Continuing on (and on) about homeopathy

Last post I dug out the common names for a bunch of homeopathic… I’m not sure what to call it. “Ingredients” sounds too optimistic, for reasons that should become clear shortly. Let’s go with “varieties”.

That’s all well and interesting, but so what? What is this homeopathy stuff anyway? Well, I’ll let the International Academy of Classical Homeopathy (henceforth IACH) explain it.

This system is based mainly on the principle that the cure for a particular disease is achieved through the use of pharmaceutical substances that, when administered to a healthy person, produce the similar symptoms as those of the disease in question.  For example, it is well known that Belladonna causes mydriasis , that is to say dilation of the pupil of the eye.  In a case of mydriasis the homeopathic doctor will probably give Belladonna, in a highly diluted potency, in order to restore the pupil to its normal state.

This is why Ipecacuanha is recommended for nausea and vomiting, the plant makes you puke, therefore the homeopathic version stops you from puking.

If you’re worried about how many of those ingredients are powerful poisons, you can relax. Homeopathic remedies are so diluted that there’s no active ingredient left. I’m not kidding, check this out,

The chief method used by homeopaths today is the centesimal and is produced thus: One part of the mother tincture of the active ingredient which is to be prepared is taken and diluted in 99 parts of inert substance.  This can be milk-sugar, sterilised water or pure alcohol.  If the substance is diluted in water, the mixture is subjected to at least ten strong succussions and this dilution is called the 1st potentization.  A part of this potentization is taken and diluted with a further 99 parts of inert substance and the new mixture is then again subjected to ten strong succussions.  This is the 2nd potentization of the remedy, and in the same manner further potentizations are achieved by diluting and ‘potentizing’ the remedy until very great dilutions are achieved, having continued the above procedure ten, twenty, thirty or more times.

If you’re curious, “succussion” means “impact”, they smack it around with each stage. I’m not sure if that’s an old word that survived in this context or was original to homeopathy. Here’s a video showing the process. Moving on!

Let’s do the math, shall we? We start at 1:100, then 1:1002 for a 2c dilution. At 10c we have a ratio of 1:10010, or in scientific notation 1:1020 which means 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000,000 molecules is the active ingredient.

By 30c our ratio is a staggering 1:1060, which is an interesting number because there are only an estimated 1:1050 atoms in our whole planet. You’d need ten billion Earths worth of atoms to find a single lonely atom of active ingredient. Whatever the ingredient was, unless you’re using really, really pure water it probably already had more than that in it to start with. By which I mean any at all.

The point about homeopathy is that it’s not medicine. It’s based on the principles of sympathetic magic, not chemistry or biology. It doesn’t even recognize germ theory. I mean, here’s IACH talking about the founder of homeopathy, Samuel Hahnemann,

He also published the book Chronic diseases in which he maintained that all chronic diseases are a result of the suppression either of skin diseases of the skin or syphilis or gonorrhea.  That is to say that if these three categories of diseases are treated wrongly, they remain within the organism in a suppressed state, in a changed form and finally they reappear as various kinds of chronic diseases.

Right. Well, syphilis and gonorrhea are both bacterial infections, we can test to see if these bacteria are present, and we know that Neisseria gonorrhoeae, which causes gonorrhea also causes eight other conditions, and Treponema pallidum, which causes syphilis has related bacteria that cause three other diseases. So that’s 13 there, I’m too tired to look up which, if any, of those are chronic, but I think we can safely assume that if you have a chronic disease it must be caused by skin diseases of the skin.

Hahnemann also had an interesting concept of what we now call the immune system,

The complex mechanism of the organism’s defence system was named ‘vital force’ by Hahnemann.  This phrase expresses the idea that there is a form of ‘energy’ behind the defence mechanism, a ‘power with mind’ which directs and coordinates the organism’s reactions.

A “power with mind”. How nice it would be if our immune systems could be smart, could plan ahead, could take direction and make the best use of any assistance doctors provided. But it’s not so, the immune system is truly a marvel, but there’s no mind behind it, no intelligence. Fever is given as an example, and it’s a good one for me because while a higher body temperature can help kill hostile germs, it can also hurt people, and even cause permanent brain damage. The reaction is completely without consideration, a “power with mind” would take into account how high the temperature could safely rise and consistently stop before that point. This is why we sometimes suppress a fever, not to interfere with the body’s defense against infection, but because the long-term health of the patient is likely to take collateral damage.

I’m also curious how, exactly, introducing ridiculously diluted chemicals known to produce similar symptoms is supposed to help strengthen the defense mechanism. A misunderstanding of vaccination? Does it matter what chemical interactions cause the symptoms? Would, for example, a drug that induces nausea by the same mechanism as a particular germ make a better homeopathic remedy than one which induces nausea through a completely different mechanism? Homeopathy doesn’t address this, in fact it doesn’t consider mechanisms at all.

While I’m thinking of it, do you know that water gets recycled on Earth? Whoever you are, I can promise you that you’ve drunk water molecules that were pooped out by dinosaurs once. Why does it remember this tiny dilution but forget all that shit?

I don’t want to come down too hard on Hahnemann, I mean during his lifetime bloodletting was still an accepted medical practice for nearly all ailments. You can argue that his reasoning was faulty and primitive by the highest standards of his time, and this is true, but it’s easy to forget how hard it was to communicate and get reliable information two hundred years ago. I’m willing to cut the guy a little slack for being behind the curve. And it’s true that many worthwhile things have come out of wrong ideas or superstitions. But you have to do your homework and find out what’s real.

Modern homeopaths simply can’t claim ignorance as an excuse. They’ve either failed to do the research and learn how things work, (which would be criminally negligent if homeopathy actually did something), or they’re deliberately lying, or they’re deluding themselves. I think that last is the most common, but I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt.

So why is it still popular?

I’m sure a lot of that has to do with the way the major drug companies are such unmitigated assholes. Add to that the American problem of getting health care and hell, I want to believe in this stuff. Since the remedies are inert it doesn’t get a huge scandal from someone overdosing or suffering an allergic reaction, so that adds to its longevity. But there’s more going on, too. Certainly the placebo effect has a large part in this, and it’s magnified by what I think is the real effective part of homeopathy: how personal it is.

Read that page, they’re constantly going on about how it has to be individually tuned to each patient, and the entire philosophy embraces a very attentive bedside manner. Anyone who’s spend more than a few days in the hospital knows that how many visitors you get and the warmth and attentiveness of the staff makes a huge difference in how miserable you are. If your problems are mild and subjective, and you have someone listening carefully, paying close attention to, mixed up some stuff just for you and telling you with confidence that it’ll help, is it really surprising if you feel better?

Off the top of my head I think it’s 85%-87% of people who go to the doctor would recover without any treatment at all. Homeopathy is all about symptoms, and most symptoms are very subjective. You have this magnified placebo effect making you feel better while your body recovers, and then when you’re better, well, obviously the homeopath cured you! This is especially effective if, as the IACH recommends, you combine this with conventional medicine.

So I guess in a way it sort of works, it can actually make you feel better. But it’s not curing you.

I have got to stop with these giant monster posts, they’re hell to write and probably not all that interesting to read. But they are good practice, and that’s what this blog is really about.

Take care everyone.

About Leo Tarvi

Mostly fictional.

Posted on May 14, 2012, in Daily Post and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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