A FEW DAYS AGO THE SPECIAL COMMISSION OF THE RUSSIAN ACADEMY OF SCIENCES recognized homeopathy as a pseudoscience and formed new recommendations for the sale of homeopathic medicines. Although the direct harm (as well as the benefits) of homeopathic remedies has not been proven, the memorandum of the Russian Academy of Sciences says about significant indirect risks: giving preference to homeopathy, patients neglect remedies with proven efficacy, which can lead to complications and even death. We tried to figure out why unscientific methods of treatment have remained popular for centuries.
Homeopathy doesn’t hurt
In the book “No wallet, no life. Alternative Medicine Under Investigation ”describes several historical ups and downs of homeopathy. Actually, it appeared at the end of the 18th century, when conventional medicine was far from today’s standards, and methods such as bloodletting were actively used to treat, for example, fever or abdominal pain. At a time when the teeth were removed not by doctors, but by barbers, and the ideas of asepsis and antiseptics were just beginning to emerge, the possibility of treatment without aggressive, painful, complications-fraught interventions was accepted by the Europeans with a bang.
Today, unconventional methods of treatment and the use of natural remedies are opposed to taking “chemically stuffed” drugs that are dangerous to the liver or kidneys. Unfortunately, many people forget that many herbal remedies and traditional medicine procedures can not only not be beneficial, but also cause serious harm, especially when it comes to treating children. It is worth making a choice in favor of products with proven efficacy and safety, and not “natural” and therefore seemingly safe. Homeopathic medicines, which usually do not contain a single molecule of the active substance, will not harm, but, as correctly noted in the memorandum of the Russian Academy of Sciences, such “treatment” can lead to the fact that adequate assistance is not provided on time and the disease will become more complicated.
Homeopaths operate with such pseudo-scientific terms as “memory of water”, “potentiation” or “dynamization” of a medicinal substance (that is, giving it additional power), activation of “vital energy”. All this, combined with complex multiple dilutions denoted by Roman numerals, the idea of ”treating like with like” and thick textbooks with a multi-tiered classification of diseases, forms an impressive information base. When a theory is presented logically and consistently, it is easy to believe in it , especially in the absence of appropriate education.
Perhaps, a certain role is played by the fact that homeopaths have time to “preach”, while ordinary doctors often have no more than 15 minutes for a consultation . Prescribing drugs to a patient with heart failure according to a standard protocol (aspirin, beta-blocker, diuretic), the doctor does not have time to explain what exactly each of them is needed for and why it is so important to continue long-term treatment. At home, the patient reads the instructions and, given the lack of medical education, draws his own conclusions. For example, that the treatment was prescribed incorrectly. Another thing is a visit to a homeopath, where the doctor will convincingly tell you that microdoses of Arsenicum (that is, arsenic!) And other drugs with complex Latin names will definitely help from angina pectoris .
Homeopathic treatment is a ritual
People love to be treated when it does not require much effort. Taking vitamins gives you a feeling of control over your own lifestyle, even when food is far from healthy, and physical activity is at zero. In addition, the presence of a ritual, a certain scheme of actions in various areas of life, be it sports events or the beginning of a working day, brings psychological comfort and the illusion of control. Taking homeopathic remedies is often accompanied by a large number of restrictions, which paradoxically enhance the placebo effect, because the patient is sure that since he complies with all the requirements, then the treatment cannot but be effective.
After prescribing treatment, the homeopath may prohibit drinking alcohol, coffee and chocolate, or, for example, oranges and mint (even in toothpaste), recommend a more regular daily routine or physical activity. Of course, there is no question of the risk of real drug-food interactions, because from the side of the homeopathic remedy there is nothing to enter into such an interaction except water and sugar. At the same time, due to the normalization of the regimen and the facilitation of the diet, the patient’s condition can really improve, and this effect will be attributed to homeopathy. In addition, homeopaths sometimes take on the role of psychologists, explaining that the medicine will not work unless issues of spouse irritation, emotional insecurity, or “sinful” habits are addressed. Building a clear scheme of action, psychological support, refusal of stimulants lead to an improvement in the condition, enhancing the placebo effect.
Homeopaths support conspiracy theories
Although the share of homeopathic remedies on the Russian market does not exceed 1%, we are talking about the amount of about 8 billion rubles a year. Of course, the decision of the Russian Academy of Sciences was followed by accusations of pharmaceutical companies in lobbying for the memorandum in order not to share even a minimal market share. Conspiracy theories have always existed, and belief in them is one of the natural needs inherent in the human brain. “Do not trust doctors: their medicines are poison,” said one of Shakespeare’s heroes back in the days when the profits of pharmaceutical laboratories were not measured in billions of dollars. Interestingly, in one study, homeopathic treatment was perceived to be more effective in patients with unstable psychological characteristics; uncertainty about the future and fear of death are common among fans of conspiracy theories.
Nevertheless, evidence-based medicine speaks for itself: so far no well-conducted clinical study or meta-analysis has been able to demonstrate an efficacy of homeopathy that exceeds that of a placebo. The RAS says the main goal is to warn consumers that homeopathic remedies are ineffective. We are not talking about their withdrawal from the sale and even more about a ban; it is assumed that packages of homeopathic medicines will contain information about the lack of proven efficacy, and they will be placed in pharmacies separately from conventional medicines. It should be remembered that due to the lack of careful control in the production of homeopathic medicines, there remains a risk of falsification; for example, under the guise of homeopathy, drugs containing active ingredients that can have a therapeutic effect and cause side effects can also be sold.