Monday, November 13, 2006

Diluting a Disease (Features) Morgon Mae Schultz

Woo. With a bait-and-switch somewhere in the middle. Here's why

In 1918 a vicious strain of flu spread to every populated continent, snuffing out lives faster than coffin makers could supply caskets. The Spanish flu killed as many as 50 million people over two years. People who were perfectly healthy when they woke up in the morning could be dead by nightfall. Medical classes were canceled so that students could serve as doctors and nurses. In Europe, military strategists on all sides of World War I scrambled to redraw battle plans for lack of healthy soldiers.

Surrounded by death and reduced to simply comforting patients with aspirin, a desperate doctor in Pittsburgh asked a nurse whether she knew a better way to save lives. The nurse, who had worked with homeopaths, urged the skeptical doctor to switch to their simple remedies, which she had seen save countless lives.

According to the late homeopathic historian and authority Julian Winston, a victim of the Spanish flu treated by a conventional doctor had only a 70 percent chance of surviving; homeopaths saved 99 percent of their patients. Now a number of modern-day homeopaths believe they can help fight another pandemic -- a rare bit of hopeful news given that, as this magazine went to press, neither the mainstream medical establishment nor the pharmaceutical industry had found a way to counter H5N1, the virus that causes avian flu.

Firstly, how is homeopathic historian an authority on this subject? Secondly, I would love to see the data and the studies on this because if it really had been a 99% cure rate, you would have thought that science would be scrambling to discover the next big thing.

Well guess what? The reason why homeopathy never made much of a headway in the medical community is because it defies not just commonsense but every single rule and law of chemistry, physics and matter that we can think of. And yes, that includes quantum physics which has been desparately invoked in a bid to save the irrationality that if homeopathy.
German physician Samuel Hahnemann discovered homeopathy 200 years ago when he found that cinchona bark containing quinine, then the best treatment for malaria, caused all the symptoms of malaria in a healthy person. After experimenting with more than 200 substances, he concluded that like cures like. Give someone with a runny nose a homeopathic solution of onion, that pungent veggie that normally causes a runny nose, and it strengthens the body in just the right way to heal. If you're suffering from insomnia, a homeopath will give you a controlled dose of a caffeine-like substance.

Bollocks. Five seconds on google, and another ten on wikipedia's entry on quinine gives you the history of what actually happen. A tribe used it as a muscle relaxant to treat shivering colds, it was observed by a jesuit priest who sent it to back to Rome as an experiment to determine if it could be used to cure malaria. Guess what? It did. This happened in the mid 1600s by the way, much long before this ostensible homeopathic doctor discovered it.
Homeopaths dilute substances in double-distilled water, vigorously shake the mixture, and then dilute it again, explains homeopath Dana Ullman. They repeat this over and over until it's unlikely that a single molecule of the original substance remains, and then deliver what's left in a pill. No one knows exactly why this works, but homeopaths posit that water retains the energy of a substance and delivers a message to the body. (Ullman likens it to rubbing a magnet on a piece of metal to transfer the magnetic properties.)

Precisely! As is admitted here, there is not a single molecule left in the entire mixture. In fact the sheer inanity and absurdity is that the more diluted the mixture the more effacious the "remedy". In which case, drinking tap water ought to be the elixer of life.

In fact at the concentrations that they are talking about i.e. 100C, for there to be a single molecule, it would need a volume of solution equivalent to the size of the current know universe. See numbers here.

But what can we say about the analogy to magnetism? Well good try. But until you actually demonstrates that it works, all your theorising is like theological debates on how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Here's some good fisking and trashing by Orac on Homeopathy and here in particular is where he reviews an article in JASEB deconstructing the claims of homeopathy.
Because of its success in treating the era's epidemics, homeopathy enjoyed its greatest popularity during the 19th century. Just before the American Medical Association was founded as an alternative to the American Institute of Homeopathy, there were 22 homeopathic medical schools in the United States, including at Boston University and Stanford. Today, the method is most popular in England, where 40 percent of conventional doctors refer patients to homeopaths.

Well it generally doesn't hurt because it's just water and patients do feel better on a placebo effect but that in no way supports the notion that it is actually effective.
Countless conventional studies, including one published last summer in the British medical journal The Lancet, have concluded that homeopathic remedies are no more reliable than placebos -- cold comfort in the face of a deadly virus. The French Society of Homeopathy, however, found in a 1998 survey that 90 percent of those who used a homeopathic solution called Influenzinum were able to avoid a common flu bug. For those already laid up with the flu, at least three separate studies favor homeopathic treatments over using a placebo.

Bingo.... But here's where we go merrily down the rabbit hole. If it is no better than a placebo, it doesn't work should be the lesson that we ought to be taking away from these studies.

In summary: It does not work.
Some mainstream doctors, like Christian Sandrock of the University of California-Davis Medical Center, are willing to consider this evidence but still caution patients against relying on it as a cure-all. And some mainstream doctors still stereotype homeopaths as con artists or quacks. But even homeopathy's harshest critics don't accuse practitioners like Ullman of peddling harmful substances, so there's a powerful argument to pursue the remedy further. can't be harmful because all it is is water. Unless you use it in place of conventional medicine which is arguably harm enough that doctors and pundits ought to stop peddling fashionable nonsense and get back to evidence based medicines and getting people to understand what they are getting into.

The standard flu vaccine requires specially cultivated chicken eggs, infected with a specific strain of virus that can be grown only after it is identified, which is why scientists must wait until H5N1 mutates into a human-to-human bug. Once this happens it will be difficult to produce vaccine fast enough (one dose often requires its own egg). And even if a number of heretofore nonexistent pharmaceutical facilities sprang up to instantaneously produce vats of vaccine, scientists aren't sure whether host eggs could survive long enough to be harvested.

In the short term, the U.S. and Asian governments have pinned their hopes on Tamiflu, an antiviral drug (not a vaccine) meant to seize influenza inside a victim's cells. It works in petri dishes, but, according to the maker's website, its effectiveness in humans has not been established. Even if Tamiflu proved deadly to the virus, homeopaths point out that the antiviral could, as antibiotics have in the past, cause patients to build up resistance or spur diseases to mutate into more powerful strains, constantly upping the ante. Ullman goes so far as to argue that people who take Tamiflu "are posing a public health threat."

Um, it's been tested on humans or the FDA wouldn't normally allow it. But it's a fair point with regards to the development of resistence although by that 'logic' we should just stop prescibing antibiotics and hope we don't die out before the bacteria evolve to coexist with us.

The key here as anywhere is that of balance.
Homeopaths prescribe remedies according to symptoms, so they already have the ability to study the disease in patients without worrying about which strain of what virus is the culprit. Homeopathic treatments are cheaper and easier to produce than a standard vaccine because they're made from natural substances and pure water. And since most remedies aren't patented, progress isn't hindered by squabbles over intellectual property rights. Best of all, homeopathy is about strengthening the body instead of targeting the bug, so patients don't become unwitting vessels for a mutated virus.

This is simply utter and complete nonsense. It doesn't work, it's just water, it doesn't by any measure strengthen the body because it doesn't work.

Sometimes I think I should be making a living by turning off all logical faculties.




Post a Comment

<< Home