It’s slightly more than 200 years old, and it was born in Germany.
October 23, 2019 9:26 PM   Subscribe

“It’s just a big illusion”: How homeopathy went from fringe medicine to the grocery aisles Homeopathy is a $1.2 billion industry in the US alone, used by an estimated 5 million adults and 1 million kids. It’s become such a staple of America’s wellness industry that leading brands such as Boiron and Hyland’s are readily available at high-end health-focused chains like Whole Foods and Sprouts, supermarkets like Ralphs, and superstores such as Walmart. Analysts project that the global homeopathic market will grow 12.5 percent by 2023.

But these products are not FDA-approved. In 2016, the Federal Trade Commission began a crackdown on the homeopathic remedies that were filling grocery shelves, mandating that they clearly state that they are not, in fact, medicine. Boiron’s website now bears that legally required disclaimer: “Claims based on traditional homeopathic practice, not accepted medical evidence.”

Consumers are beginning to feel “scammed and cheated,” the nonprofit Center for Inquiry argued, in a lawsuit filed last month against Walmart and CVS over the sale of what it called “homeopathic fake medicine.” A consumer survey conducted by the nonprofit found that 41 percent of respondents felt negatively about homeopathic remedies “[o]nce [they] were told the essential facts about homeopathy’s pseudoscientific claims.”
posted by Homo neanderthalensis (81 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
Homeopathy is a $1.2 billion industry in the US alone, used by an estimated 5 million adults and 1 million kids. It’s become such a staple of America’s wellness industry that leading brands such as Boiron and Hyland’s are readily available at high-end health-focused chains like Whole Foods and Sprouts, supermarkets like Ralphs

I bought a millionth of a share of Boiron and now I'm incredibly rich!
posted by escabeche at 9:33 PM on October 23, 2019 [79 favorites]


But the label says it's 100% pure, organically grown, fair-trade, non-GMO, free-range snake oil!
posted by mattdidthat at 9:33 PM on October 23, 2019 [15 favorites]


I tried to shame Wegmans into ditching them and got the corporate equivalent of ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 9:38 PM on October 23, 2019 [7 favorites]


It's funny what different trajectories the various 19th-century 'pathies have taken. You hardly ever hear about hydropaths anymore, and osteopaths have become just regular allopathic doctors by another name, but homeopathy just keeps shambling zombie-like along.
posted by Not A Thing at 9:38 PM on October 23, 2019 [11 favorites]


I work for a dietary supplement company, and we absolutely cannot make claims that any of our products diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, with a few rare, FDA approved exceptions that have incontrovertible evidence behind them. Fair enough. But this utterly ridiculous woo woo bullshit can and does have claims on the bottle purporting to treat the cold or prevent malaria, for fucks sake. How is this legal?
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 9:39 PM on October 23, 2019 [25 favorites]


So homeopathy essentially boils down to, take a solution of something, throw away 9/10ths if it, dilute with pure water, throw away another 9/10ths ... repeating as the resulting medicine becomes stronger (yay homeopathic beer!).

What proponents of homeopathy quietly sweep under the carpet is the looming homeopathic toxic waste problem, if homeopathy is real all those 9/10ths poured down the drain into the sea are incredibly diluted where they must become incredibly strong making the sea horribly dangerous .... or homeopathy is bunk and it's just salty
posted by mbo at 9:48 PM on October 23, 2019 [44 favorites]


But water has a memory, and we can use that to help us!

I lived in Sedona for a while and never bought into the crystal stuff, and homeopathy is just crystal stuff times a thousand because you don't even need minerals, you just need water!

I have mixed feelings about herbal remedies because they have mixed results, but any homeopathic positive results are pure placebo effect. And while that is in and of itself actually useful, it can't be claimed to be a universal effect for any compound, no matter how diluted the solution and reliant on the memory of water to create its effect.
posted by hippybear at 9:59 PM on October 23, 2019 [4 favorites]


This is a casual reminder that Hylands has almost certainly murdered babies (because they are, in fact, utterly terrible at controlling dilution!) and has largely gotten away with it.

It is, after all, immune from FDA oversight.
posted by aramaic at 9:59 PM on October 23, 2019 [13 favorites]


... if homeopathy is real all those 9/10ths poured down the drain into the sea are incredibly diluted where they must become incredibly strong making the sea horribly dangerous

Ah, no, you see, once you flush it down the drain it goes straight outside the environment!
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:02 PM on October 23, 2019 [7 favorites]


Most diseases and problems with your body go away on their own eventually. Homeopathy isn't going to fix cancer or a broken leg, but I'm all for keeping people out of the doctor's office who don't really need to be there.
posted by Veritron at 10:04 PM on October 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


OK, would it be legal for me to print little "warning: fake!" stickers and go around putting them on homeopathic remedies in stores I do not own?

...uh, asking for a friend.
posted by aramaic at 10:04 PM on October 23, 2019 [10 favorites]


Y'all are forgetting about the percussing. That's where the magic happens.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 10:09 PM on October 23, 2019 [10 favorites]


Mbo:

You assume they actually do the dilution routine, instead of just putting trace amounts of stuff in water. Why would they bother?
posted by argybarg at 10:12 PM on October 23, 2019 [3 favorites]


I've come to suspect that a lot of how it's taken hold among people I know has involved parents with very young children where there are insufficient legitimate things they can give their kids for minor-but-distressing ailments. So people who I wouldn't think would ever go for this start talking about how they're giving their kid homeopathic teething or cold remedies. The article mentions people talking about successes with pets and kids, and you know, even with my cats--feeling helpless is the worst, and I know full well that I'm just guessing how my cats are feeling at any given time. Educated guesses, but still guesses. That gives a lot of extra fodder for believing it works, if you desperately want to feel like you've done some good.

Once you've had that in, once you feel like you need to believe it works because you gave it to your kids or because your parents gave it to you, it seems like it would be hard to let go of that idea. Certainly harder than if you'd just randomly picked up a homeopathic cold remedy and thought maybe it worked, but had no reason to be attached to that concept.
posted by Sequence at 10:13 PM on October 23, 2019 [8 favorites]


On the plus side, a homeopathic lab can easily ramp up production to meet the increased demand.
posted by zompist at 10:18 PM on October 23, 2019 [12 favorites]


The placebo effect is so powerful that drug companies are telling the FDA that it's unfair to force them to test drug candidates against placebo in clinical trails.

And at the same time, many older and established drugs which should have gone generic by now and dropped in price have instead increased in price, often by an order of magnitude, and new tested drugs are coming onto the market at truly astronomical prices. Take a look at the latest generation of hep C drugs for example, the cures are upwards of $100,000 as I recall.

If you the break the faith of people who are using homopeopathic remedies and benefit from the placebo effect, are you improving their health or are you depriving them of something that's working for many of them, and telling them to resort to alternatives they can't afford and may not have access to even if they have insurance?
posted by jamjam at 10:29 PM on October 23, 2019 [4 favorites]


> "... are you improving their health or are you depriving them of something ..."

You are assuming that fake medicines cure more people than they kill.
posted by kyrademon at 10:33 PM on October 23, 2019 [22 favorites]


WoOooOooooOoo
posted by GallonOfAlan at 10:48 PM on October 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


The placebo effect is not a powerful cure. It isn't even a cure. If it was, CVS et al would happily sell sugar pills for the equivalent of thousands of dollars a kilo.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 10:53 PM on October 23, 2019 [11 favorites]


If you the break the faith of people who are using homopeopathic remedies and benefit from the placebo effect, are you improving their health or are you depriving them of something that's working for many of them, and telling them to resort to alternatives they can't afford and may not have access to even if they have insurance?

Oh bullshit. These people would go back to using apple cider vinegar or garlic as a cure all just like they did 50 years ago. Homeopathy is way more profitable than developing actual medicine, and the danger is that it may crowd out capital that might otherwise be used to develop real treatments. Why spend $100 million on a clinical trial when you can sell water that you know is safe and make the same profit with slick marketing?
posted by benzenedream at 11:03 PM on October 23, 2019 [32 favorites]


I wonder how much adoption of woo medicine is driven by deep disillusionment with the medical establishment and desperation. Like, is that 12% expected increase paralleled by expected skyrocketing costs of medical care?

It’s all so depressing. I think I need another homeopathic beer.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 11:29 PM on October 23, 2019 [8 favorites]


Most diseases and problems with your body go away on their own eventually.

I used to take this general tack, and found it more or less true, but a friend lost most of his hearing in one ear to a virus that could have been treated if diagnosed early enough. After a 3 day headache recently I was diagnosed early with opthalmic shingles, which can cause blindness and long lasting neuralgia, so now I'm even more solidly on Team Go To The Doctor ASAP.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 11:29 PM on October 23, 2019 [33 favorites]


The placebo effect works even if you know it's a placebo. It won't lower your cholesterol or cure cancer, but it will reduce things such as pain, nausea, or fatigue. The problem with homeopathy is that it is very expensive water, that is sold as medicine, which it is not.

C.P.G. Grey did a nice video on Nocebos a while ago talking about how there are real effects from them.
posted by Xoc at 12:03 AM on October 24, 2019 [12 favorites]


Homo neanderthalensis: "America’s wellness industry "

There's your problem right there, in the very notion of a "wellness industry."
posted by chavenet at 1:51 AM on October 24, 2019 [9 favorites]


The placebo effect is so powerful that drug companies are telling the FDA that it's unfair to force them to test drug candidates against placebo in clinical trails...If you the break the faith of people who are using homopeopathic remedies and benefit from the placebo effect, are you improving their health or are you depriving them of something that's working for many of them.

a) Drug companies would clearly love not to have to conduct double-blind studies, but the fact that the pharmaceutical industry under capitalism is corrupt doesn't tell us anything about the impact of placebos.

b) The significance of the placebo effect has been wildly misrepresented in popular science reporting. It's not that it's nonexistent or unimportant, but the data strongly support the conclusion that the effect is limited to symptoms that are modulated by perception, in particular things like pain and nausea. It doesn't matter how much people believe in their sugar pills, they're still not going to do a damn thing to protect them from the vast majority of serious pathologies or the vast majority of their effects. Here's a short article on this.

c) Fake medicine like homeopathy undermines relationships with real medicine in ways that are detrimental to individual patients. Most importantly it encourages people to delay proper treatment and makes them vulnerable to exploitation by other quacks who sell much more expensive and intrusive "treatments" and "procedures", many of which cause active harm.

d) Fake medicine, more broadly, undermines the integrity of our store of shared knowledge. It introduces the notion that there are a wild and wacky range of unaccountable physical phenomena in the world that "the scientists" either refuse to investigate or are suppressing. This kind of pointless disruption of our shared understanding of the world would be hugely detrimental at any time, but in an erawhere our civilisational (at least) survival depends on us taking rapid action on the basis of our best evidence, it's downright reckless.

e) Fobbing off poor people with fake drugs because they can't afford real drugs is one of the most morally repugnant things I can conceive of that doesn't involve active malice. Yes, American healthcare is broken: roughly a trillion dollars of spending a year is wasted lining the pockets of a tiny number of already wealthy people. But lying about what medicines work just obscures the brutal effects of that corrupt system and helps it to perpetuate itself.

There is simply no justification for allowing the continued perpetration of the annual multi-billon dollar fraud that homeopathy represents.
posted by howfar at 1:57 AM on October 24, 2019 [85 favorites]


I'm awfully glad homeopathy doesn't work. Imagine all the harm that would come to everyone if trace ingredients magically imprinted themselves on water even though there was no way to test for it, and if the strength of the effect only increased each time you diluted the water.
posted by pracowity at 2:15 AM on October 24, 2019 [6 favorites]


Behind the Bastards podcast is about homeopathy this week. Tuesday's episode is about Samuel Hahnemann, who invented it, and Thursday's episode is about the two centuries since then.
posted by Jon_Evil at 3:11 AM on October 24, 2019 [8 favorites]


Don’t forget the equally completely fake and spurious and BS nature of chiropractic. Yet there’s one in every town and millions of American suckers go to them and even let them shoot x-rays and risk paralysis by useless and dangerous manipulations. All placebo if it doesn’t harm you. And the half-educated hucksters who go into it wear white coats and want you to call them “doctor.” Lol.

Homeopathy is so stupid you can kind of just feel sorry for people dumb enough to fall for it. But CVS et al deserve to be sued for selling it. Chiropractic is such theater that I can see how poorly educated people are fooled by its playing doctor theatrics.

Magic tricks or outright fraudulence, just a matter of perspective. But this crap has got to be stopped.
posted by spitbull at 3:27 AM on October 24, 2019 [15 favorites]


A few years ago, RadioLab did a story on the Placebo Effect. If you're part of the vocal MeFi contingent who can't stand learning something through storytelling and conversation and much prefer to read a transcript, you can do so on that site.

Most interesting to me was the story of Kesalid, who was a Kwakiutl sceptic in the late 1800s who apprenticed as a healer to expose his people's healers as frauds. But no sooner does he learn some of the rather clear showmanship tricks than he is sent to heal a high-profile patient. He does something along the lines of a "psychic surgery" scam on this poor girl, and...she's cured!

So he basically concludes "It's totally fake, but it works?" and goes on in his healing career doing all the tricks he had set out to expose.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 3:34 AM on October 24, 2019 [3 favorites]


I wonder how much adoption of woo medicine is driven by deep disillusionment with the medical establishment and desperation.

As someone who is thoroughly captured by the Medical-Industrial complex, I'd say a lot of it is. I have lost faith in the establishment, but am not tempted by the transparent nonsense of homeopathy.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:49 AM on October 24, 2019 [2 favorites]


I tried to shame Wegmans into ditching them and got the corporate equivalent of ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I got the same reaction when I tried to shame Wegman's into ditching Trump-branded wine.

The podcast Behind the Bastards (which I will never stop plugging) just released a two-parter about the guy who invented homeopathy. I haven't had a chance to listen to the whole thing yet.

I've found that the vast majority of people who buy homeopathic products know very little about homeopathy. When I've explained the whole principle of dilution and water memory, this seems to be new information to them. To them, "homeopathic" is just a vague synonym for "natural" or "alternative" or something.

I used to get very worked up about this stuff, and spent a lot of time arguing with people about it. My approach probably wasn't helping – but I've become very cynical about it, and I no longer bother arguing. As the saying goes, you can't reason someone out of a position they didn't reason themselves into.

But another great podcast, Oh No Ross & Carrie, had a recent interview with Britt Hermes, a former naturopath who now campaigns against alternative medicine. It's a good episode, and a reminder that people can change their minds.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 4:19 AM on October 24, 2019 [14 favorites]


Behind the Bastards podcast is about homeopathy this week.


That was a fun one. Did y'all know the first large-scale double blind trial was to disprove homeopathic medicine? That's my Fact of the Week.
posted by BS Artisan at 4:21 AM on October 24, 2019 [7 favorites]


I used to ride past a “Homeopathic Anesthesiology” office on my commute, and wonder how that worked. “OK, I’m giving you a highly diluted dose of speed, it’ll knock you right out.”

Maybe it was only for homeopathic surgeons?
posted by rockindata at 4:21 AM on October 24, 2019 [7 favorites]


Did you know that if you let a guy crack your neck every week for a while it will magically cure your allergies? Yes chiropractic is basically homeopathy with popping sounds.
posted by freecellwizard at 4:39 AM on October 24, 2019 [6 favorites]


This isn't even the craziest thing, as I discovered when I visited the US last Christmas. The craziest thing is that some companies are marking regular, non-homeopathic dilutions of 100% allopathic medicines, supplements and herbal remedies as homeopathic just to allow them to make health claims without being bothered by the FDA.

I found this out after buying zinc lozenges for a cold, being horrified that they were homeopathic, and subsequently noticing that the dilution looked unusual (I've done some reading around homeopathy for a private project). The more I looked into the situation the more bizarre it became. I had quite the rollercoaster. Turns out, the company who made those lozenges used to sell a 'homeopathic' zinc nasal spray which in fact has enough zinc to kill the nerves in your nose. Subsequently I noticed similar pseudo-homeopathic ingredients in multivitamins and a hair conditioner.

If something is marked as homeopathic, it should also give you the dilution - if it's '1X' that's just a 1 in 10 dilution, meaning it's not actually homeopathic in the customary sense at all, and you need to double check whether it's actually a safe formulation. '2X' or '1C' is one in a hundred, so the same thing goes. Frankly, anything less than 6X or 3C should cause you to raise an eyebrow and look into the matter further. Of course, anything over that should also cause you to raise a totally different eyebrow. At the end of a day, this is a mess.
posted by Acheman at 4:48 AM on October 24, 2019 [28 favorites]


Its always appropriate to post Mitchell And Webb's Homeopathic A&E sketch
2.5 minutes well spent.

(For North Americans = "Homeopathic ER", A&E="Accident and Emergency")
posted by lalochezia at 5:09 AM on October 24, 2019 [14 favorites]


Went to a chiropractor once... couldn't figure out why he wanted to crack my neck when I'd gone about my lower back.

Later went to a proper physical therapist. A very sweet lady, qualified in nursing and physical therapy, with some un-ladylike language and opinions when I asked her opinion of chiropractic.

One of the things that did it for me was realizing that I was a revenue stream for the chiropractor: some of his manipulations made my back feel better for a while, but he couldn't (wouldn't?) tell me what to do to prevent trouble occurring again. And then we had that dam' neck cracking every time.

The physio told me on my first visit that her aim was to fix me, and then never see me again. She said my back problems were probably due to bad posture and weak core muscles, gave me a lot of exercises to do, and sent me away. And the problem started resolving itself. I've since been back for other things (tennis elbow, dodgy knee) and it's always the same: let's fix you and get you out of here. A++ will visit again.
posted by 43rdAnd9th at 5:29 AM on October 24, 2019 [18 favorites]


... if homeopathy is real all those 9/10ths poured down the drain

which is diluted and diluted and... then I drink it... from the tap (I drink a lot of tap water) ah ha, so this is why I'm healthy,
posted by sammyo at 5:48 AM on October 24, 2019 [4 favorites]


Has anybody ever been prosecuted for fraud for selling homeopathic remedies which had never contained the supposed original substance, which was supposedly subsequently diluted out of it? If so, was the prosecution successful or did they get out of it by asserting, truthfully, that the product was physically identical to what they had promised?
posted by acb at 5:51 AM on October 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


There is a widespread inclination to believe that for every "lock" there is a "key." It is one of the broad metaphysical assumptions that props up various belief systems that posit an orderly cosmos. In order to get away from it, you need to stop categorizing problems and solutions as a duality, and that's hard.

It seems sometimes that people's brain are wired not only to make them compulsive, but gullible.
posted by Glomar response at 6:13 AM on October 24, 2019 [5 favorites]


An old-school image macro:

IF WATER HAS A MEMORY

[picture of toilet]

THEN HOMEOPATHY IS FULL OF SHIT
posted by Glier's Goetta at 6:16 AM on October 24, 2019 [12 favorites]


Sadly I'm pretty sure that putting "WARNING: FAKE" labels on homeopathic shit in Walgreens would probably count as vandalism.

argybarg You assume they actually do the dilution routine, instead of just putting trace amounts of stuff in water. Why would they bother?

Why would they bother putting anything in? The dilutions they are claiming are such that there's literally not even one atom of the supposed active ingredient in the bottle of water. If they aren't just putting tap water into their bottles and calling it a day I guess that means they really believe their own BS. But I'd bet most of the mass produced homeopathic stuff is just straight tap water or sugar pills. Why would a person who knows its a scam bother with anything else?
posted by sotonohito at 6:30 AM on October 24, 2019 [2 favorites]


From the "how is this still a thing" section of our program. Mexico not only has a federally funded National School of Medicine and Homeopathy, where you get both a medical degree and a homeopathy specialty, but also funds a National Homeopathic Hospital.
posted by Omon Ra at 6:34 AM on October 24, 2019 [2 favorites]


The podcast Behind the Bastards (which I will never stop plugging) just released a two-parter about the guy who invented homeopathy.

And it's co-hosted by Billy Wayne Davis, whose simultaneously bemused and horrified commentary is gold.

He's also on this episode: How Chiropractic Started as a Ghost Religion
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:34 AM on October 24, 2019 [3 favorites]


We have a dear friend easily manipulated by woo who told us, teary-eyed, during a recent visit that a chiropractor had discovered one of her legs was an eighth of an inch shorter than the other. Without weekly adjustments, she was told she will have nerve pain all her life and will be overly sensitive to viruses and temperature changes.

Started to argue with her and then remembered how she feels about flouridated water.

I want to laugh, but she's so nice and she's like family to us.

And yeah, she buys homeopathic stuff, too. We've tried to talk to her about it, but she has a husband who believes in chemtrails. Chemtrails.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:35 AM on October 24, 2019 [4 favorites]


Homeopathy is a $1.2 billion industry in the US alone; that's about $3.60 per person.

U.S. health spending in 2017 was about $3.5 trillion or $10,739 per person.

So as awful as it is, if those numbers are right, it has for all practical purposes zero effect on health spending.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:46 AM on October 24, 2019 [2 favorites]


Yeah the zinc lozenges sent me for a loop too. I know zinc has plenty of support as real medicine in some contexts, and I know homeopathy is bunk... so yeah sometimes bunk bunk is actually ok? Like if you lie about your fraud you may be getting something useful, but the notion that this is a move to skip FDA regulation is pretty disgusting, and this seems far more potentially harmful than normal homeopathy/overpriced water, which at least does no direct harm.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:51 AM on October 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


"This is a casual reminder that Hylands has almost certainly murdered babies (because they are, in fact, utterly terrible at controlling dilution!) and has largely gotten away with it."

If you want to make yourself unpopular in a mom's group, remind people of this. (On the flip side, it does a great job as a mom-friend filter!)

But even if, as some claim above, Hylands were JUST a placebo (instead of actively poisoning children with belladonna to make them fuss less about their teeth, because TYLENOL is DANGEROUS but giving your infant serious poisons is totes fine) and it were just making parents "feel better" that they were doing something to help fussy infants, it also comes with all kinds of associated nonsense "therapies" and "alternative medicines," like GIVING BABIES AMBER NECKLACES THAT ARE OBVIOUS CHOKING HAZARDS on the theory that the amber releases chemicals into the baby's skin that makes the teething not hurt. (You definitely cannot get these necklaces past the Consumer Products Safety Commission -- they're hella dangerous, an 18 month old even strangled to death in one -- so people fake-market them as "for adults" with pictures of infants wearing them. SO SLICK GUYS)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:51 AM on October 24, 2019 [15 favorites]


People have lost their sense of smell from using homeopathic zinc products. Like permanently. Homeopathy maims as well as kills.
posted by sotonohito at 7:00 AM on October 24, 2019 [6 favorites]


I've found that the vast majority of people who buy homeopathic products know very little about homeopathy. When I've explained the whole principle of dilution and water memory, this seems to be new information to them. To them, "homeopathic" is just a vague synonym for "natural" or "alternative" or something.

I'm not into this woo kind of thing, but I've heard of homeopathic cures. I have never heard of water memory, or this bizarre concept of serial dilution. I thought homeopathy was indeed some made-up word for "natural" or "herbal" medicine, a marketing word to get crackpot products on shelves, or made-up in the sense that "pyramid power" (remember that?) or "crystal healing" is made up. It's a word I see every once in a while (I sometimes look at oddball products in a pharmacy while waiting for a prescription to be filled), then never think about for huge periods of time.

This thread is enlightening to me in a startling way.

When I was a kid, I remember hearing about pyramid power in a vague way back in the 70s. Sometime in the early '80s, I visited a grade-school friend's house. His mom had pyramids around her house with various things kept underneath. Even as a little kid I was weirded out by that. Weren't pyramids even sold to keep knives sharp? These kinds of belief are so alien to me.
posted by SoberHighland at 7:10 AM on October 24, 2019 [4 favorites]


made-up in the sense that "pyramid power" (remember that?) or "crystal healing" is made up

I think you were/are right on this: it's the same flavour of mystical bullshit, it's just a bit older, has a greater tendency to poison people, and doesn't even give you something groovy to look at when you're high.
posted by howfar at 7:29 AM on October 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


And yeah, she buys homeopathic stuff, too. We've tried to talk to her about it, but she has a husband who believes in chemtrails. Chemtrails.

Surely by the time the chemtrails make it down to earth, the active ingredients will have been diluted so far that they can only have untold beneficial effects on those breathing them in.
posted by acb at 7:31 AM on October 24, 2019 [5 favorites]


Only if you punch the air a lot.
posted by howfar at 7:38 AM on October 24, 2019 [4 favorites]


People who live in countries with socialized healthcare - does this kind of thing largely go away when people get affordable access to real doctors, or do they lobby to get the government to pay for fake treatments?
posted by Selena777 at 7:50 AM on October 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


The UK had homeopathy on the NHS until recently. Though the fact that the most likely future king is a zealous advocate of homeopathy may have helped swing it.

I think Germany had state-subsidised magic-water woo as well.
posted by acb at 7:53 AM on October 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


People who live in countries with socialized healthcare - does this kind of thing largely go away when people get affordable access to real doctors, or do they lobby to get the government to pay for fake treatments?

France has decided to reimburse patients fo homeopathic treatment from 2021 onwards.
posted by Omon Ra at 7:57 AM on October 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


France has decided to reimburse patients fo homeopathic treatment from 2021 onwards.

Quite the contrary, in fact:
The French government has announced it will stop reimbursing patients for homeopathic treatment from 2021 after a major national study concluded the alternative medicine had no proven benefit.
posted by acb at 8:09 AM on October 24, 2019 [18 favorites]




Quite the contrary, in fact…

You're right acb! Mind tought one thing, hands typed another. Meant to write "France decided to stop reimbursing".
posted by Omon Ra at 8:27 AM on October 24, 2019


Homeopathy is a $1.2 billion industry in the US alone; that's about $3.60 per person.

U.S. health spending in 2017 was about $3.5 trillion or $10,739 per person.

So as awful as it is, if those numbers are right, it has for all practical purposes zero effect on health spending.
You omitted the second half of that sentence you quoted: Homeopathy is a $1.2 billion industry in the US alone, used by an estimated 5 million adults and 1 million kids.

So now we're at a small-ish (but not insignificant) percentage of people who are spending spending $2K apiece on sugar pills. That's not small potatoes for most people, and it's almost certainly money that's being spent on rubbish rather than proper healthcare. What I'm more worried about is what healthcare costs are hiding behind that $1.2 billion in homeopathic spending--how many preventable illnesses/ailments escalated to emergency-room trips or chronic problems because someone was sold a false sense of hope by some asshole marketer who put the lidocaine teething gel right next to the homeopathic teething gel on the shelf at the CVS and there's no enforcement about labeling one as real and one as magical thinking. (Why yes I AM still bitter about accidentally buying the wrong one, thereby subjecting my daughter (and both her parents) to days of discomfort that could have been easily avoided by proper regulation)
posted by Mayor West at 8:34 AM on October 24, 2019 [12 favorites]


I like Behind the Bastards but dude needs to look up words he can't pronounce. He also threw around "double blind" a lot when he meant "single blind."
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:41 AM on October 24, 2019 [2 favorites]


Mayor West - excellent point. The harm is real, and the indirect costs could be significant. (One correction: $1.2 billion by 6 million people means $200 per person, not $2,000, though that's still real money for that group.)
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:43 AM on October 24, 2019


I remember the first time I was introduced to homeopathy, and it was through one of the purported Boiron flu remedies waaay back in the early 1990s. Never heard of the stuff before then and I was born and raised in random health food stores, my mom actually bought carob powder (blech!) fructose candies (argh!) and similar things.

But thankfully never homeopathic stuff. Also thankfully no chiropractic crap, either. Thankfully most of the "hippy" or "alternative" health stuff I was exposed to as a kid was mainly about simply eating better food and less sugar and processed crap, and that was basically spot on and far ahead of its time back when health food stores were still very fringe and Whole Foods probably wasn't even a chain or internationally known grocery store yet.

Anyway.

My very well meaning hippy roommate had introduced me to a few valid semi-valid herbal remedies that were definitely not homeopathic, but then I had a cold or flu or something and he brought out that little chapstick sized tube full of tiny pellets, how you were supposed to not touch them at all and carefully tilt one into the cap and use it to drop it under your tongue and so on.

I'm happy to report I immediately had questions about it and what the dilution ratios meant, and those questions quickly lead to Avogadro's Number and how that homeopathy logically must imply that water has a memory for it work at all and related weird shit in about three or four sentences.

I'd never heard these counter-arguments before, the internet wasn't really a fully fledged thing yet, but even with really basic knowledge of chemistry and science it was really clear to me that what was logically in those little round pills the first time I was introduced to them.

And so I said "So, wait, it's just an actual sugar pill, right? This will do jack shit for the viral cold or flu I'm currently experiencing." and I shrugged and threw it under my tongue and enjoyed sensation of the small sugar pill dissolving. As far as I know this is the only homeopathic sugar pill I've ever consumed.

He got a little mad about it but I never saw him using or offering sugar pills to anyone ever again. We'd been roommates long enough that he also trusted my opinions and realized that I was wicked smart and had an open mind and I don't think he'd had anyone challenge the whole concept of homeopathy and how dilution works at those extreme levels, and how there couldn't possibly be anything left of the original molecules of "toxins" or whatever, and that consuming diluted toxins to heal anything at all through some kind of immune system response made about as much sense as bloodletting for a knife wound.

The sugar pill, of course, did absolutely nothing for my cold or flu. It also did not prevent him or my roommates from also catching it.

The big pot of really spicy, garlicky soup we made sure helped, though. That and a lot of naps and water.
posted by loquacious at 9:04 AM on October 24, 2019 [10 favorites]


The number of people who push "Emergen-C" packets at me is astonishing. "I always take 3-4 Emergen-C packs at the first hint of a cold and IT KNOCKS IT RIGHT OUT!"

The zinc and mega-vitamin consumers are Legion. Please, no. It's like people chugging Gatorade as a kind of health-hydration drink.
posted by SoberHighland at 9:10 AM on October 24, 2019 [2 favorites]


WebMD says "Some studies have found that zinc lozenges may reduce the duration of cold, perhaps by as much as 50%, and may reduce the number of upper respiratory infections in children." If you can stand the taste, it can't hurt and may help to take zinc lozenges for colds.
posted by sjswitzer at 10:15 AM on October 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


Examine.com is the only site I trust for supplement information. They look at studies on actual humans and they say there is some evidence that zinc can help with colds.
posted by ceejaytee at 10:27 AM on October 24, 2019 [2 favorites]


If you can stand the taste, it can't hurt and may help to take zinc lozenges for colds.

Well, except that the evidence is of a fairly poor quality, the effect is small and zinc is potentially toxic when consumed above the RDA, tastes awful and might make you throw up or just feel horrible. Add to the the problems of blinding associated with the strong and distinctive flavour of zinc, the fact that the duration reduction effect doesn't appear to be present in children, and the fact that self-reported symptoms of this type are highly susceptible to placebo effects and I think there's pretty good reason to only take a zinc supplement when advised to by a doctor.

I note that neither Mayo nor the NHS recommend taking zinc for colds. We know that consuming too much zinc is harmful, and we don't know that supplementation actually does any good. As general advice, therefore, I think that the precautionary approach adopted by major medical organisations is the correct one.
posted by howfar at 10:34 AM on October 24, 2019 [12 favorites]


Interesting to note (something I just found out when I googled it): homeopathic products are not regulated as supplements, but as drugs. (I figured that when Orin Hatch got the supplements law past , they would have also included homeopathic stuff as well.) The FTC, not the FDA is the agency that demanded that they stop placing claims on their products of cures. It's not that it's illegal under normal pharmaceutical law, it's that it's false advertising.

I guess, given that there are no actual ingredients that could harm someone (except maybe give a diabetic a sugar spike), they didn't need the "feel free to poison people and say it's medicine" law from Hatch. (At the time - 1994 - Utah was the largest manufacturer of dietary supplements.)
posted by Hactar at 10:42 AM on October 24, 2019


Weren't pyramids even sold to keep knives sharp?

yes I remember this

This reminds me of a tweet I saw about how "The Bermuda Triangle has been much less of a factor in my life than I thought it would be as a 70's kid".
posted by thelonius at 10:49 AM on October 24, 2019 [20 favorites]


Most diseases and problems with your body go away on their own eventually. Homeopathy isn't going to fix cancer or a broken leg, but I'm all for keeping people out of the doctor's office who don't really need to be there.

That was apparently part of the attraction of homeopathy in the 18th and 19th centuries. At the time many medical treatments like bloodletting and induced vomiting were actively harmful, which gave homeopathy some comparative advantage when their treatments were merely useless and not actively harmful.

I'm taking this from Paul Starr's The Social Transformation of American Medicine, which is fascinating on the topic of how so-called allopathic medicine triumphed over homeopathy and osteopathy (and public health intervention) in the United States (and on many other topics).

A number of medical schools and medical facilities still in existence today began their life as homeopathic institutions. New York Health + Hospitals/Cumberland, in Brooklyn, today an outpatient clinic facility, began life as Brooklyn Homeopathic Hospital in 1873. Today's New York Medical College was originally the Homeopathic Medical College of the State of New York when it was founded in 1860.
posted by Jahaza at 1:31 PM on October 24, 2019 [9 favorites]


My major medical provider (Kaiser) offers benefits which extend to Chiropractic services and Acupuncture. I have never taken them up on either offer though they have been offered to me as recently as today when I had a call to see if I needed an in-person appointment to review my neck and back pain from a minor car accident I was in. They offer chiropractic referrals or physical therapy referrals but I have never take them up on either to see how they would shake out. A major factor would be cost. Physical therapy (for my "benefit" plan) has me pay out $500 first out of pocket and as I recall, from the last time I had this conversation, I had to pay for a minimum number of visits ahead of time which would have been around $350. So, before I have been evaluated by a PT, I need to pay $350 to get started. I think if offered, I will follow up on any chiropractor referrals just to see how they break down in terms of cost and services because I am curious though unlikely to actually visit a chiro.

I was raised by two conservative Americans, one a board certified eye surgeon in the military, the other an RN with a specialty in pediatrics. They raised me to scoff at all this pseudoscience and to avoid chiropractors and naturopaths and osteopaths like the plague. However, what seems to be the case is that the chiropractor is offering something that Western medicine is not. And Western medicine can be a cruelly blind system whose treatment can range from overbearing to criminally negligent. And there are so many gatekeepers to the system of Western medicine in America. Not the least of which is that for the most part Kaiser is really good at sending me away. You really have to hound them if you have an issue that isn't immediately diagnosed. I really, really would like to talk to someone about perimenopause symptoms but I feel hugely unempowered due to past visits with Kaiser and I know it will be a slog to get some care in this area and I expect it to be incomplete and I expect it to take several visits to get any sort of anything. You know what isn't a slog? All the folks in my peer group who recommend that I just avoid that whole mess (impatient, dismissive doctors, weird rules about prescriptions, opaque billing hiding nasty surprises) and go to my friendly Doctor of Oriental Medicine, or a naturopath who will look at my whole body and lifestyle and create a treatment customized for me, or an acupuncturist who performs miracles and on and on and on.

I recently suggested (which, you know, was probably rude of me) to my professional marketing photographer that she consider getting an MRI due to her shoulder pain that is making her cancel photography appointments (her livelihood). She had let me know that her Chinese Medicine Doctor had suggested it was a tendon and not a muscle (ok?!). (And here's where someone will pop in and say how correct this idea is and that Chinese Medicine is different somehow. Maybe it is.) And maybe I also have the experience (I do) of sitting in as a juror on a medical malpractice trial where patients had their shoulder cartilage dissolved away (permanent!) by a pain-pump machine known by the manufacturer to have poor outcomes in post-surgery protocol. And a year ago, a friend who has the state health plan and is one of these folks who lives really leanly financially so she can homeschool her kid and travel, decided to spend lots of time at a chiropractor and an acupuncturist and taking herbs and getting massage for what turned out to be a bulging disc. She and I spent a weekend together and she was in so much pain I basically insisted she go see one of those horrible, no good, Western medicine doctors to see what was up. I didn't expect her to follow-through but she did and then was able to follow that protocol and get herself back together. For her, alternative medicine is something she believes in but I think no small part of it is fear that there will be a cascading kind of medical intervention that will bankrupt her and her family. I mean...we never hear of that happening (sarcasm).
posted by amanda at 2:08 PM on October 24, 2019 [5 favorites]


My second favorite bizarre monument in DC is the Samuel Hahnemann Monument on Scott Circle. Like many of our little pockets of green, this is an NPS park. I walk past it regularly and am always dumbstruck by the inscription of "similia similibus curentur." No. No it doesn't. Better living through chemistry and doctors. Not magic water.

(my favorite bizarre monument in DC is the Boy Scout Memorial on the Ellipse.For utterly inexplicable reasons (well, other than the obvious references to the rumors about Baden-Powell), it features a boy in a scout uniform, a woman in flowing robes, and a naked man.
posted by jburka at 8:01 PM on October 24, 2019 [3 favorites]


In homeopathy’s doctrine, mental, emotional, and social considerations are just as important as what X-rays, imaging, and lab tests can reveal, explains Brown.

What really kills me about the popularity of homeopathy and such is that mainstream medicine already tells us that social context matters. The ACES study, which found strong correlations between trauma in early life and chronic health problems later, is something I learned about in my not-especially progressive nursing school, and my doctor/med student friends reported learning about it as well. Anyone who's done any clinical time in a busy city hospital can tell you that factors like housing instability can aggravate physical health problems and bring people back to the hospital again and again. In the US, however, the health care system is driven by profits, and the middle-managers with no clinical experience who keep pushing for quicker and quicker appointments to increase said profits. There are naive and/or terrible practitioners out there who wouldn't take a person's whole experience into account anyway, but in my experience most of them really wish they had the time to do so. The problem is that taking that time gets a manager on your ass about metrics and productivity and other things that shouldn't carry as much weight as they do.

Related, I hate how words like "integrative" and "holistic" have become dog whistles that signify woo-woo practices. In an ideal world, all medicine should be integrative in the sense of taking social context into account when prescribing establish treatments. If you take standard blood pressure medications in conjunction with working with a therapist to reduce anxiety and stress levels that can trigger hypertension that's integrative by my understanding of the word, but I'm afraid I've lost that language battle.

Tl;dr: I'm holding MBAs partially responsible for alternative medicine's popularity, because I like to blame MBAs wherever I can. Also, just let doctors and nurses run the damn health systems.
posted by ActionPopulated at 8:21 AM on October 25, 2019 [3 favorites]


-- I think I need another homeopathic beer.....

But... but what about microdose acid ?
posted by y2karl at 12:30 PM on October 25, 2019


My favorite homeopathic bit of trivia is that logician George Boole died when he caught a cold in the rain. His wife, enamored of homeopathy, emptied buckets of ice water on him to speed up his cure.
posted by mark k at 12:37 PM on October 25, 2019 [1 favorite]


Frankly, anything less than 6X or 3C should cause you to raise an eyebrow and look into the matter further. Of course, anything over that should also cause you to raise a totally different eyebrow.
What about people that only have one eyebrow?

On a different matter, I would like to support the notion that many people have no idea what "homeopathy" means. A coworker, an educated man, also had the idea that it meant much the same as "naturopathic." He's the same person that likes to pull my chain about aromatherapy, so it is possible he was doing so for this, too.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 2:28 PM on October 25, 2019


Aromatherapy, at least, affects the deepest and most primitive part of the brain... connected intimately to limbic system. Whether it does any good or not is another question and could be subject to empirical tests. But in terms of plausible mechanisms? Yeah, it's not completely nuts. I have no reason to believe it's helpful, but it's not like water memory.
posted by sjswitzer at 3:04 PM on October 25, 2019 [2 favorites]


It makes me quite cross when I see all the herbal medicine in stores, most of it at least potentially helpful and all of it full of stuff that can be detected and isn't water, sold under the name 'homeopathic'. This really muddies the waters*.

I strongly believe that some plants contain chemicals that can be helpful when taken in the right dose and in the correct case; after all, that's where we got many of our 'regular' medicine. I do not believe in homeopathy at all, and so I want to be sure what I'm buying. But when I'm considering to buy some over the counter medication and ask whether it actually is homeopathic or simply made from natural ingredients, the clerks' eyes glaze over faster than you can say 'quack'.

So I do what I do in most stores: I read the packaging and draw my own conclusions.

*Will the waters remember the mud forever? No. No, they will not.
posted by Too-Ticky at 10:21 AM on October 26, 2019


"You know what you call alternative medicine that works? Medicine." —some smart person
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 11:41 AM on October 26, 2019 [2 favorites]


It makes me quite cross when I see all the herbal medicine in stores, most of it at least potentially helpful and all of it full of stuff that can be detected and isn't water, sold under the name 'homeopathic'.

It makes me quite cross when I see all the herbal medicine in stores, since it is completely unregulated in the US and thus both the amount of herb actually in a dose and whether the bottle even contains the herb on the label are completely unknown. Especially since so many people think herbs are by definition safer than evidence-based medicine that is actually highly regulated.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:19 AM on October 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


I will not buy anything that says it’s homeopathic. I’ve pretty much known all that stuff is a scam.
I do use herbal remedies. That is because my family lived in Mexico and my parents employed a woman who practiced traditional herbal medicine. She knew her stuff and knew when to tell people to go see a doctor. I’ve helped people using herbal remedies, but I too will tell people they should go to a conventional doctor if the remedy doesn’t work.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 12:42 PM on October 28, 2019


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