Tag: Quackery

Why homeopathy is hokum

Why homeopathy is hokum

There are lots of faux drugs on the shelves of many shameless drugstore chains that are labeled “homeopathic.” These are useless nostrums marketed to the gullible.  Usually they are labelled as something like “200C.” This is not a temperature, but the number of dilutions of the original substance.

The completely unsubstantiated hypothesis behind homeopathy is that “like cures like,” and that a very small diluted amount of some “natural substances,” such as plant extracts can stimulate the body to repair itself. There is no evidence that this 18th century idea actually works.

The way homeopaths work is that they select some substance or substances they believe might be helpful and dilute them with shaking, which they call potentization. The word has no actual meaning. Then after many dilutions and shakings, they sell some to you for treatment.

Well now, how much is “some”?

Let’s assume that table salt is a substance that can be used for treatment. It has a molecular weight of (23 + 35.5) of 58.5. We know, from the work of Loschmidt and Avogadro that if you weigh out the molecular weight of any substance in grams (in this case 58.5 g) it contains one  mole of particles, or 6.02 x 1023 molecules.

1 mole saltSo let’s dissolve that mole of salt on one liter of water. Now we have a one molar solution containing those 1023 molecules.  And now, lets dilute 10 ml of that liter by 100, to again make one liter.  This new liter will have 1/100 as many molecules in it, or 1021 molecules.

Well the “C” in that “200C” designation means that has been diluted by 100. And the 200 means that this has been repeated 200 times!

So lets see what happens after each dilution:

  1. 1021 molecules
  2. 1019 molecules
  3. 1017 molecules


  1. 105 molecules
  2. 103 molecules
  3. 101 molecules


After 11 dilutions, you have only 10 molecules of salt left in your solution.  What happens when you dilute it 100:1 another time? If you take 100 10 ml samples of that last liter, 10 of them could have one molecule of salt!

And after that, the chances of there being even one molecule of our “medicine” are vanishingly small. All of the salt (or any other substance) is lost in the dilution process! There isn’t any left after 12 or so dilutions. And by 200 there is absolutely no chance you’ll encounter even one molecule!  It’s gone down the drain, just as the entire homeopathic hypothesis has. There are no active ingredients at all!

Taking homeopathic preparations can act as a placebo, or if they dilute the substance in alcohol instead of water, a quick drunk, but there just can’t be any benefits in the absence of any medicine.

Unfortunately homeopathic preparations are poorly regulated, and some dangerous substances may remain in significant quantities. In some cases, heavy metals have been found.

513minrbq9l._ac_us436_fmwebp_ql65_Studies of the famous quack medicine oscillococcimnum have shown no significant effect. And studies of some 68 treatments have found that they have no effect either.

These are quack medicines that improve the bottom line of unethical pharmacies, but can’t do you any good. Any they may do some harm.


The New York Times endorses acupuncture?

acupunctureThe New York Times today had an editorial “by the editorial board,” asserting correctly that overuse of opioids for pain relief is a serious problem. They say that Doctors Will Play a Critical Role in the Opioid Epidemic.  They cite Surgeon General Dr Vivek Murthy’s web site Turn the Tide and suggest that doctors need to look for pain relief without so much emphasis on opioids.

So far, so good. But the Times goes on to say that for back pain and surgical pain doctors have many other options, including, “physical therapy, anti-inflammatory drugs, acupuncture, exercise and so on.”

They even note that “A further problem is that some insurance plans do not cover alternative treatments like physical therapy and acupuncture…”

Well these are not the same thing at all. Physical therapy is well recognized by the medical profession as a significant contributor to patient’s well-being.

Acupuncture is the one that is “alternative.” And guess what”

Alternative medicine is made up of things we don’t know work and things we know don’t work.

Acupuncture is not an accepted medical treatment because there is no freaking evidence that it works! Mark Crislip has written about the failures of acupuncture studies in detail. And so has David Gorski.

They note that there is no evidence that it releases endorphins in a large number of cited studies, suggesting that it is essentially a placebo effect, or “the same as beer goggles.”

The explanation of acupuncture and its “meridians” has nothing to do with science based medicine and the New York Times editorial board or some of their writers must surely know this!

And the Australian group ScienceInMedicine asks the rhetorical question “Is there any place for acupuncture in 21st century medicine?”

Following Betteridge’s Law for headlines, here is their conclusion after an extensive research review:

“Acupuncture has been studied for decades and the evidence that it can provide clinical benefits continues to be weak and inconsistent. There is no longer any justification for more studies. There is already enough evidence to confidently conclude that acupuncture doesn’t work. It is merely a theatrical placebo based on pre-scientific myths.”