Homeopathy and Homerisms
Feb 14, 2011
By Trevor Shewfelt, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy
The older I get the more I relate to Homer Simpson. And it is not just because my belly is growing and my hair is falling out. Homer says such brilliant things like: "Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try." And Homer on Education: "How is education supposed to make me feel smarter? Besides, every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain. Remember when I took that home winemaking course, and I forgot how to drive?" to which Homers wife Marg answered: That's because you were DRUNK!" to which Homer replied: "And how." Homerisms are always words to live by. But is Homeopathy medicine to live by?
Homeopathy has been around for a long time. It seems to have been invented in the late 1700s by Samuel Hahnemann. Over the years it has been practiced by European monarchs and all sorts of famous people. One notable good thing homeopathy did was help us understand the germ theory of disease. During the US Civil war less people died of infections in homeopathic hospitals than in regular hospitals. It turned out the homeopathic hospitals were kept much cleaner and the people who worked in them washed their hands more often. As obvious as this sounds now, those were radical ideas in the 1800s.
I first heard about homeopathy in University. One of my pharmacy classmates did a homeopathy talk for the class. One of the principles of homeopathy sounded odd to me. The Law of Infinitesimals said the more you dilute the homeopathic product the more potent more potent it gets. In fact, it seems that some of the homeopathic formulations were diluted so much they may not have any active ingredient in them at all.
Homeopathy came to my attention again recently when I heard the about people intentionally overdosing themselves on the news. As a pharmacist, this obviously peaked my interest. This group of people were taking entire bottles of homeopathic medicines to prove that there was no actual medicine in homeopathic products. As interesting as this sounded, please dont go overdosing on anything to prove any point, okay?
Apparently this overdose campaign started with a group out of the UK called the 10:23 campaign. They came up with the idea for people to take overdoses of homeopathic medicines to prove they dont work. The original mass overdose was January 30, 2010. The next one was February 5-6, 2011 at 10:23 am. That was the one I heard about on the news.
So why 10:23? It refers to Avogadros number which is 6.022 x 1023. That is basically 6 with 23 zeros after it. Avogadros number is the number of atoms or molecules it takes for the atomic or molecular mass to equal the mass in grams of that substance. So 6.022 X 1023 caffeine molecules, which has the molecular mass of 194.19, will weigh 194.19 grams. But heres the rub, in homeopathy they dilute things a lot. If you took one drop of caffeine and put it in 100 drops of water, that would be a 1 to 100 dilution. In homeopathic speak it would be a centesimal, or 1C. If you took 1 drop of that and put that in 100 drops of water, it would be 100 times more diluted, or 2C. The problem happens when you pass 12C. 12C means 100 times itself 12 times or 10012. 10012 is the same as 1024 which is greater than Avogadros number of 6.022 x 1023. So even if you started with 194.19 g of caffeine (which is a fairly large amount), by the time you get to 12C dilution, you have a good chance of having zero molecules of caffeine left in the dilution. Many homeopathic preparations are labeled as 30C. At a 30C dilution you have a better chance of winning the lottery several times in a row than having a single molecule in the dilution. Another way to look at 30C is like putting 1 drop of active ingredient in the entire ocean. Then stir the ocean well. Now scoop a random bottle of water out of the ocean. Do you think you would get any active molecules in your bottle?
I have to admit, I havent been too worried about homeopathic medications in the past. I always considered the herbal products more of a problem. You see herbals act just like drugs in the body. So I am always worried about the herbal products causing side effects or drug interactions. I didnt worry about homeopathic medicines because they were basically sugar and water. With no active ingredient, there was no side effects or interactions to worry about. But the 10:23 campaign people made a point I hadnt thought of. What happens to people who take sugar pills for real medical conditions instead of actual medicine? It is one thing if an adult decides to take a homeopathic treatment to fix their headache or their dry cough. These are self limiting conditions and will go away by themselves. What I didnt realize was that parents were deciding to give their children homeopathic treatments instead of vaccines. Giving a child a homeopathic treatment of sugar and water instead of a polio vaccine just doesnt make any sense at all. Then there are the homeopathic practitioners who tell people they can cure cancer with homeopathic treatments. If a patient delays cancer treatments because they were taking sugar pills, that is extra time for the tumors to grow.
So maybe homeopathy should be debunked. It can be dangerous if people use them instead of legitimate treatments. And maybe I shouldnt live by Homerisms. But the next time I am praying to god to give me football tickets and it turns out I was really praying to a delicious waffle stuck on the ceiling, Ill know what to say.MMM sacrilious
CBC Market Place segment: www.cbc.ca/marketplace/2011/cureorcon/
Sacrilious quote : www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUnH9NECSUU
The 10:23 Campaign: www.1023.org.uk/
As always if you have any questions or concerns about these or other products, ask your pharmacist.
The information in this article is intended as a helpful guide only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice. If you have any questions about your medications and what is right for you see your doctor, pharmacist or other health care professional.
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