General Question

Joe_Freeman's avatar

Does homeopathy have any grounding in scientific fact or is it entirely bogus? What fraction of Americans believe in it?

Asked by Joe_Freeman (504points) June 12th, 2009
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29 Answers

ragingloli's avatar

according to wiki:
“Claims of homeopathy’s efficacy beyond the placebo effect are unsupported by the collective weight of scientific and clinical evidence.”

DarkScribe's avatar

Some does, much doesn’t. It covers a very broad field, so there will be some areas where medical science, Pharmacology and homeopathy coincide.

Fyrius's avatar

Don’t say that. Homoeopathy has been scientifically proven to be one of the most effective preventive medicines available against dehydration.

In all seriousness… it’s just water. They dilute their mixtures to such extents that you could drink it exclusively for the rest of your life without ever imbibing a single molecule of active ingredient.
Homoeopathy is speculative arm chair medicine from the eighteenth century. A relic from a less enlightened time, when the human body wasn’t understood well enough to know that this sort of thing does not work.

Also, further Wikipedia commentary:

YARNLADY's avatar

There may be some validity to some of the techniques that are used in homeopathy, but the trial and error, hope it works this time nature of it does not lead to very widespread acceptance.

crisw's avatar

Homeopathy is totally bogus (unlike the placebo effect it produces, which is very real!)

Fyrius's avatar

“Furthermore, since water will have been in contact with millions of different substances throughout its history, critics point out that any glass of water is therefore an extreme dilution of almost any conceivable substance, and so by drinking water one would, according to homeopathic principles, receive treatment for every imaginable condition.”

And yet, people who drink tap water all the time can still get sick.

wondersluug's avatar

Homeopathic remedies or herbal medicine hasn’t gone through the necessary testing to be “scientific.” It’s not empirical in any way.

“You know what they call herbal medicine that has been proven to work? Medicine.”
– Tim Minchin, Storm.

snowberry's avatar

I don’t care whether or not some scientist says it doesn’t work. I’ve used it on my animals with amazing results. That’s all the proof I need. The first time was when my chihuahua puppy contracted parvo. The vet re-hydrated him, and sent him home, but did not give him much chance of living. I used homeopathy on him all night, and the vet was amazed to see him perky, drinking and starting to eat the next day. Have had many other experiences like this, so it can’t be my imagination.

Joe_Freeman's avatar

And, @snowberry, since animals are presumably not susceptible to the placebo effect, your experience constitutes evidence that homeopathy works on some animals! And yet, I have to admit, I don’t really believe that it does. An experiment of this type, without a control, is questionable, to say the least.

snowberry's avatar

LOL, I don’t really care. Used it on my daughter too. In fact seeing how it helped our dog got my very reluctant daughter to use it. Now she swears by it, because she knows it works. If you don’t like it, don’t use it. But telling me it is only placebo effect because it does not fit your concept of legitimate science is nonsense.

One thing I have learned in 30 years of studying alternative medicine, as soon as I think I know all there is to know about a subject, I find there is a whole other world that is yet to be explored. A little less hubris is always a good thing.

YARNLADY's avatar

@snowberry What exactly did you “use” on your dog? It’s my understanding that Homeopathy involves having the patient drink large amounts of water with sulfur or other similar substances diluted in it.

Joe_Freeman's avatar

I’d like to slightly modify @wondersluug‘s quotation into this: “You know what they call alternative medicine that has been proven to work? Medicine.”

@snowberry, I’m glad your dog and your daughter benefited from treatment with homeopathy. I can’t imagine how it could have worked, other than by the placebo effect in the case of your daughter. But there are many things in this world that cannot be explained – Easter Island statues, ESP, Stonehenge, and so many more – and homeopathy may well be one more of them.

Fyrius's avatar

“But telling me it is only placebo effect because it does not fit your concept of legitimate science is nonsense.”
I can’t let this one slip.
This is not a subjective thing. There are meticulously specified, internationally established standards for what is and what is not legitimate science, standards that ensure reliability by their nature (as well as proper crediting and the like). These requirements are what defines science, and there’s nothing arbitrary about them. Not meeting them means disregarding the elaborate methods invented and perfected over the centuries to make sure scientists do not make stupid mistakes.
Stupid mistakes like drawing generalising conclusions from anecdotes, concluding something works if you don’t know what would have happened if it had not been used, or making up excuses to cleave to ideas that were refuted centuries ago.
And since homoeopathy does not meet these standards, that means by definition that homoeopathy is not science. Period.

This does not mean it can’t work, in principle.
It does mean it’s no more likely to cure your ailments than singing Frère Jacques backwards on a Tuesday while wearing a top hat – even if something random like that hasn’t been proven not to work, there’s absolutely no reason to expect it to have any effect whatsoever.

In other words, homoeopathy fails to satisfy the burden of proof. And this is a fine reason to say anything it’s said to do is probably the placebo effect, which has been adequately proven to exist.

I don’t think this pseudoscience deserves the benefit of doubt. Let’s not call homoeopathy inexplicable unless there is any real indication that it actually works, mkay?
Calling it inexplicable means that the fact that homoeopathy contradicts established physics and biochemistry is to blame on the physicists and the biochemists. I don’t think that’s fair.

snowberry's avatar

This discussion reminds me a bit of discussing how it’s scientifically impossible for a honey bee to fly. The only problem is that nobody told the honey bee. In my situation, I (and many others) have found something that works. But since it cannot be proven to meet the demands of certain scientific criteria, the only possible explanation is that it’s a placebo effect. That, or maybe, as in the case of the honey bee, there’s something going on that science has yet to explain.

To yarnlady, Remember, I had a chihuahua puppy. In the case of parvo, I used Hyland’s nux vomica and ippecac from their first aid kit. In the 18 or so years I’ve been using it, I’ve never heard of using large amounts of water with homeopathy .

In parvo, the symptoms are nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Since he had stopped the diarrhea, I gave him 2 pellets of nux vomica and 2 pellets of ippecac every 15 minutes, followed by a eye dropper full of water. He was unconscious at the time, so I’d slip the medication on his tongue, wait 15 minutes, then give the water, wait 15 minutes, then gave the medication. It went on all night. In the morning, his eyes began to open, and so I slipped back to medication once an hour, with a dropperfull of water every 15 to 30 minutes. When he opened his eyes, I began to administer home cooked chicken broth, then bits of bread, and medication once an hour, then once every 3 hours, then I stopped. By this time he was wobbling around on his own, and soon he was his usual silly self.

The vet was surprised because he told me he did not expect the dog to live.

In the case of the Bach Flower Remedy, I had my dog in for a check up. In my opinion, it’s hard to do a proper check up on an animal that is trembling with fear so badly that it makes a heavy exam table vibrate. That was the situation I was in. So I waited until the vet came in, then said, “Let me show you something. I administered Rescue Remedy (2 drops on the tongue) and within 15 seconds he stopped trembling and I put him on the floor. He wandered all around, sniffing, totally unafraid. The vet gave my dog a proper exam, without all the freaking out that usually accompanies a visit to the vet’s office. Once again, the vet (a different one) remarked he’d never seen anything like it.

I’ve heard many people scoff that 15 seconds is too short a time for anything to work, but since homeopathy works on the nervous system (the pellets contain an electrical charge that sends a subtle message to the nervous system through the mucus membranes of the mouth). It says in effect, “Hey, here’s a reality check. You can relax now. The emergency is over.” And it happens, often that fast.

This is a really long message, so I will stop here, but I’ve also had excellent results on myself, my kids and grandkids.

Fyrius's avatar

That’s true, science should always adapt to the facts. And it always does, sooner or later. If something theoretically impossible can be proven to happen after all, science will have to come around and change its views. Revolutions like that are usually the most exciting times to be a scientist.

But the thing is, what you have here are not facts. With the kind of experiences you have, you can’t know whether this works.
You only have a few anecdotes, with small sample sizes and no controls. That’s not nearly enough and not nearly reliable enough data to draw conclusions from. The probability that any conclusion you draw is wrong is too high to disregard.
This is why the results of scientific experiments can be considered facts and personal anecdotes like yours cannot. Scientists know how to get reliable data. The criteria of proper science are not just a matter of dogma, they’re there to make sure we don’t jump to unsupported conclusions.

Time for a little Experimental Science 101.

A proper control would be if you have two sick dogs of the same race with the same disease, you prepare one dose of homoeopathic water and one dose of indistinguishable tap water (labelled 1 and 2 or something), then let someone who doesn’t know which is which administer one to each dog and see whether one works better than the other.
That would be a so-called double-blind experiment. It would rule out the possibility that the results are due to the placebo effect, or anything else that’s the same for both dogs.

Pets calm down when their owners calm down. So, if a dog’s owner believes she has given it something that works, the placebo effect can carry over to a pet, yes.
It would have been more reliable proof if someone had given you a vial of tap water and told you it’s homoeopathic medicine, and it didn’t work even though you believed it would.

A proper sample size would be to do that with, say, a hundred dogs. This is necessary to rule out (or minimise) coincidences. With only two dogs, it could still happen that one of them recovers much more quickly than the other due to something other than the actual treatment you’re drawing conclusions about, like a faster metabolism or a stronger liver or whatever. With a hundred dogs, this may still happen sometimes, but the cases with no coincidences make up for the cases with coincidences.

I notice that in the cases you witnessed, you also used normal (real) medicines and treatments, together with your homoeopathic drinks. And then, lo and behold, the sick got better. Does that mean the homoeopathic water helped?
How do you know? Because the doctor didn’t expect a recovery? Surely unexpected recoveries also happen without any alternative medicines being involved. How do you know it’s not a coincidence?

Sorry, I made an even longer post than yours. But I hope it helped you understand that not meeting scientific criteria is not just a formality. It’s a matter of carefully avoiding easy mistakes.

snowberry's avatar

I’m not a scientist (whew! I know you were worried for a bit there)! You are right. What I described for you is the nature of personal experience. Imagine, for example, my rounding up a hundred other people with puppies that had parvo and getting them to submit their dogs to the same experiment! Not going to happen on this planet. Nobody (or at least any of the people I know) ever lives his life out as an experiment. It’s impractical, and (just joking here, but unless you have multiple personalities, how would you get the control)?

In the mean time, we all have to live out our lives the best way we can. Just because someone says something can’t work, therefore it doesn’t is not good enough for me. I’ve seen and experienced too many things to the contrary to go along with that sort of “expert” opinion. And that’s all I chalk it up to, an opinion, no more or less valuable than mine or anyone else’s, and it frees me up to think past the conventional to find a better answer….

As a result, I’ve seen some things happen that doctors have told me to my face “were impossible”. I don’t know why they happen, and maybe it doesn’t matter, but it re-enforces for me the necessity to look deeper than what convention tells me to for the answer to my problems.

I have thoroughly enjoyed this conversation. You are respectful. You don’t minimize my experiences. You seem to have a teaching heart. And I have actually learned something! I really appreciate that, and it has given me an insight into why people like you say the things you do. Thank you!

snowberry's avatar

I also submit that it’s ONLY the people with money who can conduct experiments such as you describe. As a result, if you have a remedy that cannot be backed by money for experiments, or if it can be backed, but if nobody will make any money off it once it’s been proven, your experiment won’t happen, and the remedy will not get the press that it otherwise would have. After all, somehow you have to recoup the cost of the experiments. That’s why so many home remedies are pushed aside as unscientific, and you have big pharma making big money pushing their pills. There is no (or not enough) scientific data to back up the home remedies that people have often used successfully for centuries.

Forgive me, but once again, I’m going to have to illustrate with a personal experience. Four years ago I had root canal. Because I stopped using antibiotics twenty years before that, I refused to take antibiotics to prevent a bone infection. So (with the aid of an alternative medicine practitioner) I took all sugar out of my diet and began to dose myself with a clove of raw garlic, chopped up, with every meal. I had the root canal the next day. In my mountain town because of the high altitude, root canals have to be done in two sessions.

At the first they drill the root out, and put in a temporary filling. A day or two later you come back and they put in the permanent filling. In my case, I later found out I had an allergic reaction to a chemical the dentist used, and I swelled up until I had to remove the filling to release the pressure. Two weeks later, when the swelling had gone down and my lymph nodes were flat, he once again drilled my tooth and put in a temporary cap. This went on two more times before I finally woke up and realized I couldn’t let him work on me anymore. Every time he drilled my tooth, my swelling increased until the last time I could not swallow. I concluded that if I let the dentist work on me again, it might close off my throat.

So after some counseling from a holistic dentist (he’s the one who told me I had an allergic reaction to my dentist’s chemicals), I had my dentist pull the tooth, and that was that.

What was so remarkable was that for 6 weeks I had an open hole to the bone through that tooth. In the weeks intervening my dentist visits, I kept that hole closed with a wad of cotton which I changed out daily. Other than the episodes with swollen lymph nodes from an allergic reaction, my lymph nodes were FLAT and I had NO infection.

It is true that with all that garlic in my system, I could have cleared the room without opening my mouth, but if I had gone the usual route with antibiotics, my doctors confirmed to me that I would have had course after course of increasingly stronger antibiotics until I had destroyed my immune system. Instead I felt fantastic, and healthier than I ever had before, with loads of energy.

I am so very glad I went through that experience, and yes, the pain during my allergic reaction was severe. What I learned made it worth it all.

Medically speaking, what I did was pure foolishness. The fact was, IT WORKED!

Fyrius's avatar

I’m glad you’ve been enjoying the thread, and to actually teach someone something is the greatest thing I could have hoped to achieve. You are very welcome. :)
The second greatest thing is to help people understand those who disagree with them. :P

À propos of your second post, may I ask… what exactly did you learn from this, that made it all worth it?
Is it that occasionally, alternative medicine works?

I think a serious problem with the kind of medicine that nobody really understands, that is based on theory that is all wrong, but that occasionally works anyway, is that you can’t rely on it to work in a new situation.
If we compare scientific medicine to fixing a malfunctioning computer by using one’s expert knowledge of the intricacies of the machine’s software and hardware to identify the problem and get it all of it to work properly again, then I’d say alternative medicine is not unlike pressing random buttons and clicking random menu options that look kind of relevant and hoping for the best. The latter is surely easier and requires lesser qualifications, and I suppose that sometimes it works too for some problems, but I’d really rather get help from someone who knows what he’s doing.

Yes, I’m belittling the expertise of alternative medicine practitioners. I mean this. They may not literally be making it up as they go, but they don’t base their work on anything solid either.

snowberry's avatar

@Fyrius You said, “I think a serious problem with the kind of medicine that nobody really understands, that is based on theory that is all wrong, but that occasionally works anyway, is that you can’t rely on it to work in a new situation.”

I am not a scientist, never really had much grounding in science. But I have seen quite a few things that science tells me is “right” that makes no sense to me. For example, apparently, we are supposed to believe then that whatever science tells us is right, is the right thing to do. If the doctor tells me to take this medicine, it should “fix” my problem, etc.

I have heard hundreds of stories of people who have gone to a doctor for an infection. The antibiotics dodn’t work, so they go back and the doc prescribes them stronger antibiotics which don’t work, and it continues on until they get antibiotics strong enough to kill a horse and their pocketbook as well, and maybe it resolves the probem, and maybe it doesn’t. Even if it does fix their illness, it’s a well known fact that folks who have received large doses of heavy antibiotics over an extended period of time end up with compromised immune systems. I started out that way, with strong antibiotics, only I could see what was coming and refused to continue with the plan. So (sorry guys, another personal experience here) I went to a naturopath who cured me up lickety split with herbs and vitamins.

I’ve seen and experienced hundreds of times similar results, but as you say, it’s all placebo. If it is, YAAY for placebos! They’re a heck of a lot cheaper than doctor visits, and since they work for me and my friends, I’m all for it.

I got started in this direction because I had been studying up on the philosophy of western medicine (the prevailing medicine in this country) and the philosophies of alternative medical fields, and I soon discovered there is a distinct difference in approach. In general, western medicine approaches the body as a system that is broken and must be fixed, whereas alternative fields run on the belief that in general the body will heal itself, if given the right nutrition or adjustments to the existing system.

It just is good horse sense to me that the body was designed to heal itself, that it was designed to operate as it was intended. We know this from watching a scratch or a bruise heal. Lots of times we don’t have to do anything, and it “magically” restores itself with no effort on our part. I’m opposed to any system that thinks otherwise.

Lastly, I have long believed that our dependence on medicine and technology is has grown so high and so over-balanced, it’s only a matter of time before it comes crashing down around us. Already we have a huge proportion of our population whose medical needs are not served, and somehow we think it will all be “fixed” by making everyone get health insurance. I don’t think so. My experience, and that of others like me will help to fill that ever-widening gap. I don’t know everything, as I have said before. Medicine has saved my life and that of my children. But I can look into the future with a lot more confidence than someone who can only depend on technology and medicine alone.

As for what I have learned, I’m getting first of all that nothing I ever say will make you get where I’m coming from. I do get that no matter what I tell you, it will always be due to a placebo effect, or “bad science”. I have benefited from crystallizing in my mind why I know and believe what I do, and again, I do appreciate your congenial attitude.

Fyrius's avatar

Incoming long post.

You say: “I am not a scientist, never really had much grounding in science. But I have seen quite a few things that science tells me is “right” that makes no sense to me.”
“But”? No offence, but I’d rather connect those sentences with “therefore”.
You can’t expect to understand everything about a field you haven’t worked hard and long to learn to understand. There’s a reason why it takes about three years to get just a basic degree in medicine. Science is complicated stuff, and often the truth is counter-intuitive. Some of it will not make sense to you if you don’t know the details. That doesn’t mean those parts are wrong.
This is why other people study medicine, so you and I don’t have to.

“In general, western medicine approaches the body as a system that is broken and must be fixed, whereas alternative fields run on the belief that in general the body will heal itself, if given the right nutrition or adjustments to the existing system.”
Um, I think that’s a false dichotomy there. Scientific medicine too knows that sometimes the body can fix itself. That’s when doctors don’t prescribe anything, and tell you not to worry and just to give it some time. Surely you must have witnessed that at some point. Only when that’s not feasible does it involve the doctor “fixing the system”. I believe it’s pretty much a last resort already.
I think another thing to note is that when doctors tell you the truth that your body will heal itself over the next week, you may feel less taken seriously than when their “alternative” counterparts lie to you that this here vial of water will make everything better over the next week.

I’m not very happy about people who think what common sense tells them is a serious challenge to established science. A better rule of thumb is that if a challenge to established science is obvious enough for you to notice, scientists have noticed, elaborately investigated and solved that problem decades ago. In fact, that still seems to apply to me in my field, as a fifth-year linguistics student.
I for one think that people who really have proper common sense will understand that when laypeople disagree with professionals, the professionals will almost certainly be right.
As a certain someone on the internet rightly remarked: “Their self-confidence is good, but they have about the same chance of success as a child in a soapbox derby car winning the Indy 500. It ain’t gonna happen, and for the same reason. A dilettante with home-made gear cannot hope to compete with trained professionals with precision equipment.”

I suppose we can agree that you probably can’t tell me anything that will change my mind and is true at the same time. I do hope this is not a shortcoming on my part.

snowberry's avatar

Sorry, I can’t read the teeny tiny print. If you want me to read that, you’ll have to print in a font that does not hurt my eyes to read.

As for you not approving of the way I choose to lead my life, that’s fine with me. Like I said, because of our conversations, now I completely understand why you will never agree with me. I’m fine with that, and I do appreciate what I’ve learned.

I mentioned before that I have been pretty well worked over by scientifically trained doctors who have wreaked havoc on different parts of my body. Because of their “help”, now I need extensive dental work, I have had two surgeries I didn’t need, and several medications that went wrong. Of course, each of these well meaning doctors were telling me “the truth”, and I believed them. So much for truth.

Oh well, there I go again, stacking personal experience up against scientific data.

You know you’re right. I know I’m right. Maybe the truth is, both of us are right, at least part of the time. How much? Time will tell in the end, won’t it? It was great talking to you!


Joe_Freeman's avatar

@snowberry In your Web browser, you can use <control plus> to make the font larger and <control minus> to make it smaller. Most Web browsers work this way.

snowberry's avatar

The more I think about it, I’m just going to ignore the teeny tiny print. I hate that sort of thing. If someone has something to say to me, they can print it big enough to read it the first time around. Sorry, Fyrius. ;-)

Joe_Freeman's avatar

I’m sure you realize that what you call teeny tiny print is very easy for some people to read. It depends not only on their vision but on their computer. I don’t think it’s appropriate to take offense over a small font size and, besides, it literally takes one second to enlarge it using <control plus>. And I mean literally literally.

An unrelated point: Remember that doctors are not scientists and, in many cases, don’t think or act at all like scientists. There are even some conventional Western doctors who support and use homeopathy. However, for fear of opening a giant can of worms, I am not going to pursue this line of discussion.

snowberry's avatar

I’ll see how hard it is to bump up the print on my ‘puter. I still hate it tho.

I’ve had a number of MD’s who also embrace alternative medicine. I’ve learned to pick and choose. As for the discussion, I agree, we’re finished.

Fyrius's avatar

I’m shy sometimes. That’s when I talk quietly. :P
Actually I use this tiny print for side notes that I think are less important.
And now I’m just teasing you. XD
I’ll make a mental note not to talk more clearly when replying to you.

If you want to stop talking, that’s cool. I liked the thread too. :)

snowberry's avatar

Hey, I’m fine with that. In general I don’t feel threatened with conversations, because I realize that’s exactly what they are: only conversation. I love to explore other philosophies and thinking, because I always learn something in the process (even if I’m not a scientist!) ;-)

Sometimes frustrating, but always interesting. (But there are some conversations that weird me out, and I avoid them like the plague.)

It seemed to me our topic was turning into a circular conversation. When that happens I think that’s when it’s time to move on, or change the subject. Got any ideas?

I have thoroughly enjoyed talking to you, and after all our angst, I’d like to have you in my bank of friends, if you can stand me.


Fyrius's avatar

(Bugger, I meant “a mental note to talk more clearly”. Sorry there.)

Like I said, if you want to call it a thread, I’m cool with that. I think changing the subject would be a bit inappropriate in this situation; after all, it’s a thread, it’s supposed to be about one given subject. But I’m sure we’ll meet again in another thread where we’ll have something else to talk about. :)

snowberry's avatar

OK, Got it.

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