Homeopathy – FAQ

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.

The following have been suggested by blog readers

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.


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12 Responses to “Homeopathy – FAQ”

  1. danny Says:

    How about “how do provings work?” Hahnemann started by gently poisoning himself (and had the completely unfounded idea that like cures like – except that poisoning yourself when you are ill is obviously not a good idea so he started watering down the poison. The unsurprising result being that poisoning yourself less is a good thing) but nowadays homeopaths prove with highly dilute (i.e. nonexistent) doses and cherry pick “proving symptoms”.

  2. jaycueaitch Says:

    Thanks danny. Added as Question 7

  3. danny Says:

    A good one might be “how are homeopathic remedies prepared?” You can define trituration, explain how dilutions are done with one imprecise “drop” in 99 drops of solute – and I’m still not sure if they use pure water or there’s some ethanol in it – and succussion.

  4. dannychrastina Says:

    Oh and that one drop of the resulting liquid is eventually dropped into a little bottle of blank lactose pills. And that other pills can be “activated” by grafting – just putting them near homeopathic pills.

  5. rabi Says:

    If, “The germ theory rests not on Pasteur’s say-so but on experiment and observation” why the same argument cannot be applied to cure of disease by homeopathy. For homeopahic medicines have been practically applied to cure of disease like cancer. For this the website of NCI, USA may be visited for the video leture delivered by Dr Prashanto banarjee of Kolkata, India. If the cure is by water or placebo why other pathies don’t use water and cure such serious disease with out any attendant side effects?

    For removing bias or vested interest for homeopathy I may inform that I’m not a homeopath but am an aerospace engineer and beneficiary of homeopathy.

  6. jaycueaitch Says:

    Rabi, as I stated above the evidence shows that homeopathy works no better than placebo. If you know of evidence that homeopathy cures cancer perhaps you would care to give us a reference?

    Danny, I’ve mentioned that the active ingredients of homeopathic remedies are diluted out of existance but the points about succusion and transference to sugar pills are good ones.

  7. John Says:

    danny said: “homeopaths prove with highly dilute (i.e. nonexistent) doses and cherry pick “proving symptoms”.”

    Have you ever done a proving? Cherry pick? I wish. Doing and writing up a proving is hard work and can be a real pain in the neck. Say what you will about homeopathy, but it’s not the case the proving symptoms are arbitrarily or easily chosen.

    Also, it is disingenuous to say that double-blind trials have shown that homeopathy is no better than placebo. It is accurate to say the trials have not proven anything about homeopathy either way. See laughingmysocksoff.wordpress.com if you are actually interested in looking at this subject in detail instead of just repeating what you’ve heard.

  8. jaycueaitch Says:

    I don’t know about Danny but I’ve read accounts by Mary English (aka VeryScaryMary) of provings, and they seem to suggest cherry-picking is about right.

    Since double-blind trials show that homeopathy does no better than placebo, it is perfectly fair to say that they have proven that that such remedies are no better than placebo and it is your statement that nothing has been proven either way that is disingenuous – or plain wrong.

    I have read a fair bit about homeopathy in the thirty years since I first came across it. A lot of what I am repeating is written by homeopaths. I am afraid the implication that people disagree with homeopathy only because they don’t understand it is plain wrong. I am opposed to homeopathy because I do understand it.

  9. John Says:

    I should say that I don’t agree with all claims homeopathic. One problem is that everything gets lumped behind one “it just doesn’t work” belief. I experience homeopathy “working” all the time, but I certainly don’t agree with every claim made about homeopathy. Believe it or not, I started out a skeptic and still am, despite being a homeopath. But I turn my skeptism both directions.

  10. jaycueaitch Says:

    There are three ways that doubters could be convinced that homeopathy works:

    1. The pv challenge. That is, a referenced case of a non-self-limited illness being cured by homeopathy where conventional medicine can be ruled out as the cure.

    2. The EBM method. Homeopathy producing better results than placebo in a randomised double-blind trial

    3. Homeopaths dispensing unidentified (to them and the test subjects) homeopathic remedies to test subjects and from the subsequent proving symptoms correctly identifying the remedies.

    If homeopathy passed even one of these tests I would think that there might be something in it. Scepticism is not a refusal to believe, it is the desire that there be evidence to support one’s beliefs.

  11. dannychrastina Says:

    Here’s another question: “I’ve heard that homeopathy works by stimulating the immune system?” Answer: “No it doesn’t.” Mention something about how it’s not like a vaccine.

  12. jaycueaitch Says:

    Ta. Added.

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