Saturday, April 10, 2010

World Homeopathy Awareness Week

Today is the first day of World Homeopathy Awareness Week!  So I want all of my readers to be aware of what homeopathy is and how it "works."

Here's how the National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary and Alternative medicine describes homeopathy:

Overview
The term homeopathy comes from the Greek words homeo, meaning similar, andpathos, meaning suffering or disease. Homeopathy seeks to stimulate the body's ability to heal itself by giving very small doses of highly diluted substances. This therapeutic method was developed by German physician Samuel Christian Hahnemann at the end of the 18th century. Hahnemann articulated two main principles:
  • The principle of similars (or "like cures like") states that a disease can be cured by a substance that produces similar symptoms in healthy people. This idea, which can be traced back to Hippocrates, was further developed by Hahnemann after he repeatedly ingested cinchona bark, a popular treatment for malaria, and found that he developed the symptoms of the disease. Hahnemann theorized that if a substance could cause disease symptoms in a healthy person, small amounts could cure a sick person who had similar symptoms.
  • The principle of dilutions (or "law of minimum dose") states that the lower the dose of the medication, the greater its effectiveness. In homeopathy, substances are diluted in a stepwise fashion and shaken vigorously between each dilution. This process, referred to as "potentization," is believed to transmit some form of information or energy from the original substance to the final diluted remedy. Most homeopathic remedies are so dilute that no molecules of the healing substance remain; however, in homeopathy, it is believed that the substance has left its imprint or "essence," which stimulates the body to heal itself (this theory is called the "memory of water").
Homeopaths treat people based on genetic and personal health history, body type, and current physical, emotional, and mental symptoms. Patient visits tend to be lengthy. Treatments are "individualized" or tailored to each person—it is not uncommon for different people with the same condition to receive different treatments.
Homeopathic remedies are derived from natural substances that come from plants, minerals, or animals. Common remedies include red onion, arnica (mountain herb), and stinging nettle plant.

So we have the principles of "like cures like" and "law of minimum dose."  In other words, if a large amount of some substance causes you to become sick, then a very small amount will make you better.  Supposedly, the way this works is that the diluting medium (usually water), keeps the woo-woo energy from the substance, even when there isn't a molecule of the substance left in the actual treatment.

Well, they must have research that suggests these principles have some merit, right?   Of course they do!  They're in well-respected journals, such as Homeopathy and Homeopathy 4 Everyone (yes, it actually uses the number '4').  OK, I guess it's possible that those journals are a bit biased, let's look at what some studies in some more mainstream pharmacology journals have to say about homeopathy.**

From A systematic review of systematic reviews of homeopathy in British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology:

Eleven independent systematic reviews were located. Collectively they failed to provide strong evidence in favour of homeopathy. In particular, there was no condition which responds convincingly better to homeopathic treatment than to placebo or other control interventions. Similarly, there was no homeopathic remedy that was demonstrated to yield clinical effects that are convincingly different from placebo. It is concluded that the best clinical evidence for homeopathy available to date does not warrant positive recommendations for its use in clinical practice.
How about Evidence of clinical evidence for homeopathy in European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology: 
Conclusions: There is some evidence that homeopathic treatments are more effective than placebo; however, the strength of this evidence is low because of the low methodological quality of the trials. Studies of high methodological quality were more likely to be negative than the lower quality studies. Further high quality studies are needed to confirm these results.
But I think Tim Minchin said it best:
Science adjusts its views based on what's observed. Faith is the denial of observation so that belief can be preserved. If you show me that, say, homoeopathy works, I'll change my mind. I'll spin on a fucking dime. I'll be embarrassed as hell but I will run through the streets yelling "Its 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 about all the poo it's had in it. You show me that it works and how it works, and when I've recovered from the shock, I will take a compass and carve 'fancy that' on the side of my cock.  (From Storm)
So go out and let everyone know that it's World Homeopathy Awareness Week, and teach them about what homeopathy really is.  You can find some more WHAW fun with Orac over at Respectful Insolence (some very funny videos available there).



** Of course I know that you can find support or opposition for any position if I look in the right scientific journal.  That's why it's not enough to just believe whatever you read, but to critically think about it.  I've read some studies on homeopathy, and some critical of it, and for a number of reasons I believe that it's bunk.  It doesn't correspond with what else we know from basic science (chemistry, physics, etc.), most of the studies that have shown homeopathy effective have shown methodological flaws, and are generally only published in specialty journals that have a higher likelihood of being biased.  All of that said, I don't want anyone to believe me just because I'm saying these things.  I want them to read and think about these things for themselves.  

1 comment:

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