Friday, December 19, 2008

Homeopathy: A Truly Dangerous Religion

Several years ago, a friend's religion killed her. No, she wasn't part of a mass suicide, or burned at the stake, or stoned to death. She was the victim of a deadly combination: breast cancer and the "homeopathy religion."

My friend was young and healthy, and although we were all dismayed to hear of her diagnosis, the cancer was discovered early, giving her a high probability of a successful cure and a long, healthy life.

Sadly, my friend believed in the medical religion called homeopathy. Rather than seeking proper medical treatments that could have (and likely would have) cured her completely, she went to Mexico to a clinic that offered homeopathic treatments. Six months later, quite predictably, she was dead. The homeopathic medicines had absolutely no effect on the cancer. She might as well have stayed home, resigned herself to an early death, and enjoyed a little more time with her husband and two small children.

Why do I call homeopathy a religion? Let's turn the question around and ask, "What is religion?" We'll will discover that homeopathy fits the definition of religion pretty well.
Based on faith. Advocates of homeopathic remedies turn to faith and anecdotes to justify their claims.

Magical forces. A religion claims there are "essences," magical beings (spirits or gods) or other magical forces that can't be measured by science. Homeopathic medicines are said to retain the "essence" of the curative compound, even though there is none of it left in the water.

Anti-science. When science shows that homeopathic remedies are useless, advocates dispute or belittle the scientific studies, or even claim that the scientific method itself is invalid. It's common to hear claims that science is incapable of measuring the spiritual forces that make homeopathy work.

Impossible claims. The fundamental claims of homeopathy violate fundamental rules of chemistry and physics.

Use Anecdotes. Although homeopath advocates deny evidence from large, double-blind scientific studies, they're not adverse to evidence, so long as it's not statistically significant. In other words, they rely on anecdotes (one datum), but reject meaningful statistical samples.

Appeal to desires, not logic. Going hand-in-hand with the anti-science attitudes, homeopathy appeals to what people want to believe, rather than reality. Homeopathy assures people that they can be cured without expensive visits to a doctor, without altering unhealthy lifestyle choices, without painful treatments, and without side effects. It also claims to be able to cure conditions that science-based medicine can't, such as allergies, cancers, arthritis, ageing, impotence, and many others. In fact, perusing a homeopathy web site, it appears that homeopathy can cure everything from broken bones to psychosis.

Unfortunately, the majority of Americans are raised in a religious home, where they are taught from an early age to accept faith, magical forces, impossible miracles, and anecdotal "evidence" without question. These beliefs are directed at Yahweh and Jesus, but more importantly, children are taught to reject the evidence of their senses and the techniques of rational thought.

It's no surprise, then, that this same system of faith-based beliefs is easily transferred to other false claims. Homeopathy isn't very different from any religion.


  1. First of all, I'm sorry for your loss. It's a tragedy, and it's pure evil that she was told she could be cured, while this was obviously nonsense.

    My mother uses homeopathic treatment to help her with stomach problems. Problems that have never been solved with traditional medicine, and somehow, her homeopathic doctor has helped her with it. She now has visibly less problems. I'm sure you wanna call this a placebo effect, but I think that's easy sideline nonsense.

    I'm not saying I believe in everything homeopathy is or claims to be. I'm a man of science. But I am observing here (scientific method, no?), that this treatment she gets certainly does have a good and very measurable effect. That doesn't make all homeopathy right, and it doesn't make the claims they make true. But the effect is there, and I can't argue with that.

    Just because someone believes in miracles, and throws out normal treatment in favor of something untested, doesn't mean homeopathy in it's entirety is evil. My mother's homeopathic doctor has never told her to quit traditional treatment for anything (but unfortunately, the normal doctors are puzzled and told her: sure, give homeopathic treatment a shot).

    I think a few statements you make can be bogus (I can only speak of my mother's case).

    Based on faith:
    Actually, there's visible and measurable results. No faith involved, in fact my mom is not religious at all (Europe.. you understand).

    Use anecdotes:
    Anyone's at liberty to do a double-blind test. Even Richard Dawkins had to admit that the patients were doing very very well. His hypothesis was that the homeopathic doctor was giving them time and listened to their problems better than "normal" doctors. That's as far as he's gone in his assertions I think.

    Why doesn't anyone do a big huge scale test on this? You make claims it's all utter nonsense, and considering your background, I don't blame you one bit. But back it up with statistics please. If there are none, please push for more scientific experiments on homeopathy. And not just in America and not just with people who claim they can cure cancer with bottles of water (which I agree is utter nonsense).

  2. Ron, thanks for your thoughtful comments.

    A couple points. Homeopathy itself is not "evil", just useless. If homeopathy was used alongside real medicine, it would be harmless. But it's not, as illustrated by my friend's death. Homeopathic quacks (am I biased? You bet...) killed her by telling her to avoid scientifically-tested cures.

    Second, the story of your mother illustrates the very point I'm trying ot make. Anecdotes make bad science. I'm happy that your mother feels better, but it's not due to the homeopathic remedies she's taking. Perhaps it's the placebo effect, perhaps its the doctor's attention, perhaps the positive outlook she gains has made her change other things in her life that are actually making the difference.

    Your question about "Why not double-blind studies" is moot – carefully-controlled studies have been done, and have shown that homeopathic remedies are useless.

    Part of the problem is that the theory behind homeopathy is so absurd that serious scientists aren't even interested. It's like if someone said, "Every morning, I go out for my exercise and I like to run on the lake. I walk on water, you know." The claims of homeopathy are no more or less absurd than that, yet if someone claimed to walk on water, we'd seriously consider sending him to a psychiatrist. No scientist would bother to do a "double blind" study on such a plainly false claim.

    Science is about exploring the unknown. It's a waste of time and money to investigate claims that can't possibly be true. There are real diseases that need to be cured, environmental problems to solve, a thousand things a scientist can do that will actually advance our knowledge.

    To someone not educated in basic chemistry and physics, the claims of homeopathy might seem stronger than a walk-on-water claim. Yet to anyone who has serious scientific credentials, the two claims are equivalent.

    Now I'll just wait for the howls about scientific elitism ...


    I can't stand the sight of homeopathic drugs.

    I always tell myself, HOW IS THIS ALONG WITH THE TYLENOL!!!?!?!

  4. "homeopathic drug" is a contradiction in terms.

    Homeopathetic is the person who believes in such twaddle...

  5. It's one thing to use them for arthritis or headaches, but cancer is such a time dependent disease that you can't delay the start of proper treatments at all.

    I just wrote about this as well since Don Imus is on the radio pushing his Habanero pepper cure for his prostate cancer.

  6. First, apologies for the zombie-thread...

    I'm a medical doctor who is slightly bemused at this homoeopathy business. It seems that to accept homeopathy working requires us to ditch a hell of a lot of axioms about medicine, which I'm not comfortable to do. However, here in the UK we have a few homeopathic hospitals, one of which I've had the chance to visit. 3 things I feel I should point out:

    1) All the homeopaths are qualified medics, and consultants are advised to be MRCP (members of the Royal College of Physicians - I know this isn't an easy task as I'm going through the MRCP exams myself!).

    2) None, as far as I know, are religious, though the hospital promotes some Bhuddist-style meditation to help some patients relax (understandably, as many patients have issues with anxiety or stress).

    3) All the practitioners are qualified in, and strongly promote, conventional medicine, and I've seen the dismay on their faces when a patient comes in having refused chemotherapy and asking for IV vitamin C instead.

    Homoeopathy may be an elaborate placebo effect, but it seems that - in the tragic case you describe in your blog - the real cause of the woman's death was rejection of conventional medicine, rather than acceptance of an alternative, and it is there that you should perhaps focus your (understandable) frustration.

  7. I'm seeing more and more "homeopathic" medicines sold in mainstream American supermarkets and pharmacies. How can anyone possibly believe that the more you dilute an active ingredient in a homeopathic solution, the stronger it becomes?
    I think that homeopathy gained something of a good name in western Europe prior to the 20th century, when many of the prevailing medical treatments for the most serious diseases (such as bloodletting, skull perforations, tonics with lead, mercury, etc) were actually quite counterproductive, even deadly. And during such an age in medicine, homeopathy managed to look relatively good in comparison; riding high on the principle that distilled water (while not a cure for anything) normally will not hurt you.

  8. is important that we use natural medicine rather than that produced with chemicals. it helps our body is not contaminated with chemicals that have these drugs. thanks for the info, really helped me.

  9. is important to know that chemicals is everything.
    Homeopathetic remedy is pure water.
    Pure water is chemical substance !!
    hope you not realy ill cause if you are youll die real soon taking water instead of medecine...

  10. "Homeopathy, like other forms of alternative or complementary medicine, pose problems for some people i.e. they don’t fit into current scientific understanding. Back in the 1550s an Italian anatomist said the heart was a pump. He was burned at the stake.
    Seventy five years later, William Harvey said the same thing. He was knighted. What happened in between those two events was that the mechanical pumps came into widespread use for irrigation and mining".
    Homeopathy doesn’t make sense to most people because it lacks a real world metaphor. Until it has one, all the positive studies in the world won’t be able to crack open the closed mind. Thankfully there is a growing number of people that "choose to think for themselves".
    If there are Doctors, Vets, Pharmacists,Dentists etc.(who are also classed as scientists) prepared to understand and use homeopathy how do we classify such professionals? Are they good or bad professionals compared to the ones who have issues with such practices?
    A considerable number of the world's population do not have access to Western Medicine but have to, and to some extent, manage their health issues. Are we really saying that if science doesn't believe in something then it means that very thing does not exist or is of no use?
    I think we should be more concerned about the issue of Iatrogenesis in general. There is documented evidence that a considerable number of people have had problems from conventional scientifically tested medicines with some fatalities. What about the costs to health services in correcting such problems?
    Someone is concerned about having to ditch some axioms in medical practice but it should be remembered that we would be in serious danger if knowledge was to become static.
    The way forward is integrative medicine.

  11. Homeopathy is for the bored and stupid. Taking water with a million part something in it can't possibly cure anything and anyone who thinks it does probably believes in things like Reiki, too..long distance finger wiggling to cure illness. As I said bored, stupid, and gullible.

  12. Here in Australia I went into a pharmacy to look for something to help my daughter sleep. As usually happens here in this situation, an assistant jumped out and prevented me browsing and insisted on "helping" me. She picked out a bottle marked MELATONIN (in large letters). I had previously been told that melatonin was not available over the counter in Australia. The assistant said, yes it is - here it is! As I'd used it successfully when living in California, I decided to buy it. Once outside the shop I put on my glasses and had a good look at it. It was homeopathic! I marched back in to complain. The assistant (the "helper"!) had no idea what I was talking about and pointed out the word on the label. I pointed out the "x6" dilution, which she then tried to interpret as grams! Finally she called the pharmacist who started to give me a lecture on the meaning of homeopathy! The assistant stood by looking extremely confused. Eventually I was able to exchange the product for a real sleep-aid, which was also cheaper as it happens, and worked. I find this experiencing rather disturbing.

  13. Hillary -- It's nice to hear from someone who knows the difference between medicine and quackery! I'm as surprised as you that a pharmacist would support homeopathy. They're supposed to be trained in chemistry and physiology and should know better.

  14. There's been numerous studies where cancer has been healed with baking soda. Seeing as the cancer tumor is more like a fungus, it would have been easy to kill in your friend's early stage. It is clear that you only know a fraction of the information there is to put up a legitimate arguement. Might I suggest reading the book Alternative Medicine from the Opposing Viewpoints series? It says in the book that before choosing to oppose an idea, you must first understand it... which, it is evident, you don't. You have just failed so miserably. Congrats

  15. Real is scientific homeopathy. It cures even when Conventional Allopathic Medicine (CAM) fails. Evidence-based modern homeopathy is a nano-medicine bringing big results for everyone

  16. Real is scientific homeopathy
    And with it the force is !

    Sorry, couldn't resist and it does put homeopathy firmly where it should be:
    In the fiction section !!

    Seriously though :
    Not one single serious, reproductable scientific study has shown that homeopathy has any effet other than placebo.

    Homeopathy is based on ideas that were crazy even at the time (200 years ago). Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof and homeopathy doesn't even have ordinary proof.
    The people here in France who use homeopahty are able to do so because there is real medecine to fall back on if their ailements do not get better on their own while they take the sugar pills !
    Dr. Nancy Malik is in India where resources are so much more scarce and a lot of people are in an either/or situation that potentially could turn into a life/death one.

  17. Evidence of homeopathy is undeniably positive and consistent. It's a human evidence of experience, gathered from a real-world observation in a real-world setting (not in an ideal artificial laboratory) giving real-world solutions.

  18. Dr. Malik – What you claim is factually false. Evidence of homeopathy is undeniably that it is useless. That's a fact.

  19. Dr Malik - You show your hand when you write "real-world" and "artificial" to reinforce your argument.
    How can an observation be anything but "real-world" in a "real-world situation" ?!!!
    And what on earth is "an ideal artificial laboratory" ?!!!
    Stripped of its misleading spin, what you are saying is :
    Homeopathy works because YOU have seen it work and other people say that it works although you accept that there is no scientific (laboratory) evidence to support your position.
    The books shops are full of books trying to convince us that crystals/magnets/pyramids/bracelets/...etc can make us better and all for the same reasons that you put forward...
    In a world where claims and counter claims are legion, we only have one way of telling fact from fiction and that is the scientific method.
    Homeopathy not only fails when tested but is based on flawed reasoning that requires a rewriting of the laws of science.
    Now, I'm not against rewriting the laws of science should that prove to be necessary but it will need more than "human evidence of experience" for that to happen.
    One last comment :
    In Britain, homeopathic practitioners have been shown to persuade future travelers to malaria infected areas of the world to use homeopathic remedies instead of the usual preventive medecin.
    This is where homeopathy stops being "homeopathetic" and starts becoming criminal.
    In this situation, not only does homeopathy have no medical effect but it actively causes avoidable deaths !
    Bob Anderson

  20. An organic raw juice fast, an organic raw vegan diet, exercise, detoxing, probiotics, aromtherapy and homeopathics (herbs, flowers, and spices) can cure any disease, even cancer.

  21. Nonsense. A nice theory, but factually false.

    1. We choose to believe what we want to believe, no matter what proof is put before us.... were all led by past experiences, or if not the past, then by present emotions, situations or whatnot. What you were taught by your parents or teachers or books, it was all taught by a mans words or thoughts or beliefs, now thats a fact! So the question is who made man? Who made the beliefs? Where does it all come from..... facts, science... whatever you'd call it, who made it, whats purely real, whats the truth...

  22. So what would you call Western Medicine, not RELIGION, but BIG pharma?? Big money that isn't CURING a single thing, in fact more and more people are dying of cancer because of these so called FACTS. If they were facts in deed less people would be dying, give me a break! Mindless drones. Don't you know the creator made us to survive on water and nutrients and be healthy, not pills and chemo?? Aren't we 75% water? How will we cure the body's deficiency of water (or vitamins) thus preventing cancer.. with chemo? Pills maybe? Common sense is so scarce now days it's very sad. Prayers for common sense is what we need!

    1. There is no "Western" Medicine.
      There is only medecine based on science and the other "alternative treatments" that are not medecine at all.
      These include tribal witch doctors, crystal healing, sitting under pyramides, acupuncture, homeopathy, et al. It even includes praying for the sick (Yes, a scientific study was done and clearly shows that it does not help)
      My wife is going through chemo as I write this and I am very, very, very happy that "BIG pharma" has come up with the drugs that are saving her life.
      You can keep your water !!

  23. Geez, Anon, your ignorance of the facts is rather shocking. Without modern medicine, the chances are 50/50 that you'd have died before you got old enough to write those words. THAT is a fact.

  24. I don't know about your body but my body IS made up of 75% water so I WILL keep my water thank you, and in the process I will be able to flush out all the toxins which lead to cancer in the first place. WATER IS SCIENCE!!! No human being can replicate it!!! We need it to survive! Please stop contradicting yourself. Thank God the US has adequate water supplies. The sad part is very few take advantage of this precious resource. BIG Pharma cares about MONEY. If they did care for our lives they would focus more on disease prevention. That wouldn't benefit their pockets in any way would it? More and more people are realizing this every day. Why is there so much cancer in the US?? We would all like an explanation!

  25. The current cancer epidemic in the USA is caused mostly by tobacco and obesity. Yes, eating too much (even natural food that would otherwise be healthy) increases your chances of getting cancer. Cancer is also caused by a number of viruses, by natural background radiation, and yes, by lots of "natural" food products. The natural world is NOT a benign place.

  26. Anon wrote "Water is science" (....??)
    That's about as meaningful as saying "Fire is philosophy" or "Iron is economics". It is certainly not a reasonable basis for a system of personal health care.
    FYI we can all "replicate" water. All you need to do is burn hydrogen. Now there's science for you !!


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