I thought I would post the most frequently asked questions about homeopathy with my answers to them. If I’ve missed any, please let me know.
Q1. Are homeopathy and herbalism the same thing?
A1. No! Herbal remedies are made from plants and frequently contain active ingredients, although the amount varies depending on growing conditions. Homeopathic remedies have been repeatedly diluted until no trace of the active ingredient remains.
Q2. How is the remedy supposed to have an effect?
A2. Homeopaths claim that the solvent (water or alcohol) remembers the active ingredient. This supposedly happens because the homeopath “succuses” the solution to “potentise” it. This consistes of shaking the container then banging it against a leather covered board. They don’t explain how this happens or offer any evidence that it does. Physicists and chemists have been unable to find this “memory”.
Q3. Do homeopathic remedies work?
A3. Double-blinded trials have shown that they work no better than placebos (sugar pills or water that have not been produced by homeopathic techniques). A double blinded trial is one where neither the givers nor receivers of the medication know who is getting the remedy under test and who is getting a placebo. As an example, consider a trial with 200 patients. A researcher would prepare 200 numbered courses of “medication” but 100 chosen at random would be placebo. The researcher notes which are which but this information is not passed on. The numbered sets of medication are then passed to another researcher who assigns the medication to patients. This researcher should know only their names and nothing else. The assigned sets of medication are then passed to the dispensers, who thus do not know who is getting placebo and who is getting remedy. These people then note the patients response to treatment. At the conclusion, it is revealed who has received what so the effectiveness of the remedy can be assessed. In such tests, homeopathic remedies perform no better than placebos. See here for example.
Q4. Is homeopathy a holistic therapy?
A4. Despite the claims by homeopaths it would appear that the answer to this question is “no”. When Sense About Science and the BBC sent undercover researchers to homeopaths to enquire about malaria prevention, they were sold homeopathic remedies and not told anything about bite prevention. The founder of homeopathy, Samuel Hahnemann, instructed his followers to treat the symptoms as they appeared and when the symptoms disappeared the disease would be cured. This is what modern-day homeopaths accuse orthodox medics of doing. Hahnemann wrote the Organon prior to the germ theory of disease. Modern homeopaths do not have this excuse.
Q5. I read that Louis Pasteur renounced the germ theory on his death bed. Is this true?
A5. The germ theory rests not on Pasteur’s say-so but on experiment and observation – up to and including seeing bacteria under microscopes and viruses with electron microscopes. This allegation about Pasteur is only to be found on homeopathic and other alternative health websites and shows up the fundementally antiscientific nature of alternative medicine in that it argues from authority and not from evidence.
Q6. Are homeopathic remedies free of side effects?
A6. The remedies themselves are free of effects of any kind as pointed out above. However, if you rely on homeopathic remedies to prevent or cure a serious disease such as malaria there is the risk pointed out by Peter Fisher – himself a homeopath – that you may die.
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Q7. What are homeopathic provings?
A7. These are the means by which remedies are chosen. Homeopaths assume that “like cures like” so to treat a patient’s symptoms they give a remedy that causes those symptoms. Samuel Hahnemann tried various full strength poisons on himself and noted the symptoms. Modern homeopaths use pretty much anything that takes their fancy, give out diluted versions of it to their test subjects and whatever happens to the test subjects during the “proving” is assumed to be caused by the remedy. Here you can find links to Society of Homeopaths member Mary English “proving” such things as the Great Wall of China, a shipwreck and a thunderstorm.
Q8. Homeopathic remedies dispensed by homeopaths or sold in high street chemists are almost always pills rather than liquid. Why is this if the remedies are produced by dilution?
A8. The homeopath places a drop of the final dilution onto a sugar pill. The water evaporates and, according to homeopaths, leaves its “memory” of the active ingredient behind.
Q9. Is it true that homeopathy stimulates the immune system?
A9. Homeopaths frequently assert this but offer no evidence in support of it. It is difficult to see how sugar and water do stimulate the immune system in any event. Vaccinations stimulate the immune system but homeopaths often oppose vaccination.