A new meta-study shows Homeopathy is still bullshit.

It boggles the mind that in 2015 there are still people out there who buy into the idea of Homeopathy.

Homeopathy demotavational poster.

That’ll be $150, kthxbai!

As a refresher, it’s an “alternative medicine” predicated on the belief that “like cures like” and “water has a memory.” In short, if you take something that causes the same or similar symptoms in an ailing patient and dilute it in water and then feed it to them it’ll cure whatever their ailment happens to be. Here’s the best part though: The more diluted the solution is the more powerful it becomes.

I shit you not. Here’s an explanation of the dilution process from the Homeopathic “Educational” Services website:

Each substance is diluted, most commonly, 1 part of the original medicinal agent to 9 or 99 parts double-distilled water. The mixture is then vigorously stirred or shaken. The solution is then diluted again 1:9 or 1:99 and vigorously shaken. This process of consecutive diluting and shaking or stirring is repeated 3, 6, 12, 30, 200, 1,000, or even 1,000,000 times. Simply “diluting” the medicines without vigorously shaking them doesn’t activate the medicinal effects.

It is inaccurate to say that homeopathic medicines are extremely diluted; they are extremely “potentized.” “Potentization” refers to the specific process of sequential dilution with vigorous shaking. Each consecutive dilution infiltrates the new double-distilled water and imprints upon it the fractal form of the original substance used (fractal refers to the specific consecutively smaller pattern or form within a larger pattern). Ultimately, some type of fractal or hologram of the original substance may be imprinted in the water.

If you have half a brain you should already be questioning the intelligence of the people who dreamed this bullshit up just based on this little snippet of nonsense from this one website.

What all of this gobbledegook boils down to is this: Homeopathy is a way to sell you expensive water that isn’t going to do shit to heal whatever you problem is. If you get better after using Homeopathic medicines then you would’ve gotten better regardless of whether you had used them. This has shown to be true in study after study, yet these cranks are still out there peddling their bullshit and trying to weasel their way into being covered by insurance plans and health organizations.

Now Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council along with an independent company (to ensure there was no bias) has done a meta-study that involved analyzing over 1,800 scientific papers and more than 225 medical studies that determined (emphasis added):

There was no reliable evidence from research in humans that homeopathy was effective for treating the range of health conditions considered: no good-quality, well-designed studies with enough participants for a meaningful result reported either that homeopathy caused greater health improvements than placebo, or caused health improvements equal to those of another treatment.

For some health conditions, studies reported that homeopathy was not more effective than placebo. For other health conditions, there were poor-quality studies that reported homeopathy was more effective than placebo, or as effective as another treatment. However, based on their limitations, those studies were not reliable for making conclusions about whether homeopathy was effective. For the remaining health conditions it was not possible to make any conclusion about whether homeopathy was effective or not, because there was not enough evidence.

And their conclusion was:

Based on the assessment of the evidence of effectiveness of homeopathy, NHMRC concludes that there are no health conditions for which there is reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective.

Homeopathy should not be used to treat health conditions that are chronic, serious, or could become serious. People who choose homeopathy may put their health at risk if they reject or delay treatments for which there is good evidence for safety and effectiveness. People who are considering whether to use homeopathy should first get advice from a registered health practitioner. Those who use homeopathy should tell their health practitioner and should keep taking any prescribed treatments.

In short, the shit don’t work. When you sit down and read what promoters provide as the explanation for how it supposedly works this shouldn’t come as a surprise. For starters, they love their buzzwords: Fractals, holograms, nanopharmacology, the Principle of Resonance, the list goes on and on. The idea seems to be that if you toss enough buzzwords at people they’ll assume you’ll know what you’re talking about simply because the have no idea what you’re talking about.

Alas, that works and you can find all manner of Homeopathic products at your local drug store as proof. Why do the stores carry them if they don’t work? Because they make decent money off of people who don’t know any better. Capitalism at its finest!

For those of you interested in reading the study for yourself you can find it here. *PDF File

 

Advice column for pet owners can’t leave out the woo.

Being an Ann Arbor resident I regularly visit the Ann Arbor.com news website to keep up with what’s happening locally. Generally it’s a pretty decent news source, but I’ve found myself stunned on two different occasions by the advice column for pets because it contained references to “alt-med” woo-woo nonsense that’s usually associated with humans. It’s kind of the same feeling I get when on those rare occasions I visit The Huffington Post blogs and come across an article by woo-meister Deepack Chopra.

Today’s surprise came in this article about a dog suffering from a snake bite from a Massasauga rattler, the only venomous snake native to Michigan. They’re pretty rare — I’ve lived here my entire life and spent plenty of time in the woods as a kid and have never encountered one  — and as a result a lot of vets are not prepared to deal with pet that has been bitten by one.

Overall, the column is well written and contains much useful advice. The author, John Spieser, is a professional dog trainer and much of what he recommends didn’t raise an eyebrow until I got to this particular suggestion:

If you are a believer in homeopathics (which I happen to be, based on personal experience), having a few appropriate remedies on hand as a first course of action is a good idea.

It really is amazing how one stupid comment can put doubts in your head about all the rest of the advice being proffered. Homeopathy? Really?? Hey, why not give him a Milkbone while you’re at it. I’m sure it’d have just as much curative effect. Plus it’ll help to clean his teeth!

What’s really interesting is the fact that, despite the amazing curative powers of homeopathic water, in the case being discussed it’s never said that that approach was tried. Instead there’s a desperate search for anti-venom which none of the vets called had stocked because this is such a rare occurrence and few people are even aware that Michigan has a native rattlesnake. By the time some anti-venom was procured from the Toledo Zoo (at great expense) it was too late to administer it. Ultimately the dog was given a blood transfusion which seemed to do the trick.

Given all of that, you can understand why I’m puzzled the author would even bother suggesting a homeopathic treatment as something folks should keep on hand. The rest of his suggestions are good ones, but earlier in the article he mentions the fact that “vital time was lost due to unfamiliarity” on the part of the vets the dog was brought to. How much time would be lost if someone administered a homeopathic “remedy” expecting it to actually have some effect?

As I said, this is the second time I’ve been surprised by woo in a pet advice column at Ann Arbor.com. The first time was back at the start of April when author Lorrie Shaw wrote an article promoting the benefits of Penetrating Laser Therapy for your pets:

Anyone who has a pet has likely had the experience of monitoring their four-legged friends’ minor injuries or painful strains, and for the most part, the body will deal with it on its own, given a little time and/or rest.

When there is a chronic problem, like stubborn wounds or bone injuries that need extra attention, or perhaps when a pet is rehabilitating from injury and the healing process needs a little boost, holistic therapies or treatments can prove to be very useful — especially Class IV Penetrating Laser Therapy.

Now the first red flag this article raised for me was the use of the word “holistic” as that’s a popular word among the woo-woo faithful, but I admit that I hadn’t read up much on Penetrating Laser Therapy so I trudged on through the very brief article. It turns out that it’s not so much an article as it is a lead-in to free advertising for Dr.Taryn Clark and Dr. Jessica Franklin at the Ann Arbor Animal Hospital. That’s where the second red flag popped up as they are described as “veterinary acupuncturists” by the article.

Oh boy.

Like I said, I had not looked into whether or not  Class IV Penetrating Laser Therapy is legitimate or not. So I did a Google search that reveals that it’s very popular with Chiropractors and Veterinary Clinics. One such example can be found here where they promote it as a near-miracle cure for chronic pain:

The K Laser is an FDA approved Class IV laser. Early Class III therapeutic lasers are effective, but literally thousands of times less powerful than the new technology available today. Class III lasers are capable of penetration of only a few millimeters, while Class IV lasers can penetrate over 4 inches into the deep musculoskeletal tissue. The perfect blend of chiropractic and laser therapy produces phenomenal results in extremely short periods of time.

[…] The laser works by creating vasodilatation, bringing oxygen to the cells. It stimulates the lymphatic system, pulling edema and inflammation from the area. ATP (Adenosine triphosphate) production is stimulated in the cells helping them have the energy to function normally. The pain reflex is broken, offering immediate relief. In other words, “it brings in the good stuff and gets rid of the bad stuff”.

Sounds amazing, right? I looked up the K Laser on the FDA website(PDF), no small feat given the amount of stuff they publish, and this is how it’s described there:

Klaser provides infrared therapy for the following allowed claims:

Infrared therapy to provide topical heating for:

– Temporary increase in local blood circulation

– Temporary relief of minor muscles and joint aches, pains and stiffness

– Relaxation of muscles

– Muscles spasms

– Minor pain and stiffness associated with arthritis

The Intended Use/Indications For Use stated herein are identical to the cleared indications for the predicateddevice.

The device is indicated for emitting energy in the Infrared Spectrum to provide topical heating for the purpose of elevating tissue temperature for temporary relief of minor muscle and joint pain, muscle spasm, pain and stiffness associated with arthritis and promoting relaxation of the muscle tissue and to temporarily increase local blood circulation. – March 25, 2005

So it does have some effect, but it doesn’t sound quite as exciting based on the FDA description. Still, it at least has some benefit, right? So what do the folks at the Ann Arbor Animal Hospital claim is the benefit for pets? Here’s a quote from their “Ask the Expert” column at the Ann Arbor.com website:

Laser therapy provides a sterile, pain-free, surgery-free, drug-free treatment that is used to treat a variety of injuries, wounds, fractures, neurological conditions, numerous dermatological problems, and pain (post-surgical, neck & back).

Whether your pet is rehabilitating from trauma or injury, healing from wounds, or simply aging, your companion might benefit from this holistic approach to treating pain.

Wow, according to the experts, this laser therapy stuff does more than stimulate temporary increases in blood circulation and pain relief, but did you note the escape clause I highlighted in bold? “Might benefit” is a favorite of woo-wooers trying to ensure they don’t get sued.

But how does it work you ask? Here’s their explanation:

Like veterinary acupuncture, laser therapy stimulates the body to heal from within. Non-thermal photons of light are administered to the body and absorbed by the injured cells. The cells are then stimulated and respond with a higher rate of metabolism. This results in increased circulation from the body, an anti-inflammatory reaction, relief from pain and an acceleration of the healing process.

Non-thermal photons of light! That DOES sound impressive, but what the fuck does that mean? And how can it be non-thermal when the FDA specifically says that a Class IV Penetrating Laser delivers Infrared topical-heat therapy?

Well, trying to explain what a non-thermal photon is gets into some heavy physics concepts which even the experts say they don’t fully understand, but from what I can gather it’s not the sort of thing that’s easily producible as it tends to come from stuff in space like supernovas, pulsars, radio galaxies, Seyfert galaxies, BL Lacertae objects, and GRBs. As far as I know, and I could be wrong, we don’t have anything on a commercial scale that could produce non-thermal photons that you’d use in medical therapy.

You’ll note that they don’t explain how a non-thermal photon stimulates the cells to a higher rate of metabolism, they just say that it does and expect you to trip over the buzz words enough that you accept the claim. For true humor, however, you have to consider their list of symptoms that you may want to consider Laser Therapy to treat:

Most of our laser therapy patients are older dogs with musculoskeletal ailments. Some signs that your dog is experiencing pain that laser treatment may be able to assuage:

Abnormal sitting or lying posture

Whining, groaning or other vocalizing

Limping, unable to get up or lie down

Difficulty getting into car or down stairs

Lack of grooming

Won’t wag tail

Licking or biting area

Lack of appetite

Trembling

Could you possibly be any more vague while still covering as wide a range of possibilities?

Again, it’s not that the therapy doesn’t do anything because it does. So does a warm compress or a heating pad applied to the affected area and for the same reasons. Heat is a traditional treatment for sore muscles and joints as it promotes blood flow and relaxes muscles. The folks at AAAH say that your dog may go to sleep during treatment and your cat will purr. Well of course they will, it’s a warm massage.

The next question is, how much does it cost? According to the representative I spoke to on the phone (prices aren’t listed on the website) the initial treatment is $50 on top of $55 office visit fee and then $40 for each additional treatment. Or you can sign your pet up for a series of six treatments for $210. The number of treatments varies depending on the specific problem your pet is suffering from, but seeing as many of the problems this treatment is dealing with are age-related it’s likely that you’ll need to go back more than a few times. Depending on your income level that may or may not be an unreasonable amount of money to spend, but when you can get similar results from a heating pad or a heated pet bed, well, you have to wonder if it’s worth the money. Still, at least it actually does something as opposed to acupuncture or giving your dog homeopathic water.

Finding this nonsense in the local news website, however, really bugs the shit out of me. Especially when it’s presented in such a non-critical fashion. We already spend billions on our pets every year because we consider them to be part of the family. Is it too much to ask that we not be fleeced by questionable treatments from supposed professionals? It makes me loathe to read the Ann Arbor.com website the same way that all the woo-woo crap on The Huffington Post makes me loathe to read that website. Which is a shame because both sites have plenty of good stuff to offer which is just undermined by the bullshit.

Still, there’s always a silver lining and this one comes in the comments to both of those articles. First, from Rick Kuick in the article about the snake bite:

“If you are a believer in homeopathics (which I happen to be, based on personal experience)…”
I believe – I believe they contain water and little else.

And then in the earlier article on penetrating lasers there were two comments that brought a swell of pride to my chest. The first from Amlive reads:

With all due respect, I smell nonsense and snake oil here, not unlike many other questionable science permeating the field of “holistic medicine”.

For an alternative view –

http://skeptvet.com/Blog/2010/05/cold-laser-therapy/

When studies confirming benefits and science of these therapies show up in NEJM, I might start listening. Until then, I have to put this up there with homeopathy (which means I’m sure there’s a market for it here in Ann Arbor).

And the latter from Trespass:

Is this news reporting? Even soft news should be generally accepted medical/scientific fact not holistic nonsense. It damages the credibility of a news organization.

Yes, it does this skeptic’s heart much good to see there our others out there questioning this nonsense being in a supposedly legitimate news source.

hCG spammers descend on SEB in less than 24 hours.

Pic of homeopathy poster.

It's an obvious implication of the theory, but no one mentions it.

As if to drive home the point of how profitable the hCG diet supplement scam is, it took less than 24 hours from the time that I posted that entry to the arrival of a spammer trying to submit entries promoting that “product.”

After registering with the username hcgdietinsight5 he or she then submitted two short entries the first of which carries the title: Drastic Weight Loss with HCG-HCG Dangers. I present it to you now, with my comments added in.

Are you still tormented by your fat body and which had made you too fat to move? And have you found a fast way to lose weight? There are lots of questions about this but do you know why? Why people are looking for a fast way to loseweight? Now let’s start the journey for body shape slim.

Yes, I do know. Because people are basically lazy and would prefer a solution that involves no real effort and no real change to their lifestyle and which works almost immediately. Being someone who falls into the category of obese myself I can attest that it takes a lot of willpower to motivate oneself to get off their ass and exercise and to push oneself away from the table. If someone ever does manage to come up with a pill or spray that could magically induce weight-loss they’d be a billionaire overnight. Alas, it’s highly doubtful such a pill is possible.

Now I will tell you HCG diet can help you. First you must know why you are fat. There were generally three different types of fat stored within the body structural fat which is stored between the organs, normal fat, which is available freely as fuel when needed and abnormal fat, which is locked away and cannot be used by the metabolism until all other fat has been burnt. The truth is we can run out of these abnormal fats so that give back a sexy body by using HCG products. But we should pay attention to the HCG dangers.

What a crock of shit. In actuality there are two types of adipose tissue, or body fat, as it is technically known. They are white adipose tissue (WAT) and brown adipose tissue (BAT). WAT is the stuff we want to get rid off as it’s basically fat stored in a cell for later energy use. BAT is used primarily for non-shivering thermogenesis, probably better known as body heat. BAT actually makes use of WAT as part of that process which could lead to a method of weight-loss through the stimulation of BAT growth. Something scientists have accomplished in mice already.

If you do a Google search for “abnormal fat” you won’t be surprised to see that most of the sites that mention it are selling, you guessed it, this hCG bullshit. There’s no such thing and no evidence that hCG has any effect on fat deposits of any kind.

Many people are surprised by it. They don’t know the HCG dangers. What you should know is HCG works at the metabolic level to discharge these stores into the bloodstream so that they can be used as fuel, and this is why a very low calorie diet must accompany the HCG dosage.

The HCG dangers are very little. The content of HCG dieters is very natural, which is not man-made products. So many people using HCG will not feel the bad effect of HCG. This is the evidence of the safety of HCG.

I’m surprised that anyone falls for this nonsense. You’ll note that this helpful person doesn’t bother to describe how hCG supposedly works at the metabolic level. Nor do they specify what the danger actually is. The low calorie diet is so that you actually experience some weight-loss making you think the product is working, but it’s not doing a damned thing. You’re just starving yourself.

The specific physiological effects of the HCG make the body feel as if it’s getting plenty of food. But in reality, dieters are only eating approximately 500 calories. This limited caloric intake is simply not enough to support an intense workout.

You will never be distressed by your double chin and your fat body because you have HCG without dangers.

Here’s a question: If hCG is releasing the calories in the fat stores to be used as fuel then shouldn’t an intense workout even at only 500 calories a day be perfectly OK? Presumably the body is making up for the lost calories from the fat stores being released by hCG so why should an intense workout be a problem?

I’ll tell you why: Because you’re only getting 500 calories a day and your body is slowing down its metabolism to try and prevent you from starving.  You simply don’t have the energy needed for an intense workout without causing major problems.

Which brings us to the second attempt at an entry titled: HCG Works Well, But Please Notice HCG Dangers.

HCG(Human Chorionic Gonadotropin) is a hormone produced in large amounts by pregnant women to control metabolic functions, but is found in both men and women. HCG diet works directly with the Hypothalamus gland. This gland actually controls body fat, emotions, and helps to develop the reproductive organs during puberty. Each and every person is given HCG at birth. Many people don’t notice the HCG dangers because of this.

Quite a bit of the nonsense that’s endlessly repeated about hCG comes from the work of British endocrinologist A.T.W. Simeons. It was his theory that hCG must be programming the hypothalamus to protect the developing fetus by promoting mobilization and consumption of what he called abnormal, excessive adipose deposits. He believed that an ultra-low calorie diet (high-protein, low-carbohydrate/fat) in conjunction with daily low-dose hCG injections would promote WAT loss without losing lean tissue in the process, something that often occurs on starvation diets. He was wrong, but that didn’t stop unscrupulous “alternative therapy” advocates, such as the infamous Kevin Trudeau, from promoting it as a weight-loss miracle.

An important point to make is the fact that Simeons’ theory involved daily injections of hCG. The vast majority of hCG products being sold on the internet are “homeopathic” which means they contain little to no amount of the hormone at all. That makes them a doubly stupid purchase.

Recently Most of the food has been overloaded with chemicals. These chemicals are designed to remove HCG from your body. So we use HCG products can supply you this element. But you must know that each medicine has side effect, so does HCG. This means that there are no HCG dangers at all. We all know that HCG will reduce your craving for food and metabolize stored fat. You will not experience irritability, headaches, weakness or any hunger pains as with other low calorie diets, but you will lose abnormal fat, reshape your body and look the way you are supposed to. Particularly, it works regardless of whether you exercise or not. Nonetheless, you will not lose abnormal fat so much if you do a mass of exercise rather than use HCG diet.

I can only assume that whoever wrote this doesn’t speak English as their primary language. At least I hope that’s the case because otherwise they’re a babbling idiot.

Ignoring the obvious contradiction for a moment, it’s worth mentioning that diet alone will not “reshape your body” to “look the way you are supposed to.” All of those diet plans that show someone going from fat to ripped neglect to mention that you don’t get ripped without exercise. I also like how they claim that you won’t lose “abnormal fat” with massive exercise. Which is technically true seeing as there’s no such thing as abnormal fat.

There is also no appearance for HCG diet’s dangers and HCG side effects, maybe there are some but the property are incredibly rare!

Gotta love this bit. There are no side effects except maybe some but you’re probably not one of the very rare people who do experience side effects that never happen anyway so don’t worry about it.

The HCG diet is widely available over the Internet and often cheap. Nowadays, peoples are researching of HCG diet to make a medical breakthrough on how we can control the body’s fatness. The results shows that HCG diet is effective, completely safe, having little dangers. The HCG weight loss diet consists of either a 23 or 40-day protocol. Don’t be hesitate anymore and just say “bye-bye” to your fatness without pains of exercise. This answer is HCG diet.

The only true claims in the above paragraph are the very first two about hCG being widely available over the internet and often being cheap. Every other claim in that paragraph is false. The research that has been done does not indicate that hCG is effective or safe and, according to the FDA, isn’t even legal.

It says something that this spammer considered it worth their time to show up here and submit a couple of cut-and-paste entries despite the fact that just the day before I posted an article trashing their product. The desire for a quick and easy weight-loss solution encourages lots of wishful thinking and, even with bad publicity sitting right next to it, they know that some folks are going to buy into it regardless of how badly their article mangles the English language.

The best defense against these scumbags is education. Don’t take my word for it, look this stuff up yourself. Preferably from sites not trying to sell you on it. If that’s too much work then just read what they’re saying very carefully. If you break it down like I did it’s pretty clear they’re full of shit.

[SEB Guest Post] Historical WooWoo Next Door

Homeopathy demotavational poster.

That'll be $150, kthxbai!

I came across the following entry on my home town’s list of historical sites for Allentown, PA:

Homeopathic Healing Art Plaque

31 S. Penn Street

The Homeopathic Healing Art Plaque is a bronze plaque on a rock that marks the location of the world’s first medical college exclusively devoted to the practice of homeopathic medicine. Called “The North American Academy of Homeopathic Healing Art,” it was founded on April 10, 1835.

The technique of homeopathic medicine – the idea that a drug which will produce certain symptoms in a healthy person will cure a sick person with the same symptoms – was developed in Germany by Dr. Samuel Hahnemann and carried to America. A pioneer in this field was Dr. William Wesselhoeft of Bath, Northampton County. Wesselhoeft, who started a small school in Bath, was one of the founders of the Allentown institution. The Academy flourished until 1843 when it was discovered that its treasurer, Allentown banker John Rice, had embezzled the school’s funds. It then moved to Philadelphia and developed into what today is the city’s Hahnemann Hospital.

I can’t believe this is right down the street and I haven’t taken the time to absorb the historical significance that is offered there. I’ll be sure to visit and send pictures. Of course I will dilute the pixels by a factor of ten, shake vigorously and repeat until I achieve optimum visual effectiveness.

Dara O’Briain on Homeopathy versus Real Science.

I came across this clip on YouTube again recently and I thought I had shared it here on the blog previously, but checking the archives seems to indicate that I have not. It’s a short clip from a comedy special by Irish comedian Dara O’Briain and it pretty much says would I would say if I were funny and successful like Dara is:

I need me one of those sacks.

Good news in the U.K. as doctors vote to drop homeopathy funding from the NHS.

The advocates of woo-woo in the U.K. have had a bit of a setback:

In all the furore over cuts to the NHS, doctors have voted to stop one service all by themselves – and unlike what is expected to follow, this is something we should all celebrate. The British Medical Association (BMA) has voted to stop offering homeopathic treatment on the NHS.

It’s better still. They also say that homeopathic products should no longer be labelled “medicines” and should instead be marked “placebo” when sold in pharmacies. In entertainingly robust language, Dr Tom Dolphin of the BMA’s junior doctors committee described homeopathic remedies as “nonsense on stilts”.

It’s worth reading the full “nonsense on stilts” quote from the news article:

Dr Tom Dolphin, from the BMA’s junior doctors committee, said that he had previously described homeopathy as witchcraft but now wanted to apologise to witches for making the link.

“Homeopathy is not witchcraft, it is nonsense on stilts,” he said.

“It is pernicious nonsense that feeds into a rising wave of irrationality which threatens to overwhelm the hard-won gains of the Enlightenment and the scientific method.

“We risk, as a society, slipping back into a state of magical thinking when made-up science passes for rational discourse and wishing for something to be true passes for proof.”

According to the Society of Homeopaths, homeopathy has been available through the NHS since its creation in 1948. You’d think that 62 years would be more than enough time to establish that it actually does something, but so far there’s not much in the way of evidence to suggest that it does.

It does my heart good to see doctors in the U.K. standing up for evidence based medicine. Perhaps there’s hope for all of us yet.

What if homeopathic medicine were the standard at a hospital?

It might look a little bit like this:

I dunno, but I think I’ll stick with the old-fashioned hospitals were they use real medicine.

Found via Bad Astronomy who notes that sometimes simple mockery makes the strongest point.

Update: Apparently That Mitchell and Webb Look is a series that takes on all sorts of topics that appeal to me. The Friendly Atheist found another clip by them takes on something we’ve discussed here many times before:

I think I may need to track down a few full episodes of this series!