Homeopathic Remedies: Money for Nothing, Tricks for a Fee

Walk down the children’s medicine aisle at any drug store, and you can’t help but encounter all kinds of homeopathic remedies. They are touted as all-natural, great tasting, and non-medicated. And even better, they claim to relieve a variety of symptoms–without any harmful side effects. The packaging makes them sound fantastic. But what’s in the bottle? What exactly does “homeopathic” mean, anyway? It’s actually a very specific term, and one that you should probably understand before you spend any more money on it.

I’ll preface this discussion by saying that homeopathy and science-based medicine differ on a very fundamental level. I’m writing from the perspective of a physician who believes in the ability of science to help us understand how the world works, and to demonstrate which treatments are effective or ineffective; from that perspective, it’s very difficult to reconcile homeopathy. You may have a different perspective, and feel free to disagree with me, but be sure you understand what you’re choosing to believe.

Homeopathy is a field that was developed in the early 1800’s by Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician who had given up his practice because he felt that medicine (as it was practiced at the time) often did more harm than good. In certain instances, I tend to agree with him on that.

My sense of duty would not easily allow me to treat the unknown pathological state of my suffering brethren with these unknown medicines.  The thought of becoming in this way a murderer or malefactor towards the life of my fellow human beings was most terrible to me, so terrible and disturbing that I wholly gave up my practice in the first years of my married life.

Hahneman’s hiatus from medicine didn’t last long. He found work translating medical texts into German, and one day happened upon a description of the use of cinchona in the treatment of malaria. He didn’t have malaria, but he decided to try a little cinchona for himself to see what it would do. And he was amazed to discover that the symptoms he experienced were similar to those of patients suffering from malaria. From this experience, and from the knowledge that cinchona was the only known treatment for malaria, he concluded that substances that cause certain symptoms in healthy people can treat those same symptoms in sick people–or, more succinctly, “like cures like.” This became the basis for his theory of homeopathy, which literally means “same suffering.” He went on from there to try many other substances, carefully documenting the unpleasant symptoms they caused.

To be fair, Hahnemann was at the distinct disadvantage of practicing medicine in an era before the germ theory of disease had really taken hold, and certainly before anyone knew what caused malaria. He was dissatisfied with the quality of the current medical system, and he was looking for a better solution. I can’t fault him for his attempt. And cinchona bark really does treat malaria. The modern science-based explanation for this is the bark from the cinchona tree contains quinine, a naturally-occurring compound that both kills the parasite that causes malaria and also happens to treat the pain and fever that accompany the infection. That’s not a bad combination, and quinine is still used on occasion today.

But remember, Hahnemann wasn’t in the business of doing harm, so he couldn’t go around writing prescriptions for a medicine that made people feel like they had malaria. He decided–pretty rationally–that diluting the solution made sense. But (here’s where it gets a little harder for me to believe) the dilution has to be performed in a specific way, called “succussion.” The substance is first mixed with water or alcohol, then diluted in a specific ratio–typically 1:10 or 1:100–with more of the same liquid, striking or vigorously shaking the vial after each step. And unlike conventional medicines, where a higher dose yields a greater response, homeopathic medicines are believed to become more potent with each dilution.

I’m going to back up and review two very important differences between homeopathy and science based medicine. These two principles of homeopathy contradict everything we understand about the physical universe:

  1. Symptoms are treated not by giving a medicine that counteracts them, but by giving a substance that causes them. For example, if you have a headache and a fever, a homeopath would prescribe treatment with a substance known to cause headaches and fevers (probably without considering the diagnosis of meningitis). If your baby spits up a lot, the homeopathic prescription would be for a substance that causes vomiting.
  2. The more times you dilute a homeopathic medicine, the more effective it is believed to become. In medicine, we believe exactly the opposite; typically, a medication does more to relieve symptoms if you give a higher dose of the medication. At some point, the maximum dose is limited by undesired side effects (which isn’t a problem with homeopathy because the “active” ingredient no longer exists…I’ll get to that).

Let’s look at a modern example: Hyland’s Kids’ Kit: Homeopathic Medicine Every Parent Needs (their claim, not mine). I’ve linked to it so you can see where I’m getting my information, but please don’t buy it–at least until you finish reading this article. This kit contains 30X preparations of the following homeopathic “medicines”:

  • Aconitum Napellus– a very pretty purple flower (seen in the image above) that has been used in the past to poison the tips of spears and execute criminals. It causes quite a few unpleasant symptoms before it kills you in a couple hours by stopping your heart.
  • Arnica Montana– a not-quite-so-pretty yellow flower that, if ingested, can cause severe gastrointestinal bleeding.
  • Belladonna– a plant that grows little black berries. Eat a couple of them, and you’ll die. Oh, and the leaves are poisonous, too. It’s one of the ingredients in Hyland’s Teething Tablets (a very common homeopathic remedy for teething), and the cause of a major safety concern a few years back.
  • Chamomilla– a rather boring-looking white and yellow flower that is far less harmful than the plants above. Often used in herbal teas to promote sleep and treat various types of abdominal problems. In very large amounts, can cause nausea and vomiting.
  • Ferrum Phosphoricum– also known as ferric phosphate (FePO4), a naturally occurring mineral–also known as [gasp] a chemical.  (I use the term “chemical” ironically here because many people are so afraid of chemicals without realizing that everything–including your baby and her homemade, organic, GMO-free baby food–consists entirely of chemicals.)
  • Hepar Sulphuris Calcareum– also known as calcium sulfide (CaS), another chemical. It has a few potential health risks: skin or eye irritation, cough, headache, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, muscle cramps, coma, seizures, respiratory depression, and death. Just a few.

So you can see, homeopathic remedies start with some pretty dangerous substances. But again, the preparations are diluted. Highly diluted. So much so, in fact, that there’s none of the original substance present. As I said before, all the ingredients in our example are present in 30X preparations. What that means is that it has been diluted in a 1:10 ratio 30 times. I’m not sure how much of the original substance goes into the first vial, but I doubt it’s very much. I’ll be generous (probably quite generous) and say that it fills 10% of the vial. Here’s what happens when you keep diluting:

  • Vial 1: 1:10
  • Vial 2: 1:100
  • Vial 3: 1:1,000
  • Vial 4: 1:10,000 (I’ll skip ahead now…)
  • Vial 30: 1:1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

So if there is to be even one molecule of the original substance in vial number 30 [there’s a lot of math here…divide by Avogadro’s number…look up molar mass of water because it’s been a while…], you would need to use vials that hold about 7,900 gallons each, just to end up with one molecule. And remember, I was being generous. Assuming that the guy who makes these preparations for Hyland’s does his job right (which he sometimes doesn’t), it’s safe to say that none of the ingredients listed on the label are actually present in the little white tablets. But that’s ok, because that’s not how homeopathy works (so they say). There’s some theory about “water memory” and the substance leaving an “imprint” on the water molecules that defies the laws of physics and chemistry…I don’t really get it. Homeopaths don’t understand it either. And they can’t prove it–probably because it doesn’t exist.

So in the end, you’re left with a vial of water or alcohol (with some supposed healing properties) which is then combined with milk powder, sugar, honey, or some other base and marketed to cure your ailments or those of your children. Anecdotally, you’ll hear plenty of stories about how effective homeopathy can be. You probably have a friend who uses it for her baby, or maybe you’ve tried it yourself. The problem with anecdotal evidence is that there’s no way to know if the symptoms got better because of the treatment, or if they would have gone away on their own. The placebo response can be impressive, and without comparing a treatment to placebo, it’s hard to say how effective it truly is. Another consideration is that the “inactive ingredients” in homeopathic medicines may actually be helpful. For example, the honey in homeopathic cough syrup may have some benefit all by itself. Add to that the fact that many symptoms in children are short-lived and would go away even without treatment, and stories about how your friend’s sister’s baby’s colic got better with homeopathic gripe water are pretty much meaningless.

Scientifically speaking, the theory of homeopathy doesn’t make any sense at all, and I have a hard time buying it–although they’d love to sell it to me. And as far as evidence goes, the support for homeopathy is homeo-pathetic;  it’s never been shown to be effective…for anything. The limited studies that have made homeopathy look attractive were fraught with methodological flaws–lacking important features like randomization, placebo control, blinding, appropriate sample size, etc.

So as far as being an effective treatment, homeopathy hasn’t really proven itself. But is it dangerous? Probably not directly. As I said before, although the original substances used can be quite dangerous, the preparations are so dilute that it’s quite unlikely that a single molecule of the original substance will make it into the bottle. And while the financial cost isn’t trivial (nearly $3 billion/year in the US), the true danger of homeopathy comes when it replaces proven medical treatments for dangerous diseases. A brief internet search will reveal claims that homeopathy will cure cancer, improve your mood, cure your child’s ADHD, or make your diabetes go away. But by replacing treatments that have been shown to help with these problems, homeopathy can cause significant indirect harm.

Perhaps the best example of this is “homeopathic vaccines.” Also known as “nosodes,” these products are prepared from the bodily fluids (spit, snot, blood, pus, etc.) of diseased humans or animals, and processed in a similar manner to the one I described above until none of the original product remains. Gross, right? But also totally ineffective. And the worst part is that they are marketed as an alternative to “conventional vaccines” which have dramatically reduced the incidence of many significant infections and saved literally millions of lives, with adverse reactions that are incredibly rare. As an aside, it’s interesting that the same crowd that touts homeopathic remedies that are made from poisonous plants and infected bodily fluids will argue against vaccines by listing all the “toxic ingredients” that are present for a clear purpose and in infinitesimally small doses. Ironic.

To be clear, I’m not saying “natural” remedies from plants and herbs can’t be beneficial. Just from the plant belladonna that I discussed above, we’ve derived several important and effective drugs–scopolamine (useful for nausea and motion sickness), hyoscyamine (beneficial for abdominal pain), and atropine (which I’ve used multiple times in the ICU). But when a natural substance is found to have a beneficial effect, it is tested, regulated and produced in a way to ensure that the dose you want is the dose you get–because they can be fatal in excess. The other question about herbal treatments is whether the bottle you purchase actually contains the product on the label. Often it does not. And you can imagine that in homeopathy, where the bottle doesn’t even claim to contain any of the presumably active ingredient, testing and regulating these products would be impossible. Those people who are skeptical of pharmaceutical companies and vaccine manufacturers may want to take a harder look at the alternatives they choose–it seems likely to me that plenty of unscrupulous entrepreneurs could make a fortune selling “homeopathic” products while skipping the complex production process entirely.

When it comes to homeopathy, less is more. None is even better. If you want to use medicine, use real medicine. If you don’t want to use medicine for minor illnesses, don’t–the vast majority of pediatric symptoms go away on their own. Instead of spending your money on this stuff, start saving for your kid’s college. Again, feel free to disagree–but if you choose to give homeopathy a chance, forget everything you just read. It will work better if you believe.


A note about comments: A few readers have expressed displeasure that their comments were not displayed below. Sometimes, when discussing topics like homeopathy (or vaccines), people choose to turn an open and constructive conversation into an opportunity to promote their own agendas. Don’t believe me?

sandra

This is the Twitter profile of one of the commenters below–with identifying information removed, because I’m not looking to make it personal. It’s interesting to me to note that this person’s response to the [supposed] benefits of homeopathy is not to advocate for its use, or to warn of the [supposed] dangers of conventional medicine. It’s to heckle those who happen to disagree. I don’t understand.

While I don’t mind people disagreeing with me, I will not tolerate this type of attitude. I will be moderating all comments from this point on, and will delete any comments that I feel to be argumentative, off-topic, baseless, insulting, or otherwise inappropriate. Does this create bias? Absolutely. The same bias that I admitted at the beginning of this post–that I’m a physician looking at the topic with a scientific perspective. There are plenty of websites out there that provide the opposite perspective, and I invite you to visit them. They aren’t hard to find.

I continue to invite constructive comments, sincere questions, and respectful disagreement (please forgive the delay in approving them). But if your purpose is to “generally annoy” me, this isn’t the place.

-Chad

As always, your comments are welcomed (even if you happen to disagree). I'll get back to you as soon as I can. Please try to keep it civil--I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

38 thoughts on “Homeopathic Remedies: Money for Nothing, Tricks for a Fee

  1. My own experience with homeopathy has only been positive for myself, our family and our pets for the past 29 years. I have a family homeopath and a homeopathic first aid kit, which contains 50 remedies, for acute non-life threatening conditions. The homeopathic remedy Belladonna in my first aid kit helped alleviate a toothache and swelling from an abscessed tooth over a weekend when my dentist was unavailable.

    Homeopathic Sulphur cured two case s of conventionally treated mange in a dog of my husband’s aunt and another dog belonging to one of my friends. A few doses of homeopathic Silica over a two week period of time opened and helped drain a lipoma the size of a golf ball from one of our dog’s right shoulder. No surgery, stitches or antibiotics were needed and there is no residual scar. Even on an outpatient basis, the surgery local anesthesia, bandaging and antibiotics would most likely have cost well over a few hundred dollars.

    Two family members with broken bones (hairline and compound fracture) were facing surgery to repair because of slow healing with casting over three months’ time. Homeopathic Symphytum hastened the healing of the breaks and both family members were able to avoid surgery. Before and after x-rays and ultrasound documented the healing in both cases.

    Our family homeopath prescribed a remedy that helped my husband avoid back surgery for two herniated discs at the L4 and L5 level. The herniated discs were documented by both x-ray and ultrasound both before and after treatment. He had been in excruciating pain and for six months could only walk using a cane.

    Several years ago my cholesterol level was off the charts. After viewing the lab report, my homeopath prescribed a remedy and on repeated lab testing a month later, my cholesterol was within normal limits. It has remained normal since that time. I took no other medication and no dietary change was necessary.

    One of the most dramatic accounts of the effectiveness of a single homeopathic remedy concerns a friend of mine who had a colicky baby, 6 months without relief on conventional medicines. I recommended she consult my family homeopath who lived 400 miles from her home. The baby screamed in pain the entire way and the trip was more difficult because of a flat tire along the way. Upon arrival at the homeopath’s home, my friend was told to place the baby on a small padded table. As he was still crying loudly, it was easy to drop a few pellets of homeopathic Dioscorea villosa in his mouth. Within seconds the child stopped crying and a huge smile appeared instead. The return trip home was a delight and the little boy had no further episodes! Cost, minus gas for the car, $35.

    • Sandra,

      Thanks for reading and commenting. As I said above, you’re certainly entitled to disagree with me. Your story certainly does seem to support homeopathy, and it hard for me to comment specifically, having not been there. That’s the problem with individual stories (anecdotes)–there’s no way to know what made the difference. It could be placebo effect (which is helpful up to 50-60% of the time), natural resolution, or any number of other confounding factors. Without a controlled experiment, it’s impossible to tell. And when those experiments are done, homeopathy has consistently failed to prove itself.

      As I wrote above, I have a very difficult time understanding exactly how homeopathy works (assuming that it does–which I don’t). Fortunately, it’s used mostly for relatively benign or self-limited conditions that don’t necessarily require treatment. The notion of using it for a compound fracture (which perforates through the skin and is at extremely high risk for infection, typically requiring surgical and antibiotic therapy) scares me. On the other hand, I have little problem with people using it for colic (if that’s a thing: http://www.chadhayesmd.com/just-call-it-colic-the-diagnosis-that-isnt-2/ ), as there’s little risk for indirect harm.

      We probably won’t ever agree, and that’s ok. I’m writing from the perspective of a physician who believes in science-based medicine, and from that perspective, homeopathy doesn’t make the cut.

      I wish you the best, and again, thanks for reading.

      -Chad

  2. Mercury was often given to people during Hahnemann’s time for syphilis. I suppose that was VERY scientific. Did you tell your readers that is why Hahnemann stopped practicing; he was doing HARM? Of course not. Homeopathy is used by so many parents, and not only do they buy it, but they see homeopaths and DO NOT get reimbursed by their providers most of the time! Yet they still go. Because it works.

    • As a matter of fact, I did say that. I even quoted him directly and stated that I didn’t disagree with his decision. Please read the article before going ALL CAPS on me.

      I’d argue that parents continue to see homeopaths because they feel that it works–whether it actually does or not.

      • Of course, you disagree, but again, people that use homeopathy have made the decision because they see it works. I did not go ‘ALL CAPS’ but highlighted things you missed, twice now.

        You claim it’s the placebo effect, but how do large animals, such as on a farm, dairy, or ranch, decide the remedies work when they don’t know they’ve received them? What about infants? Plants? There are now books written on the plethora of research articles that confirm homeopathy works, but up against people paid by big pharma, it’s difficult to argue with those being paid to naysay.

        I’m curious, too, in how you make the decision something ‘doesn’t make sense.’ Just because you can’t explain it doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. Can you explain gravity? But you still don’t go flying off the earth, do you.

        Although you said you mentioned mercury, was that scientific? Was that used in an RCT? There are many ways to do trials, and drug trials cherry-pick their subjects; they are highly manipulated. If a person doesn’t do well, they drop them from the trials, they are not included. Homeopathy doesn’t do that. Provings include everyone, and don’t kill. There are no black-box warnings. Can you understand why parents don’t believe in giving their children drugs and vaccines? I guess not.

        • I haven’t read studies about homeopathy in plants or farm animals (not really my field), but I’ll tell you that the placebo effect can be profound as it relates to parents’ perception of an infant’s symptoms.

          Gravity, while not completely understood, can be demonstrated predictably through scientific experimentation. Its effects can be calculated precisely, and it works every time–whether you believe it or not. Not true for homeopathy. If homeopathy were convincingly demonstrated to be effective, I would use it.

          It’s not fair to compare the use of mercury centuries ago to modern evidence-based medicine. As I wrote above, there’s a lot we didn’t understand then, and we did the best we could–which I why I have no problem with Hahnemann’s attempt to find a better solution. But now, given what we’ve learned about chemistry, physics, and biology, it’s just hard to reconcile homeopathy with science.

          It’s also not fair to compare the side effects of homeopathy to medications–I would certainly expect that if the treatment consists exclusively of water, the potential for direct harm would be extremely low. I would also submit that, based on an understanding of biochemistry and physiology, a medicine with no potential for side effects probably has little to no therapeutic benefit either.

          • There’s a lot we don’t understand today, yet we still vaccinate. Have there been studies? No. There have been zero studies done on the comparison between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. It is fair to compare, and homeopathy is so much more scientific than taking pharmaceutical drugs, which suppress symptoms. They don’t cure, where homeopathy does. You claim homeopathy is mostly (or exclusively, your word) water, yet many homeopathic remedies are not made with water. You are making many assumptions, none of which are scientific.

          • Again, you and I are not going to agree on this topic (or possibly any topic). The reason we don’t do trials randomizing children to be unvaccinated is because there is so much evidence that they save lives at very low risk. I’ve written plenty about vaccines over the past few weeks, and I’m not going to repeat it here. Your understanding of science and mine are obviously not the same.

  3. My experience of many years as a homeopathic patient tallies exactly with the successes Sandra Courtney described in her comment. Homeopathy normalized my high blood pressure and high intraocular pressure caused by glaucoma. When those pressures became normal several years ago I was able to stop using the medicines and yet they have continued in the normal range as proven by testing done by my board-certified ophthalmologist and my conventional GP. By using homeopathy I was able to improve my health and do it safely and inexpensively. I didn’t have to worry about developing the iatrogenic diseases people come down with when they use conventional drugs.

    550 million people use homeopathy today making it the second most used system of medicine in the world (TCM is first). They continue to use it decade after decade to meet their health care needs because it works and is safe. They use homeopathy first and foremost even if they can afford to use any system of medicine they choose.

    To say homeopathy hasn’t proven itself is to deny the 25,000 volumes of cured case records accumulated during its clinical use in hundreds of millions of people over the course of 200+ years. Contemporary cured case records can be seen by googling “homeopathy cured cases”.

    • I understand that there are many people out there who have experienced positive health benefits that they attribute to homeopathy. You are certainly entitled to that belief. This article is not intended to convince you to let go of your worldview, but to inform parents of what homeopathy is (because it’s not a well-understood field).

      I don’t know that the fact that 8% of the people in the world think something is a good idea is enough to convince me. What I do know is that if I cited the level of evidence found in these “cured cases” to justify a treatment to my medical colleagues, they would laugh at me. We call those “case reports,” and while they may be useful to direct further research or last-ditch efforts when no proven treatments exist, they aren’t typically regarded as “proof.”

      • Until you have done your own independent reading / thinking about the practice of homeopathy, perhaps by contacting a pediatrician who has added homeopathy to his/her practice, you will remain ill-informed. You owe it to your patients and their parents to research further before discounting homeopathy entirely. Study classical homeopathy (another 2-3 years of study) and you will be rewarded beyond measure.

        • I owe it to my patients to provide treatment that has been shown to work and has expected benefits that outweigh the potential risks. Study medicine for 7+ years, and you may change your mind as well.

  4. Thanks for this. My uncle is dying of cancer because of homeopathic snake oil. Your article said what I’ve been thinking in a very eloquent, rational way.

    • Carrie,

      Thanks for sharing your story. I’m sorry to hear about your uncle. This is an example of the indirect harm that can come from pursuing harmless but unproven treatments in lieu of those that have been shown to work.

      -Chad

      • i find it interesting that you say to the above ‘thanks for sharing your story’… and yes, i am also sorry about her uncle…. but you didn’t say ‘thanks for sharing your story’ to anyone who shared their stories of successful healing. why is that? especially since there was proof via testing with mainstream medicine’s technology. Many, many countries include allopathic medicine, homeopathic medicine and naturopathic medicine and chiropractic. they have learned to work together for the benefit of their patients. it shows a lack of wisdom f0r you to disregard other methods of healing, just because you can’t explain them based on your extensive, and yet very narrow learning.

    • Dr. Isis Mikhail, M.D., of the U.S. National Cancer Institute sits on the board of the Banerji Protocols International Collaborative Research Consortium because the NCI was so impressed with the success rate of homeopathy in treating cancer. Of 1,132 cases of lung, brain and esophagael cancer treated with homeopathy by the Banerji Clinic complete regression ranged from 22% to 32% depending on the type of cancer. 23% of cases were either improved or remained stable. Kara Kelly, medical director of the Integrative Therapies Program for Children with Cancer, Columbia University, visited the Banerji Clinic to study its work. She said “We are really very interested in practicing traditional treatment of pediatric oncology with the Banerji Protocols. We have studied their methods and would share our findings with our colleagues in Columbia University, U.S.A. We are very open to go for a tie-up as there’s no side effect of this particular homeopathic treatment. This can be scientifically used globally.” There are also many studies showing homeopathy is effective in treating cancer.

      That is not “snake oil”.

      Chemotherapy is effective in less than 3% of cancer patients and generally only in the less common cancers.

      • Source for your claim that chemotherapy is effective in only 3% of cases? Or for your quotes about Dr. Mikhail and the NCI’s favorable opinion of homeopathy?

          • It isn’t easy to get a positive evaluation from the U.S. National Cancer Institute, but they gave one to the Banerji Protocols. “The objective of the present study was to have their treatment procedures evaluated and validated by the U.S. National Cancer Institute’s Best Case Series Program. Lung and esophagael carcinoma patients were treated with homeopathy remedies at the PBHRF according to the Banerji’s protocol until there was complete remission of the tumors — ‘until there was complete remission of the tumors’. The results of the review were deemed to be sufficient to warrant NCI-initiated prospective research follow-up in the form of an observational study. Four of the 14 cases had independent confirmation of the diagnoses and radiographic response and were accepted by the NCI as sufficient information for the NCI to initiate further investigation.”

            http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18575720

            This is what Dr. Mae-Won Ho says about homeopathy: “Homeopathy can be mainstreamed as the most affordable, efficacious and safe public health provider through a standardized specific therapeutic approach that can deal effectively with all diseases including cancers and opens the door to controlled clinical trials and scientific investigations.

            “PBHRF has a database on treatment and response of all cancer cases and other life threatening diseases treated at their clinics.

            “The overall aggregate retrospective data collected from 2004 – 2013 on 24,204 patients with all varieties of cancers treated show 50% of cancers completely regressed or improved, 28% became stable.”

            http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Homeopathy_for_the_Masses.php

            The intent and purpose of medicine is to alleviate human suffering. Why automatically rule out a system of medicine which has been proven to do so much for so many?

          • With regard to your cancer “study” (which can be found in its entirety here):
            ): The homeopathic practitioners chose 14 of their most successful cases out of 300 (at that facility). 10 of those were thrown out. 4 of them were judged to have regressed in the presence of homeopathy. Not because of it, because a case series can’t determine that. And there have been documented cases of spontaneous remission in cancer patients, even without homeopathy. The conclusion is not that homeopathy cured the cancer, it’s this: “The results of the review were deemed to be sufficient to warrant an NCI-initiated prospective research follow-up in the form of an observational study.” Meaning they found it interesting enough to consider a real study.

          • Your initial comments were deleted because they were inflammatory and contributed nothing to the conversation. This one has actual data to support it, and is interesting. It’s an area with which I’m not very familiar, as the prognosis of childhood cancers differs greatly from that in adults. It’s important to remember that chemotherapy is not the only method used by conventional physicians to treat cancer; it’s used in combination with other modalities. And while the effect may not be tremendous, many patients and families would argue that it’s worth pursuing. Regardless, I’ve yet to see a well-designed study showing that homeopathy increases 5-year survival rates by 2-3%.

    • Thank you for realizing the importance of information like this, there is an alarming amount of people who believe that homeopathic remedies are reasonable treatments for serious illness.

  5. Thank you for addressing this in such a calm manner, I cannot keep a cool head when trying talk sense into these people. As a member of the scientific community I am continually accused of selling out, being a cooperate shill etc. I completely agree with the idea that the placebo effect is the major mechanism by which these people feel better. It is the same idea with gluten-free people. They believe that being gluten free makes them feel better, however it has scientifically been established that only those with (1)Celiac’s disease benefit from the removal of gluten from their diet. It is disappointing to find so many people buy into these non-peer-reviewed studies which essentially spout nonsense with the goal of making a quick buck. As a researcher and educator I am more and more disappointed by the level of true scientific education these “experts” claim to have, and no self-educated does not count. So thank you again for you logical and well thought out article.

    1. No effects of gluten in patients with self-reported non-celiac gluten sensitivity after dietary reduction of fermentable, poorly absorbed, short-chain carbohydrates.
    Biesiekierski JR1, Peters SL, Newnham ED, Rosella O, Muir JG, Gibson PR.

  6. I grew up in India using homeopathic medicines from the time I was little. Could never tell if they actually made a difference or not when I was sick. For the most part, my parents just let them run their course when we had minor sicknesses anyway.

    When I was around 20, I had fistula and had to get a fistulatomy done. Those days it wasn’t exactly an outpatient procedure. In any case, I went through the painful process only to realize it didn’t help me completely. Rather than go through the whole process all over again, I decided to try homeopathy and I was prescribed Silicea 6x (a homeopathic medicine) to help with this. Just like most of the homeopathic treatments, it took me a little bit longer than a quick surgery. But that got rid of the fistula completely and I have not had any issues for over 20 years now. Believe what you will, but I will swear by homeopathy at least when it comes to treating fistula. Best part – 500 tablets of Silicea 6x costs $10 on Amazon.com instead of upwards of $500 (be it on me or on insurance) that one of your colleagues would charge me to perform a fistulatomy. I can also attest to the fact that this was definitely no placebo effect. Trust me, it got rid of something surgery couldn’t!

    Does this mean that I believe homeopathy has a cure for everything, not really. But if I know something that works, I would rather go that route than put some synthetic chemical that modern medicine and pharmaceutical companies would want me to take instead.

  7. Upto the end of year 2010, there have been 299 studies published in 114 medical journals (92 integrative, 9 homeopathy and 13 CAM journals) including 11 meta-analysis, 8 systematic reviews including 1 cochrane review (out of approximately 20 systematic reviews published) and 81 RCT (68 DBRPCT + 2 SBRPCT + 6 DBRCT + 1 RPCT + 4 RCT) out of approx 225 RCT published) in evidence of homoeopathy to produce significant to substantial health benefits in a wide array of health conditions.

    • For the sake of clarity, Nancy Malik is not a physician, but a homeopathic practitioner licensed to practice in India. She is notorious for defending homeopathy by posting links to the handful of weakly supportive articles she can find, while ignoring the vast body of evidence that contradicts them. She doesn’t put much thought into her work; in fact, this comment is nothing more than a copy/paste of one of her own 3-year-old posts…typos included. I’ll not be approving any more of her comments.

      She is, however, correct that here have been a number of studies done about homeopathy. Most of them were poorly designed or controlled. The Australian Health and Medical Research Council recently performed an excellent review of all of them, and here are there findings:

      “Based on the overall findings of the assessment of the evidence of effectiveness of homeopathy, NHMRC has reached these conclusions:
      • There is no reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective for treating health conditions.
      • Homeopathy should not be used to treat health conditions that are chronic, serious, or could become serious.
      • People who choose homeopathy may put their health at risk if they reject or delay treatments for which there is good evidence for safety and effectiveness.
      • People who are considering whether to use homeopathy should first get advice from a registered health practitioner. Those who use homeopathy should tell their health practitioner, and should keep taking any prescribed treatments.”

      The full report is available here.

  8. Thank you for this article. You put this into words in auch better way than I was able to.

    I, unfortunantely, worked for a store that sold homeopathic remedies among other things a little while ago. I know that they have no effects whatsoever.

    I’m very glad that this information is finally getting out there. You’re entirely correct that these “remedies” are only sugar pills. I just wish others would actually pay attention to true and correctly conducted scientific studies rather than anecdotal “evidence.”

    All of the commenters who have disagreed with this article have absolutely no scientific evidence to support their beliefs, but I know you know that already. I feel anything else I have to say would just be restating what you’ve already said. I just wanted to thank you for this wonderful article.

    I would love to sit down and have a conversation with you. Reading your other articles, I’d have to say you are my new favourite scientific author.

    • Cassie–thanks for your comments. Sorry it took me so long to reply; it’s been a busy week at work. Thanks for reading and sharing! There’s more coming.

      -Chad

  9. Hi Doc…before you begin spouting off about something you know nothing about you might want to consider doing some research! You’re own profession came up with the system of Homeopathy and the remedies are regulated by the FDA. Homeopathy has outperformed traditional medicine for two hundred years. Your own Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that your medical system is the third leading cause of death in the United States. What you are exposing is self involved arrogance that is delivered from one of the most corrupt organizations on the planet…the American Medical Association. They have been sued before for putting their pocket books before peoples health by bashing alternative medicine and thus limiting individuals rights in terms of options for health care. As far as Homeopathy is concerned it is energy medicine…what is in the pellets is magnetic photons that tunes the body back to health. You wouldn’t know anything about that because your medicine is suppressive. When you give medicine for Acne it turns into Asthma…the symptom gets pushed deeper into the organism. Homeopaths today are having to come up with new remedies that treat the poison you call medicine that you are giving your patients. Modern medicine just covers up the symptoms…it doesn’t treat the disease. Some of the greatest Homeopaths from the past talked poorly about Homeopathy just as you are doing, they discovered that traditional medicine is one of the greatest menaces to mankind. On a positive note Homeopathy does have remedies that can help you pay attention better. I can send you a remedy…you need it!

    • 1. Truly appreciate the comments from anonymous people with no credentials.
      2. It’s hard to justify your comments about homeopathy outperforming modern medicine when homeopathy has never been proven (with well-designed, scientific studies) to work…at all.
      3. To imply that homeopathic “remedies” are regulated in the same way as medicines is a bit misleading: http://www.chpa.org/homeopathic.aspx#regulated
      4. I’m not even a member of the AMA.
      5. I have no idea what “energy medicine” is, how photons can be magnetic, or how those things might “tune the body back to health.” You don’t either. (This is not because my “medicine is suppressive;” it’s because those things aren’t true.)
      6. I have never turned acne into asthma. I have treated a lot of both, and have a good understanding of how both of those disease processes work. And they’re really unrelated. (Also, it would seem strange that almost everyone that develops asthma, does so before they develop acne–you know, if that’s my fault.)
      7. Thanks, but I’ll pass on the remedies. I try to avoid interventions whenever possible.

      Thanks for reading.

      • Interesting, I know I’m a little late but Doc have you ever tried homoeopathy? would be an interesting experiment don’t you think?

        • I haven’t. There are lots of things I haven’t tried, both by chance or by choice. There have been plenty of experiments with homeopathy, and when done properly, they haven’t showed any more benefit than placebo. I don’t feel the need to pay for the personal experience.

  10. A very well articulated article. I reside in India where the use of homoeopathy is very common. But I have resisted in using them on my kids or myself since I have always found it hard to believe in the basic premise of how it works (I guess given my science background). I am glad to have found this website and these articles based on rationale and research..thanks again!

  11. Placebo effect? Some of the people I know have taken homeopathy quite reluctantly and were only too happy to switch over and recommend others. Plus there are no side effects. It’s not just for common ailments, diseases which required use of steroids for months with no effect when treated with homeo have been completely cured and when we show the before and after reports to an allopathic they were speechless but obviously didn’t want to admit or credit the effectiveness of homeopathy. It’s only natural for a person to not believe in something which is opposite to their work or ideology but that doesn’t mean it is ineffective or false. Just because I can’t see doesn’t mean it’s not there. Allopathy, Ayurvedic, Homeopathy -at the end of the day they are all being used and have been curing diseases so what’s the point in denying credibility.

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