Closing the Door on Homeopathy

Homeopathy, as a cultural phenomenon, remains an enigma. In the two centuries since its invention it has failed to garner significant scientific support. In fact, developments in physics, chemistry, biology, and medicine have shown the underlying concepts of homeopathy to be wrong – guesswork and speculation that lept in the wrong direction.

It turns out, like does not cure like. This is nothing more than sympathetic magic – popular at the time but now considered nothing more than superstition without any scientific basis.

It also turns out that diluting a substance does not make it more potent – this nonsensical idea (ridiculed even in the 19th century) violates the laws of thermodynamics, and the chemical principle of mass action. This is especially true when you dilute a substance beyond the point where chance would have even a single molecule of active ingredient left behind. The background noise of chemicals in homeopathic water is orders of magnitude greater than the signal of whatever had previously been diluted in it.

I also understand that water does not have a magical memory of the vibrations of what was diluted in it. Transient interactions of water molecules does not, by any stretch of the imagination, confer upon water the ability to store and transmit complex chemical information from a solution to a tablet to a biological system.

It is therefore demonstrably true, even with simple high school level science, that the plausibility of homeopathy, for all practical purposes, and to the extent that it is possible to make such statements within the methodology of science – is zero.

If this were not enough, putting aside the non-existent plausibility of homeopathy and the staggering failure of two centuries to validate any of its principles, clinical trials of homeopathic remedies have failed to reliably detect any effect above and beyond placebo effects.

Therefore, in the eyes of science, homeopathy = total fail. It should be laid to rest and relegated to a footnote in the history of science – a pre-scientific idea that survived into modern times as pseudoscience. We can squeeze it in somewhere after healing crystals and before humoral theory and iridology.

But here comes the enigma – why does homeopathy persist at all? It seems that after the rise of science-based medicine in the early 20th century homeopathy was marginalized, but was able to survive because it had already entrenched itself sufficiently in politics and society. It then flew under the radar until the recent rise of CAM – the successful re-branding of fraudulent and unscientific modalities as “natural” and “alternative”.

So successful was this re-branding that the scientific community was partly cowed by the incessant demands for being “open-minded” and for “academic freedom.” This caused many scientists who should have known better to forget themselves, to look the other way while advocates slowly inserted nonsense into the health care structure and academic institutions.

We are beginning to see a push back in the scientific community. Michael Baum and Edzard Ernst have recently published a commentary in The American Journal of Medicine which reflects the new found “permission” within the medical community to once again call nonsense nonsense, and close the door on failed therapies.

Should we keep an open mind about astrology, perpetual motion, alchemy, alien abduction, and sightings of Elvis Presley? No, and we are happy to confess that our minds have closed down on homeopathy in the same way.

They then give a detailed justification for this attitude – a sufficient record of basic science and clinical failure to justify the conclusion that homeopathy cannot and does not work.

There has been criticism from other avenues as well. The World Health Organization (WHO) has traditionally taken a very permissive approach to unscientific medical modalities, motivated by a desire to be “open” to indigenous medicine. The WHO is a political organization, after all, and sometimes politics gets in the way of science.

But they are also advocates for world health, especially for vulnerable populations. It was brought to their attention by an organization called Sense About Science that homeopaths were pushing ineffective homeopathic treatments for malaria, TB, and HIV/AIDS. This forced the WHO to make the following clarifications (among others) regarding their position:

Dr Mukund Uplekar: TB Strategy and Health Systems, WHO: “WHO’s evidence-based guidelines on treatment of tuberculosis…have no place for homeopathic medicines.”

Dr Teguest Guerma, Director Ad Interim, HIV/AIDS Department, WHO: The WHO Dept. of HIV/AIDS invests considerable human and financial resources […] to ensure access to evidence-based medical information and to clinically proven, efficacious, and safe treatment for HIV… Let me end by congratulating the young clinicians and researchers of Sense About Science for their efforts to ensure evidence-based approaches to treating and caring for people living with HIV.”

Dr Sergio Spinaci, Associate Director, Global Malaria Programme, WHO:Thanks for the amazing documentation and for whistle blowing on this issue… The Global Malaria programme recommends that malaria is treated following the WHO Guidelines for the Treatment of Malaria”. (These guidelines do not include any use of homeopathy.)

Homeopathy is no longer flying under the radar. While pushing worthless nostrums for the worried well may be tolerated, they can no longer hide the fact that symptomatic treatment of self-limiting conditions is simply the foot in the door for hardcore quackery – the treatment of serious and even life-threatening illnesses with worthless remedies.

The WHO has recently run up against homeopathy again, this time with respect to the H1N1 pandemic and vaccine. While the WHO is trying to stem a pandemic with a vaccination program, homeopaths seem to be doing everything they can to frustrate this public health measure.

The Swiss Society of Homoeopathic Physicians was recently warning pregnant women not to get vaccinated against H1N1. This forced WHO vaccines chief Marie-Paule Kieny to make the following statements:

“This (advice) may result in putting pregnant women and their fetuses at risk of severe consequences in case of pandemic influenza virus infection.

“We … regret that the recommendation of the Swiss Society of Homoeopathic Physicians does not take WHO recommendations in this matter into consideration,” she said.

This is also not an isolated incident of homeopaths warning against the vaccine, claiming that homeopathy can treat the flu and prevent the pandemic. A Google search of “flu” and “homeopathy” leads to numerous homeopaths and homeopathic groups making similar claims. The National Center for Homeopathy writes:

Homeopathy has a long and impressive track record in epidemics of all kinds, including influenza, and we are confident of its potential now.

Homeopaths argue that homeopathy was effective in treating the 1918 H1N1 pandemic. Their reliance upon historical records, however, is demonstrably absurd. Such data is uncontrolled and highly unreliable. It reflects their preference for reliance upon low quality data rather than higher quality controlled data.

While the current generation of scientists and regulators are beginning to wake up to the fact that homeopathy is dangerous quackery, the public is still largely uninformed. Homeopathic products are often marketed simply as “natural” leading to widespread confusion in the public as to what, exactly, homeopathy is. Most people believe it is a synonym for herbal or natural remedies.

I encounter many patients and people with these false assumptions, and they are often shocked to learn the truth about homeopathy.

We need to have an open and transparent discussion in our society about homeopathy. The science has spoken – homeopathy is a failed belief system that has no place in modern health care. It is also a great example of the dangers of allowing a system of medicine that is based upon pseudoscience to flourish. Such systems will never limit themselves to “harmless” symptomatic treatments.

Given the evidence and the state of the science, the only responsible position is to completely dismantle homeopathy and close the door on this pseudoscience once and for all.

Posted in: Homeopathy

Leave a Comment (61) ↓

61 thoughts on “Closing the Door on Homeopathy

  1. kirkmc says:

    I don’t know if this is the case in any other countries, but homeopathy is recognized by France’s health-care system as a valid treament, and, as such, is reimbursed. For this reason, about 20 years ago, I started going to homeopathic doctors. (I’m a lapsed American; when I lived in the US, I had never even heard of homeopathy.) While it took me some time, I realized that homeopathy – and the doctors that prescribe it – are bogus.

    Nevertheless, the French continue to treat it as real, perhaps, in part, because the world’s leading manufacturer of homeopathic remedies (Boiron) is French.

    I wish there were a science-based medecine movement in France to end the reign of “official” homeopathy in this country. It would bring Boiron down, and limit their ability to create and sell their sugar pills around the world.

  2. windriven says:

    OK Dr. Novella, we in the choir all agree. But how precisely do we go about doing this? We can probably, given enough time and effort, convince congresspeople and senators that homeopathy is a dangerous fraud. But if we manage to have governmental support withdrawn or even if we have it made illegal, many will still flock to underground providers. All too often fear and superstition win out over science and technology.

    Some people seem to have an innate need to believe in horsecrap. I know any number of intelligent, educated people (including one MD) who believe deeply in the power of homeopathy, acupuncture, auras and so forth. From where does this slack-jawed credulity spring? More importantly, what strategy will allow us to overcome it?

    And finally, we bear at least some of the responsibility ourselves. Scientists in general and medical doctors in particular often take the position that scientific or medical knowledge is too arcane for mere mortals (the Carl Sagans of science excepted). We are very adept at achieving resonance against, for instance, homeopathy in the scientific community but often seem shrill and didactic when we take that message to the public at large.

    I don’t claim to have the answers here. I tirelessly advocate for vaccination and against woo among my own circle of friends and acquaintances. But each of us doing that isn’t nearly enough. Magical beliefs are amazingly powerful and not easily wounded with arrows of truth.

  3. true – but at least we can remove support for homeopathy from governments and official health organizations. You can marginalize these things. The FDA should revoke approval for the homeopathic pharmacopeia, for example. Homeopaths should not be licensed as health care professionals, etc.

    We cannot change human nature, but we can make culture more rational and science based. Look at the various cultures around the world – there are fairly dramatic differences in level of acceptance of magic and woo.

  4. Tim Kreider says:

    Dr. Novella, allow me to play devil’s advocate for the sake of argument:

    You say that the risk of allowing homeopaths to practice on the worried well is that the homeopaths will invitable creep into more severe diseases, such as infections for which life-saving treatments are available. This argument seems like a perfect reason for homeopathy (which some segment of the public clearly wants and values) should be practiced by MD/DO physicians. The proponents of “integrative medicine” on my campus are quite explicit that therapies like homeopathy and Reiki are never to be used for certain acute or life-threatening diseases in which “conventional medicine” has proven therapies (trauma, infection, cancer); rather the woo is saved for the worried well, the self-limiting illnesses, or in management of chronic diseases (particularly “functional” diseases) alongside any evidence-based interventions. Who better than a physician to be able to judge in what circumstances homeopathy is a safe (i.e., harmless) option for patients who would be happy to receive it?

    I guess in other countries it is important to fight against straight homeopaths, but where I sit the more challenging issue is not just acceptance but adoption of woo into medical practice and education. I feel like the argument “homeopathy can be dangerous” can be twisted into a reason to make it part of physicians’ practice. Do you agree? If so, how best do we preempt that response? Is it enough just to explain how homeopathy is scientifically bankrupt?

  5. Calli Arcale says:

    The FDA cannot revoke approval for the homeopathic pharmacopeia. I believe it would take an act of Congress to do that, because it’s actually in the Pure Foods Act. I could be mistaken, but I’m pretty sure the FDA doesn’t have the power to make that decision, no matter how much they might wish to.

    So write your Congressman, people! They’re trying to make health care more efficient, reducing waste. I think removing support for homeopathy would support that cause, since ineffective medicine, no matter how cheap, is a 100% waste of money.

  6. Calli – you are correct, that is what I meant. It was an act of congress that approved homeopathy to begin with, and it will take another act of congress to revoke it.

    Tim – absolutely, that argument is often made – we must regulate this nonsense in order to practice it safely and prevent abuse. But I believe it was Edzard Ernst who said that even the most meticulous regulation of nonsense must still result in nonsense.

    There are many problems, ethical and practical, with MDs prescribing placebos as if they were real medicine. And I maintain that once the woo genie is out of the bottle, and nonsense is endorsed as real, it will not be contained.

    A consistent science-based standard is our best line of defense – that is the line on which we cannot compromise.

  7. Citizen Deux says:

    What a great line!

    “rather the woo is saved for the worried well”

    My spouse, a PA who practices medicine in an integrative format often refers to LOLINAD – little old ladies in no apparrent distress. The challenge in providing placebo therapy is one of ethics – what if you miss something? What if the presentation is not psychogenic but real?

    This is the dilemma facing real medicine. For the record, I believe my spouse practices from an extremely ethical viewpoint and grounded in the approach identified by Tim.

  8. Peter Lipson says:

    The dangers of supporting homeopathy as a somewhat distasteful placebo can be subtle. There is the problem with cracking the door open for colds and ending up with homeopathic chemotherapy, but the whole idea itself is repugnant for many reasons.

  9. Calli Arcale says:

    Tim – absolutely, that argument is often made – we must regulate this nonsense in order to practice it safely and prevent abuse. But I believe it was Edzard Ernst who said that even the most meticulous regulation of nonsense must still result in nonsense.

    Only if special consideration is given to the nonsense. All medicine, whether mainstream, homeopathic, naturopathic, or whatever, ought to be regulated in exactly the same way. No favorites. That means using science to guide regulatory decisions. It’s the only fair approach. Homeopathy should be held to the same standards as, say, chemotherapy, which is to say, it has to prove it actually treats something before it can legally be sold as a remedy for that.

    This would be entirely fair, yet the alties shrink from it. Oh, they *say* they want us to be open-minded and give everything a fair chance. They *say* they want to keep corporations from controlling the system. But that’s not really what they want. What they want is not to be asked awkward questions, and to be just trusted that what they say is true. Oh sure, you can go regulate those nasty pharmaceutical companies. Can’t trust them. But you can trust *me*. I’m different.

  10. DevoutCatalyst says:

    I think it should become a faux pas to embrace homeopathy. Ridicule has a place in our toolbox, as does the blunt hammer. It seems to me neither shrill nor preaching to the choir.

    When students at Columbia University laughed at Ahmadinejad’s denial of homosexuality in Iran, he cracked a smile. It would have been a great moment to ask him why the city of Tehran is at or near the top worldwide in sex change operations. An opening was created.

    When the philosopher Crislip states that “homeopathy is stupid cubed. And then squared” it creates a fissure that may nudge at least some people to crack open their own smile at the absurdity of being plain wrong about something so obvious as the elephant sitting on your shoulder as you read today’s SBM blog entry.

  11. windriven says:

    @ Dr. Novella-

    “Look at the various cultures around the world – there are fairly dramatic differences in level of acceptance of magic and woo. ”

    I do and I have and it scares the bejesus out of me. There are only a few European countries less tolerant of woo than we are here – and we are far too tolerant. I have, for instance, spent a good deal of time in China where the acceptance of absurd and dangerous nonsense, even among the educated, is breathtaking.

    Your point about getting the homeopathetic pharmacopoeia deleted by FDA through congressional action is well taken.

    @ Tim –
    The notion of medical doctors giving lip service to homeopathy – much less dispensing it – makes my blood run cold. Embracing the dark side isn’t the answer. The message that would send is that there is something to this kind of magical thinking.

  12. windriven says:

    Dr. Novella-

    If I could make a simple suggestion? Could we ask you and other competent individuals in the movement to compile a list of studies debunking homeopathy. We could then draft a letter with this bibliography cited that could be posted on all of the various skeptical websites for skeptics to use as a template for letters to their congresspeople and senators. This sort of mass letter-writing has worked before. And now is a perfect time as wholesale changes in the American health care system are debated.

    Politicians don’t often do what’s right because it is right. They do it because there is a noisy (or generous) constituency agitating for it.

  13. windriven – this is an active project of ours, under the Topic-based reference section. We have pretty much completed the vaccines and autism references. Homeopathy is on our short list.

  14. micheleinmichigan says:

    Okay, I have to admit I just bought a tube of arnica gel (topical) which I consistently use for pain in my shoulder (bursitis) and back (one leg is shorter than other, my sacrum acts up.) It says 1X arnica montana for the content. I have no idea what that means.

    I tried it on the recommendation of a friend and was pretty amazed that it seems to actually work very well. Better, in fact than the anti-inflammatory that the doctor gave me, but not as well as the steroid shot. I don’t take any other homeopathic things, because the concept seems silly to me and generally I don’t like taking unregulated herbal remedies (because of unknown hormones, etc).

    But I’m sticking to my arnica and I guess I don’t really care if it’s a placebo effect, or it’s just the alcohol in the product, etc. Less pain is better in my book.

    But I’d be happy if the FDA took authority for making sure it is safe (if not effective). Of course I’d be happy if the FDA would take more authority to make sure our food is safe. (I think they are working on that.)

    So take that for what it’s worth. I guess this is more a confession than an argument.

  15. kirkmc says:

    Good question about the arnica gel. Where I live in France, old people still make their own arnica decoctions. Does it have any effect?

    I think if it’s 1X that means it’s not diluted, but here in France they don’t use Xs, they use CH and D I think.

  16. windriven says:

    @ DevoutCatalyst

    I share your mirth and agree that ridicule (shrill as it may be) has a place in the armamentarium. But if you believe that ridicule alone is the answer then we certainly disagree. Religion was pointedly ridiculed and all but banned throughout the former Soviet empire. I’m sure that ridicule caused some of the more reflective sorts to have another look at their belief systems. But after 60 years when the empire collapsed, religion roared back with renewed vigor.

    Sometimes it takes a hammer and sometimes it takes a rose. I hope that the ultimate objective here is not simply the elimination of the blight of homeopathy but rather the widespread adoption of critical thinking in the larger community. Simply repeating that people are stupid for believing dumb stuff won’t get that done.

  17. Paul says:

    1X = a ten-fold dilution done one time. Obivously the final concentration depends on what they start with, but they never tell you that

  18. Raman says:

    The following interview with psychologist Nicholas Humpfrey, by Richard Dawkins, takes an evolutionary medicine approach to offer interesting insights into the question of why alternative medicines are so appealing. (Link below.)

    Some conclusions :
    -Our brains react positively to sensing that we are being taken care of
    -Alternative medicine practitioners often spend more time with their patients – more so than doctors –, getting to know them, listening to their worries, to their point of view…
    -Alternative medicines and holistic theories help the patient make sense of their condition, and make them feel that they can get back in control of their existence

    Considering this, we can conclude that our healthcare systems should find ways to bonify the doctor-patient relationship.
    But a novel approach is also offered : Why not incorporate placebos into science-based medicine?
    -Doctors already offer placebos to patients. (A friend of mine who is a pharmacist confirmed this to me : She sometimes gets prescriptions for placebos, unbeknown to the patient. I guess the doctors on this board would already know this. But it sure was news to me!)

    But here is the novel idea : Be frank with the patients about it.

    In any case, I’m not a doctor : I’m only an anthropologist who did some research on the popularity of alternative medicines a few years back, and largely came to the same conclusions as listed above.
    So I’ll let you judge.

  19. madder says:

    @micheleinmichigan and kirkmc–

    With homeopathic dilutions, X means a dilution by a factor of 10. 1X would then indicate that the dilution is done once, so you’re using a 10% preparation of arnica. Whatever that stuff is (probably an herb of some sort), it is actually present, enough to have a chance to work.

    This means that it is not homeopathic according to Hahnemann’s principles. Preparations like this get labeled “homeopathic” because they can slide in under the homeopathic pharmacopoeia. In the same way, Zicam is marketed as homeopathic, even though it uses a non-zero concentration of zinc.

    Yes, that makes it all a lie.

  20. qetzal says:

    I was going to make the same points as madder, including the comparison to Zicam.

    1X arnica gel may be marketed as homeopathic, but it’s really more of an unapproved herbal remedy. According to Wikipedia, arnica roots are known to contain pharmacologically active compounds with vasodilative & anti-inflammatory effects.

  21. kirkmc says:

    Arnica gel is not marketed here (in France) as homepathic. It is sold by Boiron, the manufacturer of sugar pills, but I don’t recall ever seeing any mention of homeopathy on the tubes.

    In any case, I’m interested to know if it works. I basically wrote it off because I thought it was homeopathic, but further research shows that it’s not.

  22. micheleinmichigan says:

    Hmmm, a funny lie. “It’s not as useless as you think.” I actually used to use Zicam (really that’s the only other one) too, I didn’t know it was supposed to be homeopathic. I threw it out when I read about the losing smell thing.

    I later got a h1n1 prevention flyer from my sons school. One thing they suggested was cleaning out the nostrils once a day with a q-tips soaked in saline solution. I have not tried this. :) But it did occur to me, that might have one reason for Zicam’s possible effectiveness. Because it was a nasal swab.

    Raman, I think the think about the placebo effect is that you don’t get it if the patient knows they are getting placebo. :(

    But as a patient I can say that a good relationship and a doctor that actually listens and acknowledges your concerns is important. A doctor who minimizes side effects or your symptoms is much harder to deal with or trust than one who will tell you outright “This drug has a significant side-effect. I know it’s hard and annoying. Unfortunately it’s all we have to offer at this time. I think the risk of not controlling your illness (asthma, inflammation, cholesterol) is greater than the drugs side effect. What do you think?” Or of course one who will suggest another similar drug with the hope of less side effects.

  23. micheleinmichigan says:

    Kirkmc – The arnica I have is also marketed by Boiron. It does say “Homeopathic Medicine” on the tube, here. Maybe the marketing regulations are different.

    In my case it does seem to offer some relief. But it is my no means a cure. If my bursitis doesn’t calm down, I will defiantly be back to the Orthopedic doc for another steroid shot.

    The arnica was not my first step though. I’ve seen doctor’s and received the recommended therapy for both conditions.

  24. BKsea says:

    A while back, I was going down the path of “why not prescribe placebos and woo treatments.” If they make the patient feel better, what’s the harm? I realized this is a case of winning the battle but loosing the war. Yes, you can find cases where prescribing a placebo without telling the patient seems to help. But, what happens when the patient finds out they were duped? Are they grateful or do they find another doctor? Are they more likely to believe the woo-meisters that say “Western
    Medicine” has run out of answers? Are they more likely to try the latest woo offering that might BE harmful? Are they more likely to let their congress spend billions of dollars on “alternative medical” research that cannot work and thereby take it away from researchers that might actually accomplish something? In the end the sum of the little losses greatly outweighs the one time artificial patient treatment.

    I like to compare this to the argument about torture. You can come up with a hypothetical case in which torturing someone may have an immediate positive effect. However, the institutionaliztion of torture causes much greater harm in the long run than any near-term gain from such a hypothetical situation. So, CAM = torture; feel free to use that.

  25. rosemary says:

    Dr. Novella, “at least we can remove support for homeopathy from governments and official health organizations.”

    Who are “we”? If you mean scientists, I seriously doubt that they can change government and health organization policies. We live in a populist age very different from the one most of us grew up in. (Remember Dr. Mom of the cough syrup commercial?) Some very bright MBAs figured that out 10 or 15 years ago and also figured out how to profit by it in a huge way. They took wacky medicinal practices used by those on the fringes of mainstream society right into the heart of the mainstream market by cleaning them up, using words and expressions that made them sound pleasant, plausible, sometimes even scientific, rather than crazy and incredible and marketing them to the general public. They convinced the general public of their value very quickly and got the gal in the street to very successfully lobby governments and what used to be scientific organizations. Scientists and experts be damned. Dr. Mom knows best.

    If anyone wants to change that any time soon, I believe that he is going to have to start at the bottom like the alts did and go to the general public. However, unlike alts he will not be marketing but educating. He will have to find an effective way to show the general public that the only way to accurately evaluate a drug or therapy is with objective not subjective testing. Unless someone accomplishes that soon, we are going to have to wait a long time for things to change or for the pendulum to swing back so that the general public once more respects knowledge and science.

  26. kirkmc says:

    micheleinmichigan: Hmm, between a topical remedy and a steroid shot, there’s quite a difference. I’d call the latter a last resort, rather than just what I’d use if a topical remedy doesn’t work.

    In my case, I can’t take NSAIDs, so I’m curious how well the arnica works. Since I had long discounted it as homeapathic, maybe it’s time to try it again.

  27. tmac57 says:

    rosemary-“we are going to have to wait a long time for things to change or for the pendulum to swing back so that the general public once more respects knowledge and science.”
    Unfortunately, many people are mistaking their beliefs in pseudoscience as verifiable scientific fact. Just listen to Suzanne Somers’ nonsense promoting her latest “book”. She really seems to believe that those quacks are doing real science. Same on the AoA blog site. They can name off endless “studies” that they know for certain are real science and insider’s knowledge. So they already think that they are the ones respecting “real” science , and that all of us are dupes of Big Pharma/Big Medicine. The Internet combined with conformation bias, and an arrogant sense that their gut instincts trump consensus science, gives them all the knowledge they need thank you very much! The genie is out of the bottle, I’m afraid, and all we can do now is try to mitigate the damage as best we can.

  28. qetzal says:


    I agree – there are a lot of problems with the idea that placebos (including homeopathy) are OK as long as they make the patient ‘feel’ better?”

    As you imply, patients would need to be deceived into thinking they’re getting ‘real’ medicines. Otherwise, there will probably be little or no placebo effect.

    The best way to deceive the patient is if the physician offering the placebo is also deceived! The more the doc believes in what he’s prescribing, the more the patient is likely to believe. Thus, lying to doctors and med students must also be OK. After all, it will help the patient feel better, right?

    As an aside, this is part of why I think many/most promoters of woo really believe a lot of what they claim, at least to some degree. If they didn’t, it would be hard for them to sell their stuff convincingly.

  29. micheleinmichigan says:

    kirkmc – Well, the steroid shot is okay and very effective long term (like, one shot, months of no pain). I try NSAIDs but they don’t help much. Doctor says physical therapy isn’t effective unless you’ve lost range of motion (which I haven’t).

    Sometimes the bursitis just goes away on it’s own. Last time it just settled in for months. That’s when we did the 1st steroid shot into the bursa. Apparently, because it’s local it’s much more effective. But you can only do 2 steroid shots, since the steroids can weaken the surrounding tendons.

    For my back pain the PT and orthopedic surgeon gave me adjusting exercises that are really VERY effective (it’s my SI joint, not sacrum as I said formerly). So I alway encourage people to try Physical Therapy if offered. It can make a big difference. I only use the arnica to get me through the temporary pain until the exercise kicks in for my back.

    But I’m not sure what kind of pain you have.

    Rosemary – unless the Docs are willing to take midnight calls for minor illness, administer asthma medication, post surgery care, blood sugar tests, etc, don’t mess with “Dr Mom”. She is also great at spreading the word about recalls and FDA advice to stop using particular medications (cough and cold) for young children. Until the docs are going to go to the mall play area and spread the word, you’re going to have to humor “Dr Mom”.

    I don’t want to be mean, just cautioning you for your appearance on any parenting forum.

  30. bobsmith says:

    Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that water does have some “memory”. How would you ever know if the water you were using didn’t already have the memory of something else in it? In fact, given that there are a lot of people practicing homeopathy and their concoctions eventually end up going down the drain in one form or another and back into the general water supply and/or the ocean, shouldn’t all water on the planet have the “memory” of pretty much every homeopathic “remedy”? If dilution is not an issue, then pouring a single jar of homeopathic solution into, say, Lake Mead, should be able to cure the ailments of virtually everyone in the southwest United States.

  31. DevoutCatalyst says:


    Every toolbox needs a whoopee cushion and a hammer, as well as Miracle-Gro for the roses. And more Mark Crislip. We’re not in disagreement that an array of tools is needed. I was just thinking that sometimes a jarring round of laughter spontaneously directed at someone can be the trigger towards a more honest confrontation with the stuff emanating from one’s mouth. Even if it’s only a momentary blush and self-conscious smile, it’s still reveals a vulnerability to be exploited. CAM is clever, so must we be. The thought of people jumping through hoops to learn this stuff at expensive schools makes me cringe at the injustice. “A mind is a terrible thing to waste” is what was imprinted on me via television in my youth, and I think that idea has application here. Moreover, the thought of treating diarrhea recklessly in innocent third world children wipes away any notion of a kindly CAM that merits only kid glove treatment.

  32. daijiyobu says:

    Now, I may be a little different from other commentators at SBM as regards homeopathy. Because…

    I, unlike likely most, actually went to school at a regionally accredited ‘big-six’ UNIVERSITY to study homeopathy / naturopathy [and kind] with the promise / label / inducement that what I was studying was “science-based” and nonsectarian:

    (see ).

    So, to hear that homeopathy is BUNK [not science-based, and HUGELY sectarian], well…

    I decided THAT while I was studying it.

    How? I used my brain.

    Per: “developments in physics, chemistry, biology, and medicine have shown the underlying concepts of homeopathy to be wrong […homeopathy is] a pre-scientific idea that survived into modern times as pseudoscience […] given the evidence and the state of the science, the only responsible position is to completely dismantle homeopathy and close the door on this pseudoscience once and for all.”


    But, and I say this as a realist who expects NOTHING…

    who is going to compensate me for the damage done while I dedicated roughly 15 years of my life towards a LIE / misrepresentation?

    I am talking about naturopathic & homeopathic misrepresentation in the realm of commerce, and then also in the more esteemed realm of professionalism.

    The Federal loans, well…

    they are with me for LIFE, based upon false pretenses.

    I merely ask [meekly, for I am merely a voice amongst a torrent of noise] for the requisite JUSTICE.


  33. TsuDhoNimh says:

    michelle in michigan:
    Arnica montana has known anti-inflammatory properties as a tincture, or in a cream. It’s even in my old pharmacy books as a topical remedy for bruises and inflamed joints.

    So does wintergreen (oil of wintergreen = methyl salicylate).

    You might try Theragesic sports rub, which is about 40% oilof wintergreen. You’ll smelllike aLifeSaver candy for a while, but the relief for my tendonitis is excellent.

  34. Raman says:

    « Raman, I think the think about the placebo effect is that you don’t get it if the patient knows they are getting placebo. :( »

    I don’t know if you’ve watched the video with Dawkins and Humpfrey. The idea of trying to offer placebo while telling the patient is Humpfrey’s, and is based on some actual research. (I couldn’t quite get the name of the researcher.)

    I know it seems counterintuitive, but he argues that it might just work. (It is around the beginning of part 3/4 of the videos.)
    In any case, again, I don’t pretend to know whether that’s a viable approach. I just wanted to bring it to your attention.

    Check it out. It’s an interesting interview in any case.

  35. micheleinmichigan says:

    Wintergreen, hmmm. In spite of (or because of) the fact that I will smell like my grandma. I might try it.

    But, I don’t know, you’re one of those posters who sold me on the cat rub headache remedy, Now kitty won’t come out from under the bed.

  36. micheleinmichigan says:

    qetzal – “As an aside, this is part of why I think many/most promoters of woo really believe a lot of what they claim, at least to some degree. If they didn’t, it would be hard for them to sell their stuff convincingly.”

    I completely agree with you there! I have a good friend who is a rep for nutritional supplements and does marketing for various alternative health providers. She goes for all the alternative stuff, chiropractic (the kind that thinks they can cure everything), visualizations, herbals and tons of nutritional supplement. I can’t even list it all. I’m not sure how she is on homeoapathy and she never mentioned her view on vaccinating. She does use science based medicine (somewhat distrustfully). Given that she’s had breast cancer, a non cancerous tumor of the lining of the brain and possibly some strange potassium inbalance, that is good.

    But she genuinely believes in all the stuff she sells and uses. As far as I can see she just has an incredibly high ability to unconsciously rationalize.

  37. Kausik Datta says:

    Michelle in Michigan, your post opened a door to my childhood memories, replete with Arnica (for pain), Rhus tox (for flu-like symptoms), Nux vomica (for gastric complaints), Chelidonium (liver disorders), Calendula (cuts and wounds), Gelsimium (nerve stimulant), Pulsatilla (for anxiety), Apis mel (inflammation), Bryonia (constipation), Carbo veg (exhaustion), China (weakness), amongst many, many others.

    Yeah, you can understand that my parents were steeped in woo, though thankfully they never denied me the vaccinations and access to conventional medicine when needed.

    If you look up the pharmacopoeia, you’d find that all these refer to some medicinal herb. Indeed, the active principles of many such herbs, when extracted and purified under controlled processes, form the basis of many genuine medicines. This is a fact that homeopaths all over the world often like to tout, and gullible, uninformed people get routinely taken in.

    But all these claims start falling flat if you examine just a little further. Unlike your Arnica ointment, which seems to be diluted only ten times (1X), almost all homeopathic medicines for oral use are supposed to be diluted to infinitesimally small proportions, often beyond levels where no further molecule of the medicine can exist in the diluent (water or alcohol). Homeopaths, of course, facilely manufacture ludicrous hypotheses (such as ‘water memory’) to justify their theory of impossible dilutions, but in real life which is guided by the laws of physics and chemistry, the concept is untenable.

    Homeopaths also get by often by using another strange theory of personalized medication. You are using the Arnica ointment and seem to be getting some benefit from the non-homeopathic dose level, but it is quite possible that if you visit a homeopath, he or she would prescribe a completely different medication (such as Bryonia) depending upon whether you are tall or short, thin or fat, light- or dark-complexioned, lively or morose, and so forth.

    If you think about it, the concept is mind-bogglingly stupid. Variations aside, human physiology is largely linear in that it works predictably. If you have a systemic disease with various manifestations, you often start with treating the symptoms and then go after the defaulting organ or system, using one or more medicines with well-defined actions to perform specific functions. If you have an infectious disease, a primary concern is the eradication of the bug, or at least reduction of the burden to a level where the body immunity can take over. This form of medicine (Western/traditional medicine) has been hypothesized, empirically observed, fine-tuned and propounded with evidence, and the benefits are clearly visible in the enhancement of average human life expectancy. The system of homeopathic ‘medicine’ can lay no such claim. There is not a shred of evidence that the so-called ‘personalization’ of therapy based on random, superficial criteria has any rational basis or, indeed, any efficacy.

    Combine with this the fact that over year and years, homeopathic nostrums have consistently failed to show any serious benefit in their use. Rather, in several documented cases, the use of homeopathy has led to exacerbation of the disease, sometimes leading to death.

    Still in many countries, including my own (India), homeopathy continues to thrive (India even has degree-granting homeopathic medical schools). One reason that I can see why this happens is because of the easier access to homeopathic doctors (who are generally much less paid than regular doctors), including house-calls, and their ability to sit down and listen to the patient with due attention. That’s it really. They give the patients time and attention, quite unlike the ‘allopathic’ physicians at hospitals or in private practice.

    Also, in India, the cost of the homeopathic medicines is largely cheaper compared to the regular ones. In some quarters, using an alternative medical system, like homeopathy or Ayurveda, is also considered a status symbol, a sign of alternative/parallel thinking. Homeopaths use this idiocy to their great advantage. In India, two types of patients dabble with homeopathy – the well-off and the rich (who are secure in their knowledge that in the event of any medical emergency, they can always pay their way to the nearest hospital or nursing home for proper medical care), and the poor and the downtrodden (who often can’t afford regular medicines; besides, nobody cares if they die).

    Homeopathy still lingers on as a therapeutic option, because much like religion, it offers a refuge from rationality, and a vague but unsubstantiated belief that ‘it works’ aided and abetted by a lot of spin, hype and egregious misinformation.

  38. Mark P says:

    There are two entirely different “arnica” treatments.

    The topical one is not homeopathic, and has some potential validity. To work it is important that it is pretty strong.

    But using “like cures like” arnica is also made into an oral treatment using homeopathic concepts. Because arnica is actually very poisonous, it is vital that it is diluted heavily. (In practice, to zero.)

    People get confused between the two. The woo meisters like this – they can ride on the actual treatment to sell their rubbish one.


    The reason why the world is not one giant homeopathic treatment, thanks to all the dilutions is because to be homeopathic a solution must be succussed. If you don’t bang it against a bible several times, it won’t work.

    See here, for someone who appears to believe this particularly stupid brand of foolishness:

  39. Mark P says:


    The world is not one giant homeopathic medicine box, because homeopathic medicines need to be succussed. That is shaken against a bible in order to work. Strange but true.

    Well, not true of course, but it is what they believe.

  40. sv1984 says:


    The battle against homoeopathy must be waged in the East, not in pockets in the the US and Europe. This racket is rampant in India, and this is very frightening in a country of over a billion people. On my own street, there are at least 3 people who claim to have homoeopathic cures for H1N1 – this in a country where the risk of contagion is very real.

  41. art malernee dvm says:

    Is there somewhere in the free world where homeopathy is not legal? How about a law that makes it legal to make just not legal to sell? You cannot sell a new car without a engine by saying the new car works because the car remembers it had a engine . Treat homeopathic stuff like holy water. Make it legal to make just not sell.

  42. micheleinmichigan says:

    Rosemary – If you happened to check back. In all fairness, I think I hit the Dr Mom criticism a bit hard.

    Upon second reading I see that you were saying that the woo folks managed to convince the mom’s who then convinced politicians. So, one way to turn the tide is to bring more mom’s back to SBM side.

    I mistakenly thought you were saying that mom’s were generally oblivious to science.


  43. pjcamp says:

    “It also turns out that diluting a substance does not make it more potent – this nonsensical idea (ridiculed even in the 19th century) violates the laws of thermodynamics, and the chemical principle of mass action.”

    Don’t think you quite meant to say that.

    The principle of mass action only applies to equilibrium states. It isn’t a universal law. Much that happens in the body happens out of equilibrium.

    Doesn’t violate the laws of thermodynamics either since it involves neither a change of total energy nor a decrease of entropy. In fact, there are some pretty common chemicals that become rather obviously more potent in solution. Take gasoline, for example. Strike a match inside a volume of gas and you can’t even get the match to light. But dissolve the gas in some air and it burns pretty freely. Less gas = more potency. Depends entirely on what the solvent is.

    None of this is to say homeopathy makes any sense, mind you, just that those aren’t the particular laws it violates.

    You’d be on firmer ground by claiming a violation of the uncertainty principle (which IS a universal law). Homeopathists argue that water has some sort of memory of the things it has been in contact with. But the only place to encode that memory would be in the electron shells of the water molecule. But that requires electrons to remember their history for a very long time and that kind of memory is prohibited by the inherent uncertainty in their position and momentum. You don’t have to follow them very far into the future before all information about past states has been erased.

  44. PhoenixWoman says:


    Another common homeopathic med-maker trick is to play a sort of shell game with the lists of “active” and “inactive” ingredients.

    Case in point: Nelsons Acne Gel. The ingredients are as follows:

    Extracts of organically grown Arnica montana tincture 2.5%, Calendula officinalis tincture 2.5%, Hypericum perforatum tincture 2.5%, Sulfur 6x 1.5% Inactive ingredients: Alcohol, Carbomer, Methylparaben, Purified Water, Tea tree oil, Trolamine.

    As for the “active” ingredients, “Sulfur 6x” is sulfur that’s been watered down to one part per million — well below the point where it’d actually have any effect on anyone — and the other ingredients aren’t known acne fighters.

    But if you look at the inactive ingredients — which oddly enough aren’t shown by weight or volume — we see alcohol and tea tree oil, both of which kill the bacteria that cause acne!

    See what I mean?

  45. @ PhoenixWoman

    I’m sorry, but there’s no evidence that Tea Tree Oil has any effect on acne. One of the most recent reviews of the literature states the typical “more research is necessary”.

    In fact, Nelson’s Acne Gel has no effect that has been shown by a clinical trial or epidemiological study. It’s junk.

  46. I find homeopathy reprehensible because it gives a pseudoscientific choice to those patients who deserve better treatment. And when I read how those homeopathic potion pushers recommend against the H1N1 vaccine, which prevents a recognized and deadly disease, I think they are no longer a benign group, they are dangerous.

    That being said, and the way the internet works, a lot of people will google information which presents all information equally. And if a person reads these google hits, and gives equal credence to all points of view, without critical analysis, then the game is lost.

    So, I’ve taken it upon myself just to write about pseudoscience (and anything else that I care about, including debunking the 2012 myth). Sometimes I parrot the information I read here or at Orac or at Pharyngula. I don’t add a lot of hits, but maybe someone reads my blog, and decides to get the H1N1 vaccine for their children.

    The best thing we can do is provide information rationally and wisely to the widest audience we can.

  47. AudreyII says:

    ‘”In fact, there are some pretty common chemicals that become rather obviously more potent in solution. Take gasoline, for example. Strike a match inside a volume of gas and you can’t even get the match to light. But dissolve the gas in some air and it burns pretty freely. Less gas = more potency. Depends entirely on what the solvent is.”

    Sorry, but it’s not really that the gas gets “more potent”, it’s just that “air” isn’t an inert solvent and the reaction you’re trying to observe happens to need oxygen. Does gasoline burn better if it is solved in argon? (Does it burn at all, since there’s no oxygen to react with?)

  48. DanaUllman says:

    Yeah…close the door on homeopathy and ignore ALL of the research too. You really have to ignore the basic sciences research. In fact, now that we have ALL of the answers in conventional medicine, we simply have to figure out how to supply more drugs and surgery to more people.

    I have never before seen such a sloppy discussion of homeopathy. Your discussion is akin to those anti-vaccine people who are against ALL vaccines in ALL people or those who are against ALL drugs for ALL people. Are you sure that SBM doesn’t mean Sloppy Based Medicine?

    Below are just some of the basic science studies published in peer-review journals in 2009…but do not look at anything before then because you might actually get convinced that there is something to homeopathy afterall…

    It seems that there is a worldwide conspiracy for homeopathy. What really good fascism that you support to stop it?

    These double-blind trials are very pesty.

    Demangeat J-L (2009) NMR water proton relaxation in unheated and heated ultrahigh aqueous dilutions of histamine: Evidence for an air-dependent supramolecular organization of water. Journal of Molecular Liquids, 144:32-39.

    Elzbieta Malarczyk, Janina Kochmanska-Rdest and Anna Jarosz-Wilkolazka. Influence of very low doses of mediators on fungal laccase activity – nonlinearity beyond imagination. Nonlinear Biomedical Physics 2009, 3:10doi:10.1186/1753-4631-3-10.

    Baumgartner S, Wolf M, Skrabal P, Bangerter F, Heusser P, Thurneysen A, Wolf U. High-field 1H T(1) and T(2) NMR relaxation time measurements of H2O in homeopathic preparations of quartz, sulfur, and copper sulfate. Naturwissenschaften. 2009 Sep;96(9):1079-89. Epub 2009 Jun 17.

    Ellanzhiyil Surendran Sunila, Ramadasan Kuttan, Korengath Chandran Preethi and Girija Kuttan. Dynamized Preparations in Cell Culture. eCAM 2009;6(2)257–263

    Paolo Bellavite, Paolo Magnani, Elisabetta Zanolin, and Anita Conforti. Homeopathic Doses of Gelsemium sempervirens Improve the Behavior of Mice in Response to Novel Environments. Evid. Based Complement. Altern. Med., Advance Access published on September 14, 2009; doi: doi:10.1093/ecam/nep139.

    Nandini Bhattacharjee, Surajit Pathak, and Anisur Rahman Khuda-Bukhsh. Amelioration of Carcinogen-Induced Toxicity in Mice by Administration of a Potentized Homeopathic Drug, Natrum Sulphuricum 200. Evid. Based Complement. Altern. Med., March 2009; 6: 65 – 75.

    U. C. Adler, N. M. P. Paiva, A. T. Cesar, M. S. Adler, A. Molina, A. E. Padula, and H. M. Calil. Homeopathic Individualized Q-potencies versus Fluoxetine for Moderate to Severe Depression: Double-blind, Randomized Non-inferiority Trial. Evid. Based Complement. Altern. Med., Advance Access published on August 17, 2009; doi: doi:10.1093/ecam/nep114.

    Beatriz Cesar, Ana Paula R. Abud, Carolina C. de Oliveira, Francolino Cardoso, Raffaello Popa Di Bernardi, Fernando S.F. Guimarães, Juarez Gabardo, and Dorly de Freitas Buchi. Treatment with at Homeopathic Complex Medication Modulates Mononuclear Bone Marrow Cell Differentiation. Evid. Based Complement. Altern. Med., Advance Access published on September 7, 2009; doi: doi:10.1093/ecam/nep119

    V. Elia, E. Napoli, and M. Niccoli. A molecular model of interaction between extremely diluted solutions and NaOH solutions used as titrant.: Conductometric and pHmetric titrations. Journal of Molecular Liquids. Volume 148, Issue 1, 15 September 2009, Pages 45-50.

  49. weing says:

    Based on your prior posts, I don’t think you’d know basic science if you found it in your soup.
    You’re wasting time and my taxpayer dollars. Close the door on this nonsense. We can’t afford to waste anymore.

  50. DanaUllman:

    “These double-blind trials are very pesty.”

    Merely listing the names of studies does not tell us anything. You need to provide the relevant quotes from the papers, and you need to analyze the data in each paper to determine whether the authors’ conclusions are justified.

    I’m very interested in hearing your analysis, for, without it all we have is “bibliography salad” and that, of course, proves nothing.

  51. AudreyII says:

    Dana forgot to link to the first of those “pesty” studies: the full text is available for free here. It’s pretty late here and I want to read the whole thing before I form an opinion about it, but their conclusion is quite interesting:
    “[…] coming back to the controversy of homeopathy, this study reports physical modifications in the solvent of ultrahigh aqueous dilutions of histamine. It is, of course, an intriguing result, but it is worth claiming, until proof to the contrary, that it might merely reflect a trivial air-dependent phenomenon, or an unsuspected bias, and should not be extrapolated to the so-called “memory of water”, often alleged to explain the effectiveness of homeopathy.”

    Doesn’t sound too “pesty” to me.

  52. Harriet Hall says:

    DanaUllman has foot in mouth disease:

    “It seems that there is a worldwide conspiracy for homeopathy.” You spoke more truly than you intended. Are you part of the conspiracy? Your conspiracy isn’t having much luck, is it?

    There certainly isn’t any conspiracy “against” homeopathy, there’s just science. Homeopathy is still rejected by science after 2 centuries of research. That’s not conspiracy; it’s the normal workings of the collaborative scientific process.

    A conspiracy that widespread and enduring is as improbable as the memory of water. If you have any evidence for a conspiracy, please show us. If you know of any other medical treatment that was rejected during 2 centuries of scientific study and later proven to work, I’d like to hear about that too!

  53. Acleron says:

    Reminds me of a UK TV comedy ‘Never mind the quality, just feel the width’. More doubtful studies do not improve the case for homeopathy, just the reverse.

  54. Dr Benway says:


    Where are the physicists? I told you to go get one to vouch for your memory water story before coming back here.

    Off with you!

  55. A. Noyd says:

    pjcamp: “You’d be on firmer ground by claiming a violation of the uncertainty principle…”

    Very interesting! I never heard of this argument before. Gotta love all the ways in which reality trumps woo, both in proving woo is bullshit and in showing why reality is far more fascinating.

  56. A. Noyd says:

    pjcamp: “You’d be on firmer ground by claiming a violation of the uncertainty principle…”

    Very interesting! I never heard of this argument before. Gotta love all the ways in which reality trumps woo, both in proving woo is bull and in showing why reality is far more fascinating.

  57. Badly Shaved Monkey says:


    From your track record of boosting poor studies and then ignoring the criticism of them, perhaps you could save us the effort and teach yourself something: pick one of those studies and highlight its strengths and weaknesses, especially those weaknesses that would allow the authors to deceive themselves that they had found a real effect. You’ve seen how it’s done numerous times. I think it is about time that you showed whether you had acquired any skill in this field.

    Can you also, please remind us what exactly it is that you do for a living? Am I right in believing that you do not practise homeopathy, but are a sort of meta-quack, financial vested in promoting homeopathy so that others are encouraged to practise and use it? Does this have have any bearing on your tendency to appear on any available internet platform to promote the same tired studies no matter how often and how thoroughly they have been dismantled in front of you?

  58. rosemary says:

    micheleinmichigan, “Upon second reading I see that you were saying that the woo folks managed to convince the mom’s who then convinced politicians. So, one way to turn the tide is to bring more mom’s back to SBM side.”

    Michele, I was trying to say that marketing professionals convinced the general public that their clients’ goods and services are valuable, worth buying and should be virtually unregulated so that they can continue to pitch and sell them to the guy and gal in the street. They succeeded in convincing their target audience who in turn convinced, or perhaps bullied is a better word, politicians and what used to be scientific institutions into making sure that those goods and services are legally available or, as with the institutions, that they are selling and promoting them themselves.

    I appreciate your warning about going on parents’ forums although it is something I’ve never thought of doing because I am not a parent, but I am a retired Montessori teacher with a great deal of experience with preschoolers and their parents, although, that experience is far from current. Thirty years ago very few parents had any experience with children until they had their own. They were very apprehensive because they knew nothing about either the physical or emotional care of children. They had no idea what was and was not “normal” and very grateful for advice from anyone they considered knowledgeable. I’d really be surprised if their level of education regarding children has improved any since then.

    tmac57, instead of educating the general public about science, the Internet has enabled them to easily “cut & paste” references and abstracts. Quacks do it all the time knowing that few people will ever check the references. Sincere people do it out of ignorance. My favorite example in the second category is the case of a person continually posting references in English to articles written in languages I know she can’t read or speak. She worships science, is a scientist wannabe and actually thinks that having your name on PubMed makes you a scientist. (My name is there and I am not a scientist.) While she is an extreme and I hope rare example, her problem isn’t. Her problem is that she doesn’t have the most basic understanding of what science or evidence-based medicine are. She is confused by the trappings. IMO, quacks will continue to run the world until scientists, educators and communicators manage to teach the general public the difference. That is no small task. The first step is realizing the need to do it and the need to find the most effective way to do it.

    Dana, why does it upset you so when people “close the door on homeopathy”?

  59. Bytor says:

    Tiday I was twittered this link “Influence of very low doses of mediators on fungal laccase activity – nonlinearity beyond imagination” as supposedly evidence for homeopathic medecine. Unfortunately I lack the biochemistry knowledge to effectively critique this claim. Is there anybody who could comment on that paper?

Comments are closed.