Homeopathy / pseudoscience · September 11, 2007

Udaya’s daughter lived, therefore Homeopathy works!

Just a little over two years ago I posted a blog entry over why Homeopathy does NOT work, that it is based upon the magical principle of the “Law of Similarity”, and I mentioned the problem with “water memory” that Homeopathy has.

This entry still gets a lot of traffic, and every now and then I get a comment from someone who tries, and fails, to refute it. (I keep asking for evidence, darn it!)

One commenter has asked for a more serious reply, and since I didn’t wish to bury it as a comment to that article I’ll bring it forward for everyone to see.

I’d like my readers to meet Udaya, from India: (You can read his original comment here)

I hope you know that in India there is a nature based system of medicine called ayurveda which follows principles that look common to those of homeopathy.

I was a skeptic of both these systems, in fact I used to be so sarcastic about ayurveda’s long treatment period, that I used to say that ayurveda makes the treatment schedule so long so that you can forget what your problem was in the first place.

I dislike the alcohol smelling homeo sugar pills and had a bad image of it too.

I stumbled into homeo when my daughter who had some kind of cold and fever that just would not go away. I did try all the new medicines that allopathy based doctors suggested for her. They did not work beyond a certain point.

Then my father-in-law, less a skeptic than I was took her to a homeopathic doctor, who prescribed her a course of medicines, slightly tweaking it, or so he said, until he got it right.

I am sorry to tell you that it did work. In fact we started to keep it with us and give it to her at the first symptoms of cold. It would simply go away.

It so happened that once we did not have such medicines with us and the girl ran a high fever and cold.

The allopaths could do little, so I had to go back to the homeopath again. The problem got resolved and as she grew older the problem almost disappeared. She is seven years old now.

It’s too bad that your daughter was sick, Udaya. I know the fear and frustration that occurs when someone close to you is ill or dying, especially when there is nothing you can do about it. It is enough to make a person grasp for the faintest of straws, and to consider every possible hope – no matter how unlikely. It is how our minds work – we do not like “No” for an answer.

I have seen others who have loved ones who have recovered spontaneously from illness. “Spontaneous Remission” is doctor language for, “I have no clue why he got better.” It is an honest evaluation of the situation, and an admission that no doctor, no person, completely understands human physiology. Perhaps with work that will change someday.

The problem with “spontaneous remission” is that no one can identify exactly what happened. Usually so many different treatments have been thrown at the patient that it becomes difficult to tell exactly what was effective. Was it the antibiotic the doctor gave the patient last week? Was it the enforced rest in the quiet hospital room under a morphine drip to keep the pain down that allowed the patient’s body to rally? In some cases, even a placebo will allow a patient to fight the pain or to gain the confidence needed so that they don’t lose the will to live.

But that does not mean that a sugar pill is the best, or right treatment.

As for Allopathy, that’s a loaded word isn’t it? A word loaded with scorn, given by Homeopaths toward scientific practitioners of medicine – these are the same people who call what they do, “Alternative Medicine” – like you have a choice between two good things that actually work.

In reality, there is no such thing as “Alternative Medicine” – there is either medicine, or not-medicine.

Medicine either works, again and again in the majority of patients under clinical trials – or it does not. What use is a “medicine” that works only sometimes, in shadowy and mysterious ways with only a magical explanation of why it does anything? If it does anything? It is worse than useless because you can never be sure if you are fooling yourself or not – you can’t trust it.

I did try some other medicines in homeopathy; like medicines for gastritis and small problems like that and found that many a time they work better than antacids and equivalent allopathy medicines.

I have seen these ans similar arguments against homeopathy earlier in science mags and blogs and always wondered about how these medicines worked.

I finally got it down to the placebo effect. As you say the placebo effect is extremely powerful.

The only problem was that my daughter when she started on homeopathic medicines was little more than a year old. I am not sure if placebo effects work on tiny infants like that.

If they really do then why did the same effect not work when other allopathic medicines were given?

Can you please put your thinkig cap on Or do you want to refer to some FDA literature.

I would love to see some peer-reviewed literature on why Homeopathic medicine works, Udaya – but you won’t find any in any mainstream medical journal. And the FDA does not give a darn about Homeopathy as long as it is no more effective than a sugar pill and as long as it does not contain harmful substances – which would of course be absent if made in accordance to Homeopathic methods!

The Federal Trade Commission in the United States regulates the labeling on the packaging, requiring that labeling cannot falsely advertise or misrepresent the product. This means that substantiating evidence is required, which Homeopathic companies never provide. That is why in the United States the packaging for a Homeopathic sleeping pill says something like, “May reduce the effect of Insomnia”, or some other weaselly words. All homeopathic packaging I’ve seen contains such weasel words – which could easily be removed if the manufacturer came up with evidence!

Speaking of evidence, I have found Homeopathic “medical” journals before. They all seem to start with the same premise – that Homeopathic medicines work. I have yet to see one of these journals host an article that demonstrates the effectiveness of Homeopathy in a double-blind test over a statistically significant population using rigorous and scientifically sound testing methods that are observed and agreed upon by trusted biologists and / or medical scientists.

But maybe I haven’t looked hard enough. I’d appreciate it if you helped me out here.

The only observation that I can make Udaya is that Homeopathy works, if it works, by the placebo effect. Any other time that it seems to work – well, humans are good at finding patterns – even where a pattern doesn’t really exist. We remember the times that something seems to work, and forget all the times that it does not. We have a profound misunderstanding of coincidence, and we tend to think that coincidence is statistically significant. This basic failure to understand math and science can unfortunately be deadly to some people.

Have you ever tried homeopathic medicines for yourself? Have you talked to people who have used such medicines?

Yes, Udaya, I did try homeopathic medicine. There is a popular sleeping pill sold in pharmacies near my house – (Calms Forte, I believe).

After reading about James Randi’s “Homeopathic Suicide” stunt a couple of years ago, I decided to try it myself. I bought a bottle of 50 Homeopathic sleeping pills and took half of them about an hour before my calculus class. Surely this would have been a bad idea since I needed all of my attention focused! However, I did not feel any sleepiness during or after class. I did notice some gurgling from my stomach, but that went away with time. Perhaps I got a bad batch?

Are you aware that animals are also treated with such medicines? Is there literature that justifies not using them on animals and children?

Yes, there is plenty of literature that justifies using real medicine over Homeopathic treatments. You can start with the medical journal “Lancet” and continue reading the scientific journal “Nature”. At best, Homeopathy is found to work as good as a sugar pill.

How do you know what is the medicinal effect of Trilobite piss, Whale, Walrus, Worms or Wart Hogs without testing them yourself or having them tested?

Udaya! I can’t believe you have missed my point so completely! In my entry on Homeopathy I pointed out that Homeopaths claim that “water has memory” – this is why a 30C potentization is supposed to work when statistically not even a single molecule of the original Mother Tincture still exists in the dilution!

But Homeopaths never seem concerned about clearing the memory of the water that they use in their brews! So who knows what other substances that water actually remembers? It is completely unscientific and irrational! In fact, there is no reason why water, if it remembers, can’t remember everything it ever encountered over the last billion years of going through the Earth’s water cycle! This includes water that “remembers” being ingested, and urinated out of Trilobites, Fish, Frogs, bugs, cows, and that old homeless guy that you encountered last year on the street!

Until Homeopaths answer how they “clear” water memory during the making of their treatments, and I mean clear it of the influence of the stainless steel mixing bowl and the glass vial it is stored in too, then there is no way to prove that drinking a Homeopathic solution is any more effective than drinking tap water! The vast majority of what both liquids “remember” is identical!

Do you know that Western scientists are trawling the forests of India and Latin America and their folklore for medicines from sources more exotic than these?

Western medicines with their double blind trials have I believe created as many and more seriosu problems for humanity then other medicines. Can I remind you of thalidomide. You must be aware of many others.

Udaya, again you reveal that you yourself have failed to adequately read the available literature. Yes, it is quite true that scientists look for unique organic chemistry throughout the world’s biosphere. Scientists are the first to point out that there is a wealth of things that they don’t know!

I’m surprised that you hold up thalidomide as proof that double-blind trials do not work, where in fact it was the lack of adequate testing and the rush to market by the German company Chemie Grünenthal that led to tragic births. The tragedy of thalidomide introduced in 1938 forced the FDA to change its rules regarding new medications – which is why it takes years now for a new medicine to make it to market.

I am not sure as to what you are, a doctor or just another blogger who consumes and propagates memes. Please allow yourself to be unstupid for some time.

Science is what we know. Not opinions on what we do not know. Please keep that in mind.

What you have done is to interpret based on what you know. Who do you think knows homeopathy better, half witted guys like you or others who have benefited from such quack based sciences?

So much of Indian medicine and Chinese medicine was dismissed as quackery in the fifties and sixties, yet plane loads of your people arrive in India today for Panchkarma and similar things.

Do you know that sometimes they are fed cows urine? Thinking about it is enough to give you a placebo.

This is a call for less stupidity and more consideration of the evidence. Such evidence need not always arrive in double blind trials.

I dont think that homeo or any eastern system claims that it will do well in a double blind or triple blind trial.

They have been curing people based on what is known. What Western Science can do is not to trash them but to find if something in them works.

Like say for Rauwolfia, the insanity herb, which was used by Western medicine earlier to combat hypertension…

Stick to what you know, and do not spread opinions until you have tested them yourself.



PS: I would like to watch this response on your blog and for any comments that follow.

You can always write to me at my mail id at [email protected] take your time…

Yes, Udaya, there is stupid all over isn’t there? Sure plane loads of Americans fly overseas to drink your cow’s urine – remember what I said about grasping at straws? Dying people tend to do that.

And I would have thought that the election of George W. Bush to a second term in office sort of knocked a dent into the idea that Americans are infallible. No matter where you go, there are stupid people.

But perhaps you can un-stupid me, Udaya. Just explain why you believe a double-blind test is a poor way to test Homeopathic medicine, or any medicine.

Science actually works – and the methods of science can be proven again and again without the need to resort to the mystical or the supernatural. I hope you remember this the next time you get a flu shot, receive antibiotics, or type out your next attack on me on a machine that couldn’t even exist if some scientist didn’t have a basic understanding of Quantum Mechanics.

I’m glad your daughter got better, Udaya. Sometimes shit happens. Even good shit.