Last week in the Sunday Star Times there was an article on belief of homeopathy in New Zealand. Part of this article included Dr Shaun Holt’s criticism of homeopathy. The article can be found here.
This week a letter rejecting criticism of homeopathy and other alternative medicines featured in the letters page. It is a good example of the misinformation that is circulated about alternative medicine, including homeopathy.
The letter begins by accusing Dr Holt of not understanding how it works. This is incorrect on several counts. First, there is no evidence that it does work (anecdotes don’t count), and second, every explanation on how it “works” that homeopaths have come up with, has been readily and easily dismissed as unscientific.
The letter then suggests that homeopathy must be okay because there is “a strong following.” However, given that only 18% of the NZ population are certain or fairly certain that it does work, I would hardly consider this a strong following. Furthermore, having a large number of people believe in a therapy doesn’t make it work. Through out history large numbers of people have believed that slavery is okay or that diseases were caused by witchcraft. Belief does not equal validity. This is why science uses evidence to decide whether a treatment works or not.
The letter then raises the spectre of “pharmaceutical drugs”, over hyping some of the issues that have occurred with a minority of drugs. Double blind experiments have proved effective in working out which drugs work and which drugs don’t. However, it is not surprising that a supporter of homeopathy disparages the double blind experiment given that it has proven time and again that homeopathic remedies have no significant effect beyond the placebo effect.
Furthermore, the fact that many drugs have side effects (and the majority are not worse than the original complaint) is proof that they actually work by having an effect on the body. The fact that homeopathic remedies have no side effects is an obvious indicator that this is because they have no effect on the body!
The author of the letter, Jann Mcpherson then points out that “many doctors use acupuncture which also relies on energy fields.” This is also incorrect on several counts. I would suggest that only a minority of doctors use acupuncture; that homeopathy does not rely on energy fields; and that their is no evidence that any alternative therapy can manipulate any energy field in the body.
The letter commends doctors who practice alternative medicine, saying they are “booked up for months.” I can’t help but wonder if this is because of all of the return visits it takes before the problem sorts itself out?
Ms Mcpherson does correctly point out that people do get tired of taking “chemical drugs”. Ignoring the redundancy of this term, I must agree that I, as a lifelong asthmatic, do get sick of taking medication every day, even if there are no noticeable side effects. However, there is no way I will risk my health by replacing these with bottles of magic water. Too many people have died by making a similar mistake.