Is Homeopathy Nonsensical?

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Long ago, during my first years in naturopathic medicine college, I was the bane of some of my classmates.

I held the unenviable position of class skeptic.  Even though every one of my classmates and I studied university chemistry and physics for our pre-med entrance into naturopathic medical college, it was always me who questioned the absurdity of some of the naturopathic therapies we would study.  Nutrition made sense to me.  Minerals, vitamins and massage made sense to me.  Even herbal medicine made sense.  But homeopathy?  Ridiculous.

Homeopathy is a type of medicine that was developed over 200 years ago by Samuel Hahnemann.  It uses extremely diluted substances, and uses these medicines based on the principle that "likes cure likes".

For example, in many people, coffee can cause insomnia.  But for some people, a highly diluted homeopathic medicine made from coffee can ease their insomnia.  Likes cure likes.

(I should take a moment here to explain the difference between homeopathy and naturopathy since many people confuse the two.  Homeopathic medicine, in and of itself, is an unlicensed and unregulated practice in North America.  Naturopathy is the practice of natural medicine carried out by licensed physicians who use homeopathy as only one tool of many, for the purposes of healing.  There are six provinces and eighteen states that provide licensure and regulation for naturopathic physicians.  Nutrition, lifestyle counseling, botanical medicine, acupuncture, traditional Chinese medicine and intravenous nutrient therapy, are but a few of the modalities used in naturopathic medicine, along with homeopathy).

I worked in a conventional medical environment and at a teaching hospital for many years, and this undoubtably shaped my world view regarding science and what made sense to me.

Most homeopathic remedies are so dilute that they contain no molecule of the original substance left in the medicine, and they undergo a series of successions (shakings) with each successive dilution in order to "energize" the medicine.  According to the laws of chemistry and physics that we know today, this would leave us with exactly . . . . nothing;  plain water or plain sugar tablets for each homeopathic medicine.  A big honking placebo?!

And the law of similars?  That was weird for me back then too.  In the hospital, when we were treating an infection, we used an antibiotic.  Something to work against the bugs to kill the infection.  When we were treating severe inflammatory conditions, we used anti-inflammatories like steroids to knock down the inflammation and get rid of the symptoms.

Using a medicine that was similar to the disease itself in order to heal?  Weird.  It sounded like we were cooperating with, and supporting the disease.  I couldn't wrap my head around it, so I thought about the mechanism of vaccinations.  Vaccinations are attenuated forms of the disease that one is trying to prevent.  For example, bits and pieces (acellular parts) of the whooping cough bacteria when injected, will attempt to prevent the whooping cough disease by stimulating the body to produce antibodies against the disease.  At least vaccinations had an antibody response after their administration.  Where were the direct measured responses and mechanisms after homeopathic medicines were given?  Believing that this medicine could actually work was a huge stretch for me, to say the least.

I was studying a medicine with nothing in it, and even if there was some "energetic" healing property in the medicine, the remedy was working in the same direction as the disease, and not against it.

Hmmmmmmmm.

As I said before, some people in my class were not too fond of me.

I took what I learned from the classes and thought, what the heck, I'll try it out and see what happens.  At least I was willing to be open-minded about trying the remedies.  After all, they were just sugar pills.  They couldn't harm me or my family.

The first experiment came during my first year in college.  My four year old at the time was turning the pedal of a stationary bike as fast as she could with one hand, and before I could get to her, she put her other hand through the spokes of the rapidly turning front wheel.  She started screaming with pain.  Her hand had a few small lacerations and she was reluctant to move any of her fingers.  I immediately gave her Arnica 200C under her tongue.  Within 5 seconds, she stopped screaming, she had no pain, she moved her fingers easily, and she developed no bruising or swelling after that injury as one might have expected had I not given her the Arnica.  In fact, looking at her, one would think that she had not experienced any recent trauma at all, except for the few minor lacerations that were gone the next day.

My daughter's response to the sugar pill intrigued me.  Was it the Arnica?  or did her body just heal exceptionally quickly?  After all, she was healthy and very young.  I made a mental note that I would start paying more attention and start experimenting with this medicine more.

After using homeopathy for the past 23 years, I can say this.  This medicine is much more than placebo in its efficacy.  I don't know how the heck it works.  It is not a panacea nor a cure-all for everything.  And it is most effective with functional pathologies as opposed to organic pathologies, where in the latter, irreversible tissue changes have already occurred in the body.

Case #1:  An 11 year old boy presented with fatigue, restlessness, no appetite, fever of 103 degrees F for 4 days, rib cage pain and headache.  Upon examination, he was pale, his oral temperature was 104 degrees, his chest was clear with good air entry throughout on auscultation, he had moderate splenomegaly, no signs of meningeal irritation, PEARL, ears normal, pharynx normal except for a tiny 2 mm white ulceration on the left side of his soft palate.  His tonsils were normal.  The throat swab for Strep A I did in my office was negative.  No lymphadenopathy.

I told the mom that I didn't know what the problem was.  Obviously he had an infection, but I wasn't sure if it was a bacteria or a virus that was causing his illness.  Mom did not want her child treated with antibiotics if that was possible.  I told her that I didn't know if that was going to be possible.  I gave the child Phosphorus 10M after taking a homeopathic acute case history.  I told the mom to call me in 2 hours, and if her child did not experience any positive changes, I would call in a prescription to the pharmacy for a broad-spectrum antibiotic that she could pick up and start on that evening.  She called me back and said that within the hour after taking Phosphorus, her boy was in the shopping mall, back to normal.  His appetite was good, he had no pain, no fever, his colour was back, and he had much more energy.  "I have my boy back", she said.  This mom did take my advice because I was concerned about the splenomegaly I had palpated, and saw her MD the next day for blood work and for a follow-up pediatric referral.  The child was fine.

How does a medicine like that act so quickly?  Antibiotics don't even act that quickly.  Not even intravenous ones.  Was it coincidental spontaneous healing?  or magic fairies with magic wands?  It is much easier for me to believe in a type of medicine that I don't understand the exact mechanism of, than it is for me to believe in a magical world of fairies and fairy dust.  It is also easier for me to believe in the efficacy of homeopathic medicine, than it is to believe in the power and intent of a mom wanting her child healed and me wanting the child well.  Wouldn't life be grand if we could all wish everyone to good health?  Good health doesn't work that way.

If the reason for this dramatic response was merely coincidental spontaneous healing, then what is the explanation for the following dramatic responses I have observed?

Case #2:  A twenty-one month old girl with severe gastroenteritis, severe dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea, and severe lethargy, on the way to a hospital 3 hours away, was given Bismuth 200D and completely recovered in 2 hours while on the drive to the hospital.

Case #3:  A woman in her 40s who had a thyroidectomy for hyperthyroidism and was experiencing excruciating eye pain (because of hyperthyroidism) refractory to steroids and narcotics for the past 2 years, was given Belladona 50M and her eye pain improved 90% within 24 hours.  This improvement continued until she was symptom-free.

Case #4:  A woman in her 50s stung by a wasp with severe facial swelling where both eyes were swollen shut (but with no respiratory impairment), was given Apis 200C and within 1 hour, the swelling was 90% gone.

Etc., etc., etc., etc.  These are dramatic responses to homeopathic medicines.  I have not seen anything with conventional drugs (except those used during emergency medicine), that have worked as quickly and as effectively.

Then there are the thousands of cases I have seen over the last 23 years that one could ponder whether or not it was actually a spontaneous recovery that the patient experienced, or whether it was the homeopathic remedy that helped.  Like the 8 year old boy who had a history of 5 antibiotic-treated Strep throat infections in one year, and after receiving a dose of Pulsatilla 200D, his Strep throat infections were no more.  One could argue that this child would have recovered regardless and that the timing of the administration of the remedy and his complete recovery were just coincidences.  Or the 5 year old child who had warts all over her body for 2 years, and after one dose of Thuja 200C, her warts were gone in 2 weeks.  Spontaneous healing?  Maybe.  What about the woman with severe depression for the last many years who received a dose of Aurum 1M and 2 months later, her depression was relieved?  A placebo effect?  Quite possibly.

I know little about statistics and probabilities, but it seems to me that when coincidence after coincidence after coincidence starts stacking up, I have either got to believe in unicorns and fairy dust, or believe that there is something regarding the mechanisms of homeopathic medicine that I do not yet understand.

Trying to prove if homeopathy actually works or not by using blinded RCTs (randomized controlled trials) completely misses the point of homeopathy and the way information is gathered and the remedies administered. Homeopathy does not use one-size-fits-all remedies for a particular condition.  I cherry-pick which patients I prescribe these remedies to, not according to their disease, but according to whether or not there is a clear "remedy match" for a particular patient.  That remedy will be different for each person depending on the person, not on his disease. Obviously, I don't treat every patient with homeopathic medicine.  I'd guesstimate that my use of this type of medicine comprises about 5% of my practice.  RCTs and the idea of cherry-picking patients are completely antagonistic principles.  Moreover, it is impossible to study homeopathic efficacy with RCTs because with homeopathy, different remedies are used for different patients for a given illness.  This is in direct opposition to the methodology used in controlled studies.  The best that evidence-based medicine can do to "prove" the efficacy of homeopathy, is to offer case reports and clinical expertise.  That's about it.  This type of data is low man on the totem pole where evidence based practice (EBP) is concerned.

Does homeopathy work with every patient I have used this medicine with?  Of course not.  I have not yet seen any medicine or treatment with that type of resume:  neither in the alternative field nor in conventional medicine.

Dr. Kimball Atwood is a medical doctor who writes for a website called SBM (Science Based Medicine).  He is what you would call an anti-woo MD, and he wrote a lengthy series of articles regarding the implausibility of homeopathy, and the science, statistics and probability behind his opinions.

I can't disagree with the science behind his reasoning.  The only thing I can say, is that the science box he argues from does not allow room for the possibility that the answers for both the plausibility and the mechanism of action of homeopathy may lie in the field of quantum mechanics or in other realms of physics and science we have not even yet fathomed.  I don't know.  I would prefer to keep the box open and work with an expanding universe, rather than to assume that nothing further can be added to science in order to help us understand the contradictions apparent in the physical and chemical world in which we live, and with homeopathic medicine that works in clinical practice.

All I have is my clinical expertise and experience.  The bottom line for me is always the same:  is the patient getting well and is this happening without harm to the patient?  At least homeopathy has a brilliant record for following the pledge that naturopathic physicians are sworn to take:  first do no harm.