It’s Homeopathy Awareness Week!

Which means it’s only right that I do my bit to raise awareness about homeopathy. If you haven’t got time to read the whole post, it can be summarised in bullet points:

  • There’s nothing in it
  • It doesn’t work
  • It can be dangerous
  • It can be illegal
  • It’s all rather silly
  • It doesn’t matter what David Beckham thinks

There’s nothing in it

I’ve put a photgraph of Arnica montana at the top of this page. Pretty, isn’t it? Homeopaths like putting pretty flowers on their blogs. But homeopathic arnica doesn’t contain Arnica. Homeopathic medicines (yes, they are actually called “medicines”) contain no active ingredients at all. Homeopaths dilute and dilute and dilute until nothing remains. Then they do it again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again…

I don’t wish to emulate homeopaths’ tedious repetition by restating what scientists, doctors and rational thinkers everywhere have been saying (over and over and over again). So I refer you to the 10:23 campaign’s description of the ‘Law of Infinitesimals’, here.

The 10:23 campaign raised awareness about homeopathy by encouraging sensible people to indulge in mass homeopathy overdoses, initially outside branches of Boots in January 2010. This was followed by a worldwide event in 2011.

I think my personal highlight of 10:23 has got to be the quote “are you going for the arsenic there, Dave?”, at around 2 minutes 23 seconds, in the following clip:

It doesn’t work

Of course, if the product contains no active ingredients, it isn’t going to work, except as a placebo.

This hasn’t stopped people from spending time subjecting it to trials (though to be fair, most of these are far from rigorous). The expert on this topic is Professor Edzard Ernst, former homeopath and recently retired Professor of Complementary Medicine. As he wrote here,

Over a dozen systematic reviews of homeopathy have been published. Almost uniformly, they come to the conclusion that homeopathic remedies are not different from placebo.

But at least if it contains no ingedients then it must be safe, right? Homeopaths are always keen to emphasise the lack of side effects  (the only point I think we agree on). However…

It can be dangerous

If you believe homeopathy works and use it instead of effective medicine, then it can be dangerous. That’s not just a hypothetical statement: homeopathy has been used, in lieu of effective medicine, to treat serious conditions including asthma, HIV, malaria and cancer – with fatal consequences.

In the developing world, homeopathy has been promoted as a suitable treatment for HIV, TB, malaria, influenza and infant diarrhoea.

In consulting a homeopath even for minor conditions, you could be dipping your toe into ‘alternative’ medicine and exposing yourself to a world of dubious and dangerous quackery, often spoken of as though it’s in competition with real, conventional medicine (which homeopaths describe as ‘allopathic’).

Sometimes homeopaths do far more than simply dispense homeopathy. They might call themselves ‘Dr’. They might pull out your fillings. They might carry out cosmetic surgery. But I don’t wish to repeat and repeat and repeat what others have written. For more on this subject,  see the What’s the Harm? site.

It can be illegal

For reasons I can’t fathom, some homeopathy is actually registered with the MHRA, who describe these products as “homeopathic medicines”. Medicines, I ask you! Homeopathic products with PLRs (Product Licences of Right) may even be sold alongside the named conditions that homeopaths like to believe such products may be used to treat. With the exception of these particular situations, homeopathy and its marketing seem to be pretty much illegal.

I say ‘pretty much’. I say ‘seem’. It’s confusing. And if I don’t understand it properly, the homeopaths certainly don’t. They have recently got their knickers in a twist, organising a letter writing campaign over imminent legislation which they believe will make access to unregistered homeopathic medicines largely illegal. They don’t seem to realise that was the case already.

Again, I don’t want to simply repeat what others have said. For the full low down,  I strongly recommend Malleus Homeopathicum (and of course the  Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency). The Nightingale Collaboration and Quackometer are also well worth a look.

It’s all rather silly

Where to begin? If you’re in need of a good laugh, just pay a visit to the Ainsworth’s site and pick a letter… say “S”. You will find homeopathic Sacred Lake (After Cyclone), Salamander, Salmon Eggs, Salt, Sausages, Scotchguard, Shake N Vac, Shark Liver, Sheep Dip…

Lest you accuse me of using the homeopaths’ favourite tactic of cherrypicking, just go to the site. You think I’ve picked “S” because so many English words start with that letter? What about “U?” You’ll find Ulmus and Urtica (elms and nettles) alongside Uranium, Urea, Urethra and Uterine Fibroid.

If you’re thinking Ainsworth’s are just some wacky, obscure outfit that I’ve just shoehorned in to prove a point, please bear in mind that they hold royal warrants. Or alternatively, visit any other homeopathy website, for example Nelson’s or Helios Homoeopathy.

More inadvertent comedy can be found in accounts of homeopathic ‘provings’. Again, to avoid wasting our time in pointless iteration, I refer you to the Thought Stash, where you will find an explanation of ‘proving’ and links to accounts of provings of homeopathic Shipwreck and peregrine falcon blood.

It doesn’t matter what David Beckham thinks

Obviously. He’s not noted for his medical expertise. We don’t generally ponder What would David do? before making life decisions. But the appeal to celebrity is another favourite tactic of homeopaths. In fact, judging by posts by the Society of Homeopaths and the Alliance of Registered Homeopaths, that seems to be the main thrust of Homeopathy Awareness Week.

And before you think too harshly of Beckham, don’t assume that he actually recommends or even uses homeopathy. This idea seems to stem from the Huffington Post’s Dana Ullman, who may be relied on merely as a source of inventive drivel. I don’t need to repeat others by explaining this: it’s all spelled out here, on the Nucella blog.

Related articles

Homeopathy is such a popular topic that there are far too many to list. Yet I must mention jdc’s summary of this year’s Homeopathy Awareness Week, not least because that’s what prompted me to write this. You will find lots more interesting homeopathic diversions there.

5 responses to “It’s Homeopathy Awareness Week!

  1. Pingback: Homeopathy Awareness Week 2012 « Stuff And Nonsense

  2. Now that DOES make me feel better. Nice one.

  3. I go by the principle that if Dana Ullman says something, it must be untrue.
    Even if it is something as clear as being asked the time.
    It hasn’t let me down yet.

  4. Pingback: A new Manifesto issued to every MP | Josephine Jones

  5. Re: It can be dangerous.
    The US had a great example of this in the drug Zicam, thankfully no longer available in its original formulation. Although labeled homeopathic, it apparently contained enough zinc to result in loss of smell in some users. So, homeopathic does not always guarantee that there is nothing in it – just that it has not been tested. Plenty of info on the web, perhaps the Snapes page says it best –

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