Monday, July 27, 2009

On Homeopathy

I figured I had better write about it soon or at least give some kind of explanation or reason for the 'homeopathetic' in the URL.
Homeopathy, is known to many as just an alternative medicine with no real explanation at all. The understandably good reason for this is that the explanation of homeopathy seems like something out of a poorly researched science fiction novel. I had first properly heard the rough definition of it in the Tim Minchin song 'If You Open Your Mind Too Much Your Brain Will Fall Out (Take My Wife), and dismissed it as surely some alternative medicine with little popularity. I have always myself been a skeptic, but as I began to get more into the Skeptic movement, listening to the many Skeptical podcasts and reading Blogs etc, I began to hear more and more of Homeopathy and soon realised that it was quite a mainstream alternative.
For those who haven't heard, wikipedia describes homeopathy as
"a form of alternative medicine, first expounded by German physician Samuel Hahnemann in 1796, that treats patients with heavily diluted preparations which are thought to cause effects similar to the symptoms presented. Homeopathic remedies are prepared by serial dilution with shaking by forceful striking, which homeopaths term "succession," after each dilution under the assumption that this increases the effect of the treatment.
Apart from the symptoms of the disease, homeopaths use aspects of the patient's physical and psychological state in recommending remedies. Homeopathic reference books known as repertories are then consulted, and a remedy is selected based on the index of symptoms. Homeopathic remedies are considered safe, with rare exceptions. However, some homeopaths have been criticized for putting patients at risk with advice to avoid conventional medicine such as vaccinations, anti-malarial drugs, and antibiotics. In many countries, the laws that govern the regulation and testing of conventional drugs do not apply to homeopathic remedies."

As you can see it has no basis in actual science. In the days where many other treatments where dangerous to the person's health, (purging, bleeding, unnecessary amputation etc) avoiding treatment would have ostensibly better then the more conventional treatments. However, conventional medicine has come a long way, homeopathy has not.

One of the idiocies that homeopathy is based on is what they call the "Law of Similar" (or Similarities). Hahnemann claimed that he observed from his experiments from chinchona bark, that was used to treat malaria, that the effects he experienced from ingesting the bark were similar to the symptoms of malaria. Sigh, to quote directly from wikipedia now to avoid having to think too much about this "He therefore reasoned that cure proceeds through similarity, and that treatments must be able to produce symptoms in healthy individuals similar to those of the disease being treated".

How many F's in 'Fail'? Just the one? I thought so.

So in other words things like insomnia could be treated with coffee, diluted in water, to as infinitely diluted as they could make it; i.e, that effectively pure water could cure pretty much whatever they felt like as long as they could find a pure substance that could simulate the very symptoms of the ailment you were trying to remove.

Firstly, why would anyone assume that some unrelated substance that gave you the symptoms that you didn't want would help you diluted or not? Secondly, isn't an immunization essentially giving you a dead (better then diluted) actually related substance (the antigen) that replicates symptoms minorly (the fortification of the immune system). Why then would anyone choose homeopathic treatment over immunization. This is an excerpt from a pubmed article;

"The homoeopaths were asked whether they used or recommended orthodox immunization for children and whether they only used and recommended homoeopathic immunization. Seven of the 10 homoeopaths who were medically qualified recommended orthodox immunization but none of the 13 non-medically qualified homoeopaths did. One non-medically qualified homoeopath only used and recommended homoeopathic immunization."

I conclude this first part of the many rants to come in saying that the majority of these 'alternative medicine treatments' should be re classed as 'alternative to medicine treatments' as alternative medicine implies that the treatments actually do anything. Maybe they should just be classed as 'High Level Cost Placebos' or HLCP for short.


The Tim Minchin clip can be found here,
the pubmed article here,
and the wikipedia homeopathy article here

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