|Homeopathy and stuff and nonsense
||[Mar. 3rd, 2008|07:41 pm]
The Wild Colonial Boy
|||||Some stupid game show||]|
These days it seems that it's become trendy to call any non-traditional medicine "homeopathic," including things like herbal teas and remedies, natural concentrates and oils, and so on. I suppose this is because of the number of people pushing homeopathy as an alternative to modern pharmaceutically-oriented medicine. I have no problem with herbal, natural, and traditional remedies per se, and I use several and believe that many of them work as well as or better than anything Glaxo-Smith-Kline has come up with. However, I have a strong aversion to the word "homeopathy," not because of what it has come to mean, but because of what it originally represented - pseudo-scientific bullshit of the purest ray serene.
The basis of homeopathy is the dilution. There are many ways to do this, but one of the earliest and still a popular potency scale used in traditional homeopathy is the "C scale", diluting the substance 1 part in 100 of some fluid, usually water or alcohol, at each stage. Thus, a 2C formula requires the substance to be diluted 1:100, then some of that diluted solution is diluted 1:100. This works out to a 1:10,000 dilution of the original solution (1 in 100x100). A 6C dilution repeats the process six times, ending up with one part in 1,000,000,000,000 (one in one trillion, 100x100x100x100x100x100, or 10 to the 7th power) Other dilutions follow the same pattern. In homeopathy, a solution is described as higher potency the more dilute it is. Say what? The less of the useful substance, the more useful it is?
Samuel Hahnemann, the "father of homeopathy," advocated 30C dilutions for most medicines (a dilution by a factor of 10 to the 60th power) and a common homeopathic treatment for the flu is a **200C** dilution of duck liver. Per Wikipedia, where people with lots of time on their hands spend it doing comparisons like these,
"Comparing these levels of dilution to the number of molecules present in the initial solution, a 12C solution contains on average only about one molecule of the original substance. The chances of a single molecule of the original substance remaining in a 15C dilution would be roughly 1 in 2 million, and less than one in a billion billion billion billion (10 to the 36th) for a 30C solution. For a perspective on these numbers, there are in the order of 10 to the 32d molecules of water in an Olympic size swimming pool and if such a pool were filled with a 15C homeopathic remedy, to expect to get a single molecule from the original substance, one would need to swallow 1% of the volume of such a pool, or roughly 25 metric tons of water.
"For more perspective, 1 ml of a solution which has gone through a 30C dilution would have been diluted into a volume of water equal to that of a cube of 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 metres per side, or about 106 light years. Thus, homeopathic remedies of standard dilutions contain, with overwhelming probability, only water (or alcohol). Practitioners of homeopathy believe that this water retains some "essential property" of the original substance, due to the shaking after each dilution. Hahnemann believed that the dynamisation or shaking of the solution caused a "spirit-like" healing force to be released from within the substance. He thought that even after every molecule of the previous substance has been removed from the water, the spiritual healing force still remained."
Now, that said, Zicam bills itself as a "homeopathic" remedy, but its dilution is only 2X - in other words, the zinc gluconate content of the gel, by volume, is about 1:100 (2 dilutions at a one in ten ratio). That's well within reasonable limits, and it's a sure thing that actual zinc gluconate gets into your nose and helps you get over your cold more quickly, at least according to clinical trials with different forms of zinc. I don't know if the Zicam folks do the shaking thing or not, which is essential to the purist approach to homeopathy, but it doesn't matter since the gel is actually an efficient delivery system for a clinically significant dose of zinc gluconate. Give me all of the antioxidants, herbal cleansers, Emergen-Cs, etc. in the world, but spare me the super-dilute homeopathics.
If I ever have the flu, I'll just go out and slay a duck and eat its liver rather than try to drink the volume of water necessary to snag one random molecule of duck liver in a 200C homeopathic dilution of "Oscillococcinum," the most popular homeopathic flu "remedy." I don't believe that modern medical science has the answers to everything, but there are limits to my credulity.