“How Homeopathy Works”

[BPSDB] I was reading some stuff on homeopathy and followed a link to this, Louise Mclean’s “Fifty Facts About Homeopathy”. I’m going to look at the first eleven factoids, subtitled “How Homeopathy Works”.

In Fact 1 she states that homeopathy treats the patient using Hippocrates Law of Similars, or like cures like. Two things wrong with this; no evidence in support of the Law of Similars, and Hippocrates never mentioned serial dilutions and succusions. Indeed, Hahnemann only decided that dilutions were the way to go when full strength remedies killed his patients.

In Fact 2 she says that homeopathic theories are based on fixed Laws of Nature which do not change and that medical theories are constantly changing. Homeopathy is based on the “Law of Similars” as described above and the “Law of Infinitesimals” which Hahnemann invented without a shred of evidence to support it. It is true that homeopathic theories do not change. Homeopaths still reject the germ theory of disease – so according to them you need not worry about H1N1 bringing about the aporkalypse because there’s no such thing as viruses. Flu is spread by miasms. Medical theories do not constantly change. Aspirin is still considered to cure minor acches even though it was first produced over a century ago. Medical theories are changed when new evidence is discovered. Personally I think this a good thing, else we’d still be cutting of limbs without anasthetics.

In Fact 3 she claims that homeopathy is evidence based and empirical. In fact there are no well-run trials where homeopathic remedies have worked better than placebo. Empiricism in fact means doing something because it works even though you don’t understand why. This rather contradicts the claim that homeopathy is based on “Laws of Nature”.

In Fact 4 she claims “Homeopathy is both an art and a science”. It may be an art (fiction is an art) but it is certainly not science since it contradicts proven chemistry and biology.

In Fact 5 she says that homeopathic provings of medicines are a more scientific method of testing than the orthodox model. By “proving” she means the process by which the homeopaths hand out their new remedies to volunteers and ask them to record any symptoms they experience. This is horribly prone to confirmation bias an example being Mary English’s proving of homeopathic shipwreck (yes, really). One of her test subjects recorded being stuck in a traffic jam as one of his symptoms. The assumption behind provings is that if a remedy produces symptoms in a healthy person, the same remedy will eliminate those symptoms in a sick person. The mechanism by which this is supposed to happen is not explained.

In Fact 6 she claims that homeopathic remedies awaken and stimulate the body’s own curative powers. To the best of my knowledge, there is no evidence that homeopathic remedies will (for example) create antibodies or boost T-cell counts which are part of the body’s system for fighting infection.

I’ll have to quote Fact 7 in full: “Homeopathic medicines work by communicating a current/pattern/frequency of energy via the whole human body to jump start the body’s own inherent healing mechanisms.” She does not explain what this “energy” is and seems unaware that current, pattern and frequency are all different things. Nor does she explain the mechanism by which this “energy” is communicated. This “energy” has never actually been detected in experiments, not even by homeopaths. Contradicts her Fact 3 claim to empiricism as well. The claim to jump start the body’s healing mechanism is just a restatement of Fact 6.

Fact 8 in full states: “Homeopathy assists the body to heal itself, to overcome an illness which brings the patient to a higher level of health. Orthodox medicine suppresses the illness, bringing the patient to a lower level of health.” The first sentence is yet another restatement of Fact 6. The claim that orthodox medicine suppresses illness (or masks symptoms) is a standard homeopath canard. Antibiotics, for example, do not simply “suppress” illness, they kill the bacteria which are causing the illness. I presume that “bringing the patient to a lower state of health” means “makes you sicker than when you started”. If this were true, orthodox medics would soon kill all their patients.

In Fact 9 she claims that homeopaths “search for and treat the cause of the disease in order to heal the effect.” In fact, their guru Hahnemann said that treatment of disease consisted of treating symptoms until they went away and then declaring the patient cured (if s/he wasn’t dead). When orthodox medics discover causes – such as bacteria and viruses – homeopaths reject the evidence.

In Fact 10 sheclaims that homeopathic outcomes are measured by “the long term effects of prescribing”. In other words the homeopath keeps prescribing differently named sugar pills until the patient gets better. For many diseases (such as colds and influenza) the patienst will get better eventually no matter what remedies they do or do not take. When this happens the homeopath claims the credit. There is no evidence that homeopathy has cured non-self limiting illnesses despite fraudulent claims to have cured cancer or even AIDS.

In Fact 11 we get the claim that homeopathy “treats the whole person”. Treating the patient symptom by symptom is anything but holistic.

There are 39 more factoids to go but I’ll return to them in future posts.

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6 Responses to ““How Homeopathy Works””

  1. Sean M Says:

    Great post, what baffles me about the round earth homeopathetic fraternity is why this non-scientific, non-empirical method should work, even though all other natural laws of science are clearly based on real evidence.

  2. jdc325 Says:

    Brilliant – 50 Unfacts about Homeopathy. The claim that that homeopathic provings of medicines are a more scientific method of testing than the orthodox model is utterly bizarre.

    Re your point that Hahnemann only decided that dilutions were the way to go when full strength remedies killed his patients: for some reason, this brings to mind the Hahneman quotation on dilution that David Colquhoun wrote about.

    “there must be some limit to the thing. It cannot go on to infinity”

    DC goes on to point out that although Hahnemann realised that there was a limit to the dilutions that could be used, he had no way of knowing what that limit was. While Hahneman has the excuse that he was dead by the time the limit was discovered by Loschmidt, modern homeopaths have no such excuse.

    [DC.]

  3. Mojo Says:

    “Orthodox medicine suppresses the illness, bringing the patient to a lower level of health.”

    Oh well, that’s it for “integrative medicine” then, I suppose.

  4. A Second Year of Steam « Letting Off Steam Says:

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  5. Homeopathy NYC Says:

    There is a well-known idea in classical homeopathy, found in many of the major authors, to explicitly not concern yourself with ideas of how homeopathy might work when practicing clinically (though it was certainly viewed as a valid avenue of research). The original intention here was to actually get away from ideas and base your practice strictly on evidence (the provings, in this case) and not on theoretical concepts. In Hahnemann’s time, Galenic humoral theory was still prevalent and was used to justify such practices of bloodletting.

  6. The 21st Floor » Blog Archive » Skeptic News: Injected with a poison Says:

    […] that  a homeopath would come a cropper for not following correct hygiene procedures as many reject the germ theory of disease however it is not clear if this is the case here. What does seem certain is that homeopathy is not […]

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