Can’t homeopathy not be a “placebo” because often the first given remedy does not work?

What happens after ingesting a homeopathic remedy – according to the homeopathic build of thought?

Occasionally one is confronted with the argument that the effect of homeopathic remedies cannot be based on a placebo effect because often the first homeopathic remedy did not “heal” at all, but only the second, third, fourth or fifth …

In fact, at first glance this argument seems to have something for itself. A closer look, however, shows that it is not in favour of homeopathy, but against it.

Behind this argument, however, lies a confusion of terms.

It is not only about “placebo”

On the one hand, there is the established term “placebo effect”, which refers to the reactions that can also trigger empty forms of medication in the body. This actual placebo effect is not a constant quantity. It depends on the disease and is highly individual and unpredictable in its time of onset, strength and duration. But it also depends on the properties of the placebo: It is known that more expensive placebos have a stronger effect than cheap ones and red placebos have a stronger effect than green ones. The placebo effect cannot be calculated or controlled. It cannot be demanded by nature in such a way that it corresponds to its cliché.

However, this placebo effect (in the narrower sense) is not the only reason why the administration of homeopathic remedies can lead to a feeling of improvement or healing. Other important reasons are:

  • Spontaneous course of the disease. Many (most) diseases heal spontaneously. Many other diseases, especially chronic ones, have a wave-like course, so that “bad times” are spontaneously followed by “good times” (“regression to the middle”).
  • “Confirmation error” and “selective perception”. Small positive experiences are evaluated as therapy success, but negative developments are not attributed to the therapy.
  • “Post-hoc-ergo-propter-hoc” error. All changes after ingestion are causally attributed to ingestion, although causality is not given, but only a simple temporal relationship.
  • Expectational pressure and expectations.

May be continued …

If not the first homoeopathic is regarded as effective, but only a second, third, further one, then several points come together. On the one hand, one sees nothing else in these courses than the spontaneous course of the disease. Homeopathic medicine has nothing at all to do with “healing”. The improvement is simply attributed to the last homeopathic used. Also, with every further administration of homeopathic remedies, the therapist’s pressure of expectation as well as the patient’s attitude of expectation increases, which can feign fictitious success. Also, the term “success” or “healing” is not defined in an objective-medical sense; usually the patients only report their subjective feelings. But also deteriorations are often called “success”: The term “initial aggravation” indicates that aggravations are seen as proving the right choice of means.

Can a homeopathic remedy be “ineffective”?

The approach of homeopaths to give other remedies until finally something desired happens at some point shows not only the therapeutic helplessness of homeopathy and the misinterpretation of chance or completely natural processes as “success” – it also stands in stark contradiction to Hahnemann’s teaching.

Hahnemann justifies his principle of similarity with the postulate that a body cannot have two similar diseases at the same time – it must then separate from one, namely the weaker one. In “drug tests” – on healthy people! – homeopathic remedies are examined for “drug pictures” allegedly produced by them. If a patient shows symptoms similar to those of a drug picture, then the right remedy has been found. The correct selection of “potency” is then intended to ensure that the homeopathic remedy is stronger in nature but weaker in symptoms than the disease (whatever one might imagine it to be). Because of this, the body should separate from the “right” of the two diseases (the comparatively weaker original disease), but not suffer (because of the comparatively weaker symptoms of the art disease).

If the recovery is not complete, the logic of homeopathy leads to certain conclusions, especially that the previous remedy was not “ineffective”. What does this mean?

According to the homeopathic doctrine, if the “right” remedy is chosen, “healing success” should occur quickly and completely:

“… fast, gentle, permanent restoration of health, or lifting and destruction of the disease in its entirety by the shortest, most reliable, most unholy means …”. (§ 2 Organon)

If there is a change instead of a complete recovery, the homeopathic remedy – mind you: in the imaginary world of homeopathy – has changed some of the symptoms and thus the symptom picture. Even if the homeopathic remedy was completely ineffective with regard to the disease, at least a “drug test on healthy persons” has taken place:

According to the rules of homeopathy, a homeopathic remedy cannot have “no effect” – not even a “wrong” remedy. Homeopathic remedies (from a homeopathic point of view) have an effect on symptoms: If symptoms are present in the clinical picture which are also contained in the drug picture of the homeopathic remedy, they are “extinguished”. If symptoms are present in the clinical picture which are not contained in the drug picture of the homeopathic remedy, they remain unchanged. If, however, symptoms are present in the drug picture but not in the clinical picture, then they are produced in the patient – who is considered “partially healthy” with regard to the non-existent symptoms – in the same way as in a normal drug test on a completely healthy person.

In any case – according to homeopathic doctrine – the administration of a homeopathic remedy causes changes which lead to a change in the symptoms. Either it has an effect on the “disease” or in the sense of “homeopathic drug testing” by causing symptoms. Thus the repeated administration of the same medicine (i.e. with an unchanged drug picture) is in any case a “mistake”, against which Hahnemann has already acted sharply in his time:

If a different remedy is “tried out” with every new therapy attempt, the consequence is that a correct selection (“repertorization”) is no longer possible with any further homeopathic remedy: The superimposition of the complete or partial symptom pictures from all earlier remedies makes a correct choice of remedy – according to homeopathic criteria – impossible.

The bad habit of treating patients after “trial and error” therefore does not speak at all for the effectiveness of homeopathic remedies. On the contrary, this practice once again deprives Hahnemann’s homeopathic thought structure of decisive ground. It is the desperate attempt of the homeopaths to be perceived “sometime” and “somehow” as “successful”. Such a procedure provokes a considerable delay of important treatment measures and accepts them cheaply, which can lead to serious damages. There can be no question of “proof of the effectiveness of homeopathy” if one produces random events until a – not causal – desired event occurs.

Author: Dr. med. Wolfgang Vahle

Picture credits: Pixabay, license CC0

Nocebo – what’s that again?

A medical capsule shows two colours in two halves - red and green - and is labeled

On this page you will find various information about the placebo effect, which explain that it is effective with any kind of attention – and therefore, of course, even more so with medical interventions. Furthermore, it is explained that homeopathy, like other pseudomedical procedures, sucks its honey partly from this effect instead of showing an own specific effect. Which – contrary to many a claim – not does help her to a place in scientific medicine.

This must be supplemented by a few remarks on the Nocebo effect. What does this mean?

There is a “counterpart” to the placebo effect: the nocebo effect. Placebo researchers even occasionally talk about the “side effect” of the placebo effect, but this does not quite hit the nail on the head. The mechanisms are the same, yes, placebo and nocebo are a sole phenomena. Only the effects of Nocebo are, so to speak, the “dark side” of the placebo effect, the negative mirror image. The differentiation between placebo and nocebo is thus only due to human perception and evaluation (similar to effects vs. side effects of drugs, which also is an evaluation system based purely on the utility or harm value in humans).

It is obvious that negative expectations can lead to a worsening of the patient’s condition – in the sense of a placebo effect with a negative sign. A good physician should take this into account in the same way as the placebo effect. Who does not know the “fear of the package insert”, which unfortunately causes a basic distrust of the prescribed medication in many people and thus often noticeably impairs its effect? The same applies in hospital if – what should not happen! – the patient is simply presented with his pill glass without being told what it is all about – the nocebo effect lurks. Especially if someone is already conditioned by pseudomedical “wisdom” to reservations about “conventional medicine”, which can very well have a negative effect on the effect of a finally inevitable medical treatment. It has also been proven many times that such an attitude leads to a lack of compliance – basically nothing more than an effect of Nocebo.

One of the most impressive examples of a nocebo effect is a study that was conducted with considerable effort and methodically correct in the USA a few years ago: The question was whether prayers can help in the recovery process. Patients who had undergone bypass surgery were divided into groups, one of whom knew that they were being prayed for and the other did not. This study showed a clear result: the group that knew they were prayed for clearly showed more complications and worse outcomes during convalescence. Quite obviously a Nocebo effect, which was certainly due to the – conscious or unconscious – assumption of the patients that it must be quite bad for them if they are prayed for …

Conclusion: placebo and nocebo effects are both important aspects that the responsible physician must always take into account. However, they are not a cheap alibi for the “effectiveness” of pseudomedical methods that cannot offer their own specific effects.

When trying to justify “placebo” as an independent medical intervention, it is repeatedly forgotten that placebo is neither predictable nor targeted. Main thing: placebo! Would the advocates of this view see it the same way when expecting nocebo effects? Especially since it depends on the situation and the patient whether a certain intervention has placebo or nocebo effects.

Author: Udo Endruscheit

Picture: Fotolia_84526053_XS

What is the Placebo effect and what are Context effects?

Red-white medical capsules filled with a white substance spread on a table

Let us first clarify what is meant by the term “placebo”. Here we would like to limit ourselves to placebos as drugs (yes, there are a lot of placebos that have nothing to do with drugs). Let us stick to the drugs: Then a placebo is a drug that is actually not a drug at all. It does not contain any medicinal substance. It looks and feels like an effective drug (or what you think it is) – but it doesn’t contain any active ingredients.

Nevertheless, such placebo drugs can cause something in the patient: the “placebo effect”. Not only does one feel better, but physical changes can also occur that can actually be detected. However, these are not caused by medicinal agents. Rather, they are caused by the fact that patients think they are receiving an effective drug and they have repeatedly experienced that treatment improves their symptoms. This is a complicated connection with psycho-physical effects, which has been well researched, but by no means completely, but which can be described quite simply for our consideration:

    • If a patient is convinced that a treatment will help him, he loses, at least for a while, his fears and worries. He can relax much better, and his self-healing powers can become more effective. This is the actual placebo effect.

But now we have to bear in mind that it is not only the pharmacological effect of a drug and this placebo effect that make the patient feel better after a certain time. There are other things that make this possible to a considerable extent – this “bundle” of causes is referred to as “context effects” (including the placebo effect), i.e. the sum of effects that are not triggered by a specifically effective medical intervention:

    • The natural course of the disease: In this case, the complaints go back by themselves, without any need to do anything about it. Let us think, for example, of mild colds, sprains, harmless superficial injuries, bruises in children, etc. These are all trifles that the body overcomes by itself – and not just these.
    • The regression to the middle: This is the effect that extreme situations in nature are rarely maintained for long. In terms of disease, this means that either the symptoms become worse and worse and possibly even tragic – or they go back to mediocrity. If you only start treatment when the situation is already difficult to bear (which is very often the case), you often have most of it behind you. The situation for the patient would also improve now without further external intervention.
    • Accompanying therapies or measures: When we humans feel ill, the time has often come for us to listen to good advice. That we, for example, pay attention to a healthy diet, take walks, replace alcohol and coffee with water and avoid cigarettes, move more or even spare ourselves if we have put up with too much. These seem to be trivialities – but they can achieve a lot.
      Perhaps we also had accompanying therapies that do their work, such as physiotherapy, massages and the like. But also the improvement of the personal life situation or psychological help by a qualified therapist fall into this category.
    • Indirect effects: Perhaps we had also chosen a therapy that was not sensible and possibly even had side effects. By starting the new therapy, a previous one may be terminated, and the healing is a consequence of the now no longer occurring side effects of the old therapy, which did us no good. Or the patient is removed from the disease-causing influences, for example, he no longer goes to work because of his complaints or is no longer exposed to other disease-causing conditions due to a change of location. There are many possibilities here.
    • Getting used: The patient gets used to the situation, learns to deal with it and then does not feel his condition as unpleasant as it initially seemed to him.
    • Unknown causes: Ultimately, the healing can also come from things or circumstances that are not associated with it, either because they are overlooked or because the influence on the condition is not known and nobody pays attention to these things.

This should suffice here as an overview, which could certainly be supplemented further. All these effects can occur with any therapy – but they do not belong to the specific effect of the drug, because they are independent of what the patient is taking. This also applies to placebo.

Learn more:

http://www.homöörte_Argumente_-_Verbreitete_Vorstellungen_über_den_Placebo-Effekt (in German) underlying placebo effects

On this website about Nocebo: Nocebo – What’s that again?

Picture credits: Ewa Urban on Pixabay

Placebo by proxy – what does that mean?

Friendly beagle packed in a woolen blanket feels better
My mistress cuddled me and wrapped me in my favourite blanket. I feel much better – and my mistress too!

The placebo effect in children – even infants – and animals does not even exist, we hear again and again. But that’s not true. It is present and is called “placebo-by-proxy”. This has been proven again and again by extensive and serious research.

The view that a placebo effect cannot occur in children and animals is probably the result of the misunderstanding that the placebo effect results from someone being “persuaded” to do something. However, the placebo effect is not something that can be compared to a targeted influence. It develops in both large and small patients as well as in animals as a physical and psychological reaction to the process of affection and positive expectations.

In infants, toddlers and even animals, the condition of the caregiver plays an enormous role. It is perceived unconsciously and intensively by the child or animal. Thus the relief of the reference person can be felt, which results alone from being able to do something for the small protégés. The child or animal does not need to know whether it is getting a real medicine or only homeopathy. But the parents/owners know it and change their expectations accordingly. Besides infants, small children and also animals are dependent on the nonverbal communication, it is vital for them. Hence also these enormously fine antennas. This “mirroring back” of the state of mind of the caregiver – this is what is meant by “by proxy”.

The term thus refers to a placebo effect “on a detour” or “via a mediator”. One always sees him at work where there is no verbal interaction with a devotion. And this is precisely where he proves to be particularly strong. For the sensory perception of infants and small children, as well as that of animals, is particularly pronounced when it comes to the reception and reflection of the basic mood of familiar reference persons. Direct linguistic communication often cannot keep up with this.

In other words, the placebo effect in nonverbal communication is not only present, but as a placebo-by-proxy it even has a special effect on the patient’s relationship with the trusted caregiver.

But one thing should always be clear: The occurrence of the placebo effect, with or without “proxy”, has nothing to do with a cure of the underlying disease. One should never be deceived when the patient feels so much better, possibly even confirmed, by the fact that one feels “better” oneself. If a wrong assessment of the effect would lead to a delay in treatment or even to its omission – that would be fatal.

Learn more here.

Photo: Udo Endruscheit for the INH

The Placebo Business

Samuel Hahnemann was born on 10 April 1755

At the left: Two globules, labeled as Placebo and nocebo effects are not only found in medicine. These effects accompany us in daily life always and everywhere and are not bad in themselves. The ambience of a restaurant makes the schnitzel taste better and if “Coffee” and not “Viennese coffee specialties” is on the drinks menu, the taste will be judged more critically. The tricky thing about placebo/nocebo effects is that they are not subjective “imaginations” or apparent effects, but objectively measurable or observable changes. The effect is real. The particular malice of these effects in medicine lies in the fact that they occur in medicine and pseudomedicine both effectively positive and negative.

However, the placebo and nocebo effects are not based on specific individual causes. There is no causal “physical-chemical” relationship. It doesn’t matter with which acting or method one works. The placebo and nocebo effects are neither specifically causal, nor can they be realized at will by certain events or actions. The positive placebo and “vice versa” negative Nocebo effects result from the whole spectrum of expectations, desires and hopes of each individual against the background of his religious and ideological views, its education including its completely subjective life and illness experiences. All this is conditioning. Placebo and nocebo effects can literally be caused by anything, as long as it is “psychologically” significant for the individual, or – to put it casually – corresponds to gut feeling.

Whether we like it or not, we consciously and unconsciously attach highly personal “meanings” to the entire process, the various drugs, the therapeutic spectacle, the people involved, the environment, in short all things and events, whether we like it or not, and contribute to placebo or nocebo effects in this way. These assigned meanings are subjective and prejudices. One orients oneself to this and of course these can also become effective in the sense of placebo and nocebo and this sometimes happens very spectacularly. And this is exactly where “advertising” comes in. Professional advertising psychologists know exactly how and with which images they can reach and influence their target audience. And that happens daily throughout the media.

The placebo effect is one of the main pivotal points in discussions about pseudomedicine. The placebo effect also meets the effect of homeopathy as the best-known pseudomedicine. The lack of causality based on natural science is replaced by fashionable pseudo-scientific swirling and, depending on the clientele, also by angels and the like, if one includes the feel-good and life-support area as a peripheral area of medicine.

Now the placebo effect is being discovered as a hope for legitimazion of pseudomedicine and is being given a completely erroneous meaning. One does not dizzy any longer over this effect, but markets thereby purposefully pseudomedicine and also homeopathy. Placebo is like a drug, but is gentle and free of side effects. To put it simply, one only has to swallow a placebo tablet or apply homeopathy. A naive and unattainable wishful thinking. If an application is very widespread, often used and the field of application concerns mainly harmless, temporary and self-healing complaints, then there will be accordingly many and also sensational “successes”. But however impressive, they are placebo effects and the effects are correspondingly limited.

The discovery of the placebo effect

Franz Anton Mesmer propagated “animalic magnetism” towards the end of the 18th century. His treatments were spectacular, “mesmerism” was booming. Benjamin Franklin, however, was able to demonstrate in 1784 as a member of the royal commission of inquiry in Paris that these “treatment successes” occurred when and only when the subjects knew that they were actually “mesmerized”. If the “healing” spectacle was hidden with the magnets, i.e. performed as blinded or omitted, the sensational effects were over. Benjamin Franklin succeeded, so to speak, in the first documented proof of the placebo effect. Benjamin Franklin showed that the success of medical actions was based on two chains of causes. The effect can lie in the belief in the therapist or his therapeutic spectacle, his method and his remedy as well as in the method and the remedy itself, if a physically causally conditioned effect of the last exists at all.

Evidence versus eminence and pseudomedicine

Since then, a distinction has been made between “physical” and “psychological” causes of action. Until then, the question of a causal effect had not arisen. All you could see was that it worked, and that was enough. From now on, scientific medicine developed. Remedies or therapies were only considered “properly” effective when it could be shown that their effect was independent of the expectations and beliefs of patients and doctors. To work or heal through mere “imagination” was already suspect at that time.

This unmasking of the therapeutic spectacle or the “actor physician” as an effective component of the phenomenon then referred to as hysteria was, however, also a confirmation of the ineffectiveness or effect of “transcendental” healing powers in medicine.

It must be remembered that for thousands of years in healing, the imploring of heavenly goodwill has been an indispensable part of medicine. A remedy alone could not work properly if it was not used with appropriate therapeutic evocation. Healing has always been an extensive ritual that reached into the beyond. The doctor or his art of healing could not heal alone, they could only contribute a part to the healing. Franz Anton Mesmer did not claim to possess supernatural abilities, but his therapeutic spectacle was as effective or ineffective as a heavenly spectacle. The charisma of the healer only had to be just as impressive as the miraculous relic in a pilgrimage cathedral.

This insight changed the development of medicine in the long term. Since that time, a distinction has been made in medicine between evidence and eminence. For a long time, what eminences thought was right and applied that. Today, evidence-based medicine is the standard. It is based on scientifically proven findings. Experience has shown that a personal observation simply does not suffice as proof in order to be able to claim a causal effect or a causal connection.

Today it is no longer part of medicine or the medical art of healing to call upon supernatural heavenly powers. No doctor will forbid his patient to pray, but he will certainly not prescribe the praying of three “Our Fathers” or even propose an exorcism, which is still practiced by the Catholic Church. And just as a heavenly spectacle cannot replace a specifically effective medicine, neither can a therapeutic spectacle do. And spiritual powers in drugs, as Hahnemann still thought, do not exist.

But the medicine based only on “eminence”, whose effectiveness is based on the good reputation, did not disappear. On the contrary, it lives on to this day in alternative, complementary and so-called holistic medicine. Here one justifies oneself still exclusively with the subjective observations and statements of eminences, the treating physicians and healed ones. The anecdotes as eminence-based testimonials are legally safeguarded with the indication that the effectiveness is not scientifically proven. The healing anecdotes correspond to the votive tablets in pilgrimage churches. And an evidently proven effect is still not a prerequisite for legal admissibility.

For the sick hoping for healing this is of no importance. They trust in eminence, they succumb to reputation. For them, individually reported healings or the reputation of the participants are proving enough. The importance attached to doctors, media personalities and stories of spectacular healings weighs more heavily than scientifically based assessments. The therapeutic spectacle, the special care, the recommendation and last but not least the reputation to be without technology, without chemistry, biological, natural etc. count more and act as a placebo.

The doctor or guru convinced of his method sees the success with his patients and clients. These in turn strengthen their practitioners in their belief that they recognize causally effectiveness in their treatment. The technical term for this is “performative deception”. The self-deception of patients and doctors reinforces each other. And a good doctor will give his patients hope. He has no choice: in the patients’ eyes he must appear as guarantor of effective treatment. However, it is only a small step from giving hope to the patient to believing that his treatment will actually have an effect even on life-threatening diseases. The best-known example of such “medicine” is homeopathy. The performative deception is the basis and characteristic of homeopathy. The homeopathic way of working, its setting favours self-deception. The effective therapeutic spectacle begins with the anamnesis. Every little ailment is recorded and treated and, contrary to all assurances, homeopathy is also recommended for life-threatening diseases instead of proven effective medical treatment. In the end, the “homeopaths without borders” “heal” Ebola with sugar beads in Africa.

To date, there is no valid proof of efficacy

Yes, and there is no evidence of the phenomenon of homeopathy itself. The legendary Nuremberg salt experiment of 1835 and the numerous metastudies to date are clearly negative. The quality of positive studies is usually doubtful and negative study results are negated by homeopaths or highly professionally reinterpreted with idiosyncratic statistics. It is rounded off with allegedly “scientific” explanations of the effects of homeopathy. These are nonsense from a scientific point of view. Nothing but a science fiction effect is explained here.
Such means and methods cannot be objectified. The placebo effect is also and especially founded in eminence-based medicine and is therefore the link between medicine and pseudomedicine. In medicine, successes and failures are investigated and explained. This leads to new insights. In the always dogmatic pseudomedicine there is nothing to clarify. It has therefore also contributed nothing to our current tried and tested state of knowledge. The contribution of “alternative” medicine to progress of knowledge is zero.

The magic wand “Eminence” of yore is still working

Franz Anton Mesmer continued to do good business at that time. His patients remained loyal to him. Nothing has changed in this scenario to date. Therapies and remedies have taken all possible and impossible forms over time. Magnets and high-voltage sparks have been replaced by information, bioresonances, quanta, and much more bywords misusing physical terms. The evidence for the effect is missing. The postulated mechanisms of action contradict all proven and tested scientific findings and many of these universal remedies are also occasionally harmful to acutely life-threatening. The spectrum ranges from ineffective energetic cures to, for example, “Germanic New Medicine”. The last pages of free newspapers and local papers are full of advertisements using these bywords. Einstein’s just good enough for gravitational wave therapy.

For a myriad of newer means and methods, effect is generated with illustrious personalities and impressive advertising, without being able to present any valid evidence of efficacy beyond placebo. Nearly the entire alternative, complementary and holistic medicine still relies exclusively on the unique inspiration of its founders and the positive reports of its practitioners and patients. Charismatic personalities appear regularly in appropriate broadcast formats such as documentaries, health contributions etc. and promise to be able to heal everything or to have been healed with always amazingly simple therapies or means. Criticism is not much in demand. It usually serves only as a fig leaf for the semblance of critical and objective reporting.
The homeopathy of the Mesmer contemporary Hahnemann survived until today. And anyone who wants to, can put the label “homeopathy” on his pseudomedical hustle and bustle. Meanwhile also animals, plants and whole oceans are homoeopathically treated. And also well-known homoeopaths have nothing against it. You heal – and rest the case.

Realism as an opportunity?

The chances are bad. Everything, no matter how absurd, can and will be certified as a medical device. This only means that binding rules are laid down according to which production and applying are carried out. The lawyers are not bothered whether medical products or methods, which come on the market, correspond to our proven and tested scientific state of knowledge as well as are demonstrably effective and reasonable. They may not be “harmful” and may only be sold or used by officially authorized persons. The difference of a non-medical practitioner against an African shaman lies mainly in the possession of a cash register and her membership in the Chamber of Commerce. Many licensed doctors are certified homeopaths. The basics of pseudomedicine homeopathy, however, are as nonsensical as the basics of energetics. But the doctors are members of the Medical Chamber and non-medical practicioners of the Chamber of Commerce – this difference is much more serious than the first-mentioned above.

All the facts speak against homeopathy. It is pseudomedicine, superstition and big business in the health sector. Homeopathy is a lucrative health lottery. There’s only little placebos to win. Many people and especially young mothers and midwives associate homeopathy with biological, gentle, natural and see it as a complement and also an alternative to medicine. Psychologists can explain this phenomenon and advertising experts can be paid for using it. The lucrative gut feeling doesn’t fall from the sky.

The enlightened society must once again decide what kind of treatment is permitted and what kind of protection is appropriate for patients in a civilised society. Evidence, eminence and even pseudo are not clearly distinguishable for laymen. Do we want effective drugs or therapies with verifiable effects or is it also right to offer requisites for a folk-medical superstition and pseudomedicine in ordinations and pharmacies?

Hahnemann died on 2 July 1843 in Paris.


The author Dr. Edmund Berndt is a retired pharmacist and author of the book “Der Pillendreh. Ein Apotheker packt aus” (Rotating Pills – A pharmacist uncovers), Edition Vabene, 2009

Photo: Susanne Aust for the INH

FAQ 02 – And what do you have against homeopathy?

If explained as a placebo treatment to the patient and applied by an experienced doctor in mutual informed consent: a few objections. Applied outside medicine: even less.

But as the highly specific, natural drug therapy it claims to be, we think it’s wrong. Many patients and therapists believe that homeopathy works specifically as a method. An effect beyond placebo effects, however, was not proven in any well-done study. This raises the question: Why do we trust scientific studies rather than the experience of so many people in our assessment?

Own experience versus science

It is not easy to understand that one’s own experience, for which one would vouch for, does not count beyond one’s own horizon of experience. Everybody is free to make their own experiences, they cannot be judged or even questioned from the outside. However, one’s own experiences (no matter how convincing they feel) are not – and never – suitable for deciding on the effectiveness of therapy. For this, we need studies that meet certain requirements.

The scientific method tries to approach homeopathy objectively with studies. Studies summarize as many individual experiences as possible. And they ask: Does the examined method/drug bring about something positive, specifically in the majority of individual experiences, or does it remain in the case of random positive changes or placebo effects? The vast majority of well-done studies and all (!) summarizing considerations (reviews, meta-analyses) come to the conclusion that there is no specific effect. This, however, would be the prerequisite for considering something as a medically relevant method or remedy. This gives us food for thought and we ask ourselves (and you) why homeopaths consistently misrepresent, deny or ignore that – or don’t they actually know?

Homoeopathy as an entrance to exit

Often the belief in homeopathy leads to turning one’s back on medicine as a whole. Drugs are called poisons, chemicals or pure cash cows and are usually judged according to their side effects. Doctors are denigrated as dependents of the pharmaceutical industry, vaccinations are seen as first and foremost harmful. So the way leads further and further away from the achievements that science has brought us in medicine over the last 200 years. This worries us very much. We see homeopathy as a kind of entrance to the exit from medicine. We are aware that medicine also presents flaws and weaknesses, but this does not automatically make homeopathy an effective procedure.

Moreover, many homeopaths do not have a sound medical education or forget their medical knowledge because they believe they can offer something better with homeopathy. Formerly their behaviour was called as quackery, today it is spoken of as gentle, integrative medicine, of complementary or alternative medicine: as if it were about procedures with special, natural-biological characteristics that are not present in “dusty conventional medicine”. And the patients often encounter with catchy thought structures: “You are ill because you have swallowed antibiotics … because your body is internally poisoned … because your mobile phone radiate hurts!” In view of the fact that only the fear of alleged dangers can make you sick, we consider it irresponsible, even morally highly reprehensible, to stir up such fear. As long as one can’t refer to unbiased, objective studies that credibly substantiate such allegations. Homeopathy is not a science, but a matter of faith.

We do not “fight”, we don’t “attack” – we inform

We hope that you want to be enlightened, that you want to know what homeopathy is all about, that you are interested in what Hahnemann really said and that he did it 200 years ago. And that much has changed in medicine and knowledge since then, which is why we can think and judge differently from him nowadays. That is why we have created the Homeopathy Information Network. Not just to be “against homeopathy”, we could have saved ourselves the trouble. But to reach you. You would certainly like to know how the perceived effect of homeopathy can be explained today and what are the limits of its effectiveness. We care about your health and also about honesty within medicine. We do not want false claims about homeopathy to unsettle you and harm you and your children.