Hilarie Stelfox; Homeopathy, the medicine that contains nothing at all
Dec 5 2009 by Hilarie Stelfox, Huddersfield Daily Examiner
HOMEOPATHIC treatments cost the NHS £12m between 2005 and 2008.
This astonishing revelation appeared in last week’s news and caused a bit of a stir, which it should because homeopathy is one of the biggest pseudo-medical cons of the last two centuries.
Yes, today I’m going to stick my head above the parapet and add my voice to those who have roundly trashed the whole concept of homeopathy. I expect it will rattle the believers.
But, first, I’m going to explain – for those who may not know – what homeopathy actually is, and what it’s not.
It’s not – and here I must stress the not – herbal medicine, as so many people appear to believe.
Although homeopathic ‘remedies’ may be originally based on herbs and natural substances, they are concocted so that they contain no traceable amounts of active ingredient – or, indeed, no traceable amounts of anything much at all. Homeopathic medicines are sugar pills on which water has been dropped.
Homeopathy, as it is known today, was invented by an 18th century doctor called Samuel Hahnemann. He made the observation that giving a patient a substance, which caused symptoms similar to their illness, appeared to make them better. For example, says the Society of Homeopaths website, someone with insomnia might be given coffea, a remedy made from coffee - a substance known to cause insomnia. Homeopathy, or more correctly homOeopathy, means treating like with like.
However, and here’s where it starts to get really silly, Hahnemann also ‘discovered’ that the more dilute he made his remedies the more powerful they became. This has led to the belief that remedies containing, in the society’s own words, ‘infinitessimal’ traces of the original substance can actually effect healing.
Homeopaths theorise - and it is unproven - that the original molecules ‘imprint’ themselves on the water molecules, thereby transmitting their healing powers. Homeopathic remedies are vigorously shaken during the dilution process to achieve this. Which makes me wonder why all the water that exists on the planet is not a homeopathic remedy for something. Surely, at some point it’s dropped off the edge of waterfall, been swirled through a pipe, ejected forcibly out of a tap or agitated in some other way. All water contains minerals, bacteria and random substances, which, by homeopathic rules, must leave their imprint.
So much for the psuedo-science bit. Now for the remedies themselves. Turning once again to the society’s website, I have learned that some are based on an ancient medical idea of ‘affinity.’ To cite a particularly ludicrous example - the poisonous Deadly Nightshade plant (Atropa belladonna) has large black shiny berries that resemble the dilated pupils of someone with a high fever, and cause dilation of the pupils.
So, guess what, belladonna is a remedy for fever. But, don’t worry, it’s so dilute that it couldn’t be toxic even if you ate a whole bottle of sugar pills. That’s actually the big plus of homeopathy, it can’t do any harm because there’s absolutely nothing in the remedies.