Homeopathy: awareness and wariness

(or: Foot stamping II)

Despite its open-call invitation for submission of pieces for its now occasionally empty ‘First Person’ column – ‘on topical subjects or compelling stories of personal experiences’ – my hometown’s messenger, the Leicester Mercury, continues to prefer fallacious boluses to (for example) my take (again), this time on what those tempted by homeopathy (in Leicester) ought to be aware of.

So, as dividing the word count of my recent piece by a factor of approximately four took time and effort, I want it ‘out there’, so here is as good as anywhere…

The theme for the recent World Homeopathy Awareness Week was ‘Homeopathy and Infertility: Helping Fertility for Men and Women.’

The swanky promotional website provides ‘Reasons for using Homeopathy’. For example, we are informed that homeopathic remedies produce ‘No Harmful Side Effects’, due to a doubly magical process termed ‘potentisation’. The chosen substance is diluted beyond the point where no molecule of it remains, but then activated by ‘succussion’ (ie vigorous shaking). This is attributed to the water retaining a ‘memory’ of that substance. But what of the memories of everything else the water has ever been in contact with? No less remarkably, these are simultaneously detoxified. We are thus expected to believe that water knows the difference.

A similar lack of evidence attends the claim that homeopathy boosts the immune system, improving overall health and preventing disease by increasing resistance to infections. This is a favourite resort of those who like to invoke our innate ‘healing energy’, a concept they never define, but which does sound convincingly scientific.

If you are still curious, some examples of popular homeopathic ‘remedies’ are provided. Their use as dietary supplements or herbal medicines, which do actually contain some of the stuff, is contentious enough. But, in homeopathic doses (ie, zilch) these versatile substances can, it is confidently claimed, aid in the treatment of all manner of physical and psychological conditions – including fertility problems. (Can cuttlefish ink actually help correct or prevent a prolapsed uterus?) However, although negative aspects of ‘conventional’ fertility treatments are listed, including their limited success rates, no such data are provided for the ‘success’ rates of homeopathy on infertility. Indeed, there is no indication of any track record whatsoever.

So why does homeopathy persist? Because a few cosy sessions with a nice, sympathetic homeopath, who can afford the time to listen without hurrying you out of the surgery, may well produce a feeling of improved well-being. At least if you’re not actually ill. And if you were, you would likely get better anyway. This is where it does its thing – not in the administering of charlatan pills, tinctures or potions. How are we to know, beyond glib conjecture, that the immune system is ‘boosted’?

It is perhaps trite to make fun of homeopathy. Then again, while the homeopathic mindset continues with its insidious self-marketing, we should guard against its cult-like reach and publicly highlight its laughable nonsense. Because there are instances when it isn’t actually funny.

Like the seriously problematic issues of unproven treatments for life-threatening diseases, infertility can be a highly emotive matter, requiring considerable levels of competency and responsibility. If those purporting to treat it are giving false hope, their ethos is unethical.


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