What are the principles behind Homeopathy and does it work?
Via Skeptical Raptor
In case you’re assuming that it can, it really can’t.
Since any reasonable person would understand that homeopathy violates some of the basic principles of physics, chemistry and biology. And because there is no viable mechanism that would make you think homeopathy actually could work, clinical trials show that it doesn’t work, or, at best, it is a mythical placebo. So, if it doesn’t work in clinical trials, and there is no possible mechanism underlying it, employing Occam’s Razor, we would have to say the simplest explanation is the best: Homeopathy does not work. It’s a lie. It’s a scam. Period. End of story.
The current outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa has been making significant headlines lately. The virus is deadly, with a mortality rate well over 90%, easily transmitted by any bodily fluid, and there is no known cure. The course of the disease is horrifying, starting with symptoms similar to a bad flu, but eventually leading to blood clotting problems, failing organs like the kidney and liver, then finally death. The disease is not selective about whom it attacks, young or old, healthy or not.
Early treatment may increase the survival chance, since there is no known cure. Treatment focuses on replenishing fluids, maintaining proper blood pressure, replacing lost blood, and treating related infections.
And there is no vaccine to prevent the virus from infecting individuals. This isn’t a massive conspiracy to prevent a new vaccine from coming to the market. Developing the vaccine has been incredibly difficult because traditional vaccine development strategies, such as inactivation, have not been successful. In fact, several vaccines have shown to be successful in preventing Ebola infection in animals and non-human primates, but as I’ve said many times, success in animals only rarely translates to success in humans. Those vaccines that have shown promise are now undergoing substantial clinical trials, but human clinical trials for vaccines are complex and take time. In fact, there might Ebola vaccines available in the next few months.
Of course, the lack of a cure or prevention for Ebola means the anti-science quack pushers are out in force. And that means homeopaths.
Dr. Gail Derin studied the symptoms of Ebola Zaire, the most deadly of the three that can infect human beings. Dr. Vickie Menear, M.D. and homeopath, found that the remedy that most closely fit the symptoms of the 1914 “flu” virus, Crolatus horridus, also fits the Ebola virus nearly 95% symptom-wise! Thanks go to these doctors for coming up with the following remedies:
1. Crolatus horridus (rattlesnake venom) 2. Bothrops (yellow viper) 3. Lachesis (bushmaster snake) 4. Phosphorus 5. Mercurius Corrosivus
Yes, three snake venoms. Ebola is dangerous, but I’m not sure getting venom from snakes is a risk I’m willing to take, even if all of this pseudoscience actually worked. Oh, and the irony of “Mercurius Corrosivus”, which is nothing more than mercuric chloride. Yes, mercury. My irony meter just blew up.
Alternative Medicine’s best friend, and in my opinion largely responsible for what popularity it has, is a gullible media. I had thought we were turning a corner, and the press were over the gushing maximally clueless approach to CAM, and were starting to at least ask some probing questions (like, you know, does it actually work), but a 2006 BBC documentary inspires a more pessimistic view.
The documentary is part of a BBC series hosted by Kathy Sykes: Alternative Medicine, The Evidence. This episode is on acupuncture. The episode is from 2006, but was just posted on YouTube as a “2014 documentary.” Unfortunately, old news frequently has a second life on social media.
First, let me point out that Sykes is a scientist (a fact she quickly points out). She is a physicist, which means that she has the credibility of being able to say she is a scientist but has absolutely no medical training. It’s the worst case scenario – she brings the credibility of being a scientist, and probably thinks that her background prepares her to make her own judgments about the evidence, and yet clearly should have relied more on real experts.
She does interview Edzard Ernst in the documentary, but he mainly just says generic statements about science, rather than a thorough analysis of specific claims. I wonder what gems from him were left on the cutting room floor.
The documentary does get better in the second half, as she starts to mention things like placebo effects, and the problems with the evidence-base for acupuncture. But she follows a disappointing format – setting up a scientific premise, then focusing on the positive evidence. There is a clear narrative throughout, that acupuncture is amazing and surprising.
Most people have heard of the placebo effect. The name comes from the Latin word meaning “I will please,” and refers to the phenomenon that people who are given an ineffective medication after being told that it will ameliorate their symptoms often find that the symptoms do, indeed, abate. The mechanism is still not well elucidated — it has been suggested that some of the effect might be caused by the brain producing “endogenous opioids” when a placebo is administered, causing decreased sensations of pain, feelings of well-being, and sounder sleep. But the fact is, we still don’t fully understand it.
Less well-known, but equally well-documented, is the nocebo effect. “Nocebo” means “I will harm” in Latin, and it is more or less the placebo effect turned on its head. If a person is told that something will cause pain, or bring him/her to harm, it sometimes does — even if there’s no rational reason why it would. Individuals who believe in voodoo curses, for example, sometimes show actual medically detectable symptoms, even though such curses are merely empty superstition. Nevertheless, if you believe in them, you might feel their effects.
Naturally, this further bolsters the superstition itself, which ramps up the anxiety and fear, which makes the nocebo more likely to happen the next time, and so round and round it goes. And this seems to be what is happening right now in Uganda — a bizarre phenomenon called “numbers disease.”
In “numbers disease,” an affected individual suddenly notices a raised pattern on his/her skin that looks like a number. The number that appears, it is said, represents the number of days the person has left. Once the number shows up, the individual begins to sicken, and when the allotted time is up, the person dies.
Homeopathy is no more effective than a placebo, according to an extensive study by a peak science body.
The draft paper by Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) assessed research into the effectiveness of the alternative medicine on 68 health conditions and concluded “there is no reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective”.
Homeopathy claims to “let likes cure like,” by using highly diluted forms of the ailment it is treating. The Australian Homeopathic Association states the practice treats patients as a “whole person, taking into account personality, lifestyle and hereditary factors as well as the history of the disease.”
But the NHMRC review, conducted by a working committee of medical experts, said it had no impact on a range of conditions and illnesses including asthma, arthritis, sleep disturbances, cold and flu, chronic fatigue syndrome, eczema, cholera, burns, malaria and heroin addiction.
For the 68 conditions – including those listed – the review either concluded definitively that homeopathy was not more effective than a placebo, or at the very least there was no reliable evidence to suggest it was.
“No good-quality, well-designed studies with enough participants for a meaningful result reported either that homeopathy caused greater health improvements than a substance with no effect on the health condition (placebo), or that homeopathy caused health improvements equal to those of another treatment,” read the report’s summary.
Doctors welcomed the findings.
Professor John Dwyer, an immunologist and Emeritus Professor of Medicine at the University of New South Wales, told Guardian Australia that the report was long overdue.
“Obviously we understand the placebo effect. We know that many people have illnesses that are short lived by its very nature and their bodies will cure them, so it’s very easy for people to fall in the trap that because they did ‘A’, ‘B’ follows,” he said.