The results are in – homeopathy is water, overpriced water

I intensely dislike all forms of medical quackery. Of course, my passionate, full-throated, defense of the scientific consensus on the safety and effectiveness of vaccines is fairly obvious. There are literally mountains of evidence that support my skepticism of the antivaccine beliefs.

But there’s more junk medicine out there than the pseudoscience pushers running around the vaccine world. One of my favorite ones is homeopathy. It is a scam that tries to convince people that a vial of nothing more than water (and sometimes ethanol) has some magical medical properties. And it’s expensive water, much more expensive than some bottled water that claims it’s bottled at the source of some glacier in the Alps.

What is homeopathy?

But let’s back up a bit, and explain the “science” of homeopathy, because 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 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 worthy of trying. However, when Hanneman was alive, basic scientific knowledge was missing. Cell theory and germ theory were a few decades from even a basic understanding.

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 much there. But the level of dilution is such that there is only a tiny possibility of any molecule of the original substance showing up in solution.

The dilution 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 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.

homeopathic_dilutions

But it doesn’t stop there. Homeopathy uses >30C dilutions, which means that the final dilution is simply water with an almost 0% probability of including even 1 molecule of the original similar.

At 30C, the dilution is now 1 part substance to 10^60 (or 10 followed by 60 zeroes) parts water. You would need to drink 10^34 (or 10 followed by 34 zeroes) gallons 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. 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 higher, maybe 1-2C at most.

Maybe there’s some other mechanism for homeopathy?

Homeopaths overcome this mathematical issue 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; so at some point, you have to say, “no it doesn’t work.” And of course, there is just no evidence that it might work. Just to be clear, there’s the 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.

Is it even plausible that water has some memory? Remember, if one is going to make an extraordinary claim that water has some memory, then is it even imaginable under any circumstance? No, only if you reject all of the basic principles of quantum physics and chemistry. Water is one of the simplest molecules in the universe, and it has a very specific physical shape.

Furthermore, what magic would control water’s memory? Does that water remember being in toilet bowl? Or flushing out chemical tanks? The ridiculousness of thinking that water has memory is beyond simple words.

It is basically implausible (at almost the highest level possible) to imagine a water molecule, that can essentially form only one shape, “remember” an infinite number of molecules in the universe. Human memory, which isn’t all  that well understood, is based on complex interactions of cells and proteins (and who knows what else), which can form an almost infinite number of complex structures.

 
 
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Let’s ignore all that, maybe it still works.

OK, valid point (I’m conversing with myself here, but don’t judge). Water salesmen, I mean homeopathy proponents, like Dana Ullman cherry-picks data (often cherry-picking one sentence out of a negative paper), then trolls Twitter and Wikipedia (where he has been blocked and banned so many times, he must hold some record) with this cherry-picked 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, 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.

included in the study did describe research where homeopathy was claimed to be effective, analysis reveals that the studies had too few participants, were badly designed, were carried out with poor conduct, or were reported inaccurately. Either way, National Health and Medical Research Council reports that the seemingly positive results could not be used to reliably support the use of homeopathy.

 In the meta review, 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 economic price. Moreover, though drinking this water may not harm you directly, if you choose it to treat real diseases (like Ebola), then you may harm yourself. Don’t do it. It’s just water.

Key citations:

The Original Skeptical Raptor
Chief Executive Officer at SkepticalRaptor

Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!


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  • Proponent

    Ok, feeling a bit humbled after what I thought I had stumbled upon as being recent.. with respect to the “Health Deranged Mike Adams’.. so.. proffering something a bit more topical, on point and more so.. timely (I think).

    FDA Weighs Tighter Regulation of Homeopathic Medicines

    Critics say these natural remedies are ineffective, potentially dangerous; backers contend current oversight is sufficient

    What could be fleshed out some more (for me, anyways) is the following;

    “The FDA will accept written or e-mailed comments on homeopathic medicines until June 22. Beyond that, the agency has no timeline for the
    completion of its review, Schnedar said.” (Last Updated: Apr 22, 2015 )

    And in light of the following that also appears in the body of the article;

    “The agency last reviewed its regulation of homeopathic products in 1988, when it issued a policy guide that allowed the natural remedies to
    be placed on shelves without any pre-market approval, said Cynthia Schnedar, director of the Office of Compliance in the FDA’s Center for
    Drug Evaluation and Research.

    “The market has grown tremendously in that time,” Schnedar said. “It was a multi-million dollar industry at the time, and now it’s a
    multi-billion dollar industry. In addition, we’ve seen some emerging safety concerns with the products. Because of the passage of time, the
    growth of the industry and these emerging concerns, we thought it was time to take another look.”

    ‘Long overdue’.. would be most appropriate and a gross understatement?

  • Pingback: The results are in – homeopathy is water | Illuminutti()

  • zetetic1500

    Reply:

    1. Bad statement:

    “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… 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 economic price”

    Meta-analysis? Really, you need read the full text, the Australian NHRMC does not perform a cuantitative analysis. In the other hand, the conclusions of NHRMC is limited based in sample size (cut value), the critical review in methodology is here:

    http://homeos.org/un-informe-del-gobierno-australiano-critico-con-la-homeopatia-cuestionado-e-invalidado-por-serias-falencias-cientificas-y-prejuicioso/

    2. “Water is one of the simplest molecules in the universe, and it has a very specific physical shape.”

    No, water is simple but at the same, complex behaviour.

    3. “Does that water remember being in toilet bowl? Or flushing out chemical tanks? The ridiculousness of thinking that water has memory is beyond simple words.”

    This is a logical fallacy (quoteming). Water memory is relevant only in determinated spaces and the homeopathic potentization process. Water in low dose is the central aspect of physicochemical formation of nanosized entities. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1134%2FS0016702914130072

    4. “Homeopaths overcome this mathematical issue by stating that water has a memory. This claim is based on a long-disputed, unrepeated, and basically, disregarded experiment.”

    The Benveniste study has been repeated, almost, in 20 replications published in this journals:
    -Homeopathy (EL sevier)
    -Inflammation Research
    -Forsch. Komplementar Medizin
    -Med Science Montreal
    -Pakistan Journal
    -And others.

    • zetetic1500, you wrote, “Water in low dose is the central aspect of physicochemical formation of nanosized entities. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1134%2FS0016702914130072 (_Highly diluted aqueous solutions: Formation of nano-sized molecular assemblies_)

      But that is irrelevant to the homeopathy scam. The “highly diluted” solutions in question do not resemble homeopathic solutions, because they still contain many molecules of the solute. The homeopathy scam dilutes the solution so much that it’s no longer a solution at all, because the odds of any particular bottle of the stuff actually containing even a single molecule of the solute are very low.

      You can’t have molecular assemblies of a solute in water if there are no molecules of the solute left in the water.

      zetetic1500, you also claimed that there have been twenty studies, described in presumably at least that many peer-reviewed journal articles, confirming the efficacy of homeopathy. But you didn’t reference any. All you did was give some journal names (only one of which seems to be a legitimate journal).

      These days, every paper published in a reputable, peer-reviewed journal has a DOI. Even century-old articles like this often have DOIs. So how about a list of DOIs for papers supporting the homeopathy scam?

      (However, some things sold as “homeopathic” in the USA aren’t really homeopathic at all. Rather, they are misidentified as “homeopathic” to evade FDA rules. Zicam is probably the most famous example. Unlike true homeopathic remedies, such products can have real medicinal effects.)

      • zetetic1500

        Please read the full paper. In the same, Dr. Konovalov refers to the high dilution superavogadro solution (or Very Low Molar Solution), the dilutions is homeopathic serally diluted. In the text:

        <>

        10^23 Molar solution

        “http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevensalzberg/2012/03/24/have-a-cold-want-some-zinc/”

        Forbes is not scientific journal, is the typically misunderstanding of homeopathy: Homeopathy is prepared in low potencies (i.e. Zicam) and high diluted potencies. This is basic tenet of homeopathy.

        “You can’t have molecular assemblies of a solute in water if there are no molecules of the solute left in the water.”

        Well, this is your opinion without any reference.

        ” solutions in question do not resemble homeopathic solutions, because they still contain many molecules of the solute.”

        What? This is part of the same phenomena (i.e. nanoparticles in the case of metal preparations, silica, gas nanobubles…).

        “. So how about a list of DOIs for papers supporting the homeopathy scam?”

        This is laughing bad-hominem attack (trademark, only for the apply in the pseudoskeptikal purposes). Clinical evidence with dois and PMID number (PubMed ident):

        http://www.britishhomeopathic.org/research-reports/

        Another papers? In my blog posting some references about water memory phenomena:

        https://homeopatiayseudoescepticismo.wordpress.com/2014/04/23/es-la-memoria-del-agua-una-hipotesis-falsable/

      • zetetic1500

        Maybe, the paper “Highly diluted aqueous solutions: Formation of nano-sized molecular assemblies (nanoassociates)” contains the appropiate DOI:

        DOI: 10.1134/S0016702914130072

        Please, enter here the DOI number in search bar:

        http://www.doi.org/

      • zetetic1500

        “(only one of which seems to be a legitimate journal”

        What´s is a “legitimate journal”? Who legitimate?

    • You just pointed out some of the worst journals ever. So, you’re not helping your case.

      You have NO clue what is a meta review. It is the pinnacle of scientific analysis, which gives weight to repeatable, scientific studies.

      Unless you can provide us with a plausible explanation of how homeopathy might work, all you get is ridicule and mockery. Period.

  • Ben Fairbanks

    Proton exchange among water molecules is so fast that the water molecules in a bottle of water are not even the same water molecules that were in that bottle an hour previously. How could something’s memory outlast the existence of that thing? Of course, the vibration and rotation of water molecules dictates that any molecular memory must be even shorter-a tiny fraction of a tiny fraction of a second. Homeopathy only works if we discard everything we know about chemistry. Either homeopathy works or liquid crystal displays work; their fundamental modes of operation are mutually exclusive. Since you are reading this from your computer, you have sufficient evidence that homeopathy is bunk.

    • Do you actually think the water pushers will understand that point? LOL

  • Sandy Perlmutter

    I tried reporting this guy to Disqus, but they kept insisting that the address I gave them is not correct. You get it by clicking on the timestamp: http://www.skepticalraptor.com/skepticalraptorblog.php/the-results-are-in-homeopathy-is-water-overpriced-water/#comment-1910942433

    The form for reporting spam is https://feedback.disqus.com/spam/

    Disqus is seriously annoying to contact.

    If you click on the idiot’s name you can get all the spams/scams he has posted through Disqus. Their spam trap is definitely not working as advertised.

    • Sandy Perlmutter

      Disqus apparently received my forms – they sent me email acknowledgments.

      • I spammed him. Disqus collects spam information across all of their discussion boards, and it filters out spammers. Some idiot tried to report a certain attorney who posts about vaccines as spam. I kept un-clicking the claim, and reported it to Disqus. They blocked him/it/her.

  • kellymbray

    Not just SPAM, seriously lunatic SPAM

    • Spammers have bots that search for articles with keywords in lunatic medicine. Wait until I do an article on weed. That gets tons of SPAM, all lunatics of course.

      • Sandy Perlmutter

        Previous to this scam, he had another scam. It starts with “i want to share my testimony of how i become rich and famous today… i was deeply strangled up by poverty and i had no body to help me…” and goes on to tell you to contact “email address of this great fraternity email: illuminatifreemercy16@gmail.com” who subsequently gave him $70 million.

        He spams a great number of sites with his crap! You can see it all by right clicking on his name and opening in another tab. He has been seriously spamming Disqus and they should take down his ID.

        There is a real guy by this name on Facebook – he is from Kenya and seems sane.

        • Everybodhi

          He knows a psychic that can cure HIV.
          for real

    • brekinapez

      And why is he yelling at us? Screaming does not convince people you are serious.

  • Sandy Perlmutter

    It’s a good thing water doesn’t have a memory. Do you know where that nice glass of water has BEEN? We do our best to make sure water is not carrying any memories with it when it gets to your tap. It has been through many incarnations but does not remember a thing. Fortunately. Just think about it. Then stop thinking about it!

    I am reminded of the brilliant SciFi novel Dune, by Frank Herbert. The planet in question is so very dry that the natives use “stillsuits”, which collect sweat, exhaled moisture, and urine, and reprocess them into potable water, more or less. You should read Dune if you managed to skip it during adolescence.