water misrepresented as medicine based upon an archaic practice that is diametrically opposed to all pharmacological principles.
Honoring people who actively promote pseudoscience is wrong in many ways as David points out. I would also add that doing so confuses the public. If academic institutions committed to scientific integrity lend their names to cranks, then it makes it more difficult for the average person to distinguish quackery from science. I have the utmost sympathy for the patients out there who are trying to figure out fact from fiction in medicine. That is why I have a “trusted sources” tab on my blog – please click on them for guidance regarding health information you can trust.
As for PCP&S, if they value their academic principles (as no doubt many within the organization do) the president should rescind his offer to honor Mr. Borneman’s “entrepreneurial spirit” on founder’s day (February 19th, 2009). Finding a way to sell water to people as cures for their diseases is certainly entrepreneurial – but I see nothing honorable about it. I hope that President Gerbino sees the light before founder’s day.
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