Thursday, May 12, 2005

Homeopathy: let distilled water treat "like.

Dear internet diary,

I'm not a mean person, I don't always have to be "right." But I admit, I am very selfish. When my friend Kathleen was coming down with the flu, and super-dosed a bunch of homeopathis echinacea, I said nothing. That's because I didn't want her to be mad at me.

There was some logic to that. Using the echinacea wasn't going to effect her much, except to calm her. My pointing out that she was swalling nothing but some gelatin might have caised her some pain. In the long-run, she will have spent thousands on these remedies, but she's loaded and can afford it.

Homeopathy is a 19th-century "modern" response to bloodletting and bodily humours. The term "homeopathy" literally means "like suffering." The theory behind is is that treating an ailment with what you are suffering from will stimulate the "life-force," or the "qi," to begin to heal you. I'm sure you can guess how I feel about the existence of a life force.

There is some merit to the idea: after all, we use snake-venom to make antidotes, right? The problem here is that while they claim to use the actual substance to treat the ailment, they are in fact using nothing but distilled water, or sugars, or plain gelatin. You see, homeopathy works on dilution. Not just kool-aide kind of dilution. If you get a giant vat in space and fill it with all the waters from the seven seas, you begin to get an idea about what homeopathic dilution means. That's good, though. Because according to certain homeopaths, the more diluted the better. Moe Sizlack should hear about this! Unfortunately for alcohol lovers, it's not true. Ask James Randi, who took 64 sleep remedies at once in '97, or Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy who, with others at an Australian Skeptics convention, took part in a mass homeopathic suicide. They are all doing fine.

You find the dilution by looking on the side of the package or bottle. It says something like "24X," or "30X." What that means (and you should take out a piece of paper), one part remedy to 10 to the 30th power water. Take 10 and add 30 zeroes. What's that number called? Does anyone know? How does it look on paper? And where is the one part echinacea? Well, it disappeared completely, at least a million parts of water ago.

It's not just the water that makes for a fantasticly strong remedy. It's the homoepathic shake. Hahneman, the discoveror of this miracle, called this dynamization. The succession of shakes, in certain direction, in certain order, somehow increases the substance's potency. Maybe that's why Bond likes his martinis that way. This agitation apparently releases spiritual powers within the substance, making it "more active." Make sure only homeopathic scientists, like those that graduate from Seattle's Bastyr University. I'd be willing to bet that Seattle's Cornish College of Dance would suffice, but that's just me.

Responding to the charges that no such say, echinacea or sleep enhancer or appetite suppressant , exist in their products, homeopaths rationalize that molecules have memory. It's a more material way of claiming that it's there, we just can't detect it. It indeed would be hard to detect one molecule in a hundred pacific oceans. Anyway, according to them, no molecules disappear in the dilution. That's very interesting. That would mean that what we're drinking remembers everything it came into contact with, ever. That's a lot of dead fish, urine, garbage, beaver feces, soaps and cleaners, and anything else you can think of. That oughta stimulate the spirits.

Thanks for listening, diary.


breakerslion said...

Like many things in this world, there is no black and white, just shades of gray. I am holding in my hand a bottle of Bach Rescue Remedy, given to me by a dear friend. The dilution is 5x, which is 1 part per 100,000. (10^5 = 1 with 5 zeros, not 10 with 5, the first zero being shown in the exponential notation). This does not sound like much, but I happen to be allergic to sulfites, and can tell you first hand that I have been affected by a mouthful of substance with less than 2 parts per billion of sodium bisulfite. Do I know that this compound works? No, but it could work, and I don't know that it doesn't. It is possible that a small amount of a compound will "turn on" a process in my body on a cellular level, creating a chain reaction that "turns on" the same process in other cells, not unlike my sulfite reaction. Then again, it might only be the 54% alcohol that gives it any effect at all. I would gladly accept a government grant to find out, otherwise I do not have the time and money to spend proving or disproving the efficacy of various trace chemical compounds. I do indeed object to the sloppy thinking that goes, "because one works, they all work", and I would like to see medical evidence. I am also quite skeptical about a 30X "solution", if you can even call it that. I guess what I'm saying is, "caveat emptor".

breakerslion said...

Correction: 2 parts per million on that sulfite reaction. I wasn't trying to exaggerate, honest! My head was just in too many places at once, and even spell check wouldn't have saved that one.

breakerslion said...

Ok, I'm a mess today. I also wanted to add that the "shaken a certain way", and "molecule memory" part of the speil is just pure, old-fashioned bunkum (as if you didn't know). This allows for the, "It must have been a mishandled batch" defense, and "of course your tests came back negative, the hoodoo man didn't mix what you had". Good old-fashioned "medicine show"! Some things never change.

Francois Tremblay said...

5X is not a concentration routinely used in homeopathic "remedies". Typical homeopathic "remedies" are made at 10X, 20X, 30X, those kinds of levels. From 24X onwards, there is no more molecule of the substance in the "remedy" : it is pure water. This is a scientific fact - not a shade of gray.

breakerslion said...

Agreed. Someone I once knew used to swirl around his diet soda. When asked why, he would say, "I'm trying to avoid the one calorie." He would have no such problem with a one part per nonillion (quintillion in Europe, to answer your question about 10^30) "solution".

breakerslion said...

I had to look this up. There are 6.022 x 10^23 (1 mole) molecules of water in 18.2 grams of water. For backwards Americans like I am, that's .65 oz. Postulating a 10^30 mixture, that's 0.0000000092646 molecules of compound per ounce of "remedy". That means you could buy 100,000,000 ounces of this stuff without ever once finding a molecule that wasn't water.