Skip to content

Homeopathy

September 21, 2010

For the general entry on Alternative Medicine, click here

The Claims:

Although it is often mistaken for a variety of traditional herbal medicine, homeopathy began in the early 19th century as the brainchild of one man: German physician Samuel Hahnemann.

Homeopathic treatment is based on two main principles:

  • “Like cures like”, or the “law of similars”. Homeopathic remedies are substances which are capable of producing the same symptoms as those of the ailment being cured. For example, arsenic causes vomiting and diarrhea, so it might be used to treat digestive problems.
  • “Less is more”, or the “law of infinitesimals”. Homeopaths believe that remedies are made stronger, not weaker, by being diluted. Remedies are prepared by serial dilution of the original preparation. A “30C” preparation, for example, has been diluted by a factor of 100 thirty times in a row. At each stage, the solution is vigorously shaken by striking, a process called “succussion”.

Homeopaths claim to be able to treat any illness, selecting treatments from a repertory of several thousand remedies. Remedies in use include many botanical extracts and chemical substances, many of which are highly toxic in undiluted form. More exotic remedies found at a major homeopathic supplier include “laser beam”, “exhaust fumes” and “Meteorite”.

The Evidence:

Homeopathy fares very poorly when examined scientifically, both in terms of theoretical plausibility and experimental evidence.

Theoretical Plausibility:

When homeopathy was first proposed, Hahnemann could not have known of the germ theory of disease, nor of the molecular theory of chemistry. Given this, it is not surprising that homeopathy is inconsistent with much of modern science. No plausible mechanism has been proposed to explain the claimed effects of the substances used in homeopathic remedies. The law of similars receives no support from modern medicine. The most serious theoretical objection to homeopathy, however, is to the extreme dilutions used in homeopathic preparations.

A single teaspoon of water contains approximately 1023 molecules of H2O. A substance which has been diluted to a strength of “12C” contains one part in 1024 of the substance. A teaspoon of that solution is thus unlikely to contain a single molecule of the active ingredient. At 24C, a volume equivalent to all of the water in the Earth’s oceans would be unlikely to contain a molecule of active ingredient. Yet many homeopathic remedies are sold at dilutions of 30C. There is thus a vanishingly small chance that any such homeopathic remedy contains any of the purported active ingredient.
In response to this fact, some homeopaths have claimed that water has a kind of “memory”, which allows a solution to remain medically active even once there is none of the original substance left. Such a claim is, however, inconsistent with the known physical and chemical properties of water molecules, which are incapable of retaining any structure for even a billionth of a second.

Experimental Evidence:

Many studies of homeopathic treatments for various illnesses have been carried out, and a number of these studies appear to show a beneficial effect of homeopathic treatment. However, the quality of these studies varies greatly, and most are of too poor a quality to be relied on. Only a carefully conducted randomized controlled trial (RCT) can provide meaningful evidence concerning the efficacy of a medical treatment. Here, some studies again appear to show a positive effect, whereas others suggest that homeopathic treatment is no better than a placebo. Several systematic reviews of such RCTs have been conducted; the most rigorous of these all conclude that there is no evidence that homeopathy is better than a placebo.

Conclusion:

Homeopathy claims to be able to cure a huge array of medical conditions, with remedies so dilute that they contain no active ingredient. However, the principles homeopathy is based on are inconsistent with much of modern physics, chemistry and medicine. Moreover, experimental trials of homeopathic treatments provide no evidence that they are any better than ordinary sugar pills.

Links:

The Skeptic’s Dictionary Entry on Homeopathy

List of Homeopathic Remedies

“A systematic review of systematic reviews of homeopathy”, E Ernst, Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2002 December; 54(6): 577–582

17 Comments leave one →
  1. Eric permalink
    March 21, 2015 1:12 PM

    http://www.thestar.com/life/health_wellness/2015/03/05/scientists-critical-of-u-of-t-homeopathy-study.html

  2. Rune C. Olwen permalink
    October 17, 2013 7:17 AM

    The setting for the placebo effect was constructed to prove that something like that exists at all.
    Homeopathy (and other “alternative medicine” ) was used (or invented on purpose) in a situation where there was little or nothing better to help people.
    Samuel Hahnemann was never far away from being burned on the stake, BECAUSE the witchburners version Xtianity Europe had succeeded to destroy each and any pre-christian medical knowledge. He could risk a bit because he was male and had attended university.
    So he took some symbol and tried it , first on himself, then on his patients.
    If he was inside the individual self-healing properties of his patients, it worked (and under that condition it still works).

    In the moment I could get unfair and complain about homoepathy and not my doctor, who is not content to relieve pain and binges and get me functional for coping with financial problems again and again (it did always work for several weeks, but with the exception of winning in the lottery i do not have a chance for a house of my own for the rest of my life), NOW she tries to blame me for being a loner, and not wanting to live together with anybody. She knew from the beginning that I am no family person.

    I need to get a new general practitioner – whatever method s/he/ze uses for coping with stress!
    BUT 2 days on Fluctin/Prozac “healed” me from ever taking SSRI´s!

    That is the difference.

  3. Adrian Lawler permalink
    November 9, 2012 1:35 PM

    I watched a documentary on the BBC in Europe once where a Medical Doctor investigated many alternative treatments. She got several Homeopathic solutions from several vendors and had them analyzed by scientists. They all found no active ingredient.
    Diluting to increase potency is counterintuitive.
    Whether water has memory or not is entirely irrelevant, it cannot act as if it were anything other than a water molecule.

  4. Bodski permalink
    March 29, 2011 7:02 AM

    Nancy

    I had a quick look at the data. Clearly, there is much information there and I will not read it all. Would you mind pointing me to any double blind trials in your list showing comparisons to placebo.

    We all know that the placebo effect works – the point is that homeopathy works in exactly the same way and provides comparable results (in other words, the ‘active’ homeopathic element works only as well as the sugar pill it sits on).

    This site is concerned with extraordinary claims and requests extraordnary evidence. I recognise that my review of the extensive results you provided was cursory, however, I didn’t see the extraordinary evidence. If it is there (in the form I describe above) then I should be grateful if you would point me towards it.

    Thanks in anticipation.

    Bod

  5. March 29, 2011 2:23 AM

    189 studies in support of homoeopathy medicine published in 79 peer-reviewed international medical journals out of which 87+ are FULL TEXT which can be downloaded at http://bit.ly/gFJIbg

  6. Bodski permalink
    February 4, 2011 9:28 PM

    Adele

    Tests show that it works exactly as well as a placebo.

    As you say, inexpensive and without side effects.

    Peace.

    Bod.

  7. February 4, 2011 1:06 PM

    Living entities are far more subtle than you seem able to understand.

    Homeopathy works with the immune system. And yes, the brain is critically involved. It works without side effects. It works quickly, efficiently and inexpensively. Try it next time you have blepheritis or a stubborn bronchial infection or whatever.

  8. January 19, 2011 12:34 PM

    AK – We’ve done the proving tests. Failure. We’ve randomly assigned pillules to bottles and had homeopaths attempt to prove with them (they were wrong 100% of the time). We’ve done randomised placebo controlled double blind studies and they show that the response is nothing more than placebo. What else do we have to do to make you stop believing such a silly proposition?

    Tom – The “wise man” was Dara O’Briain – a comedian – the comment was wise, informed and witty. H0wever, he didn’t mean you think he meant (as was already addressed by another comment).

    We’re not concerned with HOW something works if it, simply, doesn’t work. Homeopathy doesn’t work so the mechanism for its action will never be discovered. To suggest studying mechanism of something that doesn’t work is pointless.

  9. Bodski permalink
    January 10, 2011 8:33 PM

    AK – are there any points in particular you disagree with which may stimulate debate ?

    Rune C. Olwen – would you please expand on your comment “Scientific medicine is not nearly as good at accessing self-healing abilities so far.”

    Peace.

    Bod. ~O

  10. Evil-Illusionist permalink
    December 12, 2010 12:53 PM

    @Tom – true – but from “not nowing everything” to “not knowing anything” is a rather huge step. Just because science can’t explain everything, doesn’t mean that you can claim anything as true. Homeopathy goes against everything science DO know.
    And we DO know that homeopathy doesn’t work. It has been disproven again and again in clinical double blind test.

  11. Tom permalink
    December 7, 2010 4:14 PM

    “Such a claim is, however, inconsistent with the KNOWN physical and chemical properties of water molecules.” But a wise man once said “Science knows it doesn’t know everything, otherwise it would stop”.

  12. Rune C. Olwen permalink
    December 3, 2010 3:41 AM

    O. K., the explanations are ridiculous.

    But since that self-test of the placebo people (I fail to remember the name, saw a film on richarddawkins.net) the functioning of homeopathy is clear:

    questions – creative, sometimes symbolic, solution – ritual is completed by droplets or tablets.
    These small balls are made of some sugar, so “health” tastes sweet – a good learnig trick too.
    Scientific medicine is not nearly as good at accessing self-healing abilities so far.

  13. A K permalink
    December 2, 2010 7:05 PM

    The author of this article is delusional. Before posting something like this, do some proving on your self first.

  14. Twyla permalink
    December 2, 2010 4:46 PM

    Larry….please go back and look a little more closely. It’s not 1023 molecules, it’s 10 to the 23rd power.

  15. larry permalink
    December 1, 2010 7:07 PM

    I think a single teaspoon of water has a few more than 1023 molecules!!

Trackbacks

  1. Ein Witz namens Homöopathie « Evidenz-basierte Ansichten
  2. Magic « Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: