Who Says Homeopathy Can’t Hurt?

There’s a popular belief about homeopathy and other folk cures that “It can’t hurt”. You might as well try it. Sadly that isn’t true as this case indicates. It seems that “A chewing gum company turned cold remedy manufacturer” was selling a homeopathic nasal spray that destroyed people’s sense of taste and smell.

For a long time, I didn’t know much about homeopathy, and just thought it was some sort of mild herbal medicine. Then one day while I was waiting for a prescription to be filled at my pharmacist’s I picked up a pamphlet advocating homeopathy and started reading. It very quickly became obvious that it was total quackery.

One reason (of several) that I figured out immediately that homeopathy was bunk were the persistent claims that there were absolutely no negative side effects and no possibility of them. The simple truth is that any medicine that’s powerful enough to do good very likely has the possibility to do bad as well. Real medicines are tested for both good and bad effects to verify that the good outweighs the bad for the intended patients. Many are only allowed to be dispensed under the supervision of a physician and a pharmacist. Sadly homeopathic remedies aren’t real medicines and aren’t subject to the same rigorous tests and procedures that genuine pharmaceuticals are.

As long as alternative medicine (alternative to medicine, really) is allowed it will be filled with fakes and fraudsters, con men and criminals, who prey on the desperate. Some are just in it for the money, but many of these evildoers seem to genuinely believe in what they’re doing. That makes it all the more important to regulate them out of existence. If there’s any truth at all to the wacky ideas that permeate the field, it is drowned in a sea of wishful thinking and incompetent amateur research. There’s a reason it takes years of study to become a doctor or a pharmacist or a Ph.D: medicine is hard. You can’t become a healer just because you want to be. You have to work at it, and these alternative shysters would rather just put out a shingle and make it up as they go along. If they act nice and sound convincing, too many people won’t realize they’re talking out of their posteriors.

Of course, not all M.D.s deserve to be called scientists or even understand basic research principles. I’ve met a few who really didn’t learn anything in Biology class except how to memorize the textbook. They got good scores on the MCATs by memorizing the definition of “double blind” without ever knowing what it was or why it mattered. Some of these are wasting their time and their patients money and lives prescribing homeopathic medicines. But the fact is most people who make it through medical school or vet school or pharmacy school have at least some background in science, and requiring a genuine degree before one is allowed to practice their crazy ideas on unsuspecting patients would at least weed out a large percentage of the wanna-bes and diploma-mill “graduates” that have caused so much pain and suffering.

7 Responses to “Who Says Homeopathy Can’t Hurt?”

  1. John Cowan Says:

    Yeah, a deficiency in oral/nasal zinc (which is not the same as a deficiency in blood zinc level) can cause a distortion of smell/taste that makes food taste literally like garbage. Sufferers end up being able to only eat the blandest of bland foods, like cottage cheese. Fortunately, zinc tabs generally fix them right up.

    I’d guess that the local overload of zinc invoked some of the same kind of symptoms as a deficiency — more is definitely not better when it comes to enzymes. In any case, you are quite right about homeopathy — it’s rubbish.

  2. Jochen Bedersdorfer Says:

    I don’t think the product mentioned is a homeopathic medicine in the classical sense.
    Creating a homeopathic medicine usually involves a dilution process called “potentiation”.
    Basically it means, after a few iterations, there is no active ingredient anymore.
    See http://www.randi.org/encyclopedia/homeopathy.html for more information.

    So classical homeopathic medicine is mostly water or sugar and offers a placebo effect at most.

    Funny sidenote: James Randi used to shock audiences by swallowing a whole bottle of homeopathic sleeping pills. Of course, nothing happened besides a raise of his blood sugar level :)

  3. Frank Wilhoit Says:

    What Jochen says–but it is even stranger than that. These are actually allopathic medicines, containing zinc at dosages that are thought to be effective against the human rhinovirus, ca. 12.5mg q2h ; but they falsely claim to be homeopathic, obviously thinking that that will help them sell product! (That splodgy sound you hear is Orac’s head exploding.)

    For what it is worth (essentially nothing), I have been able to forestall almost every cold that has tried to catch me for the past several years by taking zinc (lozenges containing 12.5mg each or a 50mg tablet) at the very first sign of infection. If even two hours go by after I notice the first symptom before I can get the zinc, it is not effective. Scientific testing has not as yet proven or explained this but it works for me.

  4. Clarence Odbody Says:

    Frank, that sounds like selective memory. When it doesn’t work it’s because you “didn’t get there fast enough.” And when you don’t get a cold it’s because it worked, and not because the symptom was a false alarm.
    I rarely get colds, but sometimes I sneeze or feel “a little something” that doesn’t for whatever reason, blossom into a cold. I presume my zinc levels are normal.

  5. Ani Says:

    A welcome preliminary to shooting your mouth off about anything (homoeopathy, in this case) would be to actually know a good deal about it. You don’t.
    Homoeopathic physicians go through years of education, comparable to the training that physicians of other systems of medicine (like allopathy, which appears to be your preferred system) receive. Practitioners of alternative medicine are not automatically “quacks”. There are quacks in the camps of all systems of medicine.
    Homoeopathic medications are not just inert concoctions of water/alcohol and sugar. They are produced by a process that one of your other commentators alluded to – potentization. Just because the instruments and testing procedures easily available today do not “demonstrate” the mechanism of action of homoeopathic drugs, it doesn’t mean that they are inert, and have only a placebo effect.
    Do some real research on homoeopathy, and talk to some genuine practitioners and patients before you condemn homoeopathy, or anything else…

  6. Ani Says:

    I must add, no serious practitioner of homoeopathy will claim that it can’t hurt. It is powerful, and not to be toyed with. Wrongly prescribed or administered medications can have lasting and unpleasant consequences.

  7. Elliotte Rusty Harold Says:

    One more time: almost everything I have learned about homeopathy I have learned from homeopaths. It’s the advocates of homeopathy themselves who’ve convinced me they’re fools and quacks, nobody else.

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