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The Tiny Evidence Gap in Homeopathy.

Homeopathy: Evidence So Tiny That It’s Not there?

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Homeopathy: Evidence So Tiny That It’s Not There?

Yesterday, we asked you your opinions on homeopathy. The sample size of responses was a little lower than we usually get, but of those who did reply, there was a clear trend:

  • A lot of enthusiasm for “Homeopathy works on valid principles and is effective”
  • Near equal support for “It may help some people as a complementary therapy”
  • Very few people voted for “Science doesn’t know how it works, but it works”; this is probably because people who considered voting for this, voted for the more flexible “It may help some people as a complementary therapy” instead.
  • Very few people considered it a dangerous scam and a pseudoscience.

So, what does the science say?

Well, let us start our investigation by checking out the position of the UK’s National Health Service, an organization with a strong focus on providing the least expensive treatments that are effective.

Since homeopathy is very inexpensive to arrange, they will surely want to put it atop their list of treatments, right?

❝Homeopathy is a “treatment” based on the use of highly diluted substances, which practitioners claim can cause the body to heal itself.

There’s been extensive investigation of the effectiveness of homeopathy. There’s no good-quality evidence that homeopathy is effective as a treatment for any health condition.❞

The NHS actually has a lot more to say about that, and you can read their full statement here.

But that’s just one institution. Here’s what Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council had to say:

❝There was no reliable evidence from research in humans that homeopathy was effective for treating the range of health conditions considered: no good-quality, well-designed studies with enough participants for a meaningful result reported either that homeopathy caused greater health improvements than placebo, or caused health improvements equal to those of another treatment❞

You can read their full statement here.

The American FDA, meanwhile, have a stronger statement:

❝Homeopathic drug products are made from a wide range of substances, including ingredients derived from plants, healthy or diseased animal or human sources, minerals and chemicals, including known poisons. These products have the potential to cause significant and even permanent harm if they are poorly manufactured, since that could lead to contaminated products or products that have potentially toxic ingredients at higher levels than are labeled and/or safe, or if they are marketed as substitute treatments for serious or life-threatening diseases and conditions, or to vulnerable populations.❞

You can read their full statement here.

Homeopathy is a dangerous scam and a pseudoscience: True or False?

False and True, respectively, mostly.

That may be a confusing answer, so let’s elaborate:

  • Is it dangerous? Mostly not; it’s mostly just water. However, two possibilities for harm exist:
    • Careless preparation could result in a harmful ingredient still being present in the water—and because of the “like cures like” principle, many of the ingredients used in homeopathy are harmful, ranging from heavy metals to plant-based neurotoxins. However, the process of “ultra-dilution” usually removes these so thoroughly that they are absent or otherwise scientifically undetectable.
    • Placebo treatment has its place, but could result in “real” treatment going undelivered. This can cause harm if the “real” treatment was critically needed, especially if it was needed on a short timescale.
  • Is it a scam? Probably mostly not; to be a scam requires malintent. Most practitioners probably believe in what they are practising.
  • Is it a pseudoscience? With the exception that placebo effect has been highly studied and is a very valid complementary therapy… Yes, aside from that it is a pseudoscience. There is no scientific evidence to support homeopathy’s “like cures like” principle, and there is no scientific evidence to support homeopathy’s “water memory” idea. On the contrary, they go against the commonly understood physics of our world.

It may help some people as a complementary therapy: True or False?

True! Not only is placebo effect very well-studied, but best of all, it can still work as a placebo even if you know that you’re taking a placebo… Provided you also believe that!

Science doesn’t know how it works, but it works: True or False?

False, simply. At best, it performs as a placebo.

Placebo is most effective when it’s a remedy against subjective symptoms, like pain.

However, psychosomatic effect (the effect that our brain has on the rest of our body, to which it is very well-connected) can mean that placebo can also help against objective symptoms, like inflammation.

After all, our body, directed primarily by the brain, can “decide” what immunological defenses to deploy or hold back, for example. This is why placebo can help with conditions as diverse as arthritis (an inflammatory condition) or diabetes (an autoimmune condition, and/or a metabolic condition, depending on type).

Here’s how homeopathy measures up, for those conditions:

(the short answer is “no better than placebo”)

Homeopathy works on valid principles and is effective: True or False?

False, except insofar as placebo is a valid principle and can be effective.

The stated principles of homeopathy—”like cures like” and “water memory”—have no scientific basis.

We’d love to show the science for this, but we cannot prove a negative.

However, the ideas were conceived in 1796, and are tantamount to alchemy. A good scientific attitude means being open-minded to new ideas and testing them. In homeopathy’s case, this has been done, extensively, and more than 200 years of testing later, homeopathy has consistently performed equal to placebo.

In summary…

  • If you’re enjoying homeopathic treatment and that’s working for you, great, keep at it.
  • If you’re open-minded to enjoying a placebo treatment that may benefit you, be careful, but don’t let us stop you.
  • If your condition is serious, please do not delay seeking evidence-based medical treatment.

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