The illogic of Homeopathy – Part 2
This is a continuation of my earlier post about Homeopathy. In the first part, we saw how Homeopathy was based on extreme dilutions, and so cannot work. But what about reasonable dilutions like the minimum 1x (1:10), they surely can have some effect right? Also, not all homeopaths use the water-has-memory logic (although many implicitly trust it when they prescribe high potency medicines). These homeopaths understand the problem of dilutions and hence stick to very low potencies. But do those medicines work?
Like cures like
To understand whether medicines at low potencies work, we need to see how those medicines are arrived at. But before that a slight digression on how Homeopathy looks at diseases. Homeopathy does not recognise conventional diseases. They look at only collections of symptoms. If you have a certain set of symptoms, say head ache, fever and cold, you are given a particular medicine. But suppose you have only fever and headache, you are given a different medicines. In fact the symptoms considered include even what kind of dreams you get. Look at this page, which specifies that for opium, Children will dream of “cats, dogs and black forms”. Thus conventional diseases are not recognised. Homeopaths, of course, talk of malaria, jaundice etc, but theoretically, it is only the group of symptoms they are referring to.
Now coming back from the digression. Once they decide on the symptoms, say, the symptoms that you experience when you consume opium, the medicine given to you is the same substance. Opium. Suppose, you have insomnia, they give you a medicine derived from coffee. The “logic” is that since coffee causes insomnia it will also cure it. This is how the remedies are decided upon.
That might sound strange, and it is indeed strange. I am no medical expert, but suppose I have high cholesterol levels in my body leading to many problems, should I take in more cholesterol rich items?? If I have diabetes, and so the symptoms I have is because of high sugar levels in my body, should I keep injecting more sugar into my blood stream? How can such a principle work? It would have been comic, if not for the fact that the consequences could be serious.
But on this point, there have been a few people who have come back to me saying, that even vaccinations work on this principle. I also know that snake bites are cured from medicines prepared from snake venom. On the face of it, it seems that vaccinations and Homeopathy have the same rationale. But it only seems so. It isn’t true. So let us learn a little bit about how vaccines work.
Our human body, through ages of evolution, acquired a lot of immunity. Natural selection would have weeded out individuals who did not have enough immunity to see the body through to its stage in life when it can reproduce and leave offspring. Thus, we have some extent of immunity to diseases in our own body. But of course, neither is the immunity exhaustive, nor is it perfect. As we develop more immunity, the disease causing agents too, develop more devious weapons, because natural selection acts also on them to ensure that only those who are effective against our immunity, survive.
Vaccinations try to use the inbuilt immunity we have. And this is how it does it. Assume that a particular infectious agent could produce a disease in our body, say a bacteria or a virus. Our body might have some immunity to it, and will be able to withstand this infection up to a certain level. But suppose, there is an overdose of infection, then our inbuilt immunity might not help, or it might act too late. The overdose could be of any kind. As an example, the infectious agent might act faster than our immunity can respond, by reproducing too quickly.
So in such cases, what our body needs is time to produce the proper reaction to combat the infection. Vaccines are usually preventive. What vaccination does is, it introduces the same infectious agent into the body, but after weakening it or killing it. In some cases, vaccines are just dead infectious agents, but our body starts reacting to it as if there has been an infection and since the agents are anyway dead, it can take its time to produce the immunity response, which might mean producing the necessary substances in our body that will fight the agent. Thus, at a later time, when an actual live infection takes place, it is already ready with the response, and thus is able to win the fight against the agent. This is how vaccines work. There are variations of this. In some cases, the vaccine contains not a dead agent, but a very weak live agent* (Attenuated vaccine). This works better in cases where the immune system does not respond to dead agents. So vaccines prevent diseases from happening. Some vaccines are useful even after the infection has happened. In those cases, along with the vaccine, an extra substance is added which makes the body respond faster than usual to the infection. Thus again, the infectious agent can be handled successfully. But in all these cases, we must have an immunity in our body, which the vaccine works upon.
In case of anti snake venom medicines, what is done is even more interesting, though it is the same principle. Our bodies do not have immunity for all sorts of attacks. And for many snakes, we don’t have any response of our own. But some animals other than us might be resistant to snake bites. Once such animals have been identified, the very same venom, but highly diluted, is introduced into those other animals like horses, which might have immunity for some species of snakes. The response that the horse’s body gives, in terms of the immunogens it produces, is extracted and introduced in our body. This is as if we are borrowing immunity from other animals.
Thus in both the above cases, an in-built immunity, which is the result of evolution, is exploited. And these are mostly preventive, and in some cases, if done within a specific time after the infection has happened, they will work.
Difference between vaccinations and Homeopathy
There is a sea of difference between the principle of Homeopathy and Vaccinations. Vaccines use immunity that is already present in us (or at least in other animals). They do not assume that we have immunity for everything. Each vaccine is tested. Many fail. Some succeed. Those that succeed are brought out and used. Homeopathy blindly assumes that whatever causes the symptoms cures it. This is just a generalisation without any evidence to back it up. And that leads to ridiculous claims like coffee cures insomnia. Just because one of the birds is black, we cannot deduce that all birds are black and thereafter just blindly trust that maxim even when you see parrots, pigeons and doves.
This is the important difference. How can we make a general assumption that “Like cures like”, without any basis? Vaccination does not make that assumption. In Vaccines, it is not as if every infectious agent is introduced into us. Modern medicine realises, that there are agents like snake venom for which we dont have immunity, and so uses some other technique for it. It also knows that many diseases, like canver and AIDS, cannot be cured this way at all, and try to use entirely different mechanisms. But Homeopathy does not take all these variations into consideration. If you are bitten by a snake, Homeopathy will straight away give you a “medicine” extracted from snake venom which will only worsen the situation, that is if it has any effect considering that the dilution normally used in such circumstances would mean what eventually goes into the victim is only water or sugar pills.
Research done to see if Homeopathy is effective have failed as is admitted by this Homeopathy website itself. They try to justify it saying, that the Homeopaths have to use trial and error and so trials might not give positive results. But if trials don’t yield positive results, why should it be respected any more than, say, believing that black magic will cure me of my disease. As long as there is no evidence, Homeopathy should be put on par with black-magic and voodoo.
It is extremely important, I cant stress this enough, to know that Homeopathy does not work. Many claim that Homeopathy does not have side effects and so, even if it does not work, it is at least harmless. Harmless it is, in a very narrow sense, since what you take in will not have any medicine at all, thanks to the immense dilutions and hence there is nothing to cause even any effect, forget side effects. But what if people avoid conventional medication because they trust Homeopathy even for serious diseases. Imagine somebody depends on Homeopathy for her diabetes and does not take any other medication. Is Homeopathy really harmless to her?? It is dangerous. In the special case of Diabetes, Homeopathy can possibly do some harm too. All homeopathic medicine usually come in sugar pills. The medicinal solution is shaken in a bottle with these pills. These sugar pills are given to patients. For a diabetic, this could be indeed harmful, though it might not amount to much, since the pills are very small. Also think of cases where a snake bite victim rushes to a Homeopath. If the snake is poisonous, then the victim is doomed. (Though since many snakes are non-poisonous, the Homeopath will think that it is because of her medicine, that the victim was saved**)
As mentioned before, I have nice, warm and nostalgic memories regarding Homeopathy, and when I think of my family who trust it, I do occasionally think that it would be nice if it really worked. But what I wish to be true, cannot have any bearing on whether it is really true. Truth can be ascertained only by evidence, and Homeopathy does not have any. Stay away from it.
* These attenuated vaccines are interesting. Here the live agents are grown in large numbers in the lab. In these labs, there is no need for them to compete. Thus they lose their virulence. Natural selection chooses them out in favour of different requirements need to grow in the lab. These weakened agents are then used. Sometimes, these agents are grown in another host animal, where again, different conditions will exist and hence when they are introduced back into humans, they are not as effective. Evolution is omnipresent, so to say. It exists wherever living organisms are involved.
** Look at this hilarious anecdote on the Internet. The Homeopath gives some medicine (200 C, remember the 10^320 universes in the previous post?) for a snake bite victim and then reduces it to 30C and claims that it was because of her medicine that the victim was cured. And how does she decide that the snake was poisonous? Simple. A week later there is a news item in the media about a rattle snake, an this she sends to the “victim” as if suggesting that the medicine saved her from a rattle snake bite. “Elementary”, the homeopath might say, but self-delusion, is what I would call it.