Author Topic: If you need any further proof that homeopathy is bad  (Read 1162 times)

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Offline karajorma

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Re: If you need any further proof that homeopathy is bad
But Dragon, if a form of medical treatment only works on one person in a million it's surely not any good as a mainstream treatment, right?

Yes it should be investigated. Yes it might even be the key to an important discovery. But if the treatment is being advertised as a mainstream treatment and still can't be proved to cure a statistically significant number of patients then it is being hugely overprescribed.
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Offline Dragon

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Re: If you need any further proof that homeopathy is bad
It definitely shouldn't be advertised as a mainstream treatment, but that is, strictly speaking, not a problem with the treatment itself. Lots of flak that those unorthodox methods get is because charlatans sell them as panacea that let you ditch mainstream meds. In fact, they're the exact opposite - niche methods with limited (but very real) applicability and often unknown criteria for this applicability, which can be used alongside drugs (indeed, actual, effective chiropractics will sometimes tell you that, though back pain being hard to alleviate with drugs is why people go to them in first place). Thus we have a situation in which it is sometimes claimed that a glorified back massage will help you with your flu or cancer, not to mention a load of quacks who don't even know how to apply the method they pretend to use. Mystical mumbo-jumbo that comes with those methods does not help matters (most of the time, when ancient people were right, they were right for the wrong reasons).

Also, again, everything "can be proven to cure a statistically significant number of patients", so be careful with that sort of statements. Set your significance level at something other than 5% and at some point you'll end up with a positive result (yes, even one in a million can make the cut if you set the bar low enough). Likewise, you can disprove everything you like if you set your criteria too tight. Badly designed studies and badly analyzed (or worse, deliberately skewed) data are a constant plague and it goes double for fringe fields. I would be very surprised if there was even one study that, instead of testing the inflated claims at their face value (and, predictably, failing), tried to actually get to actually determine when those alternative treatments works and when they don't.

 

Offline karajorma

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Re: If you need any further proof that homeopathy is bad
So you're admitting that the vast majority of people who work in the alternative medicine fields are quacks then? Cause very few of them seem willing to acknowledge that their methods simply won't do anything for the vast majority of their patients.
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Offline Dragon

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Re: If you need any further proof that homeopathy is bad
I wouldn't say "vast", but it might well be more than a half. Honestly, I never did much research into that. The woman who fixed my back last time it hurt is enough for me. There are people who do it right and there are ones who just pretend to. I would, however, admit that the vast majority of those that you see are quacks. Everyone who is promising miracle cures by any means is a quack, because miracle cures don't exist. Of course, nobody is gonna get on TV by saying "if you come here weekly for a month or two, your back will only hurt when you bend down and not all the time". That's about what the real thing does, for most part. On the other hand, promising to cure cancer, blindness and impotency by patting people on the back will get you as much coverage as you may want. Likewise, anything advertised online with taglines like "Doctors hate it" is not worth a second look. Now, how many practitioners of alternative medicine did you see who are not doing that? They do exist (and real stories of unusual therapies often come from those), but most of high-profile advertising is done by charlatans.

I found that it's hardly limited to medicine, TBH. In general, the more garish, sensational, loud and intrusive the ad is, the less likely it is that the product being sold is actually worth anything.

 

Offline karajorma

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Re: If you need any further proof that homeopathy is bad
I think that's a pretty simplistic argument. If what you claimed earlier is true, there's no reason why the quacks who claim to be able to cure cancer might not have stumbled upon back pain cures. And similarly there is no reason to believe that people who make no excessive claims are necessarily doing anything useful.

Just look at homeopathy as an example. You have people who claim it can treat cancer. You also have people who claim it can help a bit with headaches. The grandeur of their claims doesn't alter the fact that they're all bollocks one iota.
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Offline Dragon

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Re: If you need any further proof that homeopathy is bad
Actually, they're not. :) Homeopathy is actually capable of helping a bit with minor headaches, in a way. You know how? The medicines are usually diluted in water. And you know what is the most common cause of headaches? Mild dehydration. Which can be cured by, you guessed it, drinking water. Of course, a cheaper variant of this therapy is to just drink non-homeopathic water, but you couldn't say the more expensive one doesn't work, either. :) Of course, this doesn't change the fact that the supposed "active ingredient" doesn't do anything (and may not even be there), but the therapy as a whole has a good chance of helping with that particular kind of headache. Given who tends to buy into things like homeopathy, I wouldn't be surprised if all reported cases of homeopathy actually doing anything were things that could be helped by just giving the person water.

This is actually a good example of why interpreting clinical trial results is not straightforward. Say, the results in homeopathic therapy group and in the supposed "placebo" are exactly the same, but some people did get better. You can dismiss it right there, without explanation, or you can dig deeper and find that you've given both groups the real remedy (this being the plain ol' water). You could then (money permitting) run the same trial, but this time specifically for people for whom you can be sure that their problems won't be solved by drinking a glass of water (while telling everyone else to help themselves to the water cooler). Then you may get a meaningful result.

And yes, I imagine some quack chiropractics did actually stumble on something that'd help with a back ache. Pity that they're only interested in big name cures. When someone is trying to get rid of cancer, a back ache suddenly getting better could be disregarded. And besides, they'd probably go "Extra deal! It cures cancer AND back aches as a bonus!" even if they could reliably repeat that (not every back ache is the same, after all). I don't think any of those quacks ever thought "Well, it doesn't seem to help with cancer, but it's the third patient who had his back stop hurting just before croaking... maybe I should change my sales pitch?".

 

Offline Mika

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Re: If you need any further proof that homeopathy is bad
Been trying to think what could possibly be behind in the Homeopathy claim of less active ingredient making dilutions more powerful. Though I'm really not sure how this should even be interpreted.

It's just that I'm simply not aware of a single process in nature where a smaller amount introduces a greater effect than a greater dose (unless there is somekind of saturation effect). It doesn't happen in Chemistry either. The only thing I can relate to that is for example alcoholists, who get completely drunk from a single beer, but even that's not the way it actually works. Yes they are far more sensitive to the quantity, but a greater single dose will still make them more drunk.

So yes in this sense the body can become more sensitive to something over time. Perhaps that's the way it should be understood? If you want to get an alcoholist equally drunk every day, you don't need to give him full bottle of vodka every day, in the end a beer bottle will do. So there's the actual homeopathic dilution effect. But it's nowhere near the homeopathy magnitude difference, only a factor 10 (40 % -> 4 %).

I'm not sure what kind of rules in the intake of arsenic has been used for the rulers before, I've seen some texts saying that dropping out the arsenic completely after the body got "used" to it in a lack of better word was worse than dropping it gradually. Don't know whether it's true or not.

Then there is the hypersensitivity towards something, like in allergies. But even they react worse the more there is the allergen. Of course, allergies can become more sensitive towards the allergens (and I guess that's usually what happens if the allergen is removed completely?) over the time.

So those are the only kind of effects I can think of this stuff could be derived from.

That being said, I'm yet to find a homeopath that claims to get drunk from a single drop of alcohol in a swimming pool.
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Offline karajorma

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Re: If you need any further proof that homeopathy is bad
I think you're severely underestimating the pharmacological benefits accrued by tapping the solution against a leather saddle. If you don't include that step then of course it's going to look like nonsense. :rolleyes:

Actually, they're not. :) Homeopathy is actually capable of helping a bit with minor headaches, in a way. You know how? The medicines are usually diluted in water. And you know what is the most common cause of headaches? Mild dehydration. Which can be cured by, you guessed it, drinking water. Of course, a cheaper variant of this therapy is to just drink non-homeopathic water, but you couldn't say the more expensive one doesn't work, either. :)


Except that you've forgotten that many homeopathic remedies are sold in the form of sugar pills. So they won't even have that effect. :p



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Of course, this doesn't change the fact that the supposed "active ingredient" doesn't do anything (and may not even be there), but the therapy as a whole has a good chance of helping with that particular kind of headache. Given who tends to buy into things like homeopathy, I wouldn't be surprised if all reported cases of homeopathy actually doing anything were things that could be helped by just giving the person water.

This is actually a good example of why interpreting clinical trial results is not straightforward. Say, the results in homeopathic therapy group and in the supposed "placebo" are exactly the same, but some people did get better. You can dismiss it right there, without explanation, or you can dig deeper and find that you've given both groups the real remedy (this being the plain ol' water). You could then (money permitting) run the same trial, but this time specifically for people for whom you can be sure that their problems won't be solved by drinking a glass of water (while telling everyone else to help themselves to the water cooler). Then you may get a meaningful result.

And yes, I imagine some quack chiropractics did actually stumble on something that'd help with a back ache. Pity that they're only interested in big name cures. When someone is trying to get rid of cancer, a back ache suddenly getting better could be disregarded. And besides, they'd probably go "Extra deal! It cures cancer AND back aches as a bonus!" even if they could reliably repeat that (not every back ache is the same, after all). I don't think any of those quacks ever thought "Well, it doesn't seem to help with cancer, but it's the third patient who had his back stop hurting just before croaking... maybe I should change my sales pitch?".

You're surely not suggesting that we allow people to continue to practice a type of medicine which even you agree won't help the majority of its patients on the basis of the fact that maybe it will result in a discovery somewhere down the line, right?
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Offline Dragon

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Re: If you need any further proof that homeopathy is bad
Except that you've forgotten that many homeopathic remedies are sold in the form of sugar pills. So they won't even have that effect. :p
Well, since people are likely to drink water after swallowing the pills, one could easily say that's an essential part of the therapy (indeed, it's probably the most important one). :) Either way, homeopathy in particular is simply a scam, if you've got something that can be fixed with sugar pills or water (the former uncommon, the latter less so, but still), paying for "homeopathic" versions is stupid.
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You're surely not suggesting that we allow people to continue to practice a type of medicine which even you agree won't help the majority of its patients on the basis of the fact that maybe it will result in a discovery somewhere down the line, right?
Would you rather see that the people who could be helped by unusual techniques go without any help at all? Think about it, what is preferable, a back massage, or an opioid addition? Chronic back pain is notoriously hard to deal with, and painkillers have serious limitations when employed against chronic condition. What I'm suggesting that we actively start working towards getting discoveries out of it. Sometimes, these things do work out. Some time ago, the FDA approved a sort of magnetic gizmo for treatment of a particularly resilient kind of cancer (there was an article on In The Pipeline, but I can't find it now). The description sounds like any other "magnetic" device that you'd probably dismiss without further consideration. But it works, somehow, and it works well enough to get approved by the US FDA. Sure, it doesn't help much, but considering that nothing does in this particular cancer, it came out better than the standard of care and is certainly an improvement for people who have it. It's not surprising that electromagnetic fields of that strength can influence human body, but it's hard to believe that it can actually have beneficial effects. Two things are needed here: proper funding for research and scientists who are open-minded enough not to begin work expecting to disprove the unorthodox methods and who would not dismiss results pointing to contrary.

Wish I could find the exact post on that magnetic gizmo (and with that, the references to the clinical trial), but I don't even remember when exactly Derek blogged about that or what exact kind of cancer this is (only that it was rare and pretty much untreatable).

 

Offline karajorma

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Re: If you need any further proof that homeopathy is bad
Which gets back to my original claim that anything that does work can be proved to work by clinical tests. And if it can't be proved to work by clinical tests, it shouldn't be allowed because the harm it causes (even in the cases of things like homeopathy it still causes harm because it prevents people getting actual medical help) is greater than the benefit.
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Offline Dragon

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Re: If you need any further proof that homeopathy is bad
You're still missing the point. It's not that those therapies wouldn't work in a properly designed clinical trial. It's that nobody ran such a trial. The aforementioned gizmo would've been thrown into trash had it been tried against "cancer" in general, because the kind that it works against isn't very common. Against a common type, it'd probably have been rejected even if there was an effect, because chemicals work better against those. This is an example of an unorthodox therapy which has been properly targeted. Unlike in many other cases, in a clinical trial, selecting those for whom the therapy is the most likely to help is a good thing. Looking for something that'll help a random selection of patients is a lofty and often overtly ambitious goal, but you can sometimes salvage your therapy if you instead pick a sample with traits that should make it more susceptible to it. You won't help everyone affected with the disease you're trying to cure, but the target population will be grateful.

Of course, for that to happen, you need to sink some research money into finding out when does it work, then sink some more into a clinical trial for what might turn out to be a very specific population. At this point, most corporations with money for that kind of thing start to balk. When it's not the case, we get rare cases like that magnetic gizmo, where someone actually saw through what must have seemed like utter madness when they started.

Also, how do those things prevent people from getting other therapies? Aside from those tight on money (in which case traditional medicine is a safer bet), there's nothing stopping you from combining nontraditional therapies and traditional ones. A magnetic pad isn't going to (probably, it'd be really interesting if it did) interfere with a drug. I have nothing to say for those who make an irrational decision and replace a traditional therapy with an unorthodox one instead. I firmly believe that in matters that concern only themselves, people should be given full information to make an educated choice and full freedom of choice. This ensures that those healers who can actually help stay in business, even if it lets some deluded hippies off the hook (actual conmen should still be prosecuted). If anything, parents should be prohibited from rejecting traditional treatment for their children and offering some unorthodox methods to them should be restricted (on safety grounds, not efficacy, same as it sometimes happen with traditional medicines).