Sunday, July 1, 2007

Homeopathy, a/k/a "Placebos"

I hate to impugn my sex and my job, but damn, hanging out with moms can be a skeptic's nightmare. Especially moms who are a little crunchy and into breastfeeding. For some reason, this set has a LOT of believers in homeopathy. Not to be confused with "holistic medicine," which may be associated with a lot of bunk, but not necessarily, as it can just mean treating the whole person, involving psychology in medical treatment and such.

No, homeopathy, is uniquely, demonstrably, bullshit. It is not based on any science, but on magical thinking. It is allowed by the FDA because a bigtime homeopathic practitioner was involved in the legislation founding the FDA, not because of scientific merit. The "remedies" have no active ingredients - and this is touted as making them especially effective! What happens when people get relief by taking them is so well-documented, it is accounted for in any reputable drug trial: the placebo effect. You take it (or give it to your kid), and your perception of the situation changes due to your expectations. It's like the Tinkerbell of the medical world - if you truly believe, and clap your hands, magic can be real!

And yet intelligent women, women who can rattle off the latest study on iron absorption in the newborn gut or the current research on the risks and benefits of continuous fetal monitoring, have somehow missed all the information on what utter tripe homeopathy is. It drives me so nuts, I want to stomp and scream!

Maybe it's a lost cause - a lot of them use chiropractors as their family "doctors" too. Sigh.


AlisonM said...

I think it might have something to do with control - not having much, that is. My best friend for almost 30 years has always been a spiritual seeker, but now that she's facing an empty nest, menopause, husband's health problems, etc., she's spent inordinate amounts of time and money studying woo. I always found it a part of her charm until she started diving in and justifying the outrageous costs of these "courses", and trying to treat herself with anything but real medicine of any kind. She's doing the aromatherapy, flower essences, herbal medicine, and now reiki, and all of them combined manage to convince her that all she needs to do is keep trying different combinations, because regular therapies won't work for her. As someone whose life has turned around miraculously with the help of traditional medicine, I'm terribly distressed not only to watch this, but to be unwelcome to criticize in any way.

But, you see, as soon as she (or any other believer) admits that the "alternative" treatment isn't working, she relinquishes control, and I think that's really what it's all about.

Cogito said...

Good point, Alison. I wonder how much of the embrace of alternative "medicine" has roots in people's fear and discomfort with doctors. Personally, I've come to the point of thinking of my doctors as paid consultants - they have expertise and knowledge which I realize, but they are only there to give me enough information to make my own decisions.

But lots of people seem to view doctors as massive authority figures, and feel they must do as they're told. Perhaps the herbalist with her vague but optimistic suggestions is simply less threatening, and makes the patient feel more in control.

AlisonM said...

Remember, too, that with medicine in America, we're not only doing what the doctor says because we feel a little cowed by his or her knowledge (vs. our own) but also by the fact that our diagnosis and treatment has to be approved by the Insurance Company - and we trust the doctor to know what will fly or flop with them, as well.

I've been told on more than one occasion what my diagnosis really is, and what I really have to do, and what is going to be told to the insurance company so I can get reimbursed, or get my prescription approved. I'd rather have a doctor that did that (with a little secret wink) than one who was authoritarian, or woo-like in his vagueness.