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Gerald O'brian


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Should we let homeopathy be?

The biggest dilemma for me is that placebo is proven to work better if the physician also believes he's giving real medecine. In this view, homeopathy is the perfect placebo. Even the people making it, through laborious dilutions, have GOT to believe in it, or their high school knowledge about chemistry would make it tempting to skip the whole process and make more profit selling sugar.
It's even got quantum mechanics watching its back, losing the more curious ones in complexe explanations about just how complexe liquid water is.
And of course, the idea is fun. Like cures like. 1/1000000th of a molecule of ethanol to cure a hangover.
Sure it's tempting to ridicule the whole industry for the billion dollar quackery it is. But one might actually find that it's saving a lot of healthcare money, and that it WORKS! And it works because we let it, because we don't ask for double-blind tests...
So what's your view on this? Is homeopathy a cheap way to heall the credulous? Or has it gone too far and is part of what makes the transition to the age of reason so darn slow?



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  • Oct 22 2013: It's clear that the posters so far on this topic have very little idea of how homeopathy is actually practiced, how it works or how much solid scientific evidence there is for its effects. What I am hearing is a bias that has nothing to do with any "transition to the age of reason."

    I won't try to get into the nitty gritty of homeopathy here, or bore you with anecdotes; but let me point out a few things that go to the heart of this. First, homeopathy doesn't fit the definition of placebo because it does not require a belief in it to work. Even serious skeptics can be helped with the proper application of homeopathic treatment, and have been. And people who use homeopathy correctly don't just feel better, they are better in demonstrable and reproducible ways. Secondly, homeopathy is not used to the exclusion of other forms of medicine. It's most common use is for health maintenance. People who use homeopathy responsibly understand that there are times when other forms of medical help are necessary, and seek proper medical attention when needed. And both allopathic and homeopathic physicians are aware of the possibilities for negative cross-effects.There are people who use all kinds of medicine irresponsibly, that is not a special characteristic of naturopathic or homeopathic users. Like cures like is a gross oversimplification of the actual effect, and the use is not as simple as a minute amount of ethanol to cure a headache. One of the problems of most attempts to compare homeopathy to drug treatments is that it is not a one-symptom/one-cause/one-cure process.

    Even if, as I expect, these observations fall on deaf ears, why would you not "let it be?" I know of no incidents of homeopathic addiction, overdose, debilitating side effects or deaths related to homeopathic use. Acupuncture and chiropractic and other "alternative" medicines are widely accepted now. Shall we also, perhaps, stop people from praying for the ill, a practice broadly supported?
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      Oct 22 2013: If it's not a placebo, what is homeopathy?
      Do you have details about how it works?
      • Oct 22 2013: Obviously I can't give much detail about how it works in just 2000 characters, any more than one could give an adequate explanation of how most drugs work in the same space. However, a simple Google search will lead you to both homeopathic sites and more objective scientific sites that give lots to think about, regardless of where you come out in the end.
        Basically, however, homeopathy begins with the assumption that the human body is capable of dealing with most naturally occurring diseases, and that, though larger doses of things can overwhelm the body's natural processes, very small dose can actually "trigger" those processes. Using your hangover analogy, a homeopath would have to determine as closely as possible what the actual individual symptoms of your particular hangover are, and find a remedy which (if taken in "toxic" doses) would cause those symptoms. Taking that remedy (which would be different for you than for other hangover sufferers) would trigger your body's natural defenses, which the alcohol had overwhelmed.
        That's very general and somewhat simplistic, but it's the basic idea. There is, in fact, significant testable evidence that supports homeopathic practice. Look for it. It's not all that hard to find, because homeopathic professionals have always understood that anecdotal evidence is not enough when you are dealing with people's health.
        You might also just try a little of it. One thing about homeopathy is that homeopaths never pressure you for more treatment than you need. A common "starter" remedy is Arnica Montana. If you take a few 30c pellets every few hours for the first day after a bruise or a muscle sprain, you should find that pain, swelling, and bruising are reduced quickly without the need for any other pain killers or medications.
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          Oct 22 2013: " homeopathy begins with the assumption that the human body is capable of dealing with most naturally occurring diseases, and that, though larger doses of things can overwhelm the body's natural processes, very small dose can actually "trigger" those processes "

          This makes sense. Except for the very small dose bit. 30 ch mean there are 0.0000000000000000000000000000000000001 molecules in the final dilution. Molecules cannot be divided this way, so there is nothing left, really.
          Homeopaths claim that's not a problem since water has memory of what's been in it.
          That also makes sense, even if there is no theory about it. But still. Do we have the technology that would ensure we end up with the memory of 0.00000000000000000000000000000000001 molecule of X without also getting the memory of 0.00000000000000000000000000000000000001 of every other thing in the universe?
          How can we control this? And how do they mesure it??????

          Also, how can you control an experiment where your claim is that your 0.00... 36 zeros...001th of a molecule is causing the healling??? How are the billiions of molecules in the air, in clothes, in food not interfering with your mesurement?
          I'm not saying it doesn't work. I'm saying that the pseudo-scientific explanation to back it up is absolute nonsense.
          Unless I've missed something, of course...
      • Oct 22 2013: Gerald, homeopathy is magic. Trying to find a physical explanation is a waste of time. Homeopathy disproves materialism, not the other way around.
      • Oct 22 2013: Do your research before you write negative articles, Gerald. Did you ask someone to explain gravity before you believed it?
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          Oct 22 2013: No, I used to believe that the ground pulled stuff. I didn't ask for anything.
          Then people came up with theories about everything attracting everything else. That made no sense to me, so I had to ask for the explanation at that point.
          Many times did I not ask for explanations, however, trusting the guy in the white blouse. But I'm working on that, it's something to be ashamed of.
        • Oct 27 2013: Ok Gerald congratulations on being a true sceptic. ie someone who says I don't know but prove it and I will believe rather than the many pseudosceptics who are in fact denyers. For example, one said that he would not believe in homeopathy even if it cured him. This does not seem to me indicative of an open scientific approach. I try not to engage with denyers as it is depressing and no point if someone has a fixed mindset.

          There is a lot of published research which demonstrates the effectiveness of homeopathy, statistics from epidemics which ALWAYS show that a larger percentage of patients treated by homeopathy survive than those treated with mainstream medicine, and evidence from the Leptospirosis epidemic in Cuba of the effectiveness in preventing Leptospirosis.

          Therefore there is plenty of peer reviewed and statistical evidence that homeopathy is more effective than mainstream medicine. (references already given by others)

          This means that the denyers have had to say, "well it's only a placebo" as a way of dismissing its effectiveness.

          Homeopathy works by accepting that the symptom is not the disease but the body's response to the disease. Therefore a tiny dose of something which amplifies that response (like cures like) will speed up the healing process. This is why the doses needed are so tiny.
          As an analogy homeopathy is the equivalent of pushing a ball downhill and mainstream medicine is pushing it uphill. This is an analogy, not a scientific explanation.
          I do not know why the infinitessimal dose seems unaffected by all the other factors you mention. I expect someone has done a study but I don't know of one.
          I think the reason your original article sent everyone off in this direction was the tone of "Let's tolerate the loonies if it works for them" which I took from the piece. Apologies if you didn't mean it like that.
          Please define what a placebo effect is, and I will discuss it further.
    • Oct 22 2013: There is a reason homeopathy falls into the category of alternative medicine.
      The minute its properly tested and scientifically proven to work, its stops being alternative, and starts being just medicine.

      I personally haven't seen any proper studies that suggest homeopathy works, and have yet to be properly explained how its even supposed to work on a theoretical basis. All the explanations I've been given don't fit with what I know about biology, chemistry and physics.
      With no evidence it works in practice, or reason to believe it ought to work in theory, it seems like nothing more than a scam. A very profitable scam.
      • Oct 22 2013: Homeopathy is simply considered medicine, not alternative medicine, in much of Europe. The reason it is considered alternative here is simply because it isn't the norm. When something isn't the norm, but some people do it, we call it an alterative. You may not be convinced by the scientific evidence that you have seen, and that's fair if you have seen the best evidence and remain open to the possibility that new evidence might eventually change your mind. There is, in fact, a whole lot of evidence that it works in practice; and there is only one reason to believe that any theory ought to work, and that's because all theories start as nothing more than possibilities. Theories about things routinely accepted today began as ideas that mainstream scientists dismissed as impossible and not even worthy of study.
        • Oct 22 2013: Very well then, we've established I'm open to evidence, and am willing to reconsider theories I'm not fully aware off.

          Post a link to a study that proves homeopathy works, or make some effort to explain to me how its supposed to work in theory at least. I only care for results, not means, but for that I must have results. Failing that, at least reason to think it ought to have the desired results and is worth trying again.
      • Oct 22 2013: It is the ultimate hubris that you demand proof homeopathy works. Who are you? Do your own research! Unbelievable! You can write all the negative diatribe you want, then demand someone refute your posture?

        I do not accept things blindly, I always question. This led me to homeopathy in the first place. And I DID my homework.
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          Oct 22 2013: No it's not the ultimate hubris. Clearly, skeptics don't know something that believers do, so the query of how it works is not only legitimate but also is at the origin of philosophical progress.

          Or perhaps you don't know how it works yourself, in which case you're a skeptic too...
      • Oct 22 2013: It's difficult to know where to send you. There is clearly no single study that will prove that "homeopathy works." There are, however, a lot of studies which deal with the efficacy of specific homeopathic treatments. Remember that homeopathy is highly individualized. That is, there is no simple, single correlation between a symptom or disease and a remedy. For instance, if you were suffering rom migraines, a homeopath wouldn't simply give you a pre-determined migraine remedy, but would find out as much as possible about your health over all, then give you a remedy specifically for your migraines. The best studies, therefor, use this individualized approach. One possible starting point for finding studies you could look at is this:

        Dana Ullman is, of course, a homeopathic physician, but since you are asking for links to research, this article gives those links as well as a pretty thorough discussion of results, limitations, and controversies regarding the scientific study of homeopathic remedies. You could always follow up with your own look at some of the studies he cites. At the very least, these studies ought to give you the sense that homeopathy is worthy of further consideration. Homeopaths aren't snake-oil salesmen; they are scientists and medical professionals (many are trained in allopathic medicine also, sometimes before trying homeopathy) who are very interested in both showing the efficacy of the remedies and in doing more research to try to understand how it works.
        • Oct 22 2013: Of course, the whole "personalized" thing makes the whole thing much harder to isolate as a variable, and therefore properly test.
          All in all, the research papers I've read haven't convinced me homeopathy works (having gone through those that say its effective as well as those that say its useless).

          I still find the underlying principle ridiculous however.
          It doesn't fit with anything I know about the human immune system. Small doses of harmful materials can sometimes be used to build up a resistance preemptively, but only rarely after the fact, and usually with things the immune system handles like viruses, not burns or bleeding.

          My biggest problem is the potency however. According to the homeopath's own math, the dilution is so great that I'd need an electron microscope just to figure out this stuff isn't plain water. In fact, something diluted 1:10 30 times should have only a single molecule of the original material left. I could swallow a single molecule of radioactive polonium, and nothing would happen to me, good or ill--just not enough material to make a difference.
          Assuming the water somehow "remembers" traits of the material that used to be in it... Lets just say it contradicts practically everything I know about chemistry.

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