Saturday, January 15, 2011

Homeopathy is Bullsh*t

The People's TV Network (CBC-TV) up here in the Great White North, took a well deserved swipe at homeopathic "medicine" the other night on their program Marketplace. You can see the entire episode if you click on that link. If you harbour illusions about the efficacy of homeopathic medicine this program should dispel them.
The program shows how some of these "medicines" are manufactured by serial dilution (to the point of non-existence), and how they depend on water memory for their power. That power is, I believe, entirely due to the placebo effect. Not that there is anything wrong with the placebo effect, it sometimes works, and avoids expensive occasionally dangerous, treatments and drugs. Of course when real science is used to study the efficacy of any drug, the placebo effect must be ruled out or controlled, and that is reason for the gold-standard double-blind study. The homeopathic drugs mentioned in the program above would likely fail a double-blind study.
Of course Marketplace goes on to suggest that governments should take control of homeopathy. Across Canada government regulation of homeopathic medicine varies from province to province. Most of the regulation (coordinated by Health Canada) is designed to protect consumers from any harm due to the medicine. The CBC implies that this regulation somehow lends credence to the drug's efficacy, and the government should ban the medicines outright because they are ineffective. While understandable, prohibition never works and it will not in this case. People like to have control over their own medical care. That is an issue our governments and politicians will need realize soon enough as public funding of medical services explodes.     

4 comments:

  1. I think the only role a government should have in medicine is to control labeling. Although homeopathic "pharmacies" have the right to offer any product they choose, I don't think that anyone has the right to defraud another with fallacious claims of medical efficacy.

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  2. Hi Jesse,

    Its very tough and expensive to prove fraud. How effective is echinacea? Not very I suspect, from what I have read. There are many similar cases, people will swear as to their effectiveness, and really what harm does it do? Freedom is messy and sometimes irrational, but in those myriad tiny issues like echinacea, too many laws are worse than to many lies.

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  3. "It's very tough and expensive to prove fraud."

    True, but as a form of theft, isn't fraud a violation of individual liberty, and thus worth spending time and money to prevent?

    If I recall, the current FDA policy regarding echinacea is that if it's sold as a supplement, then there are no restrictions on its sale. The label may not claim medical efficacy. If the advertisers want to claim medical efficacy, then they have to put their product through clinical trials that demonstrate statistically greater efficacy than placebo.

    That seems to me to be one of the few logical and moral policies that the FDA has. I think it's monstrous that they can essentially ban anything they think that people shouldn't consume.

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  4. "I think it's monstrous that they can essentially ban anything they think that people shouldn't consume."
    Actually that's not true, cigarettes are not banned. I think it may be OK to regulate for things that are actually poisonous to protect individuals, but preventing people from using harmless homeopathic "drugs" would only result in a black market in much the same way as recreational drugs are banned but still easily available through illegal means at far higher cost.

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