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Some concerns about homeopathy

Discussion in 'Alternative Therapies' started by Esther12, Sep 9, 2017.

  1. Esther12

    Esther12 Senior Member

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    There was a recent thread about how to respectfully challenge other peoples' efficacy claims about treatments that they thought had helped them, and if this could even be done. Homeopathy came up as an example of a treatment that gets a lot of criticism, and I thought I might try to explain why I think homeopathy should get a lot of criticism here, at least partly in response to requests to challenge people's arguments.

    Sorry if this is a bit long-winded.

    History of homeopathy, and the theories it's founded upon:

    Homeopathy was developed on the basis of the theory that 'like cures like'. It seems that even keen homeopathy supporters would now recognises that this theory is nonsense.

    "Homeopathic proving" was conducted to assess what substances led to what symptoms in test subjects. Then 'medicines' were created by greatly diluting these substances in order to reduce side-effects which worsened the symptoms that they were intended to treat.

    The intensive dilution (or "potentization") used to create most homeopathic treatments means that it is unlikely that there is even a single molecule of the original active (like cures like) substance in most people's homeopathic medicine. Homeopathy's originator recommended a dilution ration of 1:10 to the power of 60. It's as pure a placebo as one could hope for.

    What about quantum mechanics?:

    This came up in the previous thread, and I see it come up quite often in attempted defences of homeopathy, so thought that I'd explain why I think that this is a weak point.

    There a lot of confusing stuff going on at a quantum level, and I don't pretend to really understand any of it. But that doesn't mean it can be used to justify homeopathic medicine in any meaningful way. It's possible for Holocaust deniers to argue that a modern understanding of time and the probabilistic nature of matter means that the Holocaust may never have 'happened'... or that perhaps someone learnt how to manipulate quantum fluctuations so as to fabricate the 'evidence' of the Nazi holocaust... anything is possible. But if there's no good positive evidence that strange quantum shenanigans lead to homeopathy being an effective treatment for anything (or challenge our understanding of the Holcaust!) what value is there in bringing it up? One might as well just say 'it could be magic'.

    The theories may be rubbish, but that doesn't mean it's not still effective:

    It's true that the fact that the underlying theories for homeopathy are nonsense doesn't mean that homeopathic medicine cannot be helpful. Maybe homeopaths just got really lucky? A lot of effective medicines have been developed thanks to large doses of luck. In this case, with the specific theories underlying heomeopathy, and the specific ways in which they are nonsense, that does seems extremely unlikely.

    Also, the evidence we have indicates that homeopathic medicines don't work.

    Here's an eg of a review: https://theconversation.com/no-evidence-homeopathy-is-effective-nhmrc-review-25368

    There will be occaisional studies that show a positive effect (even for a worthless treatment we'd still expect one in twenty rigorous studies to show a significant difference from a placebo group, and there are also a lot of badly designed homeopathy studies out there), but the totality of evidence fails to show positive value for homeopathy, and certainly nothing like the positive effect over placebo that we'd expect if this was a sensible use of resources.

    Why have people used it for so long then?:

    I don't know, but there are probably lots of different reason, many I'm not aware of. Lots of ineffective treatments get used for a long time and that doesn't provide any evidence of their value.

    For a pretty long time a placebo intervention would be better than the blood letting of 'mainstream' medicine. Even until very recently, it doesn't suprise me that the British Royal Family are keen on homeopathy, as they'll otherwise have had the extensive interventions of the leading 'experts' of the day: keen to validate their exciting new theories on an heir to the throne - a placebo will often be better than that.

    Also, there is often a social pressure to seek some form of 'treatment' if one suffers from health problems. When suffering from health problems that lack an effective treatment, homeopathy provides a relatively easy way of responding to those social pressures.

    Some people just value the 'therapeutic encounter'. Having someone present themselves as an expert committed to helping with ones health problems can be emotionally pleasing, and a reassuring way of shifting concerns to another, even if they are just a quack. When I hear from people who value the UK's CFS centres, they often seem to value them in this way.

    What's the harm if it is just placebo?

    There is a danger of people not pursuing more useful treatments, although that's less of an issue for CFS it can be a real problem for more committed fans of homeopathy.

    Personally, I don't like people making money from the sick with unfounded claims of treatment efficacy. It bugs me. It takes advantage of people's desperation and wastes their resources. If all the money CFS patients had spent on worthless treatments had instead been invested into medical research, then we'd be in a much better position today.

    If people endorse quackery like homeopathy then it will partially undermine any complaints they make about the way mainstream medicine has treated them. When their are such problems with how many with CFS have been treated, this can be a real problem.

    Also, lots of people in society are aware of all of the problems with homeopathy I've mentioned above. While homeopathy can be used to relieve social pressure to seek treatment, use of homeopathy can also lead to more social problems. For a lot of people out there, if a patient with CFS says "I'm seeing a homeopath" that can be interpreted as meaning "I'm unreasonable and nothing I say about my health can be trusted". I don't think that's fair, but there are a lot of unfair attitudes about CFS already out there, and patients who associate themselves with quackery risk causing further social problems for themselves, often in ways that they are not fully aware of.

    There are lots of treatments being promoted with no real evidence base - why pick on homeopathy?

    Because it's easy, and I'm ill and lazy.

    I do have a concern that homeopathy attracts more criticism than potentially more dangerous forms of 'alternative' medicine just because it is more obviously nonsense than a lot of other things. When I see people posting about some other things on here that sound very dodgy I often have to decide whether or not I want to spend my time investigating and then debating something that looks like dangerous quackery. More recently, I've generally been deciding to leave it (I've been involved in quite a few long discussions about things like this in the past). In an ideal world we'd all be engaging critically with one anothers ideas non-stop, but this is not an ideal world.

    Also, in discussions on PR about the problems with claims made about the efficacy of CBT/GET, 'homeopathy' has become a useful shorthand for 'quackery that no-one in mainstream medicine respects', and pointing to similar problems with claims made about the effiacy for CBT/GET and homeopathy can be a useful tactic for challenging those who consider themselves 'skeptics' yet have dismissed concerns about PACE. 'Homeopathy' can be a useful symbol in those sorts of discussions, but it's often done on the assumption that readers are already dismissive of homeopathy, without any explanation being given as to why people should be dismissive.

    Because of the way that they're seen as a part of 'mainstream' medicine (this having a considerable impact on how they're promoted to patients) I think that it's more important to criticise the quackery which surrounds CBT and GET than 'alternative' forms of quackery. But that's just my priority for how I want to spen my energy, and it certainly doesn't mean that I think it's okay for those making money from 'alternative' treatments to set themselves lower standards for the evidence required to justify claims of a treatment's efficacy.

    Just to be clear: I don't feel any ill-will to other patients who are using homeopathy. I don't feel smug about the fact that they're doing something that I think it ridiculous. I've done lots of things that I now realise were ridiculous, and I'm grateful to the people who pointed out when I was making mistakes. I think that for a healthy intellectual community we all need to be trying to pick apart one anothers' claims and beliefs in the hope of improving ourselves and getting close to the truth. Best wishes to everyone.

    edit: @barbc56 posted this link summarising some of the possible reasons ineffective treatments can seem to work, even though when they're tested in a properly conducted trial the evidence shows that they do not:

     
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2017
  2. BruceInOz

    BruceInOz Senior Member

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    I assume this was supposed to come out as 1:10 to the power 60 (i.e. 1:1 followed by 60 zeros).
     
  3. Esther12

    Esther12 Senior Member

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    Thanks for the catch - I was sure I'd formatted that properly!
    edit: forum software reformats it on posting.
     
  4. hellytheelephant

    hellytheelephant Senior Member

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    Homeopathy helped me to improve from being almost housebound to being about 75% well ( back at the end of the 90's). I also had homeopathic innoculations, and took a homeopathic first aid kit with me travelling around S America years ago...and didn't get sick whilst I was there.

    I still use a few remedies at 30 potency: Arnica for travel or medical procedures, Ignatia for grief or shock, and Nux Vomica for sick headaches'stomach bugs.

    I know many people think it is a placebo effect- personally I couldn't care less if it is a placebo as it works for me AND unlike the dozens of conventional medicines I have tried over the years, has not caused vile side effects...or left me with extra symptoms!
     
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2017
  5. HowToEscape?

    HowToEscape? Senior Member

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    Belief in magic is much older than understanding of the scientific method and also more popular. Very often you'll see supposedly educated people write the phrase "believe in science", as if it's a form of magic or religion. For them, perhaps it is.

    Homeopathy is a form of sympathetic magic: the notion that things are attracted to similar things, and things that have ever been in contact with each other permanently contaminate each other. Finally it is a dogmatic system; The water molecules in a homeopathic remedy remember being in contact with the magic herb, but forget their passage at some point in previous time through the large intestine of a dog afflicted with diarrhea.

    For most of history heavy things were believed to be attracted towards the earth, light things towards the sky. Makes perfect sense, provided you don't actually examine it, and heaven forbid you take all the air out of the tube and then see how fast a feather will fall inside of it. "That must be witchcraft" would have been the answer through most of ancient times.

    It's been theorized that belief in magic is wired into the human brain, it's something we naturally want to do. I suspect that few people will be convinced to disbelieve in magic by any rational argument.
     
  6. brenda

    brenda Senior Member

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    It cured cystitis for me and I gave some of my Sepia to a woman on a caraven site in France who had cystitis and it cured hers too.

    I think that vets that use homeopathy would know if it was placebo, some of them using it as main treatment, and also the Germans who use it extensively, medical doctors included, prescribing it. To think that they are being fooled is laughable. I know the German pscyhce and they are very practical minded and intelligent. They also in general are healthier than Americans or English people.

    I think that homeopathy might not work so well or maybe not at all in someone who has used or is using pharmaceuticals extensively and have much damage because of it. It works best in those whose body is still able to heal.

    The Duke of Edinburgh has just retired at 96. Hmm, he obviously did not rely on pharmaceuticals nor does the Queen. Connected? I think so.
     
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  7. TiredSam

    TiredSam The wise nematode hibernates

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    I have just consumed a whole barrel of bisuits.
     
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  8. Jonathan Edwards

    Jonathan Edwards Senior Member

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    Homeopathy is not in fact an alternative to 'Western medicine' but rather a fag end picked up from Western medicine. In 1790 Jenner put vaccination on the map, although it had been practiced for centuries. Vaccination is 'like with like, in diluted form' and that is where Hahnemann got the idea for homeopathy from in 1810. Hahnemann never had a brilliant insight into a new way of treating. He just garbled an orthodox idea. The difference is that Hahnemann never tested his treatments properly and we now know that vaccination is irrelevant to the way treatments for other diseases work. Ironically people who like homeopathy often do not like vaccination, which is where it comes from.
     
  9. AndyPR

    AndyPR Cookies for Tired Sam

    Nice post @Esther12 - well thought out, logical and respectful. My money will be on it becomes one of the most reported posts on PR ;)
     
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  10. TiredSam

    TiredSam The wise nematode hibernates

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    It's George Boole I feel sorry for

    https://www.theguardian.com/science...digital-pioneer-george-boole-lincoln-festival

    Apparently, because he had caught his fever in the rain, his wife thought the like with like cure would be to douse him with icy-cold buckets of water and he died. That such a logical chap should be sent to an early grave in such a fashion is bitter indeed.
     
  11. Valentijn

    Valentijn The Diabolic Logic

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    I'm glad you're feeling better. But if the cure was down to homeopathy, why isn't that effect capable of showing up in a trial? Does science scare away the vibrations?

    This is an appeal to authority. It's a logical fallacy because the identity of someone holding an opinion is not important. Rather it's the quality of their evidence which is relevant.

    This is a stereotype, and certainly not broadly true of the Germans I have known. Even positive stereotypes are inappropriate, as they replace individuality with a broad misconception of a shared identity.

    I'm not sure why you think that is down to homeopathy, when diet accounts for most health differences.

    So the miracle cure will work, but only if you reject the opposing ideology and have lived a virtuous life. Ergo if it doesn't work, it just proves we did something wrong, and the treatment isn't to blame. That sounds a lot like CBT, come to think of it :D

    Anectdotes are not reliable evidence. Science helps to determine the cause of people living longer, since numerous factors are at play.
     
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2017
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  12. lansbergen

    lansbergen Senior Member

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    High fever is treated with ice.
     
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  13. TiredSam

    TiredSam The wise nematode hibernates

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    Well it didn't work very well.
     
  14. barbc56

    barbc56 Senior Member

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  15. brenda

    brenda Senior Member

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  16. TiredSam

    TiredSam The wise nematode hibernates

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    And there was I imagining all the world's scientists with their feet on the table, hands clasped behind their heads and smug grins on their faces saying "finished!"
     
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  17. Londinium

    Londinium Senior Member

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    Yep, CBT when applied to a biological condition as a cure rather than as a coping strategy often resembles faith healing, right down to the 'blame the patient' approch when results are less than positive.

    As for homeopathy, I will leave that to the rather wonderful Tim Minchin:

    Faith is the denial of observation so that Belief can be preserved
    If you show me
    That, say, homeopathy works
    Then I will change my mind
    I will spin on a fucking dime
    I'll be embarrassed as hell,
    But I will run through the streets yelling
    "It's a miracle! Take physics and bin it!
    Water has memory!"
    And while its memory of a long lost drop of onion juice is infinite,
    It somehow forgets all the poo it's had in it!
     
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  18. brenda

    brenda Senior Member

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    No answer to my question yet - I wonder why lol.
     
  19. Londinium

    Londinium Senior Member

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    Did the pets fill out a questionnaire in which they expressed how much better they were feeling? Or could it just possibly be that the vets/owners might be affected by the placebo effect?

    But seriously, I just took the first testimonial off your link:

    Can anybody spot why any improvement here might not be down to the expensive water?
     
  20. brenda

    brenda Senior Member

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    Hilarious! Try again.
     

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