|Written by Johnny Fahrenheit|
|Sunday, 23 November 2008 00:00|
Okay, we've all seen them. They're pretty official sounding. "Herbal Exchange", and "Natural Cures". Sounds promising. "Cure" means that I won't be sick anymore, and "Natural" means that it wasn't made in a cold, sterile laboratory, filled with cynicism. But how is this supposed to work?
-LIKE CURES LIKE-
But there's hope, right? I mean, when I want to be vaccinated against Malaria, they just inject a small amount of Malaria into me, and my body reacts. So if I take some poison ivy, then my rash will go away. Right?
I don't quite know how to break this to you, but "Err, umm, not really". Normal vaccinations, such as those for Malaria, work by introducing a deactivated (ie, It Can't Hurt You) strain of the virus that causes the damage, and counting on your immune system to figure out how to take it out (to dinner), take it down (the street to your apartment), and nail it.
"Like Curse Like" is different. We'll take sniffles as the example. Let's say that Like really does Cure Like. You take something for your sniffles, and shock-horror, your sniffles go away. But sniffles aren't a disease. They're a symptom. If you catch a cold, then your immune system takes several courses of action to expel it. This includes using mucus as a means of getting rid of the disease. If you could take something to cure "sniffles", then you're just containing the disease in your body. If you took something to cure the burn of sunburn, then you're not curing the burn. The burning sensation is your body repairing the damage done by the sun, which is why you feel it long after you've gone indoors, and starting writhing about the floor of your Egyptian hotel in searing pain. Curing the symptom does not cure the ailment.
Which is if homeopathy worked, but...
-DOES IT EVEN DO ANYTHING?-
I'll be nice, and spare you reading. No, it doesn't do anything. There. You can go watch TV, or eat chicken, or something.
Oh really, you want to read on? If you insist.
Most people get put on to homeopathy through a friend. Usually something like "I took this homeopathic remedy, and the next day, I felt so much better!". That means it works, right? [name] has never lied to me before. Are you accusing my friend of being a liar?!?
There's a word for this. It's called "The Placebo Effect". Essentially, expecting something to make you feel better can make you feel better. Now the obvious question is, "How do we know when it's taking effect?"
We can tell with a little thing known as a "Double Blind Study". You take two groups of people, one receiving the medicine, the other receiving placebo - an inert substance that superficially appears to be the same as the medicine (in this case, an appropriate placebo would be non-magical water). Both the study subjects and the study investigators are kept in the dark regarding which treatments were given to which subjects until the end of the study (hence the name “Double Blind”).
If the medicine is doing something, then the medicine group should show more symptom relief than the placebo group.
If the medicine is doing nothing, then the medicine group and placebo group should show approximately the same symptom relief.
This is how so called "Western Medicine" is approved by bodies like the FDA, and how we can tell if it's working. In the case of homeopathic remedies, large, well-controlled studies uniformly show the second result: Homeopathic remedies are equivalent to placebos, which is why many practitioners rely on testimonials instead of real studies. If not engaging in the inadequacy of testimonials, then they're deceptively using poorly executed studies, or even studies deliberately set-up to make their products seem effective.
-WHAT'S THE HARM?-
Homeopathic Medicine probably isn't going to violate your daughters and steal your social security number, but that's not to say it's harmless. Firstly, it can cost upwards of $30 for a minuscule bottle of water (sometimes with added bitter flavouring so you at least think it's doing something). When I say "Minuscule", I mean "Minuscule".
Secondly, and much more menacing: Some people can be tricked into taking it as their only medicine. It's not too bad if you've only got a cold, but if you've got the flu, or you're trying to prevent Malaria, things can get nasty. Many sellers of homeopathic remedies don't actually tell you to drop conventional medicines, but imply it by stating "This will give you complete protection" or "This is all you'll need.” Tragically, it is not unknown for a user of homeopathic medicine to die from a preventable, or curable disease, simply because they were persuaded to abandon proven mainstream medicine.