Homeopathy

The oxford English dictionary defines homeopathy as “a system of complementary medicine in which ailments are treated by minute doses of natural substances that in larger amounts would produce symptoms of the ailment”. (1)

A homeopath would define homeopathy as a form of medicine where treatments are prepared through subsequent dilutions to minimize harmful effects. Additionally the original concept of homeopathy is the idea that “like cures like” and substances developed this way help to stimulate the body’s natural healing response. (2)

History

The origin of homeopathy is believed to date back to 400 BC when Hippocrates began to incorporate life style changes such as nutrition, activity, and hydrotherapies into treating patients. (2) The term homeopathy was coined by Samuel Hahnemann who began the development of homeopathy in 1790. (2) The Latin term homeos refers to similar and pathos refers to suffering and disease.(3) Hahnemann was operating in a time where traditional medicines focused on methods of treatments that were extreme and often did more damage than good. Hahnemann “became disenchanted with the unhygienic and often brutal medical techniques such as purging, emetics, bloodletting, and the use of large doses of chemical agents such as mercury and arsenic that were used in the late 1700s”. (2) He began experimenting with substances that were said to be cures for various ailments and observed a correlation between substances that would cause symptoms within himself and the symptoms these drugs were being used to treat. Hahnemann advocated for the use of single drugs that had undergone heavy and successive dilutions. As he worked with various materials Hahnemann found that the more he diluted substances, the less negative side effects would occur as well as boost the potency of the drug. (2) The key concept behind homeopathy is that the more heavily diluted the substance is the greater and longer lasting its effects will be.
Hahnemann developed three essential principles of homeopathy that remain to this day:

1. The principle of similars: Like cures like
2. The principle if infinitesimal dose: The more diluted the dose, the more potent its curative effects
3. The principle of specificity of the individual: If the remedy is to cure, it must match the symptom profile to the patient (2)

How it is Viewed


At the height of homeopathy in the United States in the early 1990s, there were twenty-two homeopathic medical schools established, nearly one hundred hospitals, and over one thousand homeopathic pharmacies. Nearly fifteen percent of every United States physicians were homeopathic practitioners. (2) As modern medicine experienced impressive and rapid advances in the early twentieth century, homeopathy along with many other naturopathies fell out of favor and lost popularity. Medical institutions began to openly question and criticize homeopathy as being an unreliable and irresponsible system. Many institutions and universities that had been established in the name of homeopathy closed down or stopped offering [[#|programs]]. Following the seventies and eighties, homeopathy saw a revival of popularity as a health and nutrition craze started dominating North America. Inspired health conscious individuals started turning away from pharmaceutical care to more natural and holistic alternatives.(2)
Homeopathy exists to this day as one of the most used form of medicine in the world, second only to contemporary conventional medicine.(4) Certain universities in Britain currently offer Bachelor of Science degrees in holistic medicines, for which “scientists are increasingly concerned that such [[#|courses]] give homeopathy and homeopaths undeserved scientific credibility, and they are campaigning to get the label removed”. (5) In general, the scientific community of the twenty-first century find homeopathy to be fraud and highly deserving of the title “pseudo science”.

But is Homeopathy Science?


Homeopaths would argue that there is indeed scientific basis in what they do and prescribe. They believe that extreme dilutions and their use of the Law of Similars Hahnemann established helps give people relief from their ailments without any negative side effects large doses would provide.

"Science" in Homeopathy


The Society of Homeopaths their scientific practice as basic science research that demonstrates ultrahigh dilutions, such as homeopathic medicines, that cause cause biological effects that can be seen clearly under experimental conditions.(6) The issue with claims like this, however, is how incredibly vague the argument is. They determine basic science to be the “type of research in which experiments are carried out in a laboratory using samples of tissues, cells or molecules, rather than clinical experiments involving whole animals or people”. There is no concise explanation as to exactly what types of experiments are being performed, if they are repeated, how many trials they perform, equipment used etc. In the same way, terms like “biological effects” could refer to any number of things as simple as a person opening and closing their eyes. Many of the “scientific” results are not science-based at all; they simply use language to convince people that there is a scientific foundation to homeopathic methodologies.(6)

Why Evidence is Problematic


One of the biggest critiques of the homeopathic approach is the credibility of the results patients experience. Many studies conducted for homeopathy are with willing subjects who are familiar with holistic practices to begin with. David Owen take note in his book that “the more open a patient is to understanding and expressing their illness and health through a particular model the easier it is to use the corresponding approach to treatment”. (7) The sentiment itself seems rather obvious; a treatment will surely be more successful if the participant is willing to improve their life choices and environment, and believes in the remedy they are being administered.

Deceptive Wording


In the same way scientific language is often included in explanations for homeopathy, terms that belong solely to the practice are consistently referenced. Homeopathy has developed numerous terms to justify its methods and findings. Terms like ultramolecular are used to explain the purpose behind extreme dilutions in homeopathic medicines. The term itself has no backing outside of homeopathy. References to life force describe the vitality of living organisms. It is thought of as the energy within an individual, and can even be attributed to a person’s well being and ability to fight off infection.(7) Hahnemann did not believe diseases to be an invader of any kind, he believed they were spiritual changes within the body that only occurred if people were susceptible to them. (8)
Another terminology invention of homeopathy is the word provings. It is often used in homeopathy to refer to the testing of different substances to observe the effects they produce, and from there see what types of ailments it will cure.(8) Homeopathic “remedies” also refer to more than simple relief from an ailment of illness. Remedies require the dilution of source materials in alcohol, which is then followed by numerous successions (shaking) until the appropriate potency is achieved.(4)

Placebo Effect


The most common argument for any success of homeopathy is the suggestion of the placebo effect. The drugs used in homeopathy are so heavily diluted that any source material would be completely lost. (9) Homeopaths readily admit the amount of successive dilutions completely remove any trace of the original substance in their remedies. This is justified by the argument that the energy of the source material helps promote the body’s self healing and that “because of the absence of any chemical material, the remedies are safe for even the frailest of patients”.(4)

Why Homeopathy is a Pseudoscience


Various approaches can be taken when investigating the question of homeopathy as a pseudoscience. Some philosophical standpoints can defend and discredit homeopathy’s claim to scientific practice.
Many of the claims of success in homeopathy are made on the basis of previous studies that indicate positive results: if a treatment worked for X number of people in the past, it will work in the future. This method of reasoning is known as induction: the inference of a general law from particular instances.(1) Empiricist David Hume would argue this to be a useless form of justification. In Hume’s mind, induction has no rational basis, especially because the only way to justify its authenticity is to use induction itself.
Karl Popper, an Austro-British philosopher, would agree with Hume on induction being flawed and unreliable but his argument would be that science can’t rely on induction by any standard. Popper instead would propose the necessity of falsification. In his classic example of “all ravens are black” he argues that it would be impossible to ever confirm that all ravens in the universe are indeed black, but it would only take a single instance of a non-black raven to falsify the theory.(10) Popper, would demand that homeopathic claims be falsifiable to be considered scientific.

Homeopathy would be unable to meet Popper’s criteria. Many of homeopathy’s predictions are not strong enough statements to be determined right or wrong. If the results of a prescribed remedy were negative, the suggest would simply be to try a different approach or suggest underlying issues with the individual that need to be resolved.
In contrast to this, Pierre Duhem would not be as quick to determine homeopathy as a pseudoscience based solely on falsifiability. Popper’s criterion of falsification entails its own set of problems, issues that homeopaths actually use to counteract failed results: unpredicted variables, equipment failures, subject bias etc. Where homeopathy falls short with this justification is the rarity to reproduce and repeat experiments to discover the source of failure.(11)

Additionally, Imre Lakatos makes the claim that falsifiability is only useful when a new theory can arise to replace it. Because homeopathy is like astrology in that there is always a new theory/remedy that can replace a failed case study, falsifiability is not an accurate criteria for determining homeopathy as a pseudoscience. Lakatos proposed that:(11)
A theory or discipline which purports to be scientific is pseudoscientific if and only if:
  1. 1. It has been less progressive than alternative theories over a long period of time and faces many unsolved problems
  2. 2. The community of practitioners make little attempt to develop theories for solutions to these problems, or show little concern for attempts to evaluate the theory in relation to others, and is selective in considering confirmations and disconfirmations (astroartcile)

Science vs. Pseudoscience


When addressing the issue of homeopathy as a pseudoscience, it is important to distinguish a criterion for what science is. Many academics have struggled for years to accurately define what science is and what it requires. In the argument of science versus pseudoscience, it is important to determine contrasts between the two definitions.
Pseudo science is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as: a collection of beliefs or practices mistakenly regarded as being based on scientific method, while science is determined to be the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.(1)

Science
Pseudoscience
Their findings are expressed primarily through scientific journals that are peer-reviewed and maintain rigorous standards for honesty and accuracy.
The literature is aimed at the general public. There is no review, no standards, no pre-publication verification, no demand for accuracy and precision.
Reproducible results are demanded; experiments must be precisely described so that they can be duplicated exactly or improved upon.
Results cannot be reproduced or verified. Studies, if any, are always so vaguely described that one can't figure out what was done or how it was done.
Failures are searched for and studied closely, because incorrect theories can often make correct predictions by accident, but no correct theory will make incorrect predictions.
Failures are ignored, excused, hidden, lied about, discounted, explained away, rationalized, forgotten, and avoided at all costs.
As time goes on, more and more is learned about the physical processes under study.
No physical phenomena or processes are ever found or studied. No progress is made; nothing concrete is learned.
Convinces by appeal to the evidence, by arguments based upon logical and/or mathematical reasoning, by making the best case the data permit. When new evidence contradicts old ideas, they are abandoned.
Convinces by appeal to faith and belief. Pseudoscience has a strong quasi-religious element: it tries to convert, not to convince. You are to believe in spite of the facts, not because of them. The original idea is never abandoned, whatever the evidence.
Does not advocate or market unproven practices or products.
Generally earns some or all of his living by selling questionable products (such as books, courses, and dietary supplements) and/or pseudoscientific services (such as horoscopes, character readings, spirit messages, and predictions).
(12)

Why Homeopathy does not Meet the Criteria for Science


Homeopathy has not been progressive in its theories and practices. Homeopaths still use Hahnemann’s book The Organon of the Healing Art, simply a 6th edition that has seen very little revision and was last published in 1921. Even with the many proven advances in medical science, homeopaths choose to follow a doctrine written over two hundred years ago. The text homeopaths reference give its practitioners the ability to diagnose and treat all diseases, solely according to the doctrines stablished by its founder two centuries ago.(8) These decisions can prove dangerous and even fatal to individuals who put their faith in homeopathic methods. Hahnemann’s belief in diseases as being spiritual fluctuations and not an external invader of any kind encourages homeopaths to ignore internal maladies and their dangers. To this day, “modern homeopaths assert that suppression of symptoms, even superficial symptoms, is the cause of illnesses such as cancer, asthma, gout, chronic otitis, and mental disturbances”.(8)

Many studies referenced and defended by homeopaths are often examined by doctors and medical professionals to assess the legitimacy of the results obtained. Numerous flaws are often discovered, only to be selectively ignored or overlooked by homeopath practitioners. In a 2012 article published in the Skeptical Inquirer, Edzard Ernst reviewed the publications of the research group that has published most of the clinical studies of homeopathic treatment from 2005 to 2010. Ernst's evaluation found numerous flaws in the design, conduct and reporting of the clinical studies. Examples include: little detail of the actual homeopathic treatment administered, misleading presentation of controls (comparison of homeopathic plus conventional treatment and conventional treatment, but presented as homeopathic versus conventional treatment); and published similar data in multiple articles. He concluded that the over- and misinterpreted weak data made the homeopathy appears to have clinical effects which can be attributed to bias or confounding, and that 'casual reader can be seriously misled'. (13) In this case like many others, there were no attempts by homeopaths to repeat the experiments or justify their findings further. Homeopaths tend to only look for evidence or situations that confirm their hypothesis, evidence that could counteract or conflict with their theory is often ignored or selectively left out of findings.

To gain the acceptance of legitimate medicine, it is imperative that homeopathic supporters provide irrefutable proof for each of Hahnemann’s doctrines, laws and principles, using the principles of the legitimate scientific method. Two centuries have passed since its inception; the veritable lack of evidence for the fundamental principles of homeopathy is puzzling at best and devastating at worst. (8)

Homeopathy's Dangerous Profitability


In the last few years, homeopathy’s revival has been dramatic in certain areas of the world, some for different reasons than others. Across North America, its rise has been largely due to its profitability. With the general populace looking for more natural curative options in the health world, many stores and companies can sell homeopathic remedies for similar costs to pharmaceutical products, convincing buyers that they are just as effective and successful. This hurts customers economically, especially because many remedies can promote the continued use and purchase as necessary in order to achieve satisfying results. Homeopathy can hurt many people financially, convincing them to spend money on packaged water, when they could put that money towards remedies that would actually help them get better at a biological level. (14)

The US FDA defines fraud as the “deceptive promotion, advertisement, distribution or sale of articles, intended for human or animal use, which are represented as effective to diagnose, prevent, cure, treat or mitigate disease, or provide a beneficial effect on health, but which have not been scientifically proven safe and effective for such purposes.’(14) Homeopathic products fall into this definition perfectly.
Moreover, the trust individuals put into homeopathic remedies can be very dangerous. If a person buys a homeopathic medicine that actually produces zero physiological effects and does not combat disease or illness, they risk allowing said illness to cultivate and progress. A common example of these dangers is syphilis. “In 1978, Anthony Campbell, then a consultant physician at The Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, criticized statements by George Vithoulkas claiming that syphilis, when treated with antibiotics, would develop into secondary and tertiary syphilis with involvement of the central nervous system.” (15) This convinced dedicated followers of homeopathy that if they found themselves with syphilis, seeking antibiotics would be damaging to their health, when in reality penicillin is known to cure nearly ninety percent of syphilis completely. Additionally, the claim made by Vithoulkas is in direct opposition to what can occur if syphilis is left untreated. The advancement of syphilis when allowed to thrive and remain in the body to reach late onset syphilis can be fatal. (16) This contributes to the claims that homeopaths are irresponsible in attempting to sell their practice as a medical science.(8) The idea that a traditional homeopath going on the idea of Hahnemann’s original ideas of life force and that diseases cannot be outside forces like bacteria – would not prescribe antibiotics. Numerous over-the-counter (OTC) products are being sold under the guise of homeopathy for the untrained layman to purchase without consultation with a homeopathic practitioner.(8)

Where to Go From Here


In order for homeopathy to have any success in the twenty-first century, it is going to need to reassess its techniques, methodology, and start revising the information it is based off of. If it is to develop any type of credibility in the new age, it would have to be able to prove its theories and provide legitimate test results authenticating its success. If conventional medicine is expected to accept the validity of an alternative medical system whose fundamental doctrines directly contradict the traditional, established laws of physics, much work remains to be done by homeopaths.(8) If homeopathy can’t explain exactly how and why it functions or is effective, then it truly deserves it’s title as a pseudo science.

References


[1] Simpson, John. The Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press, 1884.
[2] Synovitz, Linda Baily, and Karl L. Larson. Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Health Professionals: A Holistic Approach to Consumer Health. Burlington: Jones and Bartlett Learning, 2013.
[3] Capranos, Jamie. “Homeopathy Deciphered: Regain Balance with its Vital Force.” Alive Magazine, August 2011.
[4] Landau-Halpern, Beth. “Demystifying Homeopathy.” Gogreeninside, May 18, 2012.
[5] Giles, Jim. “Degrees in Homeopathy Slated as Unscientific.” Nature 446, no. 22 (2007): 352-353.
[6] “What is Homeopathy?” The Society of Homeopaths, July 2012. http://www.homeopathy-soh.org/about-homeopathy/what-is-homeopathy/
[7] Owen, David. Principles and Practice of Homeopathy: The Therapeutic and Healing Process. London: Elsevier LTD, 2007.
[8] Pray, Steven W. “The Challenge to Professionalism Presented by Homeopathy.” American Journal Of Pharmaceutical Education vol. 60 (1996): 198-204.
[9] Ernst, Edzard, and Eckhart G. Hahn. Homeopathy: A critical Appraisal. Woburn: Reed Educational and Professional Publishing, 1998.
[10] Popper, Karl R. “Science as Falsification.” Conjectures and Refutations, London: Routledge and Keagan Paul, 1963, pp. 33-39
[11] Thagard, Paul R. “Why Astrology is a Pseudoscience.” Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of Philosophy of Science Association vol. 1 (1979): 223-234.
[12] Coker, Rory. “Distinguishing Science and Pseudoscience.” Quackwatch, May 2001.
[13] Begabati, Lennihan. “Homeopathy: Natural Mind-Body Healing.” Journal of Psychosocial Nursing & Mental Health Services, 2004.
[14] Pray, Steven W. “Why Pharmacists Should Not Sell Homeopathic Products.” FACT 15, no.4 (2010): 280-283.
[15] Danciger, Elizabeth.”Letter re Vital Force.” The Homeopath, 50 (1993): 4-92.
[16] Hyde, Janet Shibley, John D. Delamater, and E. Sandra Byers. Understanding Human Sexuality 4th Canadian Edition. McGraw-Hill Ryerson Limited, 2009.