Alternative medicine and the vulnerable

In the age of the internet there are so many “treatments” available under the headings of alternative and complementary medicine. Many of these seem very attractive, but often their advocates suggest that people should choose their treatment over conventional medicine.

This is worrying on two fronts. The first is that anxious people will go for unproven treatments which will not work, and in the process waste their money. The second is that those same people will have put off seeing their doctor and shunned proper medical treatment until it is too late to cure them properly. Lives are at risk.

Twenty or twenty-five years ago I was very depressed. That is no secret – well it certainly isn’t now. I was lonely, out of a relationship, working too hard to forget, and generally vulnerable. I was recommended by a well-meaning friend to see a homeopathic “doctor”.

At the time I did not know much about homeopathy. It was pre-internet on any scale then and I had not done the research I might have by going to the library, which is what we used to do. Anyway, I went along to see this guy and paid him a large amount of money for a consultation and some pills. I was told that there was a list of things I should not eat as they would make the pills ineffective. I remember they included peppermint, so that ruled out my toothpaste, not that I actually ate toothpaste.

Looking back, I realise that these were all “get-out” conditions, so that when the “treatment” did not work, the “doctor” could point me to something as the reason. Had I known then what I know now, that homeopathy could not possible work, I would have saved my money.

The basis of homeopathy is apparently that one takes a substance that causes the symptoms one wants to cure, dilutes it so many times that there is none of it left in the solution, and then soaks a sugar pill in the water (which is all that is left). The water is supposed to have a memory of the substance and that is what cures the symptom in the patient.

How a molecule of water, or of any element or compound, is supposed to have a memory of a possible complex other compound which is no longer there cannot be explained by any scientific means. Of course science has nothing to do with it. As with many complementary treatments it is about “belief”. Belief is at the core of so many problems in the world.

I should also like an explanation of how the sugar pill soaked in the magic water affects the supposed properties of the medicine, or why it does not. I will not get one.

I am not saying that all complementary therapies are without benefit. There are often placebo effects and people benefit from comfort and relaxation. What worries me that desperate people will waste their money while at the same time losing valuable time before getting proper science-based medical treatment.

Watch Science Babe take fifty homeopathic sleeping pills with no effect whatever. That is hardly surprising, but do not try this at home because in an unregulated sector you never know exactly what is in these sugar pills, apart from sugar of course.




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