Should the NHS pay for Hyena Saliva?

Homeopathy, paid for by the NHS, is under threat. Millions of pounds of NHS money is pumped into a few Homeopathic hospitals so that patients can have ‘choice’. It is a good thing, choice. The Queen makes this choice. The newspapers promote this stuff. It is natural. No side effects. Health Freedom. Patient Options. Blah Blah Blah.

Talking to people with jobs and mortgages and only one cat, I get looks of surprise at my hostility to homeopathy. I think most people just do not understand what homeopathy is. They think it is like herbalism – natural extracts from plants that might cure the odd thing. After all, so many modern medicines have their origins in traditional herbs, why not homeopathy? Well, of course this is nonsense. Explain that homeopathic remedies might start out as herbs, but then they get diluted to the point where none of the herb remains, and eyebrows get raised. “Surely, most products in Boots aren’t like that?”. Well, pretty much, yes. You then explain the more bizarre elements (e.g. the more dilute the remedy the stronger it is) and the person either concludes you are a liar or makes a mental note to check this, or both. After all, we all know someone who swears by such stuff. They can’t be wrong, can they? You might then discuss the futility of anecdote, the placebo effect, spontaneous remission, regression to the mean, wishful thinking, confirmation bias, and so on. By then, they have usually made their excuses. I am so interesting it is amazing that I have so few friends.

Anyway, one aspect of homeopathy that does not get the coverage it deserves is the idea of homeopathic proving. Provings are the method by which homeopaths determine the effects of a particular remedy. In short, because ‘like cures like’ in the homeopathic world, if a substance makes you lethargic, then it can form the basis of a cure for tiredness. So a proving gives a group of volunteers substances that might tire you. Over a few weeks, diaries are kept of symptoms, dreams are recorded, star positions noted and poems are written. Afterwards, the investigators look through the diaries and record the experiences and conclude that the substance is now part of the suite of remedies.

It gets a little stranger, of course. Nothing is straightforward in the world of homeopathy. Hahnemann, the founder, started off using real poisons to do his Provings; making himself and his friends sick as dogs, blinding headaches, sweats and fevers, and so on. He found, funnily enough, that if you dilute the substance to non-existent levels, provings become a lot more palatable. In effect, you are now free to dream up whatever symptoms you want. Just as cognitive biases can convince you that homeopathy has cured you, cognitive biases can select particular symptoms as being significant. Provings are not done blind. Over the weeks you are going to experience a range of mental and physical states. This means that expectations can be set amongst the proving group, and availability biases, and selective thinking will ensure the proving gets the right ‘result’. In summary, you should not confuse a Proving with proof.

Some more progressive homeopaths have had to admit that the whole concept of provings is deeply flawed. At Southampton University, Dr George Lewith has been working on the problems that such illogical and flawed procedures have:

Homeopathic pathogenetic trials (or provings) provide the foundations for the clinical practice of homeopathy. The most recent review of proving studies indicated that provings are generally of poor methodological quality. Methods to improve the quality and scientific rigour are needed to critically assess the clinical basis of homeopathy.

But few homeopaths take notice of such warnings. After all, they all have to undertake provings at homeopathy college and are indoctrinated to defend them. I can believe they are quite good fun. So over the years, many more substances have been drafted into the homeopathic fold through Provings. Given that remedies and provings rarely actually use the substance, doesn’t that create a free for all? If the whole process is a delusion, what constrains the process and what substances are actually used?

I thought a competition would be good. Who could dream up the weirdest substance to use in a proving? Unfortunately, such a competition would be futile as the homeopaths are already doing it.

A good example of something I could never dream up is a proving of ‘stone circle’. Carried out by ‘very scary’ Mary English RSHom, this proving took a piece of neolithic upright stone from Stanton Drew, near Bristol, and decided that a homeopathic preparation of rock was good for tiredness.

The longest serving director of one of the UKs’ biggest homeopathy schools, Misha Norland, does a lot of new provings with his students. He is quite prolific. Here is a list of some of his provings:

  • AIDS
  • Trained Peregrine Falcon
  • Positronium
  • LSD
  • Heroin
  • Buckyballs
  • Bewick Swan
  • Condom
  • House Sparrow
  • Cockroach

That is going to take some beating. The positronium one is interesting. He is obviously quite proud of his antimatter homeopathy remedy. The AIDS remedy was taken from the blood of a man who died.

The sky is the limit for provings. I am sure you can Google your own. But here are a few:

It would be easy to think that this stuff is just on the fringe of homeopathic thinking. Indeed, the sheer incredulity of it is what allows homeopathy still to be funded by the NHS. This just cannot be true. But, one only has to visit the web site of UK homeopathy pill manufacturers to be reassured that this is not off with the homeopathic faeries. This is mainstream.

Let’s look at Helios, one of the UK biggest fake pill manufacturers. They list their remedies by initial letter. Let’s pick, at random, H. Remedies include,

  • Hadrian’s Wall
  • Helicobacter Pylorii
  • Helium
  • Hepatitis A, B and C.
  • Halogen Light
  • Hyena Saliva

There are dozens of these, and this is just H. Feel free to explore the other letters.

So, should the NHS pay for Hyena Saliva? Well, if they are, what is sure, is that they are not getting any. For all pratical purposes, all homeopathic pills are identical: no active ingredient.

If I was running Helios, I would have a big skip of blank pills out the back. When an order came in, I would scoop up some pills into a pot, print out a label, stick it on, ship it out, and no one would be the wiser. There is not a diagnostic test in the world that would tell you whether you really had Hepatitis B or if you had Bewick Swan. You might think you are taking caviar but really you could be sucking on condom. Is your medicine really the dog’s bollocks? No instrument in the world is sensitive enough to convict me in court of defrauding you.

And this is what your taxes are supporting. The NHS, by providing Homeopathy, is legitimising this fraud. The NHS is funding witchcraft. Dr Peter Fisher, the clinical director of the London Homeopathic Hospital and the ‘respectable’ face of homeopathy defends this voodoo. He may appear to make reasonable statements about homeopathy, but looks as if he is out of touch with mainstream practice.

Witchcraft does not belong in the NHS. It is not adding to patient choice. People are being conned, deluded and harmed. Let your MP know.

Oh, and if you can think up an even weirder substance to do a Proving on, please post below.

On this theme…

17 Comments on Should the NHS pay for Hyena Saliva?

  1. “Explain that homeopathic remedies might start out as herbs, but then they get diluted to the point where none of the herb remains, and eyebrows get raised. “Surely, most products in Boots aren’t like that?”. Well, pretty much, yes. You then explain the more bizarre elements (e.g. the more dilute the remedy the stronger it is)…”

    Never mind the most basic principle: “like cures like”. This was Hahnamenn’s first principle; he only introduced the dilutions when he realised that administering a substance that causes symptoms, er, causes symptoms…

  2. The author does not seem to be able to differentiate between mere dilutions and triturations, potentisations etc. which has made the Homoeopathic Remedies effective and also stood the test of time for more than two centuries. How long your modern medicines stand ? one year? two years? and then coolly withdrawn when the side effects become evident?
    Provings on human being is the most positive aspects in Homoeopathy. This is because it believes that man has a different constitution, different mindset and that he is totally different from rats, mice and guniea pigs. To study human as whole- both mind and body- pigs dont help but only humans help. But to some humans are like animals so let them have that belief.
    Before knowing a subject one should learn something about it. To critise it one should know still more. But today some people are exception to this.But Homoeopathy will go strong and steady despite unfair criticisms.

  3. As far as I can tell, “trituration” means “grinding up” and “potentisation” means “diluting and shaking”. There are those who bang on about, for example, the shaking (sorry, “succussion”) causing cavitation (making lots of tiny bubbles which collapse at high speed) as if this is a physical explanation for how the “remedy” gets “remembered” by the solute – there is no actual scientific evidence for this which can’t be explained as bad experimental procedure (Milgrom et. al. 2001) and there’s no reason why there should be biological effects from this anyway. In fact you create cavitation every time you boil water in your kettle or open a tap.

  4. Purushottam – humans are not ‘like’ animals, they are animals.

    Lot’s of homeopaths claim I ought to learn more about homeopathy, but yet I would claim that is homeopaths who only have a pretence to knowledge. No one has ever showed that succussions and potentisations do anything other than shake and dilute. As Danny says, there is no agreed way that it can have the effect you claim. That is not knowledge, your beliefs are just faith.

  5. Purushottam is an evangelist methinks and either does not know, or chooses not to know the history of homeopathy.
    It has become a religion, and like all religions its followers are there to be exploited and defrauded. No amount of scientific explanation of its idocy will suffice to convince believers.
    When Purushottam is seriously ill or dying I take it he/she will forsake all remedies and therapies except homeopathic. But methinks not!
    Homeopathists are like Christian evangelists in this respect. Their pronouncements and blatherings are good for the “lower orders”, the idiot Joe Public. But when it comes to their own health they will be off to benefit from what the latest in evidence based medicine and technology has to offer.
    Dishonest bastards the lot of them. The evidence for the effectiveness of Homeopathic remedies is as strong as that for Mr Pastry being the inspiration for Al Qaida.

  6. The most dangerous thing about these idiots is not that they’re extracting mpney from the gullible chattering classes but that they’re exporting their bizarre notions to Africa and Asia.

    Quackery is killing people by the millions in Africa by persuading people to take useless nostrums instead of proven (hah!) drugs.

    I tried to explain this point on Sue Young’s away-with-the fairies blog but naturally it didn’t appear. For people who bang on about “choice” so much they show little interest in hearing any voices other than their own.

  7. Sue’s pretty much gone off the deep end now. They are all a bunch of frauds. Evangelism is a good word for it.

  8. For the truly mind-boggling, look at the Helios site under “V”. Not only Vacuum Cleaner Dust, but Vacuum itself. So we start with bugger all, then dilute it…
    Intrigued by the “Canine Testes”, though. My dog has been neutered. If he were to get hold of a packet of these pills, would they grow back?

  9. How long your modern medicines stand ? one year? two years? and then coolly withdrawn when the side effects become evident?

    Nice example of falsifiability there – homeopathic potions are never withdrawn because homeopathic tricks (I can’t think of a better way to describe the ‘method’) don’t allow for the homeopath’s claims being wrong. Medicines are withdrawn, because better medicines are found, or problems are exposed by testing.

  10. Have a look under A and you’ll find Air.

    It seems the concentration of Air in the, ummmm, air isn’t potent enough and must be diluted. I wonder if going up a mountain for a bit has the same effect?

  11. I’m impressed, in a deeply despairing sort of way. They’re actually selling homeopathic preparations of “yellow” and “blue”… this scores higher on my personal weirdometer than a dilution of any actual substance.

    I mean, assuming for a moment that someone actually does stand there and expose a vial of pure water (created by combining hydrogen and oxygen in absolute darkness, which is itself quite a trick) to the colour blue… does the potentisation also have to be done in the dark?

    Given that at the end of the process you’re left with a vial of pure water that has been exposed to Blue, is there not a danger of serious unexpected effects if you were to leave your finished remedy in an area of, say, Taupe?

    Not only that, but is it not possible that by exposing any homeopathic remedy to a colour of some sort we’re putting ourselves at risk of a confusing welter of side-effects?

    I believe we should apply the precautionary principle here and ban the sale of homeopathic preparations that have been exposed to colours until they have been conclusively proven (if you’ll pardon the pun) to be 100% safe.

  12. Cindy Crawford on the Oprah Show: It is VERY pleasing that Cindy Crawford chose to HIGHLIGHT the fact that she calls herself a “big fan of homeopathy” and that she uses it to treat a wide variety of ailments of her children and her animals. This is fabulous…and it adds just one more person who is smart and successful and
    who could choose to use ANY form of healing…but SHE chooses
    HOMEOPATHY.. .with good reason. The bottomline is that she emphasized that she doesn’t leave home without her homeopathic medicines. Fab again.

  13. Keeping with an African secretion theme, I find “Rhino nasal discharge” particularly intriguing.

    As for the author of has made the Homoeopathic Remedies effective and also stood the test of time for more than two centuries. – witch trials stood the test of time for much longer. That doesn’t make them a particularly ethical way of treating diseases, even if the supposed “bewitchment victims” thought so…

  14. As someone trained as an industrial chemist and technician I know that homeopathy is bollox. No matter how much magnetic potentising the shaking of the bottles by human hands makes. However I can (i am afraid to say) that I can see a benefit to it.

    I think it is generally accepted that placebos work. If the homeopathic treatment costs less than a pharmaceutical grade placebo does the NHS not gain financially?

    • In what sense do ‘placebos work’? By definition, they have no specific effects. They may result in the patient believing the placebo has helped them, but that introduces ethical dilemmas. It is difficult to think of a cost-benefit scenario where a consultaiton with a homeopath, plus the sugar pills costs less than more standard care. Even if so, what are the full ‘lifetime costs’ of giving homeopathy on the NHS. If you are prepared to lei and give a patient sugar pills, do you not risk a dependency where the patient will return to the NHS for more little sugar crutches rather than face the reality of their situation?

  15. I would have thought a dilution of red double-decker London bus would be an invaluable addition to the equipment of every homeopathic ambulance and roadside trauma consultant. Also, in this era of knife crime, any preparation no longer containing lemon juice, which is sharp.

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