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How does homeopathy work?

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on February 8, 2009

In a recent article at Healthnews.com, writer Melanie Grimes tackles an important question: Just how does homeopathy work?

Simillimum similibus curentur, like cures like, is a simple concept. The root of the basic principle, curing with like substances, dates back to Egyptian medicine and to Paracelsus, yet it is in common medical usage today. Even so, homeopathy has yet to find scientific instruments with enough sensitivity to measure and thereby prove homeopathic efficacy.

Doesn’t stuff always sound so much more credible once you say it in Latin? I would question the claim that this principle is in common medical usage today. Certainly, far as I know, anti venom is made from snake poison, even though I’m not familiar with the process and even that may not fall under like cures like, but I’ll give that to them, but isn’t it a gross generalization to say that this is common usage.? As far as I am aware bacterial infections are cured with antibiotics, viral infections with antivirals, cancer is treated (albeit not cured in most cases) with chemotherapy and surgery. How many people go to the hospital in the US today with snake bites? I’m sure there must be a statistic somewhere, but I doubt there’s enough to make the use of the anti venom so profuse as to make like cures like common medical practice.

The Law of Similars is used in vaccination, to treat hypothermia, and many incidences of poisoning, such as snakebites, all examples of using the toxic substance to create the cure. The idea of “fighting fire with fire.”

Ok, any doctors out there correct me, but I don’t think vaccines cure diseases, so they can’t fall under the like cures like category. When was the last time you heard a doctor say “Well you definitely have got the flu, but lucky you I have some flu shots left over, you’ll be alright in no time”? Vaccines build up your immune response by introducing a weakened/dead virus or germ. They are not meant to be a cure, which by definition is a reactive action, but a preventive measure, a proactive action.

And what the hell is that claim about hypothermia? I did an admittedly very quick search at Wikipedia on hypothermia. Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature gets so low that metabolism can’t take place. What is the normal treatment for hypothermia? You raise the temperature usually through the use of blankets, or body heat. Just how that falls under the like cures like, beats me.  Talk about apples and oranges, these folks don’t even have the basic facts right.

If you measure symptom, you can easily measure results. If you reduce fever, you can measure the lower temperature of a thermometer. As medicine became more mechanistic and relied on technology, instruments for measurement and removal of symptom has become our definition of cure. And homeopathy is hard to measure. Homeopaths agree that once a remedy is diluted beyond 24x or 12C potencies. They are diluted beyond Avogadro’s number (6.23 x 10-23), which indicates that no molecules are present in the original substance. However, both laboratory and clinical results over the last 190 years have demonstrated definite effectiveness with homeopathic remedies beyond this dilution.

Ok first stop making false analogies. She’s comparing the ability to measure an effect (lowering temperature) with the ability of measuring the medicine itself (the homeopathic remedies). Furthermore, our ability to measure the remedies should be inconsequential if they had the effect they claim. I don’t care if we can measure the active substance in a homeopathic, fever-reducing potion as long as it reduces my temperature. And I would like to see some of these studies, because my understanding was that the opposite has been shown, that homeopathy does not work.

Simillimum similibus curentur has been a known method of cure since Egyptian times. As our technologically-based medicine creates more subtle measuring devices, the evidence for the efficacy of homeopathy will continue to be further displayed, adding homeopathy to the arsenal of healing tools available to those who aspire to ease the suffering, increase the freedom and heal the ills of mankind.

This is, deservedly, the closing paragraph with so many logical fallacies that I am sure to miss a few. But I’ll give it a try anyway. First and foremost, there is the Appeal to Antiquity, the whole first sentence about the Egyptian times, completely irrelevant. Second, there is the goal post moving, by charging science with the task of coming up with more sophisticated measuring devices, since obviously the current technology is not up to par and thus must be wrong because we know homeopathy works, we have testimonials by the thousands!!! And last,and more despicably, the Appeal to Emotions or whatever you want to call it, the “we’re only doing it to alleviate the pain of the suffering“.  While I may believe that the interest and desire to help are genuine, given that she’s spent the whole article basically making excuses why we can’t measure any effect coming from homeopathic remedies, I find this quite lame. A cheap, lame shot. It seems their solutions are not the only things being diluted, their reasoning abilities seem to be undergoing the same process as well.

I have a better answer for the original question. How does homeopathy work? It doesn’t! And you can call me a naysayer, it’s flatering.

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