Homeopathy is a pseudoscientific scam that should be never be considered as a legitimate treatment for any condition. Homeopathy lacks any biological plausibility. Homeopathy lacks any support in basic chemistry. And homeopathy violates the basic laws of physics.
Essentially, homeopathy is the debunked idea that “like cures like,” and that a diluted ingredient can be activated by shaking it in between dilutions. Every robust, rigorous, and repeated clinical study has demonstrated that homeopathy has no clinical effect.
Unethically, individuals push this treatment that has been shown not to work. That is why it’s a scam.
Let’s take a look at the facts about homeopathy.
What is homeopathy?
A lot of people, mostly Americans, conflate homeopathy with natural medicine, like herbal medicine. It isn’t. Basically, homeopathy, known as the “law of similars”, relies on the belief that “let like be cured by like”, and is a term coined by Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician who was appalled by the state of medicine at the time, the late 1700’s.
And frankly, the state of medicine at that time was pretty bad, so any new idea might have been worth trying. Unfortunately, when Hahnemann was alive, basic scientific knowledge was missing – cell theory and germ theory were a few decades from even a basic understanding of those scientific principles.
Homeopathic potions are prepared by serially diluting the original substance (could be anything from diseased tissue to arsenic to snake venom plus mercury) with shaking and forceful striking on an elastic body, which they term succussion.
Each dilution followed by succussion is assumed to increase the effectiveness. Homeopaths call this process potentization. So far, it’s just merely diluting and shaking, so nothing special there.
This dilution process is such that there is only a tiny possibility of any molecule of the original substance showing up in the solution. That’s why it’s just water.
The dilution methodology is precisely described by Hahnemann. The first dilution is one part to 99 parts water. Then, one part of that first dilution is then diluted in another 99 parts of water. Each of these dilutions is called 1C, so two dilutions would be called 2C, with one part of the original similar diluted in approximately 10,000 parts water.
But it doesn’t stop there. Homeopathy uses 30C dilutions, which means that the original substance is diluted 30 times. Now that might not seem like much, but if you look at the math, there is no chance that even a single molecule of the original substance exists in this solution.
So let’s look at the math. At 30C, the dilution is now 1 part substance to 1060 (or 10 followed by 60 zeroes) parts water. You would need to drink 1034 (or 10 followed by 34 zeroes) liters of water (which is about 10 billion times the amount of water on earth) just to get one molecule – one single molecule of the original substance.
Since water poisoning is a thing, you probably should not consider doing this.
Now diluting substances to create a physiological response is a well-known, evidence-based method in medicine. For example, allergy hyposensitization uses extremely diluted antigens (say cat dander), while slowly increasing the concentration to build a tolerance to the immune response. But the dilution is substantially reduced, maybe 1-2C at most.
Moreover, this methodology is based on the science of immunology, not magical processes. We know why this works to reduce allergies.
Another mechanism for homeopathy?
Homeopaths try to overcome this mathematical problem by stating that water has a memory. This claim is based on a long-disputed, unrepeated, and basically, disregarded experiment.
Every attempt to repeat the experiment, in a double-blinded manner, was a failure At some point, you have to say, “water does not have a memory and homeopathy has no scientific basis.”
Is it even plausible that water has some memory?
Water is a very simple molecule with 2 hydrogens and one oxygen. It has a set spatial orientation. You cannot configure water in an infinite number of ways. To invent a way that water has a memory would require us to throw out all that we know about the fields of chemistry and physics.
Sure, all science is provisional – maybe something will be found that will tell us to disregard all we know about chemistry and physics. But we only do that with robust and substantial scientific evidence that tells leads us to the conclusion that what we know about quantum mechanics, physics, chemistry, and biology is all wrong, and the homeopathy magicians are right.
And trust me on this point, if you could actually show that water had a memory, you’d be getting about five Nobel Prizes all at once.
Remember, if one is going to make an extraordinary claim, we demand extraordinary evidence. If you want to tell us that water has memory because a reasonable scientist could not even imagine that, then we all want that extraordinary evidence to support that idea.
And there is no evidence, extraordinary or otherwise.
Furthermore, what magic would control water’s memory? Does that water remember being in a toilet bowl? Or flushing out chemical tanks? Or the dolphins, whales, fish, and algae that circulate through all of the water on earth?
The concept that water has memory is ludicrous and laughable – it is not only implausible but also impossible for a water molecule to remember a nearly infinite different number of molecules.
These molecules cannot “remember” even one different molecule. That’s not what molecules do.
Water memory is so ludicrous, so outlandish, and so implausible, that it makes it awesome to watch the mental and logical gymnastics utilized by the homeopathic quacks. There should be some award for “Best Pseudoscience Magical Thinking,” because water memory would win it every year.
Scientific investigations of homeopathy
Now that I’ve spent your reading time explaining the utter implausibility of homeopathy, researchers have wasted money and effort to debunk homeopathy scientifically and clinically. There have been numerous large systematic reviews that have examined whether homeopathy has any clinical effectiveness. Here are some of them:
- Homeopathy: what does the “best” evidence tell us? The researchers concluded: “The findings of currently available Cochrane reviews of studies of homeopathy do not show that homeopathic medicines have effects beyond placebo.”
- A systematic review provided clinical evidence that homeopathy absolutely doesn’t work: “The results of our meta-analysis are not compatible with the hypothesis that the clinical effects of homeopathy are completely due to placebo. However, we found insufficient evidence from these studies that homeopathy is clearly efficacious for any single clinical condition.”
- A meta-analysis of homeopathy for psychiatric disorders showed no evidence that it has any usefulness.
I want to next look at the best, largest, and most powerful meta-analysis of homeopathy, just so that we understand just how useless it is.
Homeopathy quacks, like Dana Ullman, cherry-pick data (often cherry-picking one sentence out of a negative paper), then they troll Twitter and Wikipedia (where he has been blocked and banned so many times, he must hold some record) with this useless “data.” It’s almost laughable.
Ignoring the water salesmen (let’s be honest, that’s what they are), the best data say that homeopathy is water – just water.
A meta-analysis (which is the pinnacle of quality science) of over 225 medical studies and 1,800 peer-reviewed papers has found no evidence that homeopathy has any credible medical effect. Moreover, this study found 57 other systematic reviews of homeopathy that supported this conclusion.
In other words, homeopathy is the antithesis of science-based medicine. In fact, the authors state that people who choose homeopathy may put their health at risk if they reject or delay treatments.”
This study was launched and supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) of Australia, which is tasked to determine what are the best medical practices for its citizens. The NHMRC employed The Australasian Cochrane Centre, a division of the Cochrane Collaboration which specializes in publishing systematic reviews in medicine, to review and vet the meta-analysis. This study should be considered one of the best to ever review homeopathy’s lack of clinical effect.
The committee that did the review included seven distinguished researchers, physicians, and statisticians from across Australia. None had ties to pharmaceutical or nutraceutical companies for those of you who are inclined to conspiracy theories.
To be fair, a tiny number of the 1,800 papers reviewed showed some positive effects from homeopathy.
However, the careful analysis indicated that those “positive studies” had a small number of patients (larger numbers can eliminate bias and other statistical issues), were poorly designed (making it difficult to distinguish between positive and negative results), were carried out with poor oversight, or, the most condemning, were badly analyzed with misinterpreted results.
The NHMRC (and Cochrane) determined that these positive results were not sufficient evidence to reliably support a hypothesis that homeopathy has ANY clinical effect. In other words, it’s just water.
In the research where homeopathy was claimed to be effective, analysis reveals that the studies included too few participants, were badly designed, were carried out with poor conduct, or were reported inaccurately. In any case, the National Health and Medical Research Council reports that the seemingly positive results could not be used to reliably support the use of homeopathy.
Homeopathy scammers like to point out that a large portion of studies showed that this magical water has some clinical value. They then try to compare these to clinical trials with real medications that also fail.
They are creating a terrible false-equivalence strawman. If a clinical trial for a medicine fails, it was studied in a powerful, high-quality, randomized, double-blinded clinical trial. And once it fails, it’s thrown into the trash heap.
Homeopathic quacks whine about any study that fails to show it is anything but water, and they continue to use their magic to not treat patients (but take their money). Moreover, the studies that seem to provide clinical evidence for homeopathic potions are terrible, usually published in terrible journals.
The point of these meta-analyses is that they look at the bias and quality of research, and they found that there is little evidence supporting homeopathy.
Back to the science described in the meta-analysis, the NHRMC researchers concluded that:
- There is no reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective for treating health conditions.
- 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.
This is a massive meta-review with significant depth and breadth of scientific research into homeopathy. And we can now conclude very clearly that homeopathy cannot cure anything but thirst but at a great price.
At the very best, homeopathy exhibits a placebo effect. In medicine, a placebo effect means that the product did not work. The placebo cannot be given in place of another medication that the physician reasonably expects to be more effective. The administration of a placebo should be considered when a patient is refractory to standard treatment, suffers from its side effects, or is in a situation where standard treatment does not exist. None of these apply to homeopathy.
Why is homeopathy a scam?
Beyond the fact that there is no reliable and rigorous evidence that supports any clinical effectiveness of homeopathy, beyond placebo, there are other issues that establish that homeopathy is a scam.
First, in the USA, the FDA does not regulate homeopathic remedies as they do with science-based pharmaceuticals. When the FDA was formed, a loophole was made for homeopathic remedies. If the homeopathic potion is found in the “Homœopathic Pharmacopœia of the United States” then it is exempt from many of the rules regulating drugs — real pharmaceuticals must establish their safety and effectiveness. So, these quacks can say almost anything about the homeopathic “treatment” without concern that the FDA will come knocking on the door demanding clinical evidence that the “treatment” is safe and effective. Well, it’s probably safe, since it’s 100% water, but we know water cannot treat any disease except for thirst.
Second, some homeopaths prescribe their own version of homeopathic “vaccines”. These “vaccines” have been pushed by the quacks to protect against malaria, rabies, parvoviral enteritis, and viral encephalitis. Those “vaccines” do not contain any substance that might induce an immune response, and they have zero effectiveness in protecting against these diseases. In fact, I would contend that they are dangerous because people don’t get real preventative vaccines rather than this pseudoscientific quackery.
Third, homeopathic quacks attempt to convince people to forsake real science-based medicine to buy these pseudoscientific “treatments.” This could cause great harm, including death. In other words, their scam actually causes harm to the gullible people who think that homeopathy works.
Finally, homeopathy is unquestionably unproven as a treatment for any disease. It seems to be no more than giving a trusting patient some potion and waiting to see what happens. There is no medical diagnosis. There is no informed consent. There is nothing that is required by real physicians. And these scammers demand money for what is essentially water, and it is, by definition, a scam.
- Ernst E. Homeopathy: what does the “best” evidence tell us? Med J Aust. 2010 Apr 19;192(8):458-60. doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2010.tb03585.x. PMID: 20402610.
- Linde K, Clausius N, Ramirez G, Melchart D, Eitel F, Hedges LV, Jonas WB. Are the clinical effects of homeopathy placebo effects? A meta-analysis of placebo-controlled trials. Lancet. 1997 Sep 20;350(9081):834-43. doi: 10.1016/s0140-6736(97)02293-9. Erratum in: Lancet 1998 Jan 17;351(9097):220. PMID: 9310601.
- Rotella F, Cassioli E, Falone A, Ricca V, Mannucci E. Homeopathic Remedies in Psychiatric Disorders: A Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2020 May/Jun;40(3):269-275. doi: 10.1097/JCP.0000000000001196. PMID: 32332462.