Homeopathy again

This is yet another post on homeopathy and alternative medicines. This one is prompted by a conversation that I had a few days ago which unfortunately resulted in me no longer being friends with someone that I had previously enjoyed talking to. The conversation was prompted because the person in question had put up a link to the “Homeopathy Heals” campaign web site. After questioning her views on the subject I received several comments about how great it was and I responded by asking her to read my recent article on alternative medicine to see what I thought. Unfortunately as soon as she started to read the article she told me “if you believe chiropractors to be useless, nothing written by you is worth reading I’m afraid.” (I mentioned chiropractic at the start of the article. Chiropractors believe that every part of the body can be fixed by manipulating the spine.)

Alternative medicine seems to be as emotional a subject as religion. But then, alternative medicine mostly works through faith. It practically is religion.

The thing is, homeopathy does sometimes do something. And it mostly does that something through the placebo effect. The placebo effect is actually quite effective at treating quite a lot of physical health problems and can help a lot in reducing pain. What it can’t do is cause major physical healing, such as curing diabetes or cancer, or replacing vaccinations.

Part of what makes homeopathy occasionally effective must surely be that homeopaths spend a lot of time with their patients and show more interest in them. I have heard from people that have spent hours or even whole days with their homeopath. That results in a more holistic approach that allows any worries and stress to be talked through, something that rarely happens when our GPs are so rushed.

If people choose to use alternative medicines like homeopathy and chiropractic in the face of all logic and reason then ultimately they are relying on faith. I can be quite happy with people relying on faith, as long as it doesn’t affect anyone else. I am OK with someone using a homeopathic remedy for a headache and having faith that it will work. I am not happy when people use faith instead of vaccines, or force their remedies on children that cannot decide for themselves, or on animals that will continue to suffer. (And I don’t believe for a second that animals are cured by homeopathy. Show me the evidence.)

I am sure that placebos could have their place in medicine. If we can reduce the amount of chemicals and drugs that must be used to treat illness by getting the mind to cooperate, that is a good thing. But the deception that we find in most alternative medicine is wrong and dangerous. Promoting such things by attacking science is especially wrong. We need our medicine to be based on evidence. I am outraged by the fact that Boots continues to sell homepathic treatments alongside real medicine, misleading people into trusting something that they shouldn’t. I am even more angry that the NHS continues to pay for homeopathic hospitals and treatments.

If you want to use homeopathic medicine, and you have faith in it, then it might do something for you some of the time. But know that it works through faith not science and reason. Please don’t inflict it on those that have no choice, and please, I beg you, don’t use it instead of vaccines. Most of all, don’t ever tell me that I should use it, and don’t expect me to respect any of the bizarre attempts at explaining how it is supposed to work.

Related Articles

Alternative Medicine – a dangerous game

More on the placebo effect

Interesting Links


Homeopathy Heals campaign

10 23 campaign

Alternative medicine: a dangerous game

In this article I discuss why alternative medicines are bad, how the placebo effect works, and how such remedies are dangerous to the user and to others.

I am keenly aware that I need to tread carefully with this post. I know a number of people that will disagree with me, and even a chance that some other people will attempt to sue me.

It is my firm belief that alternative medicines are a danger to health and life for everyone, and not just those that choose to use it. I am talking about treatments such as Homeopathy, Crystal Therapy, Accupuncture, Chiropracty, and many others.

Why they don’t work

I believe many of these methods mentioned here to be a fraud or at most a misplaced faith in something which doesn’t actually have any scientific reason behind it. Homeopathy, for example, is not just without reason for working, it’s actually counter to reason.

I’m picking on homeopathy here mainly because I can’t address all alternative medicines in this article. Homeopathy relies on choosing a substance that is believed to be linked to the health problem in question. That substance is then diluted in water many times over, and the water shaken to imprint “memory” of the substance. Given that most illnesses are caused by viruses, bacteria and genetics, the choice of material for the homeopathic remedy is largely arbitrary.

Leaving aside for a moment the choice of substance that is supposed to help with treatment, I’m afraid that the notion of diluting something to make it stronger just doesn’t wash. True, vaccines rely on a small amount of dead virus to trigger an immune response and train the immune system, but homeopathic medicine is not like that. No, in homeopathy, the substance is diluted so much that there is nothing left at all. Commonly a substance is diluted 100:1, and that is sometimes repeated up to 30 times. After 12 times, though, the likelihood is that not a single molecule of the original substance remains behind. Scientists call this the Avogadro Limit.

Homeopaths counter this by arguing that water “remembers” the substance. This is of course nonsense. The atoms and molecules cannot remember anything. If they did, the atomic or molecular structure would not be that of hydrogen, oxygen or water. Apparently shaking the water in a certain way helps the memory here. I’m not even going to write about what’s wrong with that.

For more information about homeopathy have a look at the excellent resource that is www.1023.org.uk

The placebo effect

Alternative medicines are, dare I say it, actually not without some beneficial effect. Although most do nothing to heal the body or fight infection through any physical changes, they often do help through the Placebo effect. The placebo effect is “measurable, observable, or felt improvement in health not attributable to treatment” and is the subject of much ongoing scientific research. The placebo effect is know to help with pain relief in particular, but also even to improve physical health. It has been observed on conventional and alternative medicine alike, and some scientists even believe that some conventional medicine works more as a placebo than a physical change. The placebo effect is beneficial enough that it is actually worth using as a medical treatment. Recent research found that a placebo can work even if the recipient knows that it is a placebo!

There is also some placebo effect because practitioners of alternative medicine are likely to show more interest in and spend more time with their patients. When NHS doctors are under so much pressure, spending a few hours with them is unlikely, whereas that can easily happen with an alternative medicine practitioner.

Why it harms people

You may think that if an alternative medicine is unlikely to poison someone, and may well even give them a benefit from the placebo effect, that there is no harm in allowing them to use it. Unfortunately, you would be wrong.

Alternative medicines can cause people to avoid conventional medical treatment that works, in a situation where a placebo does not work and leaving a condition untreated could be fatal. Diseases such as diabetes, where the patient needs medicine or insulin, could be left untreated and lead to stroke and blindness. A flu virus could run it’s course unchecked in an elderly person and cause death. I am sure there are many more examples that I could list here.

People that use alternative medicines are also likely to avoid vaccinations out of mistrust of conventional medicine or of fear of side effects. This is the part that could harm us all. In order to eradicate diseases such as smallpox, measles and polio, a critical percentage of the population must be vaccinated. This is called herd immunity. When enough people are vaccinated, the remainder of vulnerable people are unlikely to be infected through other people carrying the virus. There are places where measles and mumps have returned with a vengeance because herd immunity has broken down after many people chose not to be vaccinated.

Opting out of vaccination is as likely to be caused by a failure to understand the scientific method as by the use of homeopathic remedies, but then using homeopathic remedies is also likely to be caused by a failure to understand the scientific method.

Another way that homeopathy harms people is that it receives NHS funding. That’s right, the NHS spends £4 million per year on paying for something that doesn’t work when it could spend that money on a myriad of more sensible things. Homeopathy is stealing from us all.


It is not possible to dismiss all alternative therapies out of hand. Unfortunately, to the average person, medicine is divided into conventional, and alternative. I am guilty taking this line from the science side, but many people view it from the alternative side. Because of this, many people will take the view that because something did work for them, be it through a measurable effect of an active ingredient, or through the placebo effect, that therefore all alternative medicines must work. In practice some work, some don’t. Some are outright harmful, others can be based on sound logic that simply hasn’t been through clinical trials and adopted by the scientific and medical communities.

Those “alternative” medicines that actually use active ingredients such as plant extracts should be tested in full double-blind clinical trials and if they work, adopted in  conventional medicine where useful. The ones that fail should be dismissed and abandoned.

While there may be some benefit from the placebo effect when using alternative medicine, I believe people are much better off in using conventional, tested and scientifically proven medicine. After all, that has a placebo effect too. And as a person with a fairly broken immune system, I beg you, don’t skip your vaccinations. You could kill me.