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"...for the purposes of popular discourse, it is not necessary for homeopaths to prove their case. It is merely necessary for them to create walls of obfuscation, and superficially plausible technical documents that support their case, in order to keep the dream alive in the imaginations of both the media and their defenders." --Ben Goldacre
If homeopathy works, then obviously the less you use it, the stronger it gets. So the best way to apply homeopathy is to not use it at all. --Phil Plait
At the declared homeopathic dose of 200C, the total mass of pills that would have to be consumed to encounter a single molecule of the original substance would be billions of times greater than the mass of the Earth. Yet the label on this product says it contains a 'medicinal ingredient!'--Joe Schwarcz
Classical homeopathy originated in the 19th century with Samuel Christian Friedrich Hahnemann (1755-1843) as an alternative to the standard medical practices of the day, such as phlebotomy or bloodletting. Opening veins to bleed patients, force disease out of the body, and restore the humors to a proper balance was a popular medical practice until the late19th century (Williams 2000: 265). Hahnemann rejected the notion that disease should be treated by letting out the offensive matter causing the illness. In this, he was right. On the other hand, he argued that disease should be treated by helping the vital force restore the body to harmony and balance. In this, he was wrong. He rejected other common medical practices of his day such as purgatives and emetics "with opium and mercury-based calomel" (ibid.: 145). He was right to do so. Hahnemann's alternative medicine was more humane and less likely to cause harm than many of the conventional practices of his day.
Scientific medicine was developing in Hahnemann's time but homeopathy would not be part of that development. Scientific medicine is essentially materialistic. It is based on such disciplines as anatomy, physiology, and chemistry. While Hahnemann's methods involve empirical observation, his theory of disease and cure is essentially non-empirical and involves the appeal to metaphysical entities and processes.
Hahnemann put forth his ideas of disease and treatment in The Organon of Homeopathic Medicine (1810) and Theory of Chronic Diseases (1821). The term 'homeopathy' is derived from two Greek words: homeo (similar) and pathos (suffering). Hahnemann meant to contrast his method with the convention of his day of trying to balance "humors" by treating a disorder with its opposite (allos). He referred to conventional practice as allopathy. Even though modern scientific medicine bears no resemblance to the theory of balancing humors or treating disease with its opposite, modern homeopaths and other advocates of "alternative" medicine misleadingly refer to today's science-trained physicians as allopaths (Jarvis 1994).
Classical homeopathy is generally defined as a system of medical treatment based on the use of minute quantities of remedies that in larger doses produce effects similar to those of the disease being treated. Hahnemann believed that very small doses of a medication could have very powerful healing effects because their potency could be affected by vigorous and methodical shaking (succussion). Hahnemann referred to this alleged increase in potency by vigorous shaking as dynamization. Hahnemann thought succussion could release "immaterial and spiritual powers," thereby making substances more active. "Tapping on a leather pad or the heel of the hand was alleged to double the dilution" (ibid.).
Dynamization was for Hahnemann a process of releasing an energy that he regarded as essentially immaterial and spiritual. As time went on he became more and more impressed with the power of the technique he had discovered and he issued dire warnings about the perils of dynamizing medicines too much. This might have serious or even fatal consequences, and he advised homeopaths not to carry medicines about in their waistcoat pockets lest they inadvertently make them too powerful. Eventually he even claimed that there was no need for patients to swallow the medicines at all; it was enough if they merely smelt them. (Campbell)
Two potency scales are in common use: the decimal, which proceeds by 1:10 steps, and the centesimal (1:100). Starting from the original "mother tincture" (in the case of a plant this is an alcoholic extract) a 1:10 or 1:100 dilution is made. This is succussed and the resulting solution is known as the first potency. This now serves as the starting point for the next step in dilution and succussion, which results in the second potency, and so on. The 1:10 potencies are usually indicated by x and the 1:100 by c; thus Pulsatilla 6c means the 6th centesimal potency of Pulsatilla, which has received six succussions and has a concentration of one part in a thousand billion. (Campbell)
Like most of his contemporaries, Hahnemann believed that health was a matter of balance and harmony, but for him it was the vital force, the spirit in the body, that did the balancing and harmonizing, that is, the healing.
Hahnemann claimed that most chronic diseases were caused by miasms and the worst of these miasms were the 'psora.' The evidence for the miasm theory, however, is completely absent and seems to have been the result of some sort of divine revelation (Campbell). The word 'miasm'
derives from the Greek and means something like "taint" or "contamination". Hahnemann supposed that chronic disease results from invasion of the body by one of the miasms through the skin. The first sign of disease is thus always a skin disorder of some kind (Campbell).
His method of treatment might seem very modern: Find the right drug for the illness. However, his medicines were not designed to help the body fight off infection or rebuild tissue, but to help the vital spirit work its magic. In fact, Hahnemann believed it is "inherently impossible to know the inner nature of disease processes and it was therefore fruitless to speculate about them or to base treatment on theories" (Campbell). His remedies were determined by the patient's symptoms, not by the supposed disease causing those symptoms.
Homeopaths refer to "the Law of Infinitesimals" and the "Law of Similars" as grounds for using minute substances and for believing that like heals like, but these are not natural laws of science. If they are laws at all, they are metaphysical laws, i.e., beliefs about the nature of reality that would be impossible to test by empirical means. Hahnemann's ideas did originate in experience. That he drew metaphysical conclusions from empirical events does not, however, make his ideas empirically testable. The law of infinitesimals seems to have been partly derived from his notion that any remedy would cause the patient to get worse before getting better and that one could minimize this negative effect by significantly reducing the size of the dose. Most critics of homeopathy balk at this "law" because it leads to remedies that have been so diluted as to have nary a single molecule of the substance one starts with. Hahnemann came up with his dilution idea prior to our understanding of atoms and molecules. The greatest dilution that is likely to contain at least one molecule of the original substance is 12C [dilute by a factor of 100 twelve times]. Hahnemann advocated 30C dilutions for most purposes.
Hahnemann came upon his Law of Similars (like cures like) in 1790 while translating William Cullen's Materia Medica into German (Loudon 1997: 94). He began experimenting on himself with various substances, starting with cinchona.
Daily for several days, he wrote, he had been taking four drams of the drug. Each time he had repeated the dose, his feet and finger tips had become cold, and other symptoms had followed which were typical of malaria. Each time he had stopped taking the cinchona, he had returned rapidly to a state of good health. (Williams 1981: 184)
Hahnemann experimented on himself with various drugs over several years and concluded that "a doctor should use only those remedies which would have the power to create, in a healthy body, symptoms similar to those that might be seen in the sick person being treated (ibid.)." Medicines should be given in single doses, he claimed, not in complex mixtures. His conclusions seem to have been based upon intuition or revelation. He did not experiment with patients by giving them drugs to discover which remedies worked with which illnesses or that only unmixed substances were effective. Indeed, he couldn't experiment on sick people because he assumed the remedy must produce an effect similar to the disease and he'd never be able to tell what remedies to use because the symptoms of the disease would be difficult to distinguish from those of the remedy in a sick person. Instead, he assumed that whatever caused the symptoms in a healthy person would be a remedy for a disease with similar symptoms.
Hahnemann called this method of finding what symptoms a drug caused in a healthy person "proving."
Hahnemann did not leave us any details of the doses he used or the manner of giving the drugs, but from chance remarks elsewhere in his writings and from the accounts of his provers we have a pretty fair idea of what went on. All the provings at this time were carried out with tinctures (extracts) of herbs or, in the case of insoluble substances, with 'first triturations' (one part of substance ground up with nine parts of sugar or milk)....
His usual practice seems to have been to give repeated doses until some effect was produced; the actual amount was calculated on the basis of his own previous experience. The provers were expected to record their symptoms with the utmost care, and on presenting their notebooks to Hahnemann they had to offer him their hands - the customary way of taking an oath at German universities at that time - and swear that what they had reported was the truth. Hahnemann would then question them closely about their symptoms to elicit the details of time, factors that made them better or worse, and so on. Coffee, tea, wine, brandy and spices were forbidden to provers and so was chess (which Hahnemann considered too exciting), but beer was allowed and moderate exercise was encouraged. (Campbell)
Working on the principle of similarities, Hahnemann created remedies for various disorders that had symptoms similar to those of the substances his provers had taken. However, "....methods of proving are highly personalised and of individual relevance to the homoeopath or experimenter."* In other words, one hundred homeopaths preparing a remedy for one patient might well come up with one hundred different remedies.
Hahnemann may be praised for empirically testing his medicines, but his method of testing is obviously flawed. He wasn't actually testing the medicines for effectiveness on sick people but for their effects on healthy people. In any case, he had to rely upon the subjective evaluations of his provers, all of whom were his disciples or family members and all of whom were interrogated by the master himself. (Later investigators would use more controlled methods of proving.*) But even if his data weren't tainted by the possibility of his suggesting symptoms to his provers or their reporting symptoms to impress or gain the approval of the master, it is a belief in magic that connects this list of symptoms with the cure of a disease with similar symptoms. In logic, this kind of leap of reasoning is called a non sequitur: It does not follow from the fact that drug A produces symptoms similar to disease B that taking A will relieve the symptoms of B. However, homeopaths take customer satisfaction with A as evidence that A works.
There is some evidence that Hahnemann did not use healthy subjects to prove any of the remedies he recommended for most disorders: sulfur, cuttlefish ink, salt, and sand.
What appears to have happened is that Hahnemann based his new provings largely on symptoms supposed to have been produced in his chronic patients. By his own rules this procedure was inadmissible, and in fact it undoubtedly led him to attribute to the effect of the medicines a number of symptoms that were really due to the diseases the patients were suffering from. (Campbell)
While we might excuse Hahnemann for not doing properly controlled experiments, we shouldn't be so generous toward modern homeopaths for not understanding the nature of anecdotes and testimonial evidence. However, we can't accuse them of not doing any properly designed controlled experiments. But we can blame them for not understanding some fundamental principles of evaluating the results of controlled experiments that involve giving drugs or even inert substances to humans.
Today's homeopaths should know that because of the complexity of each individual human body, fifty different people may react in fifty different ways to the same substance. This makes doing clinical trials on potential medicines a procedure that should rarely claim dramatic results on the basis of one set of trials. Finding a statistically significant difference, positive or negative, between an experimental (drug therapy) group and a control group in one trial of a drug should usually be taken with a grain of salt. So should not finding anything statistically significant. It is not uncommon for twenty trials of a drug to result in several with positive, several with negative, and several with mixed or inconclusive results.
Yet, despite the fact that of the hundreds of studies that have been done on homeopathic remedies the vast majority have found no value in the remedies,* some defenders of homeopathy insist not only that homeopathic remedies work but they claim they know how they work. It seems, however, that scientists like Jacques Benveniste, who claim to know how homeopathy works, have put the cart before the horse. Benveniste claims to have proven that homeopathic remedies work by altering the structure of water, thereby allowing the water to retain a "memory" of the structure of the homeopathic substance that has been diluted out of existence (Nature Vol. 333, No. 6176, pp. 816-818, 30th June, 1988).* The work in Benveniste's lab was thoroughly discredited by a team of investigators who evaluated an attempted replication of the study published in Nature. Neither Benveniste nor any other advocate of the memory-of-water speculation have explained how water is so selective in its memory that it has forgotten all the other billions of substances its molecules have been in contact with over the millennia. One wonders in vain how water remembers only the molecules the homeopath has introduced at some point in the water's history and forgets all those trips down the toilet bowel, etc. (Benveniste even claims that a homeopathic solution's biological activity can be digitally recorded, stored on a hard drive, sent over the Internet, and transferred to water at the receiving end. He was a successful biologist working in a state-run lab until he started making such claims, which have cost him his status and reputation as a reputable scientist. He is now considered by his critics (such as James Randi) to be another Blondlot.) Since homeopathic remedies don't work any better than placebos or doing nothing, there is no need for an elaborate explanation as to how they work. What there is need of is an explanation for why so many people are satisfied with their homeopath despite all the evidence that homeopathic remedies are inert and no more effective than a placebo or just letting an illness run its natural course.
Why does anyone believe homeopathy works?
Before attempting to explain why so many people believe homeopathy works, let me first defend the claim that homeopathic remedies, if effective, are no more effective than placebos. There have been several reviews of various studies of the effectiveness of homeopathic treatments and not one of these reviews concludes that there is good evidence for any homeopathic remedy (HR) being more effective than a placebo. Homeopaths have had over 200 years to demonstrate their wares and have failed to do so. Sure, there are single studies that have found statistically significant differences between groups treated with an HR and control groups, but none of these have been replicated or they have been marred by methodological faults. Two hundred years and we're still waiting for proof! Having an open mind is one thing; waiting forever for evidence is more akin to wishful thinking.
A review of the reviews of homeopathic studies has been done by Terence Hines (2003: 360-362). He reviewed Taylor et al. (2000), Wagner (1997), Sampson and London (1995), Kleijen, Knipschild, and ter Riet (1991), and Hill and Doyon (1990). More than 100 studies have failed to come to any definitive positive conclusions about homeopathic potions. Ramey (2000) notes that
Homeopathy has been the subject of at least 12 scientific reviews, including meta-analytic studies, published since the mid-1980s....[And] the findings are remarkably consistent:....homeopathic "remedies" are not effective.
Nevertheless, homeopathy will always have its advocates, despite the lack of proof that its remedies are more effective than a placebo. Why? One reason is the prevalence of a misunderstanding of the causes of disease and how the human body deals with disease. Hahnemann was able to attract followers because he appeared to be a healer compared to those who were cutting veins or using poisonous purgatives to balance humors. More of his patients may have survived and recovered not because he healed them but because he didn't infect them or kill them by draining out needed blood or weaken them with strong poisons. Hahnemann's medicines were essentially nothing more than common liquids and were unlikely to cause harm in themselves. He didn't have to have too many patients survive and get better to look impressive compared to his competitors. If there is any positive effect on health it is not due to the homeopathic remedy, which is inert, but to the body's own natural curative mechanisms or to the belief of the patient (the placebo effect) or to the effect the manner of the homeopath has on the patient.
Stress can enhance and even cause illness. If a practitioner has a calming effect on the patient, that alone might result in a significant change in the feeling of well-being of the patient. And that feeling might well translate into beneficial physiological effects. The homeopathic method involves spending a lot of time with each patient to get a complete list of symptoms. It's possible this has a significant calming effect on some patients. This effect could enhance the body's own healing mechanisms in some cases. As homeopath Anthony Campbell (2008) puts it: "A homeopathic consultation affords the patient an opportunity to talk at length about her or his problems to an attentive and sympathetic listener in a structured environment, and this in itself is therapeutic." In other words, homeopathy is a form of psychotherapy.
....most homeopaths like to allow at least 45 minutes for a first consultation and many prefer an hour or more. Second, patients feel that they are being treated "as an individual". They are asked a lot of questions about their lives and their likes and dislikes in food, weather, and so on, much of which has no obvious connection with the problem that has led to the consultation. Then the homeopath will quite probably refer to an impressively large and imposing source of information to help with choosing the right "remedy". (Campbell)
We know that the sum of all the scientific evidence shows clearly that homeopathic remedies are no more effective than placebos. This does not mean that patients don't feel better or actually get better after seeing a homeopath. That is quite another matter and is clearly the reason for the satisfied customers. (Here the reader might consult the entries on the placebo effect, the post hoc fallacy and the regressive fallacy.)
Before moving on, I should note that homeopaths believe, in the words of one spokeswoman for the Society of Homeopaths:
Many previous studies have demonstrated that homeopathy has an effect over and above placebo....It has been established beyond doubt and accepted by many researchers, that the placebo-controlled randomised controlled trial is not a fitting research tool with which to test homeopathy.*
There are not two kinds of science, conventional and non-conventional. There is just science. You are either doing it or not. True, some are doing science well and some are not. What this homeopath is saying is that control group testing of homeopathic remedies is irrelevant to whether homeopathic remedies are effective beyond their placebo effect. Why should homeopathy be exempt from a fundamental precept of sound science? If homeopathy claims a special exemption from the rules of logic and science, why should any other discipline be expected to do controlled studies? There are good reasons science uses controlled studies. The dangers of self-deception should be apparent. The vulnerability to post hoc fallacies like the regressive fallacy should be obvious. How could we ever separate out placebo and false placebo effects, from unique remedy effect if we did not do controlled studies? Homeopaths are asking that they be given a free pass to draw conclusions about their treatments based on their subjective impressions and self-serving testing methods. Their special pleading is absurd on its face.
Wendy Kaminer, a satisfied customer
Wendy Kaminer, a critic of various irrational behaviors, is one of those satisfied customers. Even so, she told her homeopath that her greatest fear "was that someone would find out I'd consulted a homeopath" (1999; p. 3), which is obviously not her greatest fear or she wouldn't have announced it to the world in her book.
When I go to my homeopath maybe I'm following one of the precepts of the recovery movement that I've always derided: I'm thinking with my heart and not my head. Or maybe I'm acting rationally after all. Believing in homeopathy may be irrational, but not using homeopathy if it works would be even more irrational. I care only if medicine works, not why. (I have the vaguest understanding of antibiotics.)
So I don't listen to scientists eager to tell me why homeopathic remedies can't possibly work, because they violate the laws of chemistry. Assuming that the scientists are right, and the remedies I've taken are mere placebos, why would I want to start doubting - and diminishing - their effectiveness? Why not be susceptible to placebos? (ibid.)
Here we have a rational person who decries irrational behavior admitting that she does something that many rational people would consider irrational. It is interesting how she has dealt with this cognitive dissonance. She has made the irrational rational (or at least less irrational than the alternative) by focusing on her belief that homeopathy works. But we know the potions don't work any better than a placebo, so what is Kaminer talking about? She is not talking about scientific studies that show homeopathic remedies are more effective than doing nothing or taking a placebo, because such studies point in the opposite direction. In fact, she doesn't seem concerned whether such studies even exist. She means that she believes "homeopathy has helped me" (p. 4). Her caveat to the reader is don't take my word for it, try it yourself, which seems to imply that if I go to a homeopath and think it's helped me, then I'd be irrational not to continue seeing the homeopath. But what does help or helps mean? These are weasel words; they have no cognitive content though they are full of emotive meaning. Her only concession to the idea that perhaps she is acting irrationally is in her musing
....maybe I'm imagining that homeopathy has helped me. Maybe I'm confusing correlation with causation: perhaps I began feeling better coincidentally, for some unknown reason, at about the time I turned to homeopathy (ibid., p. 4).
She advises us not to take her word for it and tells us that we should ask her to substantiate her claim. She even advises us to try to duplicate her experience. Perhaps this is her notion of what a rational, scientifically-minded person should do. But there is no way I or anyone else can substantiate her claim by trying to duplicate it. We don't have a clear enough idea about her claim to know what we would be trying to substantiate. Her claim that something helped her is too vague to be of any value in trying to duplicate. Is she really saying that if I go to a homeopath and feel better afterward then I have substantiated and duplicated her claim? I think she is. And I think she is mistaken.
Yet, I think I understand what she is saying. If I, for example, went to a homeopath and found that under treatment the pain in my knees went away completely, the pain that I have been having for several years and which my physician tells me is due to bursitis, then I would be irrational not to continue with the homeopathic remedy. Furthermore, it would be irrational not to consult my homeopath should I begin suffering pain, say, in my elbow or shoulder or back. If I could start jogging again, I would be irrational not to continue seeing my homeopath. I might agree. But, if I consulted a homeopath about a new pain that my physician had been unable to relieve me of with science-based therapy and after the homeopathic treatment the pain went away, I would not consider it irrational to not continue going to the homeopath. I would consider it likely that the pain would have gone away had I not consulted the homeopath. (If you are wondering why, consult my entry on the regressive fallacy or read my essay on evaluating personal experience.)
Furthermore, if a homeopathic remedy did cure me of my knee pain, I would want to investigate what was in the remedy. Even though most homeopathic remedies in the U.S. and the UK are little more than water or alcohol, there are a number of products on the market that are labeled homeopathic that have active ingredients in them (see complex homeopathy, isopathy, and nosodes). However, if I did find that my remedy was one of those that had been diluted so many times that there weren't any molecules remaining of the original active substance, I would rather believe that my pain had suddenly gone away than that the homeopathic remedy had cured me of my pain. Why? Because the known laws of physics and chemistry would have to be completely revamped if a tonic from which nearly every molecule of the active ingredient were removed could be shown to be effective. But if I could yo-yo the pain by stopping and starting the homeopathic remedy under double-blind conditions, I would have to conclude that the potion was having the effect and would have to become an advocate of that homeopathic remedy. This is just to say that homeopathic remedies can be empirically tested. That no remedy has yet been shown to have the effect I have outlined is strong evidence against homeopathic remedies.
Even though classical homeopathic remedies are inert, homeopathy itself is very effective or it wouldn't have lasted and grown for the past 200 years. It is very popular in Europe, especially among the royal family of Britain. There are schools of homeopathy all over the world. Homeopathy is said to be $200 million a year industry in the United States. "The fact that it is condemned as unscientific by some orthodox doctors is for many people a positive merit, not a criticism" (Campbell).
- There is little evidence to support homeopathy as an effective treatment for any specific condition.
- Although people sometimes assume that all homeopathic remedies are highly diluted and therefore unlikely to cause harm, some products labeled as homeopathic can contain substantial amounts of active ingredients [such as ethanol!] and therefore could cause side effects and drug interactions.
- Homeopathic remedies are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, FDA does not evaluate the remedies for safety or effectiveness.
harm from homeopathy
The main harm from classical homeopathy is not likely to come from its remedies, which are probably safe because they are inert, though this is changing as homeopathy becomes indiscernible from herbalism in some places. One potential danger is in the encouragement to self-diagnosis and treatment. Another danger lurks in not getting proper treatment by a science-trained medical doctor in those cases where the patient could be helped by such treatment, such as for a bladder or yeast infection, asthma, or cancer.* Homeopathy might work in the sense of helping some people feel better some of the time. Homeopathy does not work, however, in the sense of explaining pathologies or their cures in a way which not only conforms with the data but which promises to lead us to a greater understanding of the nature of health and disease.
Dara O'Briain on homeopathy, etc.
Mitchell and Webb on homeopathy
Dr. Charlene Werner on Homeopathy (and other delusions of her fantasy universe)
Barrett, Stephen and Kurt Butler (eds.), A Consumers Guide to Alternative Medicine: A Close Look at Homeopathy, Acupuncture, Faith-Healing, and Other Unconventional Treatments; edited by (Buffalo, N.Y. : Prometheus Books, 1992).
Barrett, Stephen. "Homeopathy: Is It Medicine?," in The Hundredth Monkey and Other Paradigms of the Paranormal - A Skeptical Inquirer Collection, ed. Kendrick Frazier (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1991), pp. 271-277.
Bellavite, Paulo, Peter Fisher, and Andrea Signorini. The Emerging Science of Homeopathy: Complexity, Biodynamics, and Nanopharmacology. 2 Ed. Translated by Anthony Steele. (North Atlantic Books 2002).
Gardner, Martin. 1989. "Water with memory? The dilution affair." Skeptical Inquirer 12(2):132-141.
Jarvis, William. ed. "Homeopathy: A Position Statement by the National Council Against Health Fraud," Skeptic vol. 3, no. 1, 1994, pp. 50-57.
Kleinjen J., P. Knipschild, and G. ter Reit. "Clinical trials of homeopathy." British Medical Journal. 302: 316-323, 1991.
Linde K, Clausius N, Ramirez G, Melchart D, Eitel F, Hedges LV, et al. "Are the clinical effects of homeopathy placebo effects? A meta-analysis of placebo-controlled trials," Lancet 1997;350:834-43.
Ramey, David W. "The Scientific Evidence on Homeopathy," Health Priorities, Volume 12, Number 1, 2000.
Reilly, David. Morag A. Taylor, Neil G. M. Beattie, Jim H. Campbell, Charles McSharry, Tom C. Aitchison, Roger Carter, Robin D. Stevenson. "Is Evidence for Homeopathy Reproducible?" The Lancet, Vol 344 . December 10, 1994. Pages 1601-1606.
Sampson W, and W. London. "Analysis of homeopathic treatment of childhood diarrhea." Pediatrics 96:961-964, 1995.
Satel, Sally M.D. and James Taranto. (1996). "The battle over alternative therapies," Sacramento Bee, January 3. First published in The New Republic.
Taylor, M. A., Reilly, D., Llewellyn-Jones, R. H., McSharry, C., and Aitchison, T. C. (2000) "Randomised Controlled Trial of Homoeopathy Versus Placebo in Perennial Allergic Rhinitis with Overview of Four Trial Series" BMJ 321, 471-476
Ernst, E. Homeopathy: what does the "best" evidence tell us? Medical Journal of Australia. 2010 Apr 19;192(8):458-60. "The findings of currently available Cochrane reviews of studies of homeopathy do not show that homeopathic medicines have effects beyond placebo."
Cochrane systematic reviews of studies on homeopathy for ADHD, asthma, induction of labour, dementia, and side-effects of cancer treatments concluded that there is no strong evidence for any of these uses of homeopathy.
Are the clinical effects of homoeopathy placebo effects? Comparative study of placebo-controlled trials of homoeopathy and allopathy. Aijing Shang MD et al. The Lancet, Volume 366, Issue 9487, Pages 726 - 732, 27 August 2005. "Biases are present in placebo-controlled trials of both homoeopathy and conventional medicine. When account was taken for these biases in the analysis, there was weak evidence for a specific effect of homoeopathic remedies, but strong evidence for specific effects of conventional interventions. This finding is compatible with the notion that the clinical effects of homoeopathy are placebo effects."
House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report: Evidence Check 2: Homeopathy. Fourth Report of Session 2009–10. "The Government should stop allowing the funding of homeopathy on the NHS. 111. We conclude that placebos should not be routinely prescribed on the NHS. The funding of homeopathic hospitals—hospitals that specialise in the administration of placebos—should not continue, and NHS doctors should not refer patients to homeopaths."
The Swiss report on homeopathy: a case study of research misconduct David Martin Shaw University of Glasgow, United Kingdom "Homeopaths often argue that there are further systematic reviews which allegedly do show that homeopathy works. Examples are a recent [earlier] Swiss Health Technology Assessment or the review by Mathie. The problem is that these articles do not fulfil the formal criteria for a systematic review, originate from homeopaths, are open to bias and can be criticised on important methodological grounds."
Effectiveness of Homeopathy for Clinical Conditions: Evaluation of the Evidence. Overview Report. Prepared for the National Health and Medical Research Council (of Australia) by OPTUM. October 2013. "There is a paucity of good-quality studies of sufficient size that examine the effectiveness of homeopathy as a treatment for any clinical condition in humans. The available evidence is not compelling and fails to demonstrate that homeopathy is an effective treatment for any of the reported clinical conditions in humans."
The James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) has published Homeopathy and Its Kindred Delusions by Oliver Wendell Holmes with an introduction by Harriet Hall, M.D. (a.k.a. the SkepDoc). For more information and to read Dr. Hall's introduction, click here. Here's a sample from the introduction:
To realize just how remarkable this book is, imagine the world of 1842. Samuel Hahnemann, the inventor of homeopathy, was still alive. Roentgen wouldn’t discover x-rays until 1895. The germ theory was not yet established. Semmelweis wouldn’t make his observations on puerperal fever until 3 years later. It wasn’t until 1854 that John Snow removed the Broad Street pump handle and stopped a cholera epidemic. Koch’s postulates for determining infectious causes of disease weren’t published until 1890. Doctors didn’t wash their hands or use sterile precautions for surgery. Bloodletting to “balance the humors“ was still a common practice. The randomized placebo-controlled trial wouldn’t appear for another century. Contemporary medicine often did more harm than good. In fact, Holmes himself famously quipped “I firmly believe that if the whole materia medica could be sunk to the bottom of the sea, it would be all the better for mankind and all the worse for the fishes.”
Gallery of water-related pseudoscience Your guide to all the other waterscams of the world compiled by Stephen Lower.
Homeovitality® ... More magic DNA snake oil "The creator of this snake-oil, Peter Kay, has a legitimate degree and a good collection of scientific publications to his name....None of them justify this homeopathic DNA nonsense. It looks like someone has realized that science doesn't pay as well as grifting." If you think you can hold off aging by reading gobbledygook and drinking water, this is the product for you.
Obvious quacks: the tip of a scary medical iceberg by Ben Goldacre "Homeopathy...is a small sector of the pharmaceutical industry, a few sugar pill companies worth a couple of billion pounds a year in Europe. Overall, trials show their pills perform no better than placebo. We therefore know that all claims to the contrary are bullshit, but bullshit being tolerated by plenty of MPs, huge swathes of the media, a fair few GPs, and most worryingly of all, the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority, who permit homeopathy pill companies to list diseases they say they can treat on the side of the bottle, with no requirement that they come up with any evidence that their treatment works
Homeopathy Gets a Reality Check in the UK by Stephen Novella The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee (STC) has released a report, Evidence Check 2: Homeopathy, in which they recommend that the NHS stop funding homeopathy. The report is a rare commodity – a thoroughly science-based political document.
Alexa Ray Joel's "homeopathic overdose" possible? by Abel Pharmboy at
If Traumeel is truly homeopathic, there is absolutely no way this product could have caused Joel's hospitalization....She is very fortunate that she took what appears to be a homeopathic remedy rather than some other kind of pill.
“Homeopathy” Study by Harriet Hall
"Homeopaths are grasping at straws when they cite this study. It involved dilution and agitation: that’s the only possible hint of anything homeopathic and it is nothing but a false analogy." See also: Why I am Nominating Luc Montagnier for an IgNobel Prize by Andy Lewis
A total disaster for homeopathy - The Donner report by Jan
"Fritz Donner (1896-1979) was ... a homeopath....he discovered that many things were seriously wrong in homeopathy....Donner was very surprised that nobody wanted to listen to his findings....When Donner got the idea to ... give everybody three rounds of placebo (in three successive weeks), his testees, physicians who took his introductory course in homeopathy, filled their diaries with just as many 'symptoms' as when they got a real (highly diluted) remedy. When Donner told this to his homeopathic colleagues, they didn't believe him....The whole Donner report was published in German in a not very well-known journal (Perfusion) in 1995, and also in a dissertation of 2003....the original German texts are now available on the internet (as well as a Dutch translation)."
Social and judgmental biases that make inert treatments seem to work by Barry L. Beyerstein (1999)
Homeopathy - the ultimate fake by Stephen Barrett, M.D.
Alternative Medicine and the Laws of Physics by Robert L. Park
The End of Homeopathy? by Ben Goldacre
HomeoWatch Your Skeptical Guide to Homeopathic History, Theories, and Current Practices A Quackwatch subsidiary operated by Stephen Barrett, M.D.
What's up with homeopathy? - Cecil Adams, The Straight Dope
Classical Homeopathy by Douglas Hoff
Homeopathic Glossary by Stephen Barrett, M.D.
new Homeopathy Is a Bitter Sugar Pill ... It won’t cure what ails you, but it can get you drunk. by Yvette d’Entremont ..."Many [homeopathic products] list alcohol as an “inactive” ingredient. Because labeling laws on homeopathy are so different from regulations on real medicine with proven ingredients, the only actual drug in a bottle of homeopathic medicine—ethanol, the same active ingredient in vodka—doesn’t have to be listed as a drug. This is not an isolated case."
Scientist Gets Drunk Off Dog Product To Get Major Pet Retailer To Stop Selling It "Good Dog, a homeopathic dog calming supplement, has 13% alcohol, a similar amount to many wines. Various pup parents, including research chemist Yvette d’Entremont, were astonished to learn this. They were even more astonished it was being carried by major pet retailer Petco."[/new]
Homeopathy not effective for treating any condition, Australian report finds Report by top medical research body says ‘people who choose homeopathy may put their health at risk if they reject or delay treatments’
Boots told to stop making medical claims for pills with no active ingredient Boots Pharmacies have been told to stop listing medical conditions in their in-store advertising of homeopathic products by the medicines regulator, following a complaint by Simon Perry. The point-of-sale advertising in Boots stores recommended homeopathic products as suitable treatments for a wide range of medical conditions including allergies, infections, insect bites, headaches and earaches. But homeopathic products contain only sugar — they have no active ingredients.
Homeopath's radiation remedy 'rubbish' say health experts Medical experts have slammed an alternative medicines business that is spruiking homeopathic "remedies" for radiation sickness in an apparent attempt to capitalize on the nuclear disaster in Japan. The Homeopathy Plus clinic, based on the NSW central coast and run by homeopath Fran Sheffield, said in an email newsletter yesterday that "with the increasing threat of radioactive contamination from damaged Japanese nuclear reactors, homeopaths continue to alert people to the homeopathic remedies used for either the treatment or prevention of radiation poisoning."
Sheffield also claims she can reverse autism with homeopathy.
Homeopathy not a cure, says WHO People with conditions such as HIV, TB, and malaria should not rely on homeopathic treatments. Dr. Nick Beeching, a specialist in infectious diseases at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, said: "Infections such as malaria, HIV, and tuberculosis all have a high mortality rate but can usually be controlled or cured by a variety of proven treatments, for which there is ample experience and scientific trial data. "There is no objective evidence that homeopathy has any effect on these infections, and I think it is irresponsible for a healthcare worker to promote the use of homeopathy in place of proven treatment for any life-threatening illness." (emphasis added)
British scientists ask WHO to condemn homeopathy for diseases such as HIV "Clinics throughout Asia and sub-Saharan Africa offering ineffective remedies for serious illnesses, putting lives at risk, researchers say."
"Many previous studies have demonstrated that homeopathy has an effect over and above placebo....It has been established beyond doubt and accepted by many researchers, that the placebo-controlled randomised controlled trial is not a fitting research tool with which to test homeopathy." --a spokeswoman from the Society of Homeopaths