I’ve recently come across some news articles about homeopathy that have caught my eye. One was about claims that homeopathy could prevent measles (homeoprophylaxis is the fancy term for this); another was about the Canadian government funding an aid mission to Honduras involving a delegation of homeopaths claiming to cure Chagas disease and other infectious diseases.
Not just a herbal product
There is plenty of pseudoscience in the world, and homeopathy is a prime example. It’s promoted as a natural remedy, but I suspect most people don’t know how quacky it actually is.
On the surface, it sounds like a natural, plant-based treatment, like the herbal products filling the shelves at any pharmacy. Except it’s not; it’s a whole lot weirder when you look at the fundamental principles that homeopaths hold to be true. I first heard about this quackery when I was in pharmacy school many years ago; at the time, I remember thinking it had to be a joke.
The fundamentals of homeopathy
Homeopathy is based on the belief that like cures like, so substances that produce certain symptoms in a healthy person would relieve those same symptoms when given in small doses to a sick person. The founder of homeopathy, Samual Hahnemann, proposed that diseases are caused by “miasms”, and treating the symptoms rather than the underlying miasm would only make the condition worse. He also proposed that a negative state of mind would attract these miasms. Hello, law of attraction!
Homeopathic remedies are created by repeatedly diluting the substance with water or alcohol, with the idea that the more it is diluted the more potent it is and the stronger the therapeutic effect it has. That’s right, the more diluted, the greater the potency. Taking it from the ridiculous to the ridiculous-er, the substance is often diluted so much that there are probably no molecules of the original substance to be found in the remedy. Literally. So how is that supposed to work?
Shake shake shake
That’s where it gets really quacky, as homeopaths explain that this works because water has memory. Say what? With each dilution, the preparation is vigorously shaken (referred to as succussion). Supposedly, this causes the water molecules to retain a memory of the substance.
Hahnemann used a C-scale is used to denote the number of dilutions. He recommended 30C dilutions for most purposes, which works out to 1 part substance in 1060 parts of the solution. In case you’re interested, that’s one molecule of the original substance to a novemdecillion molecules of diluent, or:
In certain homeopathic products, the dilution levels used did result in molecules of the original substance being present, including poisonous substances like arsenic, causing serious adverse effects. Oops!
The homeopathic measles prevention remedy mentioned in the CBC news articles uses nosodes. These come from products of a diseased human or animal, including pus, blood, feces, and other tissue. Yummy. According to the CBC, Health Canada has a lengthy list of nosodes that are authorized for use in Canada. If I was interested in water with poop-memory, I’m sure my toilet would do the job just fine.
The role of regulators
When it comes to all things health-related, it should be the government’s job to protect people from their own unawareness (or stupidity). “Remedies” that fly in the face of the fundamental principles of science do not belong in health care, particularly in government-funded foreign aid.
I’m not against natural products in general. But homeopathy is pretty wacky, and many people have no idea about that aspect of it. Anyone suggesting that this snake oil can be used to prevent serious infectious diseases could use some good head-shaking, perhaps with some poop-memory-water.
I believe governments need to be more proactive in regulating homeopathic products so that their labels clearly indicate their pseudoscientific basis. If nothing else, products that have been shaken with pus, blood, and feces need label big, shiny labels to let people know what they’re signing up for. Personally, I’m going to pass.
Note: Since I wrote this post, the Canadian government has announced it’s cutting off funding to the quacky contingent. It’s nice to see when governments decide to do the sensible thing.
Writing about science and debunking pseudoscience makes my heart sing! Visit the How to Spot Pseudoscience to explore other Science Corner posts on Mental Health @ Home.
18 thoughts on “Homeopathy: A Whole Lot Wackier Than You Might Think”
It’s scary when ‘quackery’ and quick fixes and magical remedies not based in scientific testing or proof are unregulated and promoted in such ways. As for nosodes, I hadn’t come across that term before but thinking of what that includes makes me queasy. I read an article just the other day about how Amazon is selling a book on some kind of homeopathic something-or-other for curing autism. Yikes. x
Yikes is right!
Wow 😮 i use one homeopathic product (Bach Rescue Remedy) in addition to therapy, exercise, Prozac and trazodone. The homeopathic alone wouldn’t manage my anxiety and the thought that more diluted is stronger is DUMB! Woo woo! Great post
At least the Bach Rescue Remedy isn’t very diluted, so there’s actually some of the plant present to actually have an effect.
I have heard some amazing stories of homeopathic “healings”, but not sure about much of it myself. I think I have used homeopathic ear drops in the past that did help, but I think that is the only thing like that I’ve really tried.
I know some people do say they work, but from a scientific perspective the whole thing is pretty illogical.
Possibly a placebo affect for many. If it doesn’t hurt them and the get a positive affect from it, I guess it could be worse. Although using it in place of vaccines is worrying.
I knew about the dumb dilution, but the “miasms” were brand new information to me. Literally sounds like the ‘black and yellow bile humours’ ~medicine~ that the ancient Greeks and Romans used. Very alarming.
Yes it is.
I couldn’t agree more! I think people romanticize nature too much–looking to it to solve all of our problems. Yet, are problems are always natural–biological decay, death, disease, natural disasters…etc.
Anyway, thanks for the post!
This is an eye-opener that such quacks would even go as far with this as they have. Their just opening a whole huge can of worms on an existing problem.
I know in no way this relates, but it does remind me of all the ridiculous dietary crap that is out on in the market.
You bring so much light to subject matters that a great number of people ignore.
This was a truly insightful post, Ashley. Great job! 😊
Thanks! It’s frustrating how much misinformation and lack of information there is out there, because it really ends up disempowering consumers.
I want to try CBD oil maybe for my anxiety. I don’t know if that also counts of natural products. I also use sometimes bach rescue and some things may help but I agree that medicine are important.
I hope the CBD ends up helping you.