My response to a Whole Foods post promoting homeopathy
Originally submitted by emil10001 on Thu, 10/20/2011 - 10:04
I just saw an article on the Whole Foods blog that I thought deserved a response. The post was promoting homeopathy, and I felt it necessary to point out both what homeopathy is, why it does not make sense, and its dangers. I decided that it would be a good idea to post this here as well, since I am not sure how long the post will stay up on the Whole Foods site.
Dear Whole Foods,
As one of your customers, this post makes me very uncomfortable. At worst, this perpetuates pseudoscience, and encourages people to waste their money on water wrapped up in a package, pretending to be a remedy. The sort of reasoning that encourages people to subscribe to homeopathic remedies, could end up doing real harm to them, even killing them, in certain situations, if they do not seek real medical attention.
There is no evidence to support the claims that homeopathy makes. The basic premise of the practice is that by taking some ingredient that would normally cause certain symptoms, and put that ingredient or ingredients into a solution and dilute it down to nothing in water. When you see a number like 12c, that means that the process of dilution has occurred such that there is a concentration of the ingredient of 10^-24. At 12c, there is only a 60% chance that there is even a single molecule of the original ingredient remaining in the solution. At 30c, you would need to consume 10^41 pills (a billion times the mass of the Earth) to consume a molecule of the original substance. If you think this is drastic, Oscillococcinum (sold at Whole Foods!) is at a concentration of 200c. What’s more, the homeopaths claim that the dilution process increases the effectiveness of a substance. That is, a concentration of 1 is less potent than a concentration of 10^-24.
Why do they claim this works? Well, the claim is that the original substance somehow imprints its energy in the water, and that that energy is carried through the dilution process, and remains present long after there are no more molecules of the substance in the solution (of water). This is physically impossible. There is no evidence that this is true, because if it were true, we would have a very different understanding of the physical world that we live in than we do. Not only that, but imagine how much human waste, or animal waste, has been in contact with water. According to homeopaths, even though the waste is completely removed from the water, the essence is still there. And, again, according to the homeopathic view the essence of waste would grow stronger the more that it was diluted. Should we stop treating our waste water, for fear of an overdose?
On the topic of overdoses, a number of skeptics have tried to overdose on homeopathic remedies, taking entire bottles of remedies at once. No one was injured, and no one was cured of anything either. The evidence available suggests that homeopathic remedies are about as effective as a placebo.
One more important note, not all homeopathic remedies are created equal. Some of them do actually contain real, active ingredients. There was a cold and sinus nasal spray on the market called Zicam, marketed as an unapproved homeopathic product, contained zinc acetate at 10^-2 and zinc gluconate at 10^-1. Both of the ingredients are biologically active, and actually caused some users of the product to lose their sense of smell, a condition termed anosmia.
Maybe it would be good to end on a joke: Do you know what they call alternative medicine that’s been proven to work? MEDICINE!
References and good reading:
- What’s the harm? http://whatstheharm.net/homeopathy.html
- How homeopathic remedies are manufactured: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zj2_MIPpZus
- Chemists on the idea that chemicals are bad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6ZsYCnlvPs
- An excellent short film promoting critical thinking: http://herebedragonsmovie.com/
- A funny sketch about a homeopathic hospital: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMGIbOGu8q0