Field of Science

Poison for pain, the homeopathic way


At my local mega-grocery store last weekend, I happened to stroll down the aisle dedicated to homeopathic treatments.  I saw shelf after shelf of brightly colored packages, all claiming health benefits.  Most of these "medicines" were not cheap.

Amazing.  To an average shopper, all of these products look like real medicine.  The packaging is similar, the claims are similar, and it's all on display at a respectable grocery store.  The difference, though, is that none of these products do what they claim to do.  Thanks to a special exception for homeopathy created all the way back in 1938, none of the claims on these medicines need to be tested.  The homeopathy aisle is an organized, state-sanctioned scam.

The 1938 law was the brain child of a U.S. senator, Royal Copeland, who happened to be a homeopath.  Sen. Copeland inserted language into a major food and drug law that declared homeopathic preparations to be drugs.  It also allowed homeopaths themselves to maintain the official list of these drugs, called the Homeopathic Pharmacopeia.  Talk about the fox guarding the henhouse!  Thanks to aggressive lobbying by homeopaths, homeopathic ingredients are not subject to the normal review required of real drugs.  Most importantly, homeopathic drug makers do not have to prove their products are effective.

Homeopathy is based on the long-discredited beliefs of Samuel Hahnemann 200 years ago.  Hahnemann thought that "like cures like," as long as you dilute the substance sufficiently.  Thus caffeine will cure sleeplessness, poison ivy extract will cure an itch, and paralyzing plant toxins will cure pain.  None of this is true.

The other key principle of homeopathy is that the more you dilute something, the stronger its effect.  This is not only wrong, but it is exactly the opposite of what really happens.  Greater dosage levels, unsurprisingly, have stronger effects.  In Hahnemann's defense, science wasn't very far along when he came up with these notions.

Real medicine moved on long ago.  But homeopathy persists, because there is money to be made - lots of money.

Back to my grocery store.  Several shelves were filled with something called Topricin(R), which claims to relieve pain. Sounds like a medicine, right? Real drugs often use "cin" or "in" in their names because the word "medicine" itself ends with that sound.  Clever!  In front of me I saw Topricin for pain, Topricin foot cream, even Topricin for children. The Topricin packages and the company's website proclaim, in big letters, "Ideal Pain Relief", and in slightly less big letters: "Safe.  Effective. Free of Side Effects."  It also claims:
"Topricin's 11 homeopathic medicines are proven to be safe and effective for the elderly, pregnant, children, pregnant women and all skin types.  Experience Topricin's relief for damaged muscle, tendon, ligament, and nerve tissue."
This is simply not true.  It even seems to go beyond the bounds of what the (very weak) FDA regulations allow.  The website specifically claims that Topricin is effective for arthritis, back pain, bruises, bursitis, fibromyalgia, minor burns, tendinitis, and more.

Well, what is it?  Let's look at just two of the homeopathic ingredients in Topricin:

  • Belladonna 6X................. Treats muscles spasms, night leg cramps
  • Heloderma 8X................. Relief of burning pain in the hands and feet

Belladonna for pain?  Belladonna is one of the most toxic plants known to man.  Eating just a few small berries is lethal.  And the one study I could find showed that it has no clinical effect when used in a homeopathic preparation.  That's lucky for unwitting consumers: if it wasn't so diluted, Belladonna would make them very sick indeed.

Heloderma?  That's the venom from a gila monster.  Although rarely fatal, it causes severe pain, bleeding, nausea, and vomiting.  This is not something I would take for pain - and I certainly would never give it to children.

I know that Big Pharma is often guilty of deceptive marketing, and I've criticized Pharma many times.  But CAM ("complementary and alternative") pharma is every bit as bad.  Big CAM takes advantage of generous laws to make medical claims with impunity, often skirting as close as possible to what the law permits.  And the Big CAM companies profit handsomely in the process.  Everything on the Topricin package - the name, the packaging, the claims - is designed to make the consumer think that it is an effective pain treatment.  It's not.  It's a modern package of snake oil.

13 comments:

  1. I don't disagree with you about homeopathic remedies, but I am a bit confused about your statements on Belladonna. I don't know much about it, and it may very well be from a toxic plant, however there is indeed a prescription medication containing Belladonna and phenobarbital which is made specifically for cramping and spasms. It works quite well, but does carry the risk of tolerance and dependence. It is called Donnatal LA - Extendtabs.

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    1. You're right, it is possible to make useful medicines from toxic plants. If homeopaths have ever done a study showing that their hyper-dilutions of Belladonna are effective for pain, I haven't seen it. That's why I cited the study above that looked at precisely this question, and found no effect whatsoever. Homeopaths want to have it both ways: first they claim their ingredients are effective, but they also want to claim they are harmless because they are so diluted. The dilution makes virtually all homeopathic preparations into nothing but water.

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    2. Another example of the use of a deadly substance (the explosive nitroglycerin) is found in the Pfizer Pharmaceutical company's drug Monostat which is very effective in the treatment of angina in patients with coronary artery disease.

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  2. Thanks for the response. I am in complete agreement with you, and very much appreciate the time and effort you and others are investing towards stopping the pervasive entry of alternative remedies into mainstream medicine, and our pharmacies and grocery stores. As anyone can see, it is quite easy to fool the public with these products. They are indeed a threat to public health.

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    1. There are 600 basic science studies, pre-clinical and clinical trials showing that homeopathy has biological effects and produces significant to substantial health benefits. The clinical trials have been published in 102 respected, national and international peer-reviewed journals. A few examples are:

      A study done at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center under the auspices of the NIH shows that four homeopathic medicines kill breast cancer cell lines (homeopathy does not affect other cells or the immune system and has no side effects)

      International Journal of Oncology, 2010
      www.spandidos-publications.com/ijo/36/2/395

      A study done on homeopathy used to treat otitis media showed patients had a significant decrease in symptoms at 24 and 64 hours

      Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal, 2001
      www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11224838

      This study shows that patients who seek homeopathic treatment are likely to improve considerably and that the improvements last up to eight years

      www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/8/413

      Many more can be seen at:

      www.nationalcenterforhomeopathy.org/articles-research
      www.extraordinarymedicine.org
      http://avilian.co.uk/

      Homeopathy is recognized as a medical specialty or system of medicine and/or is part of the national health care programs of 19 countries including Switzerland and Brazil.

      The Swiss government conducted the most comprehensive analysis of homeopathic literature ever undertaken by any government. Its conclusion is that homeopathy is as effective as con med (in some cases more effective) and vastly safer. A second study showed it to be 15.4% less expensive than con med.

      www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16883077

      Homeopathy is being used by more and more people because it's safe, effective, inexpensive and also very green.

      I am delighted to see it on the shelves in my local pharmacy, health food store and supermarket.

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  3. I can present a positive view in defense of homeopathy. I am an example of someone who turned to homeopathy when conventional medicine failed. I am a certified medical transcriptionist and was its champion until I personally was affected.

    Not only did homeopathy save my life, homeopathic remedies have worked for me and my family for over 20 years. For example:

    Homeopathic Sulphur cured two cases of conventionally treated mange in a dog of my husband’s aunt, as well as a dog of one of my friends.

    Two family members with broken bones (one a Jones’ fracture) were facing surgery to repair after casting failed. Homeopathic Symphytum cured the breaks without surgery. Before and after x-rays and ultrasound documented the healing in both instances.

    Apis mellifica prevented the swelling and allergic reaction to several wasp stings on my legs.

    Silicea opened and helped completely drain a benign lipoma the size of a golf ball from our family dog’s right shoulder. The dog’s fur has grown back and there is no residual scar tissue. Our veterinarian had recommended incision and drainage (I & D) as well as a short course of antibiotics, at a cost of $150.00.

    Rhus tox helped my husband avoid back surgery for two herniated discs at the L4-L5 level (also documented by x-ray and ultrasound.) He had been walking with a cane for six months.

    For the past ten years the homeopathic remedy Ruta graveolens (2 tablets) put in our dogs’ (3 Samoyeds and 1 Labrador Retriever) water bowls each day has helped keep them from being bothered by fleas. We live in Florida and flea collars, shampoos, liquids applied to their fur coats and injections by veterinarians had all failed. A tube of homeopathic Ruta graveolens sugar coated pellets (80) coated pellets lasts for over a month and has never cost us more than $8.00.

    I could cite many other true case histories of the successful use of homeopathic remedies, but will not do so here. Rather, I would suggest that the health care consumers who want “a view from the other side” visit their local library and check out the book “Homeopathy, Beyond Flat Earth Medicine” by Anthony Dooley, N.D., M.D. It is a well written informative book for a newbie who wants to learn more.


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  4. Could this article from February, 2012 ("The Placebo Effect: Big Trouble for Pharmaceutical Stocks") be one of the reasons the detractors of homeopathy have been so prevalent more recently? I think so.

    http://www.investmentu.com/2012/February/pharmaceutical-stocks.html

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  5. Lots of personal testimonials from Sandra and Christine here - plus some cherry-picking of a few small studies. Those studies, by the way, do not prove the points that the commenters claim they prove. They are hoping that readers of this blog won't actually read the studies (who has time?). I've read a few of them, and not surprisingly I've not found a single study that supports the efficacy of homeopathy. After all, it's just a sugar pill, with no active ingredient. Testimonials are meaningless as scientific evidence.

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    1. “ Homeopathy has always fared far better in Europe, where many mainstream doctors include elements of homeopathy in their practice.

      But during the past 25 years, the U.S. has witnessed a modest homeopathic renaissance. An estimated 5,000 health professionals now include homeopathy in their practices, and a growing body of research shows that homeopathic treatment produces real benefits.

      A 1991 review of homeopathic studies, conducted by Dutch epidemiologists at the University of Limburg, concluded that homeopathy could be considered a "regular treatment for certain indications," including hay fever, pain, and respiratory conditions (colds, flu, bronchitis, and sinus infections). In 1994, Scottish researchers studied 28 people whose asthma attacks were triggered primarily by exposure to household dust mites. Those taking homeopathic preparations suffered significantly fewer attacks than those taking placebos. Last year, German and American researchers analyzed 89 scientific studies of homeopathy worldwide, finding that homeopathy worked significantly better than placebos. ”

      Source: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/1998/09/02-percent-solution

      Since the above quoted article was published, the practitioners of homeopathy and the use of homeopathy in the US has grown, not diminished. Anecdotal testimonials, or not; small studies the detractors bash, or not. It will be up to the well informed health care consumer to decide. There is a pocketbook issue as well; i.e., the cost of conventional versus mainstream drugs and doctor visits. Homeopathic remedies and visits to a licensed homeopath are far cheaper.

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    2. I'll leave it to readers to look at the studies themselves and come to their own conclusions about them. In actuality, the 8-year study of homeopathic patients I referenced is far from being "small". It involved 3,709 patients in Germany and Switzerland under the care of 103 homeopathic practitioners.

      Personal testimonies (reports from patients) are actually part of every doctor's case records. The wonderful healing I've experienced in my own homeopathic treatment is backed up by the observations of the trained people from a couple of disciplines who have worked with me.

      Patient reports are also published as part of studies in every medical journal. Doctors themselves give personal testimonies to other doctors. A surgeon may relate to his colleagues that he performed a certain procedure and that the patient improved (mind you, no RCT's on this one). His colleagues may then try it themselves based on that personal testimony.



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    3. And the well informed consumer has in the past and is today making decisions for himself.

      There are 500 million users of homeopathy worldwide making it the second most used system of medicine in the world (con med being third, TCM being first). The use of homeopathy is growing at rates of 10% to 30% annually in various countries globally because patients find it safe, effective, inexpensive and also because it's green.

      The sales of homeopathic and herbal medicines in the U.S. reached $6.4 billion in 2012 up almost 3% over 2011. Sales have grown 16% in the last five years. Could this be another reason why some people want it off the shelves? Just a thought.

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  6. Homeopathy offers long lasting to permanent cure, treating the disease from its roots, for most of the ailments. Homeopathy is a rational science with respect to its concepts of health, disease and cure.

    The Principle of Similars talks about the pathogenetic and symptomatic similarity between the drug and the disease. Remember what Hippocrates said, "By similar things a disease is produced and through the application of the like it is cured"

    The patient is as sensitive to the medicine as to the disease. So medicine should be given in minimum dose.

    Law of Simplex states that one single medicine for the patient at any given time. Two or dynamic agencies together can never effect that which each individually might administered at different times.

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    1. Oh well, if Hippocrates said so, then of course it must be correct. They really knew their medicine back in 400 B.C.

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