Mar 11, 2015
By Trevor Shewfelt, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy
Several months ago, we were at a Christmas party. Doris and I won the center piece at our table. It had lots of candy canes on it and a bunch of helium filled balloons attached to a decorative weight. When we got home, I put the weighted balloons on the coffee table. I sat on the couch, turned on the TV and immediately fell asleep. I awoke to a crazed dog barking, Doris yelling at Emily and Emily yelling at me. Disoriented, I wasn't sure if there was a burglar in the house, a fire, or a Terminator that SkyNet had sent back through time to kill me so I didn't lead the Resistance to victory. As my John Connor delusions evaporated, I saw the crisis that I had caused. I forgot our dog Sheldon has an irrational fear of helium filled balloons. Well, irrational to me, maybe Sheldon has a great reason to hate floating balloons. Sheldon wouldn't calm down until Emily put the balloons into the office and closed the door.
I usually think about homeopathy as much as I think about Sheldon's balloon phobia. That is, not at all. But, homeopathy seems to be in the news again. There is a study underway at the University of Toronto by Heather Boon that is looking at using homeopathic treatments on ADHD. By itself, that isn't news, but 90 scientists, including 2 Nobel Prize winners, wrote an open letter opposing the study. They said this study was a waste of time and money since homeopathic treatments cannot possibly work. The other homeopathic headline involves nosodes. Some homeopathic practitioners are telling their patients that homeopathic nosodes are as good as vaccines at preventing illness. Its time to wake up and deal with this barking dog.
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, the math says that many homeopathic formulations are diluted so much they don't have active ingredient in them at all.
My favorite group of anti-homeopaths are the UK's 10:23 campaign. I don't think they are still active, but they arranged a couple of mass overdoses of homeopathic medicines in 2010 and 2011. Now, as a pharmacist, I don't endorse overdosing on anything intentionally or otherwise. But I sympathize with the 10:23 campaign. They came up with the idea for people to take overdoses of homeopathic medicines to prove homeopathic medicines don't have any active ingredients in them.
To put a little math behind it, a homeopathic dilution labelled 30C would have 1 drop of active ingredient in 1 x 1060drops of water. That is 1 with sixty zero's behind it. That means with a 30C dilution you have a better chance of winning the lottery several times in a row than having a single molecule of active ingredient 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 havent been too worried about homeopathic medications in the past. I always considered the herbal products more of a problem. Herbals act just like drugs in the body. 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 nosodes instead of vaccines and research money going to examine homeopathic medicines effects on ADHD presents some real problems.
Vaccines are dead or weaken infectious agents or chunks of infectious agents like bacteria or viruses that are given to a patient, often by injection. This lets the bodys immune system recognize the infection before it happens. That way if a patient encounters the infection later their body will be able to fight off the infection before they get sick. Vaccines are very inexpensive, very safe and have already saved thousands, if not millions of lives. These medications have saved more Canadian lives over the last 50 years than any other health product. Homeopathic nosodes aren't vaccines. They don't prevent disease. Like other homeopathic medicines they have no active ingredients. It would be a tragedy if a parent gave their child a nosode to prevent measles instead of a vaccine, because nosodes offer exactly zero measles protection.
The ADHD homeopathic trial is more controversial. It is not that homeopathic medicines have any chance of helping ADHD. Again they don't have any active ingredient in them. When I listened to an interview with Dr. Heather Boon, she said as much. But Dr. Boon said her study would have 3 arms. One group would see a homeopathic health care practitioner and get a homeopathic treatment. One group would see a homeopathic health care practitioner and get a placebo. The third group would see no one and get nothing. It seems to be a well designed study. Other than the problem of telling the difference between homeopathic and placebo treatments, the study seems to want to explore if seeing a homeopathic health care practitioner will help ADHD symptoms. That is interesting, but has nothing to do with homeopathic products. They are exploring how good homeopathic practitioners are at counseling ADHD patients. That makes the study misleading since there is a good chance the public will misinterpret any positive results as meaning homeopathic products when it is really counseling that helps ADHD patients.
Sometimes seemingly harmless things like dog balloon phobias and homeopathic treatments do deserve to wake me up from a nap. Although homeopathy has no side effects as it has no active ingredients, it can be dangerous when people forsake proven treatments for placebos. Now Sheldon, calm down. Im not John Connor and there are no T-800 series machines are in the house. You scared the balloons away with your ferocious barking. Come cuddle up with me on the couch. I have a cookie.
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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The 10:23 Campaign: www.1023.org.uk/
CBC The Current Homeopathic Treatment of ADHD - http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-march-5-2015-1.2982500/scientists-question-research-on-homeopathic-treatment-for-adhd-1.2982505
Joe Schwarcz Why would anyone think a homeopathic remedy would help with ADHD? - http://montrealgazette.com/health/the-right-chemistry-why-would-anyone-think-a-homeopathic-remedy-would-help-with-adhd
Heather Boon Why would anyone think a rigorous clinical trial is a bad idea? - http://montrealgazette.com/health/opinion-why-would-anyone-think-a-rigorous-clinical-trial-is-a-bad-idea
CBC The Current Public Health Experts want nosodes taken off the market. http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-feb-23-2015-1.2967121/public-health-experts-want-nosodes-taken-off-the-market-1.2967215