Nov 12 2011

Myths versus the Truth of Homeopathy

Now listen very carefully Avicenna!
When you click the pen three times in a row,
it will break and you will have to go get a new one.

Apparently we in the medical industry are heavily paid (yeah right) by Big Pharma to spread a disinformation campaign about homeopathy. And apparently the secret to everlasting life is in stationery since the only things I have ever gotten from a pharmaceutical giant for free are supplies of stationery. Basically my pen says Disprin on it and it probably like any other click ballpoint pen out there, except that exploding one from Golden Eye.
Homeopath is the biggest quack group out there, their infiltration into the third world (Homeopathy is very big in India and China) is aided by poorly educated and corrupt politicians who themselves don’t know what it’s about and ignorance. You see, homoeopaths do not portray themselves as anything less than an equal to a doctor. The entire persona of a homoeopath is designed to provide the illusion that they are the equivalent of a doctor. 

In response, I shall start wearing
a fez.
For instance, the white coat is actually being slowly phased out of medicine on accounts that it is a great way to spread disease and it honestly impedes the doctor. However, patients do expect the perceived uniform of a doctor to be present, somehow thinking that modern doctors with their short sleeved shirts and lack of extreme formal attire somehow are less professional than their coat wearing counterparts. . 
So homeopaths have adopted this symbol wholesale, indeed often boasting actual trained doctors within their ranks. Doctors who seem to lack a basic understanding of biology and chemistry, but doctors nonetheless. Any website boasting a homeopath portrays them as visionaries with intimate knowledge of human physiology and pathology which even doctors don’t claim to possess while normally posing around in photos in a white coat.

Homoeopathy is portrayed as a economic alternative to conventional medicine, with money going to homeopaths rather than doctors and indeed the shadowy cabal of nefarious individuals known colloquially as “Big Pharma” who seem interested in killing you for unknown profit rather than selling you a product for a known profit. Big Pharma’s conspiracy theories involve them being guilty of everything from the crime of being rich and making profits as a business, to the crime of making expensive medicines that involve vast amounts of research and investment that needs to be paid off and even to such lofty crimes such as genocide by vaccination. Natural News, steps up to defend homeopathy against the alleged myths being spread by us nasty medicine folk. 

The homeopathic approach to healing maintains a deep respect for symptoms of illness as important defenses of a person’s immune and defense system. While conventional medicine often tends to assume that symptoms are something “wrong” with the person that need to be treated, inhibited, suppressed, or biochemically manipulated, homeopaths tend to assume that symptoms are important defenses of the organism that are most effectively resolved when treatments nurture, nourish, or mimic the symptoms in order to initiate a healing process. Ultimately, these two different approaches to healing people have led to various conflicts.”

Conventional medicine doesn’t treat symptoms as something wrong rather than something indicative of an underlying problem. Symptoms range from “cough” and “fever” to “burning urination”, “repeated sore formation”. Some of these can be simple such as cough and fever (Cough and Fever can also be indicative of more deadly diseases). Some of these are serious depending on the nature of the individual (like diarrhoea) and can and should be controlled. Some symptoms are heavily indicative of serious issues (a rash that does not disappear under cold pressure). Some symptoms are treated (Headache, Diarrhoea), while others are given relief or are plain ignored. 
Conventional medicine tends to leave symptoms alone unless they would harm or otherwise affect the patient negatively since feeling better is half the battle. It tends to treat the underlying condition as well as the symptoms to improve patient condition. So a symptom of cholera is a fever and watery (described as rice water) diarrhoea, this symptoms are classical of the disease. The treatment would be an antibiotic to fight the cholera causing bacteria, anti diarrhoeal medication so that the person stops defaecating themselves to death and finally rehydration to replace lost water. The patient is also given an anti-pyretic so they don’t have as high a fever so that they are comfortable. Thus the underlying cause (bacteria) and symptoms (diarrhoea/anti-pyretic) are both treated.

Homoeopaths claim that they would increase the symptoms by giving you something that causes a fever and a laxative, despite knowing full well the cause of death in Cholera is the diarrhoea which is “just a symptom”.

Homeopaths contend that increased rates of cancer, heart disease, chronic fatigue, and various chronic diseases for increasingly younger people may result from conventional medicine’s suppression of symptoms and disease processes.It is therefore no surprise that conventional physicians and Big Pharma have a long and dark history of working together to attack homeopathy and homeopaths.

Increase in chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease are due to the lifestyle we lead. This includes simply not dying from huge numbers of very common diseases as we see in third world countries. Nigeria for example has a very low death rate to cancer and heart disease but has a colossally high death rate to nearly everything else. The average life expectancy measures in at around 47 years. In the past, people simply didn’t live long enough to die from cancer and heart attacks, or in the past no one cared about the vast majority of people who died and so didn’t keep records.

Medicine doesn’t stop death, it merely delays it. It gives you time. From just 10 seconds to say goodbye to the people you love to 10 decades to live your life as you see fit. The time it gives depends on the technology it has available to treat a specific disease. As per the technology, every single one of us will die. You are going to have to die of something. For most of us it will be heart attacks (and we are the lucky ones), some of us will die by stroke, some by respiratory failure, some by cancer and some by accidents. Some of us will die maliciously, some will die unexpectedly and some of us will know it’s coming and try to make our peace with those who we love and cherish. Medicine is the tool by which we do that.

However? The thing is for the time being these are diseases that we cannot prevent but can forestall. Even medication exists to reduce the time frame of these diseases, placing controls on them to reduce their effect on our lives until it is the unfortunate day that we die. We are working on fixing that and indeed we have given people a second chance at life through technology that wasn’t possible before.

With this in mind let’s see what Myths, me and the other big pharma stationery club members have perpetrated on its quacks.

Myth #1: “There is no research that shows that homeopathic medicines work. 

In Case you didn’t get it.
The argument they use is that homoeopathy is not standardised. It is tailored uniquely to fit the needs of each individual patient as if the homoeopath in question has the ability to discern your physiology through questions (He cannot) rather than tests. The assumption in medicine is that everyone is the same inside except in rare cases which are mentioned. The most common case of people being different on the inside depends on whether you can write your name in the snow or not.
In fact we do tailor our drugs for gender and indeed per person depending on reasonable assumptions we can make such as height, weight, allergy profiles and previous drug interactions and lifestyle.

Dana Ullman’s argument is that homoeopathic drugs don’t work the same for each person (unlike real medicine which works the same for most people with a few variations courtesy of the person’s innate physiological make up. All of us work roughly in the same way with a few “silent mutants” whose physiology varies but is still functional enough. These people suffer from adverse reactions called idiosyncratic reactions, where they react in weird ways to the drug. Eg. In India there is a caste called the Arya vaisya chettiyars who live in Tamil Nadu. They suffer from a fatal allergy to suxamethonium chloride which is a drug is given to induce muscle paralysis over short periods of time during intubation.
So this means that according to Dana, a single homoeopathic drug cannot be tested against a placebo. This is a rather weird argument since surely some of the patients would have received sufficient benefit to atleast implicate some level of action rather than producing an effect equal to the placebo.

Myth #2: “The research studies showing that homeopathic medicines work are ‘poorly conducted studies’.”

When you claim that water that’s been shaken causes massive effects in patients over and above the placebo then yes… your work does get tested more. Mainly because you are making a fantastic claim that requires testing.
The Lancet does not TEST hypothesis and theories. It merely publishes papers for other doctors to test out and analyse. This is called peer review. When a homeopath posts a paper, the ensuing backlash is due to doctors reading the experiment and writing out various ways the experiment is faulty ranging from a lack of control, a lack of proper blinding and lack of sufficient rigour in statistical analysis including very tiny populations or papers such as homeopaths logging their water versus a drug’s side effects rather than effect.
In fact many of the arguments against the placebo show wild variations on retesting because many homeopaths don’t understand bias or how placebos must look like the drug and so on. A simple example of how efficient a placebo effect could be is a simple test of a placebo IV injection versus a homeopathic pain medication in pill or capsule format. The pill would do worse than the injection due to the placebo effect. Homeopaths often assume the number of pills given doesn’t make a difference but it does.

So a real test would be a homeopath who writes out a diagnosis and Rx and the Rx is filled either with a cocktail of whatever quackery he writes up or placebo of those. Then the overall efficiency of homeopaths versus the placebo can be tested as a group for a symptom rather than as an individual medicine. The homeopath cannot oversell/undersell as the Rx would be delivered to the house. I am pretty sure in this scenario the results would be the same. That homeopathy is generally the same as the placebo.
And this is without mentioning that homeopathic testing is done in an incredibly subjective manner even including dream states and feelings of the individuals taking the drugs rather than by physiology.

Myth #3: “12C is like one drop in the entire Atlantic Ocean.”

For those who aren’t aware, homeopathy is based on the claim that water has a memory and that the less you use of the active ingredient, the more you have an effect due to the claim that water somehow behave like a solid with the imprint of the molecules present in it rather than like a liquid that are all well aware of.
If it helps, picture all this mathematics being
taught to you by the Count.
The logic is incredibly stupid. Water is a dipolar liquid, the molecule of water is itself neutral but the hydrogen area of the molecule has a net +ve charge as the electron is dragged towards the oxygen molecule. This is called a dipole and is based on the fact that electrons behave like probability densities of negative charge rather discrete particles. This causes water’s unique properties such as how it acts as a solvent and how it expands when it freezes and it’s lack of volatility as a compound. However it still is a liquid and so any dissolved substance is normally spaced out evenly in the solution. When the dissolved substance is removed the water reverts back to normal.
So water has no memory even if you smack it against a leather table board and dissolve it. And here I must post a disclaimer. What follows is some mathematics that is VITAL to understanding why homeopathy is bullshit.

The second problem with this argument is the problem of concentrations, in particular the C. 1 C is what you get when you take 99 parts of distilled water and 1 part of the substance. A 2 C solution is taking 1 part of a 1 C solution and diluting it with a 99 parts of distilled water and so on with each increasing value of C taking 1 part of the prior solution and diluting it with 99 parts of water.

The formula for this would be 1/(100)^n where n = the value of C. So 1C would be 1/100, 2 C would be 1/10,000 and 3 C would be 1/1,000,000. And you can see what the problem is right here. I apologise, what we are going into is some serious arithmetic and it’s vital to understand how this works.

3 C is one part per million which is a very small amount. The number given in this example is 12 C which is 1/1000000000000000000000000. So there is one molecule of active ingredient in 1000000000000000000000000 molecules of water. We are actually pretty smart ourselves. We can work out what those many molecules of water weighs via the avogadro’s number which is constant of number of molecules within one mole (a unit, not a mammal). Chemists prefer using it since working in molecules is highly irritating and because moles are linked to molecular weights which are the weight of one mole of any substance (so 1 mole of hydrogen weighs 1 gram, 1 of helium weighs 2 and so on…) 602300000000000000000000
1000000000000000000000000 molecules of water = 1000000000000000000000000/6.023 x 10^23 = 1.66 moles
Hydrogen weighs  1 gram per mole and oxygen 16 grams per mole. So water would weigh 18 grams per mole since it is made up of 2 hydrogens and one oxygen atom. This works out at 18 x 1.66 = 29.88 grams of water. Water by happy fortune is the key unit of the SI scale so 29.88 grams of water would occupy roughly 29.88 ml, a shot glass rather than an ocean of water to contain a single molecule of active substance.
However the concentration most homeopathic medicines range from 24 to 50 C with 30 C being the most common. Not 12 C at clinical doses. 24 C isn’t double the strength of 12C… Remember each progression of C is a dilution by a factor of 100.
Using the previous formula, the dilution factor of 24 C (the highest concentration and therefore the least stupid value) we come up with a concentration of 1/1x10^48.
Which is one molecule of active ingredient in a stupidly huge amount of molecules. This we can work out the weight of.

 1x10^48/Avogadro’s constant =
1660302174995849244562510.3768886 moles

The weight of which is 29885439149925286402.125 tonnes which occupies a volume of 29885439149925286402.125 cubic metres or 29885439149.925 cubic kilometres. 

On planet earth there is approximately 1.3 Billion cubic kilometres of water in our oceans, lakes, rivers and ice. This is 29.88 billion cubic kilometres of water required to carry just 1 molecule of the active substance.
The argument (if you haven’t blown a fuse with the mathematics/chemistry lesson) is that there is no active ingredient in the homeopathic preparation since it is so dilute that there isn’t anything in there but distilled water. Even if you are working on a small scale by batch no. 14 or 15 there is probably nothing but distilled water in each test tube since by serial dilution you have pretty much eliminated any active ingredient.
And this is without going into the sheer nonsense that a 50 C concentration would entail.

Myth #4: “There is nothing in a homeopathic medicine. It is just water.”

Well, if you waded through the mathstravaganza then you would realise that yes, it is just water.
And I call shenanigans on the Indian Institute of Technology, (which is an esteemed engineering university in India and not some hack science mill) for sponsoring such industrial grade garbage as the research quoted in this article. The paper seems poorly written and I wonder how long it took to find such nanoparticles and whether this holds true across the board of all samples or that they found it in one bottle out of hundreds.
And this is without levelling the charge of performing lousy science to give credence to an industry of snake oil merchants who are often given free rein to practice in India with deadly repercussions to their patients who cannot tell the difference between a homeopath and a real doctor.

Myth #5: “If we do not presently understand how homeopathic medicines work, then, they cannot work. It’s witchcraft.”

If we don’t know how homeopathic medicines work, then why the hell aren’t homeopaths the slightest bit interested in their function? Why does homeopathic cyanide have no effect unlike homeopathic medicine? Why aren’t homeopaths producing irrevocable proof that water has a memory? Why are instead homeopaths so content to not change and not do any research? Why are all their papers posted in tiny magazines and peer reviewed only by people who understand the arcane proofing system rather than a scientific test? Why is there no conclusive data like actual medicine and no logical explanations on how the drugs function?

Homeopathic medication functions on a similar effect to the placebo effect, this is well known.  There has been no repeatable, conclusive experiment to prove that homeopaths produce a discernable physiological effect similar to actual medicine. These aren’t myths, these are facts.

Homeopathy isn’t witchcraft. It’s bullshit. Industrial grade bullshit that is killing people in third world nations by passing itself off as real medicine in order to make a quick buck of the suffering of people. This is also a fact.

The proponents of homeopathy utilise fudged research in third world nations to flog expensive treatments in the west. This is a fact.

The proponents of homeopathy utilise the fact that stupid people in the west who buy their drugs are held in high esteem by poor people in third world nations. They use this to flog their drugs to people often telling the people to throw away their medication. This is a fact. 

People have died from taking homeopathic medications. Not because of the homeopathic contents, but because of the lack of an effect. This is also a fact.

One doesn’t need to spread myths about homeopathy. Not when the truth will suffice.


Skip to comment form

  1. 1

    Excellent article! Shared!

  2. 2

    Many thanks.

    A great take down on this pernicious pseudo medical phenomenon.

    Sick to death(!) of going head-to-head with these new-age woo warriors whose idea of evidence is to link to homeopathic websites (is that a website that doesn’t really do anything?) or to cherry-pick scientific articles.

    Especially interested as my grandmother in India was a victim. Dental problems required a qualified practitioner, available physically and financially. Instead, persuaded by deluded fuckwits to use the local homeopath. Result? Death from gangrene.

  3. 3

    4 years ago if you told me that I would have called you a liar…

    I have seen that and worse over the past 3 years here. My worst case was a little girl who had Rheumatic Heart Disease. Her heart valves were so damaged she sounded like TV static between her heart beats and couldn’t run around and play.

    She required heart valve replacement surgery. Aged 12… Because her uneducated grandmother couldn’t tell the difference between quack and quality.

    It cost roughly Rs. 140,000 for the surgery. We paid for it via charity, but if she had come in early it would have cost her less than Rs 30… The price of a bottle of coke and some chewing gum…

  4. 4
    Kausik Datta

    An auspicious start, Avicenna. Welcome to FTB from a fellow Indian and occasional blogger (who is not known for his brevity; in fact, who is not known at all) at Scilogs and passionate denouncer of pseudoscientific modalities such as homeopathy. I am sure I shall be glued to your blog. Cheers!


  5. 5
    Corvus illustris

    “Why does homeopathic cyanide have no effect unlike homeopathic medicine? “

    No effect?! You just need to do followups on the people who take cyanide in homeopathically dilute quantities. Cyanide in the usual concentrations causes death, so the fundamental principle similia similibus curantur of homeopathy implies that these patients will live forever. Homeopaths have found a cure for death, while you admit that your allopathic “[m]edicine doesn’t stop death, it merely delays it.”


  6. 6

    quote: “Homeopath is the biggest quack group out there,”

    I suffer from pretty bad congestion – most likely related to living in a dusty old house with a cat. Anyways, a few years ago, after conventional doctors were not any help (heh, I even got an MRI, gotta love Canadian socialist medicine!) my mom decided to take me to a homeopath to ‘diagnose’ my problem. I was skeptical, but thought what the hell.

    OMG. Stupidest fucking shit I ever had to put up with in my entire life. She did the test where she pricked my finger and told me that…tomatoes…yes, TOMATOES were the cause of my congestion. She then charged us 300$ for various *worthless* medicines. What a waste of fucking time.

    This however, is not the dumbest ‘treatment’ my family has had to endure. Back in the early 1990s my mom became interested in all things new-agey – crystal healing, auras and the like. And she visited these two elderly quacks who massaged her abdomen and said things like ‘well your problem is that your liver has moved up to your lungs’ and other crap like that. I was sitting there thinking WTF~!~!!! – this cannot be real. Anyone with a modicum of sense should know that organs just dont spontaneously *migrate* around one’s abdomen…ugh

    Sorry for the swearing but that is how I feel about these freaks! I am proud of my mom though, she has become a skeptic and even reads Skeptical Inquirer:P She is a smart woman though, and I am still stunned that she fell for that bullshit so many years ago. ugh!

  7. 7
    Rama Rao K

    Very informative. Homeopathy better be called as Homeopathetic system (if it indeed is a system). In India, most people who have exhausted main stream treatments fall prey to these so called alternative medicines. And it is a huge, big-ticket racket Media, (both print and electronic) regularly features ‘authentic’ sounding shows/articles on these AM systems. Most of the leading practitioners of quackery are on first name terms with politicians. There is indeed little hope of end in sight for such systems in India.

  8. 8
    Alex C.

    Some random criticism, if you please:

    > …the white coat is actually being slowly phased out of medicine on accounts that it is a great way to spread disease and it honestly impedes the doctor

    BS. It doesn’t spread disease or impede the doctor at all (especially in a half-sleeved form). Lots of deep pockets are very convenient. It *is* being phased out in UK NHS, but what else can you expect from a socialist hell-hole?

    > However, patients do expect the perceived uniform of a doctor to be present,
    Very true indeed.

    > …somehow thinking that modern doctors with their short sleeved shirts and lack of extreme formal attire somehow are less professional than their coat wearing counterparts. .
    Absolutely. Shoddy/Full casual attire is unacceptable in *any* professional or business setting (except computer programming :). More often than not, it really shows up a person’s carelessness. A doctor is supposed to *look* like a bloody doctor in a position of authority. This not only improves patient confidence, but also increases his/her compliance with the treatment prescribed, leading to better results overall. Formal dress is par for the course, as is a generally demure, conservative manner (unless you’re a paediatrician :). Please don’t club all “modern doctors” with UK NHS slaves. Medical students and Doctors in the US, much of the world, and India proudly wear the white coat symbolising science and skill. In hospital settings, scrubs are de rigeur, which are also characteristic “doctors’ clothes”. If doctors themselves abandon their potent marketing tools, they should not be surprised if quacks adopt them.

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