I’ve been reading up on homeopathic medicine lately. As a university student, this is generally done late into the night, as I procrastinate on homework assignments. I’ve heard bits of controversy here and there about homeopathy, but nothing major. I also thought it was a rather small practice that people toyed around with. I never purchased it, but I have friends that do, haven’t heard any negative stories from them. In addition, I purchase nutritional supplements myself. I sort of equated homeopathy to something like medical marijuana, but legal.
I was wrong.
Famous Funerals As A Result of Homeopathy
That changed recently when I read about Apple founder Steve Jobs. As described in his autobiography, Jobs was informed in 2003 that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which is normally a death sentence. However, the type he had developed, known as ilset cell carcinoma, was actually considered one of the most treatable and survivable cancers. Now, instead of going for traditional treatment, he did something different, as is typical of the man. He spent nine months attempting to treat the cancer homeopathic medicine and . It took 9 months before he realized it wasn’t doing anything, at which point he finally submitted himself to surgery. Unfortunately, by this point the tumor had grown, and the cancer was far less treatable.
So I started reading more into it, learning similar fates befell men like Bob Marley. You can find out more here.
Who can you trust?
Today, we live in the age of Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring, a time of worldwide protest, where many of us are becoming more and more distrustful of major corporations and our governments. After we see the United States spending billions
of dollars bailing out banks and companies because they borrowed too heavily, it’s understandable why this distrust is present. Once you include the skyrocketing price in conventional medicine in many places, problems with invasive surgery, and people getting deadly infections in hospitals, it’s easy to see why homeopathic medicine is able to succeed in the market.
A Huffington Post article by pro-homeopathy writer Dana Ullman says that between 1995 and 2005, sales of homeopathic products grew by 60%.
What is Homeopathic Medicine?
Now, let’s quickly go over what homeopathic medicine is, because this doesn’t encompass all alternative medicines. There are 3 main principles, the first of which I paraphrase from the national center for homeopathy’s website. Go and check it out if you like at homeopathic.org.
- The Law of Similars – The idea that like cures like, so if you are bitten by a snake, the cure to this would be a small quantity of that snake’s venom mixed with water, this leads to the next principle…
- The Law of Infinites – The idea being the more dilute the solution, the more potent. so you would take the venom, and heavily dilute it with a liquid, usually water, then leading to third principles
- The Law of Succussion – You vigorously shake your solution, which properly distributes the active ingredient in the water. A little simplified, but after these 3 steps, you have homeopathic medicine.
The world is undecided as to the practice’s effectiveness.
On one hand, the government Switzerland is pursuing major studies in testing the efficacy of homeopathy.
On the other hand, England’s National Health Service recently decried homeopathy as ‘witchcraft’; that being said, the royal family actively uses it, and Queen’s Elizabeth’s doctor is a homeopathic physician.
Homeopathy’s Four Flaws
1. “So what if you can’t detect it?”
Some homeopathic solutions are so dilute that modern science can’t detect the active ingredient in them. Critics will say that’s proof it doesn’t do anything, while supporters will say modern science hasn’t caught up.
What it does definitively mean though is that neither you, a scientist, a doctor, a homeopath, the store employees, none of you can detect that active ingredient. This isn’t to say it doesn’t work. However, what it does say is that if a homeopathy company wanted to, they could supply a store with water in the containers they sell, and neither you nor they would know the difference. I’m certainly not claiming that they do this, and it’s also possible there is healing medicine in there, but neither side can know.
2. “Who cares how it works, if it works?”
A frequent claim from the industry is when asked about exactly how it works, the typical response is – who cares how it works, if it works? So let’s go back to our lovely laws of homeopathy. One of the key ideas is that when you dilute the active ingredient, like snake venom that we discussed to produce a cure for poison, as you dilute it, it becomes more powerful.
So, what is stopping you from buying some homeopathy medicine at the store, putting a few drops into a water bottle, shaking it vigorously? According to their laws, you have just created a more potent medicine.
I’m a student, and if I can help someone save some cash, all the better. Now again, this isn’t to say the medicine doesn’t work, but if it does, well, you now have the formula to make as much as you want.
3. “I just don’t want to give money to any of those evil drug companies.”
For all the evils we may claim that major drug companies inflict upon our society and the world abroad, and I’m sure some of them are true, are alternative medicine companies not just drug companies who have less regulations and accountability? When was the last time you heard about a class action lawsuit against a homeopathic medicine company? In the end, their goal is the same: profit.
If homeopathic does work, rather than suppress it, why wouldn’t these gigantic pharmacy companies simply make their own versions of it? If they’re simply about making more money and retaining power, why not market those alternative medicines?
Oh… they already do. If you’ve heard of the Seven Seas brand, they are owned by New Era, which is in turn owned by pharma giant Merck.
Some may view this fact as proof that homeopathic medicine is becoming more readily accepted, and perhaps you’re right. On the other hand, from the perspective of a business, homeopathic medicine is the absolute perfect product – one where you don’t need to invest in regulation, and no one has yet to be poisoned by an overdose, so no worry about lawsuits. Once again critics will say that’s because it does nothing, supporters will say that’s because it works with the body’s own energy. In the end, what it means to you, is that there are no negative side effects from the taking the drug itself, and that’s what a company loves to hear.
4. “Science simply hasn’t caught up with homeopathy.”
Now, science doesn’t know everything. But, it knows it doesn’t know everything. Otherwise it wouldn’t stopped (thank you, Dara O’Brien). But for all the failures of modern science, over the last 200 years it has more than doubled our life expectancy. So when people doubt traditional science, they seem to refer to it as this western construct used by out of touch philosophers sitting in ivory towers, sipping on chemically perfected tea (note – original scientific method was in fact developed in ancient Mesopotamia, today’s Iraq).
Many years ago, scientists took a perfectly natural substance – the bark of a willow tree, and tested its essence to see its effects on humans. They found it functioned well as a painkiller, and today we call it aspirin.
Looking to the future, if it turns out that grapefruit, mixed with salt, grass and horse urine, can cure diabetes in repeatable unbiased testing – well that’s medicine. If it turns out pouring lemon juice combined with peanut oil, and spread, over burn wounds helps the skin heal faster…well, then we no longer call this medicine alternative anymore.
To quote Tim Minchin: by definition, alternative medicine has either not been proved to work, or been proved not to work.
Do you know what they call alternative medicine that’s been proved to work?