Thursday, July 24, 2014

Should Homeopathic Medicines be Banned?

You might also enjoy 10 Reasons to Love your Homeopath

Should homeopathic medicines be banned? I've seen this statement quite a few times in recent months. I just returned from a trip to England and Scotland, where there has been a lot of discussion of banning homeopathic medicines. The Daily Mail Reporter headlines "Homeopathy remedies should be labeled as placebos and banned on NHS", but added, "But some doctors said their patients seemed to benefit despite no clinical trial evidence that homeopathy worked."

I've also had a few blog posts recently come my way - stating that homeopathy is quack medicine, and should be banned. The blog 10 Pseudo-Science Theories we'd Like to see Retired Forever, says "Homeopathy claims water can cure you, because it once held medicine." But, the theory of homeopathic medicines is not based on diluted medicine. It seems the author(s) haven't actually bothered to look up the theory of homeopathy, or understand its claims before composing that nonsense.  The author of Homeopathy is placebo – ban homeopathy, says "The reason homeopathy should be banned is not that it’s placebo, but that it’s fraudulent." would also benefit from a simple dictionary check.  A placebo is defined as a medicine that is fraudulent, to quote Merriam Webster, Placebo "a usually pharmacologically inert preparation prescribed more for the mental relief of the patient than for its actual effect on a disorder".

Stephen Barrett, M.D., the ultimate "pot calling the kettle black" cites among other reasons, "the laws of chemistry". The laws of chemistry are actually the theories of chemistry, on theory that they 'cannot be broken'. But apparently Dr Barrett is worried that homeopathic medicines might manage to break these laws of nature?  He does not go so far as to suggest that homeopathic medicines should be banned, but wants them labeled as placebos, with statements like "a public warning that although the FDA has permitted homeopathic remedies to be sold, it does not recognize them as effective." Stephen also seems to forget, for the moment at least, that many doctors prescribe placebos, not because they don't work, but because they do work.

The reasons suggested for banning homeopathy are, frankly, very weak.  In summary:
 - it's no better than a placebo
 - people might take homeopathic medicines and suffer because they avoid a 'real doctor'
 - ?? more?? I honestly can't find any more reasons - I'd be happy to be enlightened.

So, let's look at the reasons first, then the reality.

Homeopathy is no better than a placebo. 

First of all, we need to define a placebo.  I define placebo from a healthicine perspective, which aligns directly with the dictionary definition, and with Wiki's definition.  A placebo is a lie from your doctor. If there is no doctor, it's not a placebo.  If there is no intentional lie, it's not a  placebo. Stephen Bartlett suggesting labeling homeopathic medicines as placebos, is suggesting the paradox “This statement is false.”

There's another side to the word placebo. People often confuse the word placebo with 'placebo effect', thinking that 'placebo effects' are not real, that they are lies.  But that's not true. Merriam Webster defines the placebo effect as an "improvement in the condition of a patient that occurs in response to treatment but cannot be considered due to the specific treatment used". Placebo effects are real.  Placebo effects are not lies, they are real effects, measurable by science, and by medicine.

So, stating that homeopathic medicines are "no more effective than a placebo", is actually saying that "homeopathic medicines cause real, positive effects that we don't understand." It also says "homeopathic medicines are no more effective than a lie from your doctor."

Should we ban homeopathic medicines because we don't understand them? Should we ban placebos because we don't understand them? Nonsense.

People who take homeopathic medicines might suffer because they avoid a real doctor.

Do people suffer more because they avoid doctors, or more because they see doctors too soon, or too often? Frankly, although medicines often work well, medicines can also kill.  According to government reports, medicines (but not homeopathic medicines) are third ranked in the causes of illness and death in the USA. Patent medicines and OTC medicines have side effects.  It's worthy to note that, according to the medical profession, homeopathic medicines don't have 'real effects', therefore, according to the medical profession, they also cannot have 'side effects'.

I'm not saying homeopathic medicines are ineffective.  Science, and medicine has proven, and agrees that homeopathic medicines are effective, although they qualify with "no more effective than a lie from your doctor".  Science and medicine have also proven that most, if not all, doctors recognize and occasionally prescribe placebos to their patients.

Do people who take OTC medicines suffer because they might avoid a real doctor? And what about food?  Hippocrates said "Let food be thy medicine, and medicine by thy food." Should we also count those people who eat an "apple a day", to keep the doctor away? Should we ban apples because some people think they are medicines?

On a more serious note regarding food, homeopathy can never cause the kind of damage that sugar does. Science shows us that sugar is addictive and damaging, yet we fill our children with the stuff. Why is there a witch-hunt to ban harmless, and potentially beneficial homeopathic treatment (often prescribed by naturopathic doctors) when there are real health problems that can be bought by any child in every grocery store?

What about Health?

This is a blog about health. Are placebos healthy? It is important to separate "health", from "illness". Health is larger than illness. It is entirely possible that homeopathic medicines, even if they have no effect on illness, might have positive effects on health. But science has proven they do have positive effects on illness.

We don't measure health.  We haven't yet learned to measure health yet - we can only measure symptoms of illness, and that's how we measure illness.  We can learn to measure health - but today, no-one is trying.

If we ban homeopathic medicines, how will we learn of their effects on health?   And there's the point.  The exact point of this discussion.

Freedom.  Freedom to study.  Freedom to learn. Freedom to learn about health - to learn more than simple studies of illness. Freedom to know for ourselves. Freedom to make our own choices. To advertise and market our own choices.

Should we ban homeopathic medicines? 

It might be a useful question, if it was not so loaded.  It is loaded against my freedom of choice, in favour of society's freedom to oppress, based on some people's beliefs.

I believe in health freedom.  I believe in the health freedom of the customer, and also of the producer and seller. Safety standards are important, but bans?  Banning something is a serious act, difficult to undo - even if the ban was wrong. Banning homeopathic medicines would be a strike against freedom.

Our laws should be designed to enhance our freedoms, not to restrict them.  If freedoms are to be restricted - there must be real and serious danger. Proof needs to be strong. Frankly, there is no evidence for banning homeopathy, plenty of evidence in favour of freedom.

In Summary: 

Side Effects
Effective, especially effective against nutritional deficiency illnesses.

Little danger, although it is possible to die from food.
OTC – Over the Counter Medicines
Most commonly effective against symptoms of illness, allowing the body to heal.
Listed on bottle. Can be severe.
Some danger.  Prone to non-monitored, over consumption, which can lead to illness, even death.

Patent Medicines
A wide range of effectiveness. Tend to be designed and tested for specific illnesses. The bestselling patent medicines only treat symptoms, and do not cure.

Listed on bottle. Can be severe. Sometimes not known for years.
Very dangerous. Requires a doctor’s prescription, controlled dosages, and even then can lead to injury or death.
Effective but we don’t understand why. However, many doctors are able to predict ‘when’ they will be effective, and prescribe them.

Little danger, although there is some danger when patent medicines  or OTCs are prescribed as placebos – which does happen.
Homeopathic Medicines
Effective, but we don’t understand why.
Little danger. As far as I know, there are no reports of death or injury caused by homeopathic medicines.

Should homeopathic medicines be banned? Nonsense. We need to spend our time on more important questions.

to your health, tracy
Tracy is the author of two book about healthicine: