Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Article Comments (4)

Fake Medicine: Why Is Homeopathy Still In Use?

Homeopathy, as a cultural phenomenon, remains an enigma. In the two centuries since its invention it has failed to garner significant scientific support. In fact, developments in physics, chemistry, biology, and medicine have shown the underlying concepts of homeopathy to be wrong – guesswork and speculation that lept in the wrong direction.

It turns out, like does not cure like. This is nothing more than sympathetic magic – popular at the time but now considered nothing more than superstition without any scientific basis.

It also turns out that diluting a substance does not make it more potent – this nonsensical idea (ridiculed even in the 19th century) violates the laws of thermodynamics, and the chemical principle of mass action. This is especially true when you dilute a substance beyond the point where chance would have even a single molecule of active ingredient left behind. The background noise of chemicals in homeopathic water is orders of magnitude greater than the signal of whatever had previously been diluted in it.

I also understand that water does not have a magical memory of the vibrations of what was diluted in it. Transient interactions of water molecules does not, by any stretch of the imagination, confer upon water the ability to store and transmit complex chemical information from a solution to a tablet to a biological system.

It is therefore demonstrably true, even with simple high school level science, that the plausibility of homeopathy, for all practical purposes, and to the extent that it is possible to make such statements within the methodology of science – is zero.

If this were not enough, putting aside the non-existent plausibility of homeopathy and the staggering failure of two centuries to validate any of its principles, clinical trials of homeopathic remedies have failed to reliably detect any effect above and beyond placebo effects.

Therefore, in the eyes of science, homeopathy = total fail. It should be laid to rest and relegated to a footnote in the history of science – a pre-scientific idea that survived into modern times as pseudoscience. We can squeeze it in somewhere after healing crystals and before humoral theory and iridology.

But here comes the enigma – why does homeopathy persist at all? It seems that after the rise of science-based medicine in the early 20th century homeopathy was marginalized, but was able to survive because it had already entrenched itself sufficiently in politics and society. It then flew under the radar until the recent rise of CAM – the successful re-branding of fraudulent and unscientific modalities as “natural” and “alternative”.

So successful was this re-branding that the scientific community was partly cowed by the incessant demands for being “open-minded” and for “academic freedom.” This caused many scientists who should have known better to forget themselves, to look the other way while advocates slowly inserted nonsense into the health care structure and academic institutions.

We are beginning to see a push back in the scientific community. Michael Baum and Edzard Ernst have recently published a commentary in The American Journal of Medicine which reflects the new found “permission” within the medical community to once again call nonsense nonsense, and close the door on failed therapies.

Should we keep an open mind about astrology, perpetual motion, alchemy, alien abduction, and sightings of Elvis Presley? No, and we are happy to confess that our minds have closed down on homeopathy in the same way.

They then give a detailed justification for this attitude – a sufficient record of basic science and clinical failure to justify the conclusion that homeopathy cannot and does not work.

There has been criticism from other avenues as well. The World Health Organization (WHO) has traditionally taken a very permissive approach to unscientific medical modalities, motivated by a desire to be “open” to indigenous medicine. The WHO is a political organization, after all, and sometimes politics gets in the way of science.

But they are also advocates for world health, especially for vulnerable populations. It was brought to their attention by an organization called Sense About Science that homeopaths were pushing ineffective homeopathic treatments for malaria, TB, and HIV/AIDS. This forced the WHO to make the following clarifications (among others) regarding their position:

Dr Mukund Uplekar: TB Strategy and Health Systems, WHO: “WHO’s evidence-based guidelines on treatment of tuberculosis…have no place for homeopathic medicines.”

Dr Teguest Guerma, Director Ad Interim, HIV/AIDS Department, WHO: The WHO Dept. of HIV/AIDS invests considerable human and financial resources […] to ensure access to evidence-based medical information and to clinically proven, efficacious, and safe treatment for HIV… Let me end by congratulating the young clinicians and researchers of Sense About Science for their efforts to ensure evidence-based approaches to treating and caring for people living with HIV.”

Dr Sergio Spinaci, Associate Director, Global Malaria Programme, WHO:Thanks for the amazing documentation and for whistle blowing on this issue… The Global Malaria programme recommends that malaria is treated following the WHO Guidelines for the Treatment of Malaria”. (These guidelines do not include any use of homeopathy.)

Homeopathy is no longer flying under the radar. While pushing worthless nostrums for the worried well may be tolerated, they can no longer hide the fact that symptomatic treatment of self-limiting conditions is simply the foot in the door for hardcore quackery – the treatment of serious and even life-threatening illnesses with worthless remedies.

The WHO has recently run up against homeopathy again, this time with respect to the H1N1 pandemic and vaccine. While the WHO is trying to stem a pandemic with a vaccination program, homeopaths seem to be doing everything they can to frustrate this public health measure.

The Swiss Society of Homoeopathic Physicians was recently warning pregnant women not to get vaccinated against H1N1. This forced WHO vaccines chief Marie-Paule Kieny to make the following statements:

“This (advice) may result in putting pregnant women and their fetuses at risk of severe consequences in case of pandemic influenza virus infection.

“We … regret that the recommendation of the Swiss Society of Homoeopathic Physicians does not take WHO recommendations in this matter into consideration,” she said.

This is also not an isolated incident of homeopaths warning against the vaccine, claiming that homeopathy can treat the flu and prevent the pandemic. A Google search of “flu” and “homeopathy” leads to numerous homeopaths and homeopathic groups making similar claims. The National Center for Homeopathy writes:

Homeopathy has a long and impressive track record in epidemics of all kinds, including influenza, and we are confident of its potential now.

Homeopaths argue that homeopathy was effective in treating the 1918 H1N1 pandemic. Their reliance upon historical records, however, is demonstrably absurd. Such data is uncontrolled and highly unreliable. It reflects their preference for reliance upon low quality data rather than higher quality controlled data.

While the current generation of scientists and regulators are beginning to wake up to the fact that homeopathy is dangerous quackery, the public is still largely uninformed. Homeopathic products are often marketed simply as “natural” leading to widespread confusion in the public as to what, exactly, homeopathy is. Most people believe it is a synonym for herbal or natural remedies.

I encounter many patients and people with these false assumptions, and they are often shocked to learn the truth about homeopathy.

We need to have an open and transparent discussion in our society about homeopathy. The science has spoken – homeopathy is a failed belief system that has no place in modern health care. It is also a great example of the dangers of allowing a system of medicine that is based upon pseudoscience to flourish. Such systems will never limit themselves to “harmless” symptomatic treatments.

Given the evidence and the state of the science, the only responsible position is to completely dismantle homeopathy and close the door on this pseudoscience once and for all.

*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*

You may also like these posts

    None Found

Read comments »

4 Responses to “Fake Medicine: Why Is Homeopathy Still In Use?”

  1. Joy Metcalf says:

    Homeopathy has a long history of cures, and if you look into the history of epidemics in both Europe and the U.S.A., you’ll find that homeopathy has far outdone conventional medicine. This article is the usual bashing that has gone on since Hahnemann first blasted the medical profession of his day. There are many, many outstanding studies which prove the efficacy of homeopathy. You can believe or not, as you wish, but as i said in a previous email, it depends on the skill of the homeopath to find the correct remedy. One size does not fit all.

    You also ought to look into what ‘science” claims, since, according to the British Journal of Medicine, only 17% of conventional medical claims are accurate. Pharmaceuticals suppress, they do not cure. Homeopathy stimulates the body to heal itself. There is a place for both. I’d suggest that instead of looking at bashing articles, you talk to well-respected homeopaths and ask them why they switched from conventional medicine to homeopathy. The answer is always the same: “I actually help my patients with homeopathy. I realized that conventional medicine just covered the symptoms.” Then ask people who have actually used homeopathy successfully for years.

    My own son was cured of mental illness using homeopathy. A friend was having an allergic reaction to something she ate. Her throat was swelling, and the remedy I gave her reversed that swelling within seconds. I could give you many examples of homeopathic use with my family,, friends, and animals. Have your suspicions if you will, but you’ll never convince me or others who have used it successfully for years.

    You’re a doctor. Talk to Glen Dupree or Susan Beal, both homeopathic vets. Then ask Will Taylor, M.D., (you can find him online) who was cured of horrible asthma, or visit and find the names of other M.D.’s that became homeopaths. Then go talk to these “frauds” that make such “fraudulent claims”.

    Any quackbusting website is a source of suspicion to me, because i know I’ll encounter a narrow mindselt that sets up “science” to be its god. This one is no different.

  2. Erick Libby says:

    “If this were not enough, putting aside the non-existent plausibility of homeopathy and the staggering failure of two centuries to validate any of its principles, clinical trials of homeopathic remedies have failed to reliably detect any effect above and beyond placebo effects.”

    I agree that the re-branding of homeopathy as alternative or organic is what changed peoples negativity with the subject. However, I’m thinking that it will continue to survive years from now. That is because until the placebo effect is experienced by some then the belief in it will never die. It will only lessen but it will go on. – Erick

  3. kurtz says:

    Yes homeopathy and other forms of hoax healings work. Maybe we should settle witch doctors from india and africa. After all faith is greater than science. Ridiculous!

  4. Dr.Binuraj.T.K, MD(hom) says:

    Homoeopathy is the last invented medical science or therapeutic system in the world so far. There is no proper technology available in this world to explain the working of homoeopathic medicines till today. It means Homoeopathy is a pseudo science or not a medicine???? At last some of it can be explained on the basis of Nanotechnology. (IIT-B team shows how homeopathy works — Times of India 16-12-2010)

    1 nm is equals to 10-9 of a unit, that means 1 Nano unit is 10-9 of a unit, that is equals to 9x potency of homoeopathic medicine. As you know when 1 gram material is potentised and divided into 0.000000001 of the crude substance ,its potency become 9X .Nano unit is the basic measurement in Nanotechnology.
    Experiments carryout through this science is about the fractions of this basic units. Scientists found out that by the process of nanification, atoms can be arranged in new order and form new molecules showing unbelievable properties when compare with the mother substance. This is the explanation applicable to homoeopathy.

    There are numerous scientists and physicists who have done tests on high dilutions to prove that they have effects. 3 Nobel Laureate scientists (Hans Von Euler – Chemistry 1930, Brian David Josephson – 1975 Physics and Luc Montagnier Physiology and Medicine 2008 have done tests on high dilutions to prove that it works. Homoeopathic medicines work at genetic level.

    You know Modern medicine is floating on already failed foolish Germ theory. Our homeostasis of body is maintained at the genetic level. If there is problem in that level, our immunity will be deranged. Then only micro organism enter into our cells. Simply by administering Antibiotics, allopaths can destroy them. But who will rectify the poisonous effect of that synthetic chemical caused by that antibiotics in our body and later the root cause at the genetic level will become more worse.

    There are mainly 3 factors are responsible for all diseases according to allopaths.
    1. Scarcity of some chemicals in our body ( Allopaths supplement them with similar synthetic chemicals, thus destroying the natural internal biochemistry in our body.)
    2. Excess of some chemicals in our body ( reduce them with administering another synthetic chemicals, again deranging our internal biochemistry)
    3. Micro organism ( Allopaths destroy them with antibiotics or other anti micro organism medicines. They are not interested to search why microorganisms enter in our body. That should be corrected first. But they don’t know how to do that. By administering antibiotics the micro organisms will be destroyed but the cause behind the entry of microorganism in to our cells remains as such. These synthetic chemicals again worsen our body’s immune power or natural balanced internal biochemistry and within few months another set of more important organs start to work badly.)
    4. Surgical correction – The above explained reasons are the causes of surgical diseases at long run. The changed internal biochemistry due to strong synthetic chemicals causes problems at genetic level leading to such surgical diseases later. Simply by cutting and removing those body parts how we can
    correct the problems at the root genetic level. Actually after surgery, our body’s natural equilibrium will be destroyed deeply and causes more important diseases in the near future.

    99% of diseases in this world are iatrogenic or artificial chronic disease. Homoeopathy is for chronic diseases. Whatever may be the technique behind the action of homoeopathic medicines in our body HOMOEOPATHY WORKS First of all try to understand what is homoeopathy. study homoeopathy from its genetic level.
    We have 100s of documented cured cases of Autoimmune diseases, cancers and so called incurable diseases. cured with 1 or 2 doses of HOMOEOPATHIC medicines.

Return to article »

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

Read more »

How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

Read more »

The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

Read more »

Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

Read more »

See all book reviews »