Friday, 11 April 2008

OK, let's all be aware

Today is the second day of World Homeopathy Awareness Week, which starts on a Thursday for no Earthly reason I can understand. So, since they want us all to be so "aware" of their pseudo-medical, fraudulent, dangerous nonsense I thought I'd help out. After all, it'd be rude not to.

So, I thought I'd start with the British Homeopathic Association since they're, well, in Britain and so am I. They're website contains a helpful FAQ on homeopathy , which will save me a lot of time thinking about what to write. Being the lazy sod that I am, I shall simply run down their questions and answer them as best I can. Kind of like an open-book exam where the open book has all the wrong answers in it.

1. What is Homeopathy?
They say:
"Your homeopath builds up a complete picture of you and prescribes treatment for you as an individual, not simply for your complaint."
Doesn't that sound lovely? They'll make a treatment up just for you. One that takes into account that you're 5'10", slightly overweight, work in sales and support Arsenal. I think I'd rather have the treatment for the complaint please. Of course, what this really means is that they take more time to talk to you than our often-overworked GPs. Placebo effects have been shown to be stronger if you take longer to reassure the patient and make friends with them. Of course, throwing in a few jibes about "Big Pharma" trying to kill you with it's poisons probably won't go astray either.

2. How Does it Work?
I have to tell you, I was really looking forward to this one. In my minds eye there was a detailed description of the mechanism by which water "remembers" a molecule it once saw briefly or how shaking it up makes it remember it even more. After that there would, of course, be a description of the biological effects as tested in vitro and in clinical trials.
They say:
"When you have symptoms of illness, your homeopath will give you a remedy which would produce similar symptoms if taken when you were healthy. Sometimes referred to as treating like with like. But this remedy is given in minute quantities so that it triggers your body's self-healing response without any other ill effect."
So, if I have an inflammation that causes pain and swelling, they will give me a very tiny amount (ie. NONE) of something that would normally cause me pain and swelling. Apparently the body will recognize this pain and swelling agent and respond to it, thus reducing my actual symptoms. Now that all sounds very reasonable doesn't it? yes, yes it does, if you are a yoghurt!
Seriously! I have symptoms that are being caused by something. That something is presumably in my body somewhere causing the initial symptoms. How exactly is adding a little bit to those symptoms meant to help me? (assuming of course that nothing in water can cause symptoms at all) I also get somewhat vexed by people who harp on about the body's "natural healing response" as if it's some mysterious entity when in fact it's an inter-related system of very complex mechanisms all acting on specific threats to the survival of the host.
Also, if I am suffering from cyanide poisoning what do they give me? Oh yes, tiny amounts of cyanide! This would be actively malevolent if it weren't for the fact that what I'd actually get is imaginary amounts of cyanide. No, then it'd just be negligent.

3. Why should I try Homeopathy?
You shouldn't. Let's just get that clear now. Don't waste your money and don't buy into the crap about conventional medicine either.
They say:
" Homeopathic remedies are mainly made from natural materials and have almost no side-effects. They are particularly appealing to people who prefer natural products to conventional drugs, those with chronic conditions, and to parents and others responsible for the care of children."
Where to start? Right, "natural" remedies then. Let us say that there is a tree bark that contains an active ingredient that fights, ooh maybe malaria? Right now we can chew on that bark a lot, or preferably mix it into our cocktails if we're feeling refined. So we may very well avoid malaria because of the quinine we got from the bark. However, if we take the bark, we can extract the pure quinine and then run a trial to see how much is safe and how much we actually need to stop the jungle fever. What we then have are two alternatives.
On the one hand we can chew some bark and probably get some quinine out, along with a bunch of other stuff like beetles, animal droppings, moss, earth and any other drugs that are also in the bark. On the other hand we can have our 100mg of purified quinine, administered in the most efficient manner. Which would you choose?
You see, "natural" just means dirty and uncontrolled. People who prefer natural remedies are just fooling themselves that they're not taking drugs when they are. Dirty drugs. Taking properly controlled and tested medications is not the same as eating too much over-processed homogenised food or too much refined sugar no matter how un-New-Age it might seem.
And as for those responsible for children: Take them to a GP. Seriously, they know quite a bit about what might be wrong. And they can tell you about how things actually work in the actual human body. Do not trust made-up medicine, especially when it comes to your children!

4. What can Homeopathy Treat?
Well, it's done wonders for my insanity recently... And as for my lycanthropy, I'm alright noooow? No, alright, don't give up the day-job. Apparently magic water can treat everything:
"from asthma, rheumatism, arthritis, eczema to more simple cases of cuts and bruises."
Well, let's start with this one. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO TREAT YOUR ASTHMA WITH HOMEOPATHY. Really, modern medicine has had quite a while to develop drugs that alleviate the chronic and acute symptoms of asthma. They're not perfect, but then things so rarely are. Expensive little bottles of water are not going to make your asthma go away!
Homeopathy, like all placebos, can treat some symptoms. It can alleviate pain and a nice long conversation with the "doctor" will do wonders for stress. Any symptoms that can be exacerbated by stress may well decrease as a result. The underlying cause, however, will remain.
I am also intrigued as to how it treats cuts and bruises. Although I can't find anything specific on that. All I will say is that the first thing I think of when I cut myself is not taking drugs of any kind (even pretend ones!). Put a sticking plaster on it and some antiseptic cream!

OK, there's more in the FAQ but it does get rather tiresome so I'll just skip on to:
"A fascinating but as yet unexplained characteristic of homeopathic remedies is that the more dilute a remedy, the more effective it is. For example, a remedy diluted 30 times by a factor of 100 (strength 30C) is much more potent than a 6C remedy, even though it contains less of the original substance."
This is about the most wrong statement homeopaths make. The implication is that less of something does more to me than more of something. So I should be able to get homeopathically drunk for a few pence. Hell, we've got ethanol in the lab here, I'll just dilute that a billion times and down a glass! [Disclaimer, do not drink laboratory chemicals...]
I'd love to see them try to back this bollocks up with any kind of logic. Even some common sense would do. There's a reason chemicals have LD50 numbers on them. (Lethal dosage in 50% of people, rats etc.) Less doesn't kill more, it kills less! It's one of those things we've known about for quite a while. By their standard I should either die or be cured of all ills every time I drink tap water which is probably a 30C dilution of almost every known chemical.


Laurie said...

Homeopathy is a load of crap, but I do have to take offense at one thing. I think you seriously insulted the intelligence of Yoghurt.

May The Schwartz be with you.

Stephen Bain said...

In that case I completely retract my statement regarding the intelligence of cultured dairy products.

What if I replaced "yoghurt" with "creationist"?

I'm, er, sure it is. Yup, very Schwartzy around here.

Laurie said...

Creationist works. So does box of rocks.

Spaceballs. One of Mel Brooks really so-so movies that gets better each time you see it.

pode said...

It's Chiropractic Awareness Week now:

Simon Singh has written about it for Comment is Free:

pode said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anfild BC said...

once you come out of your imaginative , thoughtively-for-yourselves a very logical reasoning, that you are pleased to post here ...

and look around for evidences ...

do some experiments ....

you will realize, the homeopathy is not the one which is a crap, rather, the ones who mark homeopathy as crap .

Stephen Bain said...

I have looked.

It's still crap.

The people who really scare me are the ones who think that water can do this magic thing, whilst science has totally failed to spot that they got most of the laws of physics wrong...

If you can explain a plausible mechanism and then if you can show a result in trials (well conducted trials) that is greater than placebo, then we can talk.