The BBC has an article on the most recent study of Homeopathy showing, yet again, that it is no better than placebo.
Whilst I consider most alternative therapies to be rubbish being pushed by idiots and charlatans, Homeopathy has managed to inhabit that grey zone where one doesn’t want to completely dismiss it. This was down to a few factors - the fact that it has been around for a long time, the fact that they do seem to get some form of results and finally the desire of those who have followed a formal course of study to be officially recognised and to not allow actual charlatans to calls themselves homeopaths.
A friend of ours is a qualified homeopath By ‘qualified’, I mean that she followed a formal course for several years and was subject to examinations etc. As opposed to someone who read a book about it once .. She genuinely believes that homeopathy works. We had a great night a few years back where I had a few drinks and decided to have a go . We argued back and forth. My main point was that the recent (at the time) James Randi programme had done a proper double-blind test and homeopathy had failed miserably. Her response to this was that she thought there were some subtleties in succussion which caused it to fail. This is another way of saying they shook the water wrong .
Her belief in the efficacy of the treatment in general unfortunately came across as faith-based rather than fact-based. I was accused of having science as my religion. My point was that science is based around hypothesis, analysis and correction. Homeopathy is based around a set of theories which they refuse to test and validate.
To be fair, she has treated a lot of people and has seen lots of success. Success of course is very subjective in the world of alternative medicine. To quote the brother of a friend of mine who is a consultant in Vincents - Alternative medicine that works is just called medicine .
Belief in Homeopathy is one thing, but our friend was also unwilling to criticise any other form of alternative medicine. I guess once you are in the gang you don’t want to rock the boat. This includes not accepting criticism of crystal therapy or those morons who hold vials of substances over your belly and can tell if you are allergic to them by how your body reacts to the presence of the vial.
But, to prove how open-minded I am, I agreed that I would attend a homeopath to see what they could do for my disastrous stomach which has pumped excess acid every day since I was 16 years old. Only one drug has ever stopped it completely and that is Nexium which you get as part of the triple-treatment for H-Pylori. Sadly, the symptoms returned as soon as the course was over. To keep the test fair, I went to another homeopath instead of my friend.
The session went exactly how I expected it to go. Immediate focus on do you worry much , are you protective of your family etc etc. It went on a for a good hour or two and of course I ended up with a warm fuzzy feeling that the homeopath cares . She prescribed a course of X, Y and Z. Several variations of diluted water in fact. I took the course - outcome: zero change in symptoms. Re-visit, another set of water vials prescribed - outcome: zero change in symptoms. At this point my patience with happy clappy water had run out and I declined any further treatments .
Now to provide a balanced picture, we also brought Oscar to have his dry skin and (non-severe) eczema looked at around the same time. In his case there was a definite improvement in symptoms over several months. A score for homeopathy possibly? Well, all the other kids had similar dry skin and they all grew out of it too without treatment. The fact the the treatment also occurred as we moved from spring to summer means we did not have a solid baseline in terms of clothes, heat and sunshine.
As I said, I don’t totally dismiss homeopathy, but until the apply proper scientific analysis to what they are doing, it will always remain outside of the mainstream. The final quote in the BBC article from the homeopathy movement is very telling: It has been established beyond doubt and accepted by many researchers, that the placebo-controlled randomised controlled trial is not a fitting research tool with which to test homeopathy. i.e. we’re special, we don’t obey the laws of physics and repeatable action-reaction. As long as they think like this, they shall continue to be called quacks.
I have a theory on why is works sometimes. It is the same reason I think Chiropractic worked for me. Chiropractic has two sides to it - the bone manipulation to solve back problems and the medicine side. I had great results with sorting out a very sore back that I was suffering from. I did a re-visit in the new year (around 2002) and the guy started messing with this new hammer like thing on various parts of my body. After analysis, he decided that I was dehydrated. An amazing diagnosis considering I had been drinking all christmas. Even more amazingly, several others I know who went to him around the same time were also dehydrated. Must have been an epidemic! He then started doing other diagnoses and at that point I’m afraid I had to stop seeing him. I’m not paying good money for someone to press one finger against my heart and one against my liver and say oh you are dehydrated .
John Diamond wrote a great book on alternative medicine (sadly unfinished) called Snake Oil and Other Preoccupations , as he was dying from throat cancer. There is a great quote in there from the chiropractors double-blind? Oh yeah, we always fail those . Give me patience with charlatans.
So why did Chiropractic work for me? Because it pushed me to fix myself. After a session I would walk down the street slightly sore but erect of posture. For the entire treatment I was making huge efforts to improve how I sat in work, how my chair was adjusted and how I set up my PC. These are things I would not have bothered with unless I had gone to have my back seen. So I have no issue with handing over cash to those guys for my back because in an indirect way, they did fix me. The reverse was true with homeopathy. If I had taken it seriously at all and got caught up in the whole holistic vibe , then you can be sure I would have given up coffee, spicy food and excess alcohol and I would have seen a major improvement in the state of my stomach and thus homeopathy would have cured me .
If it was just well intentioned quackery for non-serious ailments then we should leave them be. But as long as savages like that wan in the West (who should be in jail for manslaughter) are out there telling seriously ill people to avoid real medicine, then we must formalise the control of all forms of alternative medicine in this country.