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Alternatives to the Quack Stuff

Today, I sent the following letter to the Irish Times.

Regarding “Alternatives to the Pink Stuff” published on Tuesday, March 8th.

A chara,

I find it disappointing and disturbing to note that a well renowned and regarded paper would publish what amounts to a puff piece promoting a form of quackery that has been debunked countless times. I refer, of course, to the Alternatives To The Pink Stuff article of March 8th. This article is a shameless promotion of homoeopathy, a non-medical treatment that is regarded as quackery by prominent doctors and scientists around the world. Its claims have been proven groundless time and time again.

We are told that, if a child is unwell, Ni Chinneide would treat them with fast-acting belladonna. Homoeopathic belladonna, aka Deadly Nightshade, is proposed as a cure because taking belladonna will give you a fever. Homoeopathic dilutions render the solution so dilute that it contains nothing but water. I’m not certain which is more laughable as a cure, but I am sure that neither will work.

Ni Chinneide herself says that if a child is in danger, one should see a doctor. Surely if her cures were as legitimate as this article makes out, one would have no need of a doctor?

The letter is in response to an article published on March 8th, called “Alternatives to the Pink Stuff“, and while I would have liked to go into more detail in the letter, I was advised that brevity is the watchword if one wishes to be published. Luckily, I impose no such restrictions here.

I was surprised, and more than a little disappointed to see that the Irish Times, a paper I would have previously regarded as being fairly upstanding, had published what amounts to a promotional puff piece, vaunting homoeopathy as a natural, safe, panacea-style alternative to all those nasty medicines that we stuff into our children.

After an opening paragraph which sets the tone for the article, “Applying the homeopathic, holistic principle of treating the whole person, not just the symptoms, she proposed more individualised methods of temperature control, specifically in childhood illnesses.”, we are introduced to Lee Ni Chinneide, a homoeopath working in the “Elbow Room” clinic in Dublin. Sadly, not two paragraphs in, and the contradictions and apologetic tone come to the fore. We are told that Ni Chinneide would treat a fever with “fast acting belladonna”, a delightful oxymoron. Just previously, however, we are warned that “if a child has suspected meningitis or could be in danger, do not delay seeing a doctor”.

Let’s get down to brass tacks here – either your medicine works, or it doesn’t. You can call it whatever you wish – alternative, natural, homoeopathic – but it all falls into one of two categories; the stuff that works, and the stuff that doesn’t. If fast acting belladonna provides fever relief, and the principles of homoeopathy are sound, then why preface your assertion with a “get out” clause? If homoeopathy worked, then you wouldn’t need to see a doctor if your child was in danger, as there are homoeopathic cures for virtually every ailment (including several purported cures for meningitis, such as belladonna, ferrum phos, bryonia, helleborus, and zincum metallicum). Of course, if one were certain that the medicine being administered was safe, and would cure all ills, then why caveat at all? It is an admission that the cures being administered will cure nothing at all, and that when the fast acting belladonna doesn’t take down the child’s fever, you’ll have to seek real medical help.

I’m not saying that everyone should rush to medicate their children at the slightest hint of a runny nose, but common sense should dictate that when your child has fallen more seriously ill, you should treat them with something more potent than water. Croup, diarrhoea, ear infections, and “tummy upsets”, may be common enough childhood illnesses, but that does not mean that they should be disregarded. Croup can cause rapid, and sometimes lethal, narrowing of the airways. Diarrhoea and “tummy upsets”, if prolonged or frequent, can be indicative of allergies or severe digestive problems which, if left untreated, can lead to the child becoming malnourished. Ear infections, left untreated, can result in ruptured eardrums, hearing loss, and bone infections. While these are undoubtedly the worst examples of complications from common illnesses, they are all possible. If a child begins to exhibit symptoms that indicate that he or she is not succeeding in fighting the infection themselves, and a parent chooses to seek homoeopathic treatment in lieu of real medical treatment, those complications become far more likely.

It goes without saying that all of the homoeopathic remedies mentioned in the article are extremely unlikely to cure anything, since they contain no active ingredients, and many of the purported ingredients have not been proven to be effective even when actually included in medication. Perhaps it needs to be said that, when it comes to children, doctor knows best.

12 replies on “Alternatives to the Quack Stuff”

Hi Jen,
That was an excellent post,I know of children lost to meningitis due to parents believing that the symptoms could be relieved using homeopathic remedies.
Best regards
Alan

Excellent post. Keeping an open mind is all very well, but not so open that one’s brain falls out. If homoeopathy can’t be shown to have true health benefits in scientific tests, then it should not be promoted as an alternative to medicine.

I hope your letter is published (though, in my hyper-critical opinion, it could probably have done without the repetition of the word “quackery”).

The real oxymoron is calling yourself holistic and then claiming to treat symptoms. Anyone doing so cannot claim to be working homeopathically ie understanding what the totality of symptoms represent. Any response to medicine is dependent on two factors, the medicine itself and the person with their susceptibility, which is why response to prescribed drugs is always different from individual to individual. Every true physician would make every attempt to understand this and adjust their medicine suitbably

Hmmm. There are several trials I am aware of showing homeopathy to make a significant change in birth outcomes. The problem though lies with the basis of clinical trials not fitting a homeopathic treatment protocol. Plus drug companies have nothing to gain by sponsoring such costly trials.

Homeopathy has worked for my family. 9 years and 1 dose of antibiotics. Not bad I feel.

Could you please link us to some of these trials? The mere existence of trials doesn’t prove anything other than the fact that trials have been done. Trials can vary in quality, so it’s really hard to critique or even give a speculative answer without seeing the trial data to see the sample size, testing methods, etc. If it’s not a rigorous trial, then it’s not really useful data.

Re: drug companies sponsoring trials, not every trial is sponsored by a drug company, but even at that, without drug company funding, many products would never have made it to the market.

As for homoeopathy working, why the 1 dose of antibiotics? If homoeopathy can, in fact, cure everything, then why turn to “allopathic” medicine?

Finally, I don’t suppose that you are the same Lisa Wilkinson that owns the Elbow Room clinic featured in the article, and in my blog above? Generally, it’s considered good form to declare it when one has a conflict of interest, you see…

Lisa, although it’s true that some clinical trials of homeopathy have shown positive results, there are plenty more that have shown negative results. And here’s the important thing: when you look at the well designed trials that have included many patients (ie the reliable ones), they tend to be negative. The positive trials are usually small ones, where the play of chance may have happened to be favourable for homeopathy, or badly designed ones that introduced bias into the comparison.

So it’s not scientifically valid to cherry-pick the trials that give positive results. You need to look at the totality of trials. And when you do that, you see pretty clearly that homeopathy is no more than a placebo.

Also, a homeopathic treatment protocol can easily be tested in a clinical trial. Why do you think it can’t?

Drug companies, particularly the ones like Boiron who make millions out of selling homeopathic remedies, would have plenty to gain by sponsoring such trials if they thought that there was any chance that they would work. If they could show definitively that homeopathy worked, they would be all over it. Wouldn’t that be a great way to increase their sales of a product that is very cheap to produce and therefore highly profitable?

Dear Buffy,
I have had personal experiences with LEE NI CHINNEIDE. She is a qualified health professional and has helped numerous people with problems that were unable to be solved by over the counter or prescription medicine and in the case of my son prevent him having to undergo surgery. IF you bothered to actually do some research INTO THE BACKGROUND OF HOMEOPATH you would find that there are centuries of evidence that it works extremely weLl.There were numerous homeopathic hospitals in england and north america, but were forced to close mainly due to drug companies “persuading” doctors to promote their wares. How do you think MRSA evolved? there is far too much over prescription of antibiotics etc, evento menningitis patients when it is known that the cause is viral not bacterial. BUFFY do you aspire to be like your namesake and “rid the world” of these evil alternative “quackery” vampires.
did you have a bad experience, are you a doctor who knows best! The proof that homeopathy works well on children and animals cannot be seen as a placebo. If you were hoping to ruffle some feathers, i dont think that it worked really as people who use natural therapies to help their bodies to help themselves know thatr people like you will always have an opinion on something or other. it usually is a sign of something lacking in their own lives. Most pharmaceutical drugs are based on plants – warfarin, anti-Malaria tablets, morphine. Homeopathic remedies are non addictive and there are no fears of children ending up in casualty with overdoses!
Any healthcare person including GPs would recommend if suspecting menningitis to seek help. YOU DO KNOW WHAT THE G in GP stands for!

Irene, when you say “there are centuries of evidence that it works extremely well”, perhaps you’re not familiar with the peer-reviewed research evidence into homeopathy? You can read an excellent summary of the research here:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12492603

Here’s a quote from the conclusions of that paper:

“In particular, there was no condition which responds convincingly better to homeopathic treatment than to placebo or other control interventions. Similarly, there was no homeopathic remedy that was demonstrated to yield clinical effects that are convincingly different from placebo. It is concluded that the best clinical evidence for homeopathy available to date does not warrant positive recommendations for its use in clinical practice.”

Eyes down for a full house!
Personal anecdotes equated as data – check.
Medecine unable to cure what homeopathy fixes – check.
Argument from historical use – check.
Big Pharma “persuading” doctors to abandon homeopathy and hospitals – check.
“You are not a medical expert” – check.
Children and animals can’t experience placebo effect – check.
homeopathy is “natural” – check.
personal attack (something lacking in [your] life) – check.
although pharma is bad, it too is based on plants – check.
homeopathy is non-addictive and no overdoses – check.
Big problems need real medicine – check.

Just need allopathy and argument from popularity and/or celebrity for BINGO!

All the above answered most ably at http://www.1023.org.uk/

How old *is* homeopathy? I was given to understand that it has it’s roots in a German snake oil salesman peddling his wares around the turn of last century. I recall reading something to that effect in Simon Singh & Edzard Ernst’s book Trick or Treatment but don’t have it to hand right now. Anyone know?

T

Hahnemann first stated his laws of homoeopathy, on which the treatments are based, around 1796. Since then plenty of others have released books and other materials based on those laws.

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