Thursday, December 28, 2006

Why I don´t believe in homeopathy


Homeopathy is an alternative kind of medicine based on the principle "like cures like". This means that a substance which in a large dose will cause some form of illness, will in a small dose cure the same illness. Already at this point my sceptic instinct kicks in. Does this mean that if I am poisoned with arsenic, then taking a little bit more will cure me? Eating fat food (in small quantities) will make me thinner? Sugar will help against diabetes? Furthermore, it is suggested that substances get better the more diluted they are. One explanation of this pattern could be that the active ingredient is harmful, and therefore, the more diluted substance will have less of a negative effect on the patient. Often homeopathic medicines doesn´t contain a single molecule of active substance, it is pure water. It is claimed that the water molecules have a memory of the active substance and therefore they work (see picture). I would like to know how a memory is stored in two hydrogen and an oxygen... Despite these issues which are at odds with both chemical and physical principles homeopathic medicine is gaining in popularity. In Belgium, for instance, 52% of the people use homeopathic substances. On the positive side, these substances are unlikely to do any harm to the patients.

Since I grew up in Järna, the Scandinavian centre of the Antroposofic movement, I have been exposed to many weird theories that flourish in this little town. I should mention here, in case friends and family read this, that I think there are many good things about antroposofi. They have a developed art and many good artists have received their training in Järna. I also think their school system is superior to others in many respects (though not all). Nevertheless, some theories are, in my opinion, swallowed with too little sceptic though. For instance, in Järna people widely believe in astrology, and they use celestial powers to make biodynamical foods that will give the consumer more spiritual strength...

In Järna it is also widely believed that homeopathic medicine works. My mother is one of its advocates and she often gave me these substances when I was sick. When got well she would say, I told you so, it works. I don´t think she thought a lot about it when I followed the normal pattern. Individual exemplars are of course no valid evidence, even if I did get well earlier than normally it might have been because of other factors, such as the healthy food that she insisted on giving to me (which I am of course grateful for). So what does the evidence say?

There are, to my surprise, one meta-analysis which suggests that homeopathic substances do have an effect. This study, published in the British medical journal showed that in 81 out of 107 trials, homeopathic substances had been effective. However, in another meta-analysis published by the lancet, the effect was at par with the placebo effect. Studies with better experimental control more rarely show significant effects. Because homeopathic theory is at odds with chemical and physical laws I believe that the effects that are attributed to these substances are actually placebo effects.

A clever little twitch has made it all but impossible to falsify homeopathy, which is not a virtue in a scientific sense. Homeopaths claim that even though two persons have the same disease, they may need different remedies, so when someone is given a homeopathic substance and there is no effect, the doctor can simply refer to this principle. This is similar to telling your psychoanalyst that you were not abused as a child. He (it is normally a he) will respond that you are in denial. If you say that you were indeed abused he will say "aha, then I was right"...

There is an award of one million dollars to you if you can show in a well conducted experiment that homeopathic medicine works...

11 comments:

furiku said...

I've been to Robygge in Järna on numerous occasions with my family just to wander the gardens and browse their shop for soap and trinkets. My family's house is painted inwardly with antroposophic colours. However, I have not one iota of respect for the religion, nor for Waldorf education.

Here's an interesting article about Steiner and antroposophy:
http://humanisterna.org/humanisten/2y2001/bakomdenmjukafasaden.html

And here's the blog of a mother who put her children in Uppsala Waldorfskola:
http://www.thewitch.se/skolan/
(read chronologically, from the bottom of the page and up)
While I understand that there are better Waldorf schools than Uppsala, I still seem to recall reading somewhere that kids educated in Waldorf schools consistently have great problems moving on in life to higher education, because they lack sufficient education.

rasmussenanders said...

That has been one of my greatest concerns about waldorf schools as well, however, I have actually read an article claiming the contrary i.e. that they are better prepared for higher education.

I remain sceptical of this, and if it is like you say, then that would certainly be something I would take into account. The aspects that I like about their education is that they let children explore more on their own rather than lecturing them (which I also think is important of course), which I think is a good way to develop critical thinking.

I did not myself go to one of these schools and I personally think that the conventional system worked better for me, however, I am not at this point certain that waldorf schools are not better for some other students not like myself.

rasmussenanders said...

Forgot to comment on the religion part. There I agree with you. Steiner is at the bottom of my "good philosophers list"... Seems he was doing an awful lot of vivid speculation.

rasmussenanders said...

Detta är slutsatsen i en studie från karlstads universitet... Jag skulle vara mycket intresserad om du kan visa mig en studie som visar motsatsen (och det menar jag verkligen).

"Sammantaget kan man säga att alla våra resultat pekar på att det knappast finns någon anledning till oro över att waldorfelever skulle undvika, eller vara ovilliga till, högre studier. Inte heller behöver man oroa sig för att de inte klarar sådana studier lika bra som elever från det kommunala gymnasiet. Deras egen uppfattning är snarare den motsatta."

http://www.waldorfanswers.org/Dahlin--November2003.pdf

furiku said...

Har inte glömt detta, men har haft något fullt upp på sistone. Jag känner en person som under sin studietid läst en hel del studier om just waldorf-, montessori- och freinetpedagogik. Hon påstår att de studier från SOU hon sett visar att waldorf- och montessorielever klarar sig väsentligt sämre i högre utbildning än andra, eftersom de inte är vana vid det vanliga sättet att plugga hoppar de av under första året på högskolan. Undantaget är de som söker sig till jordbrukslinjer o dyl, de brukar klara sig bra. Jag ska be henne om källor.

rasmussenanders said...

Det skulle vara intressant att se, och jag skulle vara redo att ändra min egen uppfattning om sådana resultat finns

fia goshen said...

hi!
bra hemsida. is it available in svenska? i am learning the language & practise from websites.
greetings from tasmania.
epost:aatia7@yahoo.com

sabrina said...

hi!
bio organic mollecular chemical research holds promise of sorting out fallacies from truth in this field. at least this hocus pocus was preferable to bleeding, invalid poultices & other harmful practises of traditional medicine(and contemporary sometimes). in its day it must have seemed a relatively sensible alternative. as it survives it must still do unfortunately.
hej sa lange.
http://april27.i8.com

rasmussenanders said...

I think that is very much apart of why homeopathy has become so popular. Some people argue (James Randi for instance) that going to the doctor in those days had more costs than benefits associated with it. Homeopathy does nothing which is better than gettin harmed...

grene said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Alanna

http://www.craigslisthelper.info

The Natural Health Clinic said...

I am not agree that homeopathy don't work because i can give so many examples in which homeopathy do miracle