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Your view: the homeopathy debate roars on

Lion roaring

When we rounded-up your views on homeopathy and pharmacists we didn’t expect another 800 comments to roll in! That, and the fact it’s World Homeopathic Awareness Week, has re-fuelled our homeopathic fire…

In a first for Which? Conversation, this week’s ‘Your view’ is based on a previous round-up. If you’ve had enough of the word ‘homeopathy’ then bear with us for another week because it’s clearly a popular topic.

That said, previous discussions haven’t been problem-free. Many contributors have threatened to leave the debate and warnings have been issued.

So it is with a little trepidation that we broach the subject one more time with a short summary of your main points and themes…

The role of pharmacists

Our first Convo came out of our snapshot investigation which found that 13 out of 20 pharmacists failed to explain that there’s no clinical evidence that homeopathy works. Amy, a retired community pharmacist, found this surprising.

‘I have never advocated the use of homeopathic medicine and can see no scientific reason as to why it should have any place in modern medicine. If it does work it is probably due to the placebo effect or blind faith!’

BobH agrees:

‘Should pharmacists offer homeopathic solutions to medical problems? Probably not, unless you also think that it would be reasonable for them to ask you to bring in eye of newt and toe of frog and they’d make up a potion for you. People expect pharmacists to offer something that, in their professional opinion, will treat the illness presented.’

But SAHC says we should apply the same theory across all medicine:

‘If a pharmacist chooses to warn a customer against the use of homeopathy, that is up to him or her. I would vote that it should be up to a pharmacist’s personal conscience and belief. Conversely, should a pharmacist be required to warn his customers of the adverse side effects of mainstream drugs? Oh, that might not be a good idea… it would take up too much time, would it not?’

How is homeopathy being sold?

Robin spoke to his local Boots’ pharmacist about our investigation:

‘He was very aware of the Which? survey. He said Boots had sent out information and training reminders to them as a result. I take some comfort from this, and credit is due to Boots for taking some prompt action. Perhaps if everyone reading this also politely asked their local pharmacist if they were aware of the survey results and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society policy it might help even further.’

But Wavechange still feels let down by the way that homeopathic labelling works:

‘I have been looking at the Boots website and am disappointed to see that it lists various homeopathic properties. There are some guarded statements, but to have words such as “pain relief” shown without qualification on the front of the packet is little short of disgraceful.’

Where does homeopathy stand with science?

The issue of science has been discussed at length in both previous Conversations, and Wavechange sums up many people’s views here:

‘It is not up to us to disprove homeopathy but for you and your fellow believers to get together and prove that it works to command respect from the scientific community.’

Dr Lionel Milgrom responds:

‘Thank you: with this, I think you have at last verbalised the gigantic hubris under which many on this site labour. And that is proving or disproving how and whether homeopathy works, and gaining the respect of the scientific community have very little to do with patients’ democratic right of access to safe, cost-effective healthcare. Quite clearly many want homeopathy. The reason the pseudo-sceptic movement is so rife in the UK is because patients can still have homeopathy on the NHS if they choose to.’

ChrisP says homeopathy should not be seen as an alternative medicine:

‘The science plainly shows it can be as potent as a placebo, not that it actively heals. I doubt any doctor or pharmacist would treat an illness as significant as type 1 diabetes with homeopathy alone, whereas many members of the public would genuinely hope their chronic stress, indigestion or pain can be solved by homeopathy as it will be safe, not make them experience side effects nor directly kill them, which wrongly (or in some cases rightly) they may believe is always possible of traditional medicine.’

But Robin worries that homeopathy will still be used in the wrong way:

‘The only fly in this non-ointment is some homeopaths are claiming it can treat serious conditions such as cancer, aids, malaria etc. It is clear some are promoting the view that homeopathy is not just a placebo, as an adjunct to medical care, but a primary treatment. Others claim homeopathic “vaccines” have efficacy.’

So, do you agree with 71% of voters who say that pharmacists should only recommend remedies backed by science, or will you continue to buy and use homeopathic treatments?

Rachel B says:
5 August 2013

I have been reading Wikipedia on homeopathic dilutions, and clearly there is nothing left. Except what about the bubbles? Found a nice easy explanation here:

Although that would not apply to sugar pills of course. However in solution the bubbles clearly have a rejuvenating effect and anti-bacterial properties. But you have to shake it with electrolytes in the water. Perhaps its the bubbles that vibrate?


That is starting from a conclusion and working back to a hypothesis. The question is: what specific property of the bubbles might exist, and be transferrable to the patient via the intermediate? The answer is that no *specific* property can be identified, there’s no connection between the “remedies” and the disease and nothing specific in the bubbles that relates to the remedies.

If this was a useful principle in science then it would be evident elsewhere, but it’s not. One of the telling points against homeopathy is its lack of “explanatory power” – it offers nothing that is useful or even confirmed as true by other independent lines of inquiry. This is distinct from, say, molecular biology, that is supported by many other scientific findings, and in turn supports others.

Remember, for homeopathy to be right we would have to be wrong about the nature of matter, thermodynamics, physiology, biochemistry, pharmacology and many other fields. Not just a little bit wrong, completely wrong.

Before we set about looking for reasons why this might be the case, we first need some evidence that homeopathy does work. And in practice there is none, at least none that rules out the null hypothesis.

Rather like the claim that someone has a unicorn in their garden. It might have been plausible 200 years ago but by now we have a lot of evidence about the species of the world, none of which supports the existence of unicorns. Not only that, the more of the garden we can see, the less persuasive the claim that the unicorn is in the ever-diminishing bit we can’t yet see.

That’s where homeopathy is. It’s inconsistent with all relevant science, and each time someone trumpets a claim of direct evidence of a mechanism, investigation shows the claim to be false and a little bit more of the garden is exposed as not containing the unicorn.

Alan Henness says:
5 August 2013

Here’s a better, more scientific, more accurate explanation of how homeopathy works, taking into account the totality of the best evidence: http://www.howdoeshomeopathywork.com/


you must have missed my post which detailed the following: “The issue of a multi-disciplinary field of small dose effects which is called “hormesis,” and approximately 1,000 studies from a wide variety of scientific specialties have confirmed significant and sometimes substantial biological effects from extremely small doses of certain substances on certain biological systems.
A special issue of the peer-review journal, Human and Experimental Toxicology (July 2010), devoted itself to the interface between hormesis and homeopathy. The articles in this issue verify the power of homeopathic doses of various substances.
Human and Experimental Toxicology, July 2010: http://het.sagepub.com/content/vol29/issue7

Skeptics of homeopathy state that homeopathic medicines have “nothing” in them because they are diluted too much, however, new research conducted at the respected Indian Institutes of Technology has confirmed the presence of “nanoparticles” of the starting materials even at extremely high dilutions.
Researchers have demonstrated by Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM), electron diffraction and chemical analysis by Inductively Coupled Plasma-Atomic Emission Spectroscopy (ICP-AES), the presence of physical entities in these extreme dilutions. In the light of this research, it can now be asserted that anyone who says or suggests that there is “nothing” in homeopathic medicines is either simply uninformed or is not being honest.
Chikramane PS, Suresh AK, Bellare JR, and Govind S. Extreme homeopathic dilutions retain starting materials: A nanoparticulate perspective. Homeopathy. Volume 99, Issue 4, October 2010, 231-242.

Alan Henness says:
5 August 2013

chrisb1 said:

“you must have missed my post…”


However, I’m sure that Guy explained clearly and concisely to you why that study is nonsense.

Alan Henness says:
5 August 2013

More than once, probably.

Hormesis does not explain homeopathy, it’s a temporary infexion in the dose-response curve within the pharmacologically active dosage range in some substances below which the normal exponential decay is observed so it gives no support whatsoever to the assertion that dilution increases potency for all substances, or that dilutions below measurable levels can or do have any effect whatsoever.

The examples cited are pure wishful thinking, and having been refuted only the uninformed continue to cite them. Homeopathy has a long history of claiming that it is *definitely* X until X is refuted and it becomes *definitely* Y (and repeating the chain of claims in each new venue in the apparent hope of finding a new audience unaware of the refutation).


chrisb – How do we get access to the articles in Human and Experimental Toxicology?