Wednesday, March 18, 2009

If you open your mind too much, your brain will fall out…

Let us discuss homeopathy. Homeopathy is the practice of diluting mostly dubious “cures” and then selling them for outrageous prices. Unlike some herbal remedies which actually have drugs in them, classical homeopathic treatments largely contain nothing, are NOT science based, and are even a little bit silly.

Samuel Christian Friedrich Hahnemann began homeopathy in the 19th century because he wasn’t a big fan of bloodletting, which was a popular medical practice of his day. It was thought that one had to bleed patients to force the disease to drain from the body and restore the humors. On this point anyway, Hahnemann was correct. Blood draining is not useful as a medical procedure. (Usually…) As far as I can tell, this was that last thing that Hahnemann was right about. He also did not agree with using emetics (making people vomit). Oh. And also he was afraid of whoopee cushions. (OK, I admit… I made that last part up.) Sammy Hahnemann decided that disease is cured by assisting a persons “vital force” to restore bodily harmony. (Sounds Chiropractic-y, huh?) Medical science continued to evolve and improve, but homeopathy did not. After all, if you are just making junk up, it’s hard to see many improvements.

The word Homeopathy comes from Greek, and means “similar suffering”. (He was a really up-beat guy.) Try to follow this next part: he called it homeopathy because he felt that disease must be cured by drugs that cause the same symptoms as the disease. (That makes perfect sense.) So if you have a stomach ache, you should cure it with something that causes stomach aches… the guy is a genius…. So a big problem with homeopathy (other than it is medically impotent) is that treatment is based on your symptoms, not on actually knowing how the disease works. The ironic thing is that you can’t test cures on sick people because they already have the symptoms that your medicine is supposed to cause. So the only way to find new cures is to give healthy people your cures to see of they get sick. (Huh? Does this sound crazy to anyone else?)

Homeopathy is a “medical” treatment that uses minute quantities of something that in larger doses would cause similar symptoms to what you sought treatment for. Sam decided that infinitesimally small doses of a drug could be very powerful, if you shake them. Since that sounds idiotic, he called it “succussion”. Naturally, he concluded that shaking stuff released spiritual powers in the water (or whatever). He called the process of standing around shaking stuff to make it more powerful, “dynamization”. Over time, Sammy became so impressed by his own stupidity that he actually started releasing dire warnings about the danger of “dynamizing” homeopathic remedies too much. He counseled homeopaths not to carry medicines about in their pockets lest they inadvertently make them too powerful and cause a death. Then that got a little dull, so he started telling people that they didn’t even have to take the drug! If a drug was succussed enough (read: shaken) it would be so powerful that people could simply smell it and be cured. (I smell something stinky… and it isn’t a remedy…)

Want to make your own homeopathic treatment?

  1. Collect 1 drop of onion juice and put it in your bath tub
  2. Dilute it into a bathtub of water, and then fill one 8 oz glass with your tub-onion drop soup.
  3. Take that to your neighbor’s house, and pour your cup in their bathtub. Repeat step 2
  4. Take the new 8 oz glass and to a neighbor who has a pool. Pour your 8 oz into their pool and fill it with clean (chlorine-free) water.
  5. Mix it thoroughly. Then take a medicine dropper and extract one drop.
  6. Put that drop in a vial and success it. (Shake it)
  7. Once it has been dynamized, drink it.

Don’t taste any onion? Don’t worry. That tells you it must be very powerful. Actual homeopathic remedies are even MORE powerful. (Meaning some dude added extra water, and shook it more) If you see “Pulsatilla 6c” on a remedy, it means it contains Pulstilla which has been shaken 6 times (ooooohhh!) and is diluted to 1 part Pulstilla to ONE THOUSAND BILLION parts water. (I am not kidding.)

Supposedly this works because water has memory. The water “remembers” the homeopathic cure, and no matter how much you dilute it, the water takes on the properties of that one drop of stuff you added. Tim Minchin makes a great point about how dumb this is:

It’s a miracle! Take physics and bin it!
Water has memory!
And while it’s memory of a long lost drop of onion juice is infinite
It somehow forgets all the poo it’s had in it!

(From his poem, Storm)

Not science?

At the beginning, I claimed that homeopathy is not a science based discipline. Want to know why? Well if the above reasons aren’t enough, keep reading. Here is how Hahnemann did research. Healthy people take his treatments, keep very specific diaries, and then promise to tell the truth. If they feel sick, that proves the cure works. (Seriously. You couldn’t make this stuff up. Well… I guess he did, so maybe you can also…)

He wanted to make sure they wouldn’t do anything to throw off his “research” so he forbade them from playing Chess, and other exciting games. He needed a name for his process of finding cures by making people sick… So he called it “proving”. The best part is that he said “methods of proving are highly personalised and of individual relevance to the homoeopath or experimenter.”

In other words, every homeopath (AKA "Dumb-path") preparing remedies would likely come with completely different treatments for the same person. (Now THAT is scientific!)

A major problem with Hahnemann’s research is that it entirely relies on the test subject’s ability to accurately report his symptoms. Imagine you are doing a study on knee pain. Subject A rates his pain as a 5, and Subject B rates her pain as a 5. Do they have the same amount of pain? You HAVE NO IDEA! Subjective tests that use patient reporting and not empirical testing are highly unreliable.

Of the hundreds of studies done on homeopathic remedies, most showed no value in the remedies. A few studies like one done by Jacque Benveniste claimed to prove that homeopathy works. But when other scientists saw his research, he was thoroughly discredited. There is no evidence produced under reasonable experimental conditions that homeopathy has any more effect than a placebo.

Benveniste goes so far as to claim that a homeopathic solution can be digitally recorded, and emailed to someone. (I don't even know how to make fun of that...)

So why does anyone believe this stuff?

I’m not sure. Homeopathy has been around for 200 years, and has not been able to show any conclusive research (with repeatable results, under SCIENTIFIC conditions) that homeopathy works. It nearly always consists of overpriced impotent doses of outrageously diluted substances that do little.

Don’t waste your money.

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