Tag Archives: homeopathy

British Homeopathy Awareness Week

World Homeopathy Awareness Week, in April, wasn’t enough for the British Homeopathic Association, which has been celebrating homeopathy awareness over the last week (Jun 14 to June 21). According to its website, this year’s theme is women’s health.

I’m a healthy woman, and judging from comments I chose not to approve back in April, my attitude toward homeopathy is regarded in some quarters as being rather unkind. So I wanted to take this opportunity to state my support for the basic principle of homeopathy as a key part of a healthy lifestyle: Drink water. Drink it early and often. Drink lots of it.

Almost everyone should drink more water than they are drinking now. (As long as it’s clean water, of course, and really if you’re reading this you’re likely living somewhere with a hot and cold running supply of it.) Your body is mostly water, and you lose a little bit of it every time you breathe, not to mention sweating and peeing. Often when people feel “hungry,” they are actually thirsty, so starting with a glass of water can satisfy them—and curb the intake of extra calories. You might be stunned by how easily fatigue, congestion, muscle soreness, or headaches recede with a big old glass of water. Staying hydrated supports alertness, helps your body promptly flush waste products, and keeps your tissues comfortably moist so they can do their jobs.

So drink lots of water! You can prepare water yourself by opening a tap in a home or other structure that is supplied with potable water, perhaps improving the taste by running it through a faucet-mounted or carafe-based (eg, Brita) filter.

Homeopathy in the United States

Homeopathy is more prominent in Europe than it is in the United States. In the United Kingdom, for example, the Royal Family has long used homeopathic remedies, and the Prince of Wales advocates for the practice. Homeopathy is also paid for under the UK’s National Health Service (as it is by several other national health services in continental Europe), although the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has recommended that this be reviewed.

In the United States, some states license homeopathic providers along with other groups, such as chiropractors, but Medicare, the largest single payer in the United States, rejects charges for homeopathic treatments as “not medically necessary.” Some private health insurance plans cover homeopathy under modest “complementary medicine” benefits, such as Blue Cross plans offering a small annual maximum benefit ($500) for alternative services such as homeopathy, herbal medicine, ayurvedic treatments, or naturopathy. But private insurances often limit such benefits with a cap on numbers of visits and a deductible that is even higher than the maximum benefit.

The US Food and Drug Administration recognizes homeopathic remedies for marketing, but concerns itself mainly with their presence in the homeopathic register and with details of labeling. (The FDA lightly monitors a number of treatments that were already common before it began its assessment programs.) FDA exemption of homeopathic remedies from expiration dating and other labeling requirements reflects the safety (lack of toxicity) of compounds without active ingredients. The FDA has published information for consumers about homeopathy in the past, but its current FDA For Consumers website does not return any results for searches on homeopathy.

The US National Institutes of Health has recently begun complementary medicine programs, including funding some studies to test complementary treatments. Its NCCAM (for complementary and alternative medicine) program is controversial in some quarters, criticized as promoting worthless therapy. But it publishes fairly straightforward (ok, yeah, a little bit too “neutral”) information about homeopathy, the general thrust of which is that the efficacy of homeopathic drugs is not established, but the placebo effect can be helpful. For people considering using homeopathic remedies, the NCCAM’s very first recommendation is, “Do not use homeopathy as a replacement for proven conventional care or to postpone seeing a doctor about a medical problem.”

If this all seems a bit dull and plodding, then I confess: that’s how it feels to me. Homeopathy has never been particularly visible in my life, even though I live in the Sam Francisco Bay Area and understand that this area is home to many medical denialists—people who don’t want to vaccinate their children, for example, or who swear by raw milk as not merely safe but universally beneficial. These are educated, middle-class people who are simply privileged enough that they (and their parents) can’t remember a time when vaccine-preventable diseases stalked the land in great numbers, let alone the way that the increasing urbanization of Americans created a special challenge for distributing milk safely over longer distances. Still, as foolish as privileged people are willing to be on their own dimes, it seems like the people writing the checks and making the standard-of-care recommendations are on the right page with this one.

Tomorrow, I promise, I’ll link to something tart and British on the subject.

(If you can’t wait [for tart and aren’t holding out for British], then go to YouTube and watch this bit from Dara O’Briain on alternative medicine. He’s a bit harsh about “nutritionists,” which here are as likely to be mainstream providers working side by side with physicians in diabetes and genetics clinics, but he’s certainly got homeopathy pegged.)

Homeopathy on Horizon and Beyond

In 2002, BBC’s Horizon television show actually conducted experiments in homeopathy, aiming for James Randi’s Million-Dollar Challenge. (The episode is available in 5 parts on YouTube—the video above is part 1; Horizon’s attempt is reported in Part 5.) The Challenge was first introduced in 1964 when James Randi offered $1,000 of his own money to the first person who could offer proof of the paranormal. Donors stepped forward to sweeten the pot, and Randi maintains a public log of attempts to win the prize. I hope I’m not spoiling the Horizon episode when I report that no one has won.

Don’t have time for the BBC Horizon episode? Here’s the homeopathy sequence from Richard Dawkins’s 2007 documentary, Enemies of Reason (less than 10 minutes):

That’s popular science, on television. Have there been more recent high-visibility examinations of homeopathy in the UK? Oh yes. This year, the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee published its Fourth Report, Evidence Check 2: Homeopathy. Its conclusion:

We conclude that the principle of like-cures-like is theoretically weak. It fails to provide a credible physiological mode of action for homeopathic products. We note that this is the settled view of medical science.

In our view, the systematic reviews and meta-analyses conclusively demonstrate that homeopathic products perform no better than placebos.

We regret that advocates of homeopathy, including in their submissions to our inquiry, choose to rely on, and promulgate, selective approaches to the treatment of the evidence base as this risks confusing or misleading the public, the media and policy-makers.

We accept that NICE [UK’s department for evaluating treatments and recommending or rejecting them for coverage by the national health service] has a large queue of drugs to evaluate and that it may have greater priorities than evaluating homeopathy. However, we cannot understand why the lack of an evidence base for homeopathy might prevent NICE evaluating it but not prevent the NHS spending money on it. This position is not logical.

For patient choice to be real choice, patients must be adequately informed to understand the implications of treatments. For homeopathy this would certainly require an explanation that homeopathy is a placebo. When this is not done, patient choice is meaningless. When it is done, the effectiveness of the placebo—that is, homeopathy—may be diminished. We argue that the provision of homeopathy on the NHS, in effect, diminishes, not increases, informed patient choice.

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.

People often say they like their homeopathic provider because that provider takes time and listens to them. The placebo effect can, after all, be very noticeable, even genuinely helpful. It’s an area that deserves better understanding—in part because techniques that leverage the placebo effect could easily be combined with science-based treatment in a way that improves care without misleading patients:

Homeopathy Awareness Week

I’d like to kick off Homeopathy Awareness Week with some remarks from Oliver Wendell Holmes—physician, writer, and father of the Supreme Court justice of the same name—from his 1842 essay, “Homeopathy and Its Kindred Delusions.”

Those kind friends who suggest to a person suffering from a tedious complaint, that he “Had better try Homoeopathy,” are apt to enforce their suggestion by adding, that “at any rate it can do no harm.” This may or may not be true as regards the individual. But it always does very great harm to the community to encourage ignorance, error, or deception in a profession which deals with the life and health of our fellow-creatures….

To deny that good effects may happen from the observance of diet and regimen when prescribed by Homoeopathists as well as by others, would be very unfair to them. But to suppose that men with minds so constituted as to accept such statements and embrace such doctrines as make up the so-called science of Homoeopathy are more competent than others to regulate the circumstances which influence the human body in health and disease, would be judging very harshly the average capacity of ordinary practitioners.

To deny that some patients may have been actually benefited through the influence exerted upon their imaginations, would be to refuse to Homoeopathy what all are willing to concede to every one of those numerous modes of practice known to all intelligent persons by an opprobrious title.

So long as the body is affected through the mind, no audacious device, even of the most manifestly dishonest character, can fail of producing occasional good to those who yield it an implicit or even a partial faith. The argument founded on this occasional good would be as applicable in justifying the counterfeiter and giving circulation to his base coin, on the ground that a spurious dollar had often relieved a poor man’s necessities.

More about the struggles of different approaches to health and wellness in the 19th Century in the National Library of Medicine’s feature “So, What’s New in the Past? The Multiple Meanings of Medical History.”