Alternative Medicine

This is an alternative to conventional medicine, you know the kind that really works.

Pain is a subjective perception; it can not be measured by instruments.

Medicine has two roles: prophylactic (preventative) and therapeutic (curative).

The Placebo Effect

There is an excellent summary here: More info and links are in the slides on Homeopathy. You cannot understand the effectiveness of a claimed "alternative medicine" without first understanding the power and subtlety of the Placebo effect (and its opposite, the Nocebo Effect).


Slides for the lecture

Does homeopathy relieve pain better than no treatment? Yes.

Does homeopathy relieve pain better than placebo? No.

Can homeopathy prevent disease? No.

Does homeopathy work the way its practitioners claim? No.

Conclusion: consistent with the placebo hypothesis.

Guess the Fake Cure!

Homeopathic Dilution explained by Richard Dawkins

Homeopathic Emergency

Dara O'Briain Talks Funny Part 3/9

The word "homeopathy" comes from the two Greek words "omoios" and "pathos", which mean "same" and "disease" respectively. It originated in the 19th century in Germany with physician Samuel Hahnemann, beginning about 1810. For an excellent description, follow this link. You might want to print a copy to study.

Like Cures Like

In the 19th century, quinine was the marvelous cure for malaria. Hahnemann tried quinine on himself and found that it produced symptoms very much like those of malaria. From this one observation he concluded that "like cures like." To treat a disease you must administer a substance which produces the same symptoms as the disease itself.

Less is More

This refers to the belief that, as a solution is diluted it becomes more powerful. Dilution by a factor of 10 is indicated by "X" and dilution by 100 is noted by "C". A dilution of "3C" is diluted 100-to-1 three times for a total dilution of 106 (one million), which is stronger than 1C. Chemists will roll their eyes at this idea, for they know perfectly well how dilution WEAKENS a solution.

Avogadro's Limit

This dilution paradigm runs into something very real - Avogadro's Number. This physical constant has a value of 6.023 x 1023. For those who haven't done any chemistry, here's a brief description. All atoms have nuclei made up of protons and neutrons (except hydrogen, which has only 1 proton). The atomic weight is simply the count of protons and neutrons. For example, carbon 12 has 6 protons and 6 neutrons and is the usual isotope of carbon. If we arbitrarily take 12 grams of C12, it will contain 6.023 x 1023 atoms and this quantity will be called one mole of carbon. One mole of iron 56 will weigh 56 grams. And so on... One mole of anything will contain Avogadro's Number of atoms (or molecules if appropriate) and will weigh a number of grams equal to the atomic weight of its molecules or atoms.

This bit of very real physics produces a dilution limit. If you dilute one mole of anything by 1024, you are not guaranteed to have even one molecule (atom) of the original substance left! In homeopathic terms, 1024 is 12C. On top of this, the pill is produced by putting ONE DROP of the diluted substance onto a lactose tablet.

One Jacques Benveniste thought he had found an explanation for homeopathy. In 1988, he published work claiming that water "remembered" whatever had been dissolved in it before dilution. This got him an "Ignobel" prize TWICE. Read about Benveniste and his work here.


Homeopathic remedies are studied by means of "provings", in which healthy people are given doses of a natural substance and then are observed to see what happens. It must be done this way because the "cure" is supposed to cause the same symptoms as the ailment, making testing on patients impossible.

FDA Regulation

In the last 15 years or so, homeopathic remedies have been subjected to at least a little regulation by the FDA. They are considered to have little or no active ingredient, and so the regulation is not like that of real drugs. A Google search for "homeopathic fda regulation" will turn up some good references. The homeopathic organization site has good information, as does a government site. They make recommended reading.


Prof. Scalise decided to make sure he did not suffer from insomnia. He had obtained a bottle of homeopathic "sleep aid" (for $11!) at a local store. The safety seal was still intact. Prof. Scalise then proceeded to dump 44 of the 50 pills and swallow them. Took some amount of water to do it, and he reported a chalky taste.

Ingredient concentration is not specified on the label. There are 9 active, ingredients, 3 of which are diluted 1X, one is diluted 2X, and the remaining 5 are diluted 3X. Dilution of 3X is a reduction of 1000 times. Also note that the pills are prepared by placing one drop of the diluted solution on a lactose tablet.

By the way, Prof. Scalise was still wide awake and going at 5:00 that afternoon. The pills had no effect.

Mr. Busby noticed perspicaciously that the box of sleeping pills was a "Non-drowsy formula"!

Homeopathy: The Test James Randi takes on homeopathetics on BBC's Horizon program

Scientist seeks ban on homeopathic products

Homeowatch Your Skeptical Guide to Homeopathic History, Theories, and Current Practices

National Council Against Health Fraud Position Paper on Homeopathy

Homeopathy Awareness Week by Steve Novella, NeuroLogica Blog 15 June 2009

Nature douses dilution experiment. Nature magazine.

What's the harm in homeopathy?

"The Difference between Hahnemann and Darwin" by U. Kutschera - Skeptical Inquirer Vol. 32, No. 1, January/February 2008.
Read the Label Carefully!
Are the clinical effects of homoeopathy placebo effects? Comparative study of placebo-controlled trials of homoeopathy and allopathy. Lancet. 2005 Aug 27-Sep 2;366(9487):726-32.


Does acupuncture relieve pain better than no treatment? Yes.

Does acupuncture relieve pain better than sham acupuncture? No.

Can acupuncture prevent disease? No.

Does acupuncture work the way its practitioners claim? No.

Conclusion: consistent with the placebo hypothesis.

This is an old, traditional Chinese technique. It supposedly unblocks the flow of chi by using needles inserted at specific points in the skin. The Skeptic's Dictionary has an excellent overview; be sure to read it.

NCAHF Position Paper on Acupuncture

What's the harm in acupuncture? - Hepatitis B, death, ...


Slides for the lecture.

Does chiropractic relieve pain better than no treatment? Yes.

Does chiropractic relieve pain better than massage? No.

Can chiropractic prevent disease? No.

Does chiropractic work the way its practitioners claim? No.

Conclusion: manipulation of any kind provides short-term relief of neck and back pain.

Hitler parody on chiropractic evidence

Chiropractic originated in 1895 with an accidental discovery by a grocer in Iowa. D.D. Palmer manipulated a lump in the spine of a worker and the man's hearing problem cleared up. From this one sample, Palmer concluded that the spine was the center of everything. Misalignments of the spine could, he figured, cause all kinds of diseases. Read this good description for the details.

A question arose about why chiropractic was included in insurance plans. This was not always the case. A lobbying effort by chiropractors got laws changed so chiropractic COULD be covered by insurance. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed a few years ago renewed the issue of "complementary and alternative medicine" and insurance coverage.

Wilk v. American Medical Association

Don't believe that chiropractic is a widespread and lucrative business practice? Check out this snapshot of a Google Map, illustrating all the locations of placed in the Dallas area that offer Chiropractic treatments!

Are there risks associated with Chiropractic?

Yes. Many. Here is some information to help you understand the risks.

Spread of disease through discouragement of vaccination

Because the chiropractic philosophy rejects germs as the cause of disease, there is a lot of documentation showing resistance in the chiropractor community to recommending vaccination to patients who ask about it. Chiropractic professional organizations also have a history of actively campaigning against vaccination (e.g. the polio vaccine). Here are some resources.