The Gentle Art of Homeopathic Killing

11 October 2007 11:47am

My web hosting company Netcetera have received a complaint from the legal representation of the Society of Homeopaths about this posting. On the request of my hosting company, I have taken down this post while I try to understand the concerns of the Society of Homeopaths.

26 October 2007

The Society of Homeopaths have still not responded to requests to explain their position. To see everything on this site about the Society of Homeopaths, click here.

If you are interested in finding out the history of this problem, a good place to start would be on the blog of Professor David Colquhoun FRS.

My letter to the Society of Homeopaths to find out the nature of the problem, and a discussion, can be found on Ben Goldacre’s BadScience

James Randi discusses the affair here with some insight into potential problems.

The homeopath named in this article was subject to an official complaint. You can find out how the complaint was dealt with here.

The Guardian Newspaper has reported on the issues raised by the response of the Society of Homeopaths and compares it to how evidence-based medicine deals with criticism.

The Society of Homeopaths responded with a press release and letter to the Guardian (so far unpublished) and gives some insight into their thinking.

I have written to the Society of Homeopaths again about this press release as I believe it contains some incorrect and misleading information about the BBC Newsnight/Sense about Science malaria sting. No response so far.

Their thoroughly misleading statements in their letter to the Guardian and on their web site are discussed here.


The Gentle Art of Homeopathic Killing

It is now over a year since Sense about Science, Simon Singh and the BBC Newsnight programme exposed how it is common practice for high street homeopaths to tell customers that their magic pills can prevent malaria. The Society of Homeopaths have done little to stamp out this dangerous practice apart from issue a few ambiguously worded press statements.

The SoH has a code of practice, but my feeling is that this is rarely used to censure homeopaths and is therefore liable to mislead the public. If the SoH cannot deal with the malaria issue raised by Newsnight can the public expect them to deal with wider issues? .

As a quick test, I picked a random homeopath with a web site from the SoH register to see if they flouted a couple of important rules:

48 • Advertising shall not contain claims of superiority.
• No advertising may be used which expressly or implicitly claims to cure named diseases.

72 To avoid making claims (whether explicit or implied; orally or in writing) implying cure of any named disease.

The homeopath I picked is called Julia Wilson and runs a practice from the Leicestershire town of Market Harborough. What I found rather shocked and angered me.

Straight away, we find that Julia M Wilson LCHE, RSHom specialises in asthma and works at a clinic that says,

Many illnesses and disease can be successfully treated using homeopathy, including arthritis, asthma, digestive disorders, emotional and behavioural difficulties, headaches, infertility, skin and sleep problems.

Well, there are a number of named diseases there to start off. She also gives a leaflet that advertises her asthma clinic. The advertising leaflet says,

Conventional medicine is at a loss when it comes to understanding the origin of allergies. … The best that medical research can do is try to keep the symptoms under control. Although creams and puffers can provide temporary relief, they are not offering your child a cure. Homeopathy is different, it seeks to address the triggers for asthma and eczema. It is a safe, drug free approach that helps alleviate the flaring of skin and tightening of lungs…

Now, despite the usual homeopathic contradiction of claiming to treat causes not symptoms and then in the next breath saying it can alleviate symptoms, the advert is clearly in breach of the above rule 47 on advertising as it implicitly claims superiority over real medicine and names a disease.

Asthma is estimated to be responsible for 1,500 deaths and 74,000 emergency hospital admissions in the UK each year. It is not a trivial illness that sugar pills ought to be anywhere near. The Cochrane Review says the following about the evidence for asthma and homeopathy,

The review of trials found that the type of homeopathy varied between the studies, that the study designs used in the trials were varied and that no strong evidence existed that usual forms of homeopathy for asthma are effective.

This is not a surprise given that homeopathy is just a ritualised placebo. Hopefully, most parents attending this clinic will have the good sense to go to a real accident and emergency unit in the event of a severe attack and consult their GP about real management of the illness.

However, a little more research on her site reveals much more serious concerns. She says on her site that ‘she worked in Kenya teaching homeopathy at a college in Nairobi and supporting graduates to set up their own clinics’. Now, we have seen what homeopaths do in Kenya before. It is not treating a little stress and the odd headache. Free from strong UK legislation, these missionary homeopaths make the boldest claims about the deadliest diseases.

A bit of web research shows where Julia was working (picture above). The Abha Light Foundation is a registered NGO in Kenya. It takes mobile homeopathy clinics through the slums of Nairobi and surrounding villages. Its stated aim is to,

introduce Homeopathy and natural medicines as a method of managing HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria in Kenya.

I must admit, I had to pause for breath after reading that. The clinic sells its own homeopathic remedies for ‘treating’ various lethal diseases. Its MalariaX potion,

is a homeopathic preparation for prevention of malaria and treatment of malaria. Suitable for children. For prevention. Only 1 pill each week before entering, during and after leaving malaria risk areas. For treatment. Take 1 pill every 1-3 hours during a malaria attack.

This is nothing short of being totally outrageous. It is a murderous delusion. David Colquhoun has been writing about this wicked practice recently and it is well worth following his blog on the issue.

Let’s remind ourselves what one of the most senior and respected homeopaths in the UK, Dr Peter Fisher of the London Homeopathic Hospital, has to say on this matter.

there is absolutely no reason to think that homeopathy works to prevent malaria and you won’t find that in any textbook or journal of homeopathy so people will get malaria, people may even die of malaria if they follow this advice.

Malaria is a huge killer in Kenya. It is the biggest killer of children under five. The problem is so huge that the reintroduction of DDT is considered as a proven way of reducing deaths. Magic sugar pills and water drops will do nothing. Many of the poorest in Kenya cannot afford real anti-malaria medicine, but offering them nonsense as a substitute will not help anyone.

Ironically, the WHO has issued a press release today on cheap ways of reducing child and adult mortality due to malaria. Their trials, conducted in Kenya, of using cheap mosquito nets soaked in insecticide have reduced child deaths by 44% over two years. It says that issuing these nets be the ‘immediate priority’ to governments with a malaria problem. No mention of homeopathy. These results were arrived at by careful trials and observation. Science. We now know that nets work. A lifesaving net costs $5. A bottle of useless homeopathic crap costs $4.50. Both are large amounts for a poor Kenyan, but is their life really worth the 50c saving?

I am sure we are going to hear the usual homeopath bleat that this is just a campaign by Big Pharma to discredit unpatentable homeopathic remedies. Are we to add to the conspiracy Big Net manufacturers too?

It amazes me that to add to all the list of ills and injustices that our rich nations impose on the poor of the world, we have to add the widespread export of our bourgeois and lethal healing fantasies. To make a strong point: if we can introduce laws that allow the arrest of sex tourists on their return to the UK, can we not charge people who travel to Africa to indulge their dangerous healing delusions?

At the very least, we could expect the Society of Homeopaths to try to stamp out this wicked practice? Could we?

40 Comments on The Gentle Art of Homeopathic Killing

  1. You think homeopathy is bad

    Scientists based at McGill Cancer Centre sent a questionnaire to 118 lung cancer doctors to determine what degree of faith these practicing cancer physicians placed in the therapies they administered. They were asked to imagine that they had cancer and were asked which of six current trials they would choose. 79 doctors responded of which 64 would not consent to be in any trial containing Cisplatin – one of the common chemotherapy drugs they were trialling, (currently achieving worldwide sales of about $110,000,000 a year) and 58 of the 79 found that all the trials in question were unacceptable due to the ineffectiveness of chemotherapy and its unacceptably high degree of toxicity

  2. The point is that the practice of medicine, whether conventional or “non-conventional” is always dependent upon the context of the culture within which it is practiced.

    That means that each culture has criteria upon which it decides whether something is effective or not effective. And there are no 100 per cent reliable criteria to determine whether one particular treatment will benefit each individual who undertakes it.

    At the moment, the litmus test for medicine in the west, is a scientific trial. However these trials are unreliable. I have friend with MS who has been presribed a cocktail of drugs, all of which are useless.

    When researching the efficacy of these drugs I discovered none of them had been trialed by the drug companies on unhealthy frail individuals taking many other prescription drugs, the very people they would be presribed to.

    Instead, drug trials are aimed first of all, at very healthy people who take no drugs at all. The target population in these situations receives a drug that has never been tested on them, and never been trialed in conjunction with all the additional drugs that this target population is presribed. So interactions and side effects are often unknown at the time the drug goes on the market.

    If a side effect is not listed, then GPs often dismiss the side effects experienced by the patients who have been presribed the drug as it is not already included on the literature. Most new drugs on the market are therefore experimental by nature.

    I think it is possible that hoemopathy is effective in many people with various complaints, although I would not choose to use it as a primary treatment or for maleria prevention.

    The point is that the ability to “prove” a treatment, is always dependent on the criteria and avialability of proof at the time.

    It is now possible to see changes in the brain during an MRI when someone is receiving acupuncture treatment. This “proof” was not available ten years ago. Does that mean that the changes in the brain now evident, did not take place?

    Doubtless, until this scanning technique was developed many doctors would have vociferously denied that such brain changes could occur during acupuncture treatment. As they deny now that homeopathy or herbal medicine could possibly cause as any “real” physiological changes or be a factor in the restoration of health and treatment of disease.

  3. What a wondefully straightforward commentary on an irresponsibly dangerous aspect of homeopathy. The fact that the medicines contain no medicine doesn’t mean you can’t die as a result of taking them.

    Concerning Lawrence’s comment on acupuncture, it has been known for ages that sticking a needle in yourself causes a signal in the brain. You don’t need an expensive scanner to show that, and there is nothing new about it. Read any old textbook of sensory physiology. The fact that this signal exists tells you nothing whatsoever about the important question, which is ‘does acupuncture help patients?’. The ancient principles of acupuncture are clearly sham. It seems that acupuncture is no more than a theatrical form of placebo.

  4. “I try to understand the concerns of the Society of Homeopaths.”

    Good luck with that. I would have expected that they would be more concerned with regulating their members than with getting blog posts taken down.

    Can I say that, though – or will this also ‘concern’ the SoH?

  5. Re. Jess Lawrence’s comments about who drugs are trialled on: it is mandatory to run small initial “phase 1” safety trials, and these are usually on normal healthy volunteers, as recruiting actual patients onto such trials is incredibly difficult (cancer being a sight exception). Later, and larger trials will be on patient groups. See many online sites for more info, for instance here

    Re MS specifically, it typically first manifests in people before they are 40. It is not really that surprising that the PharmaCos trial drugs in the first instance on younger people with early phase disease. “Catch and treat it early” is generally a good rule.

    Usually it is once drugs are on the market that you get “phase 4” trials looking in detail at the drug’s relative effectiveness in different patient groups ( g. the elderly). It bears mentioning that really good large-scale drug trials are hard to do, incredibly costly, and take years. Thus it does tend to be a while before the full picture of a drug’s “action profile” in all the different patient groups is worked out.

    Finally, re. people taking multiple drugs for different things. Unfortunately, given the myriad complaints that come with ageing and the complexity of therapeutic drug regimens, it would be impossible to have done a trial in which every possible combination of peoples’ other medications had been included. Again, the best chance of this is “post-marketing surveillance” and the phase 4 monitoring.

    These problems in sick and elderly patients are noticed and do get addressed, though sometimes it takes a while. While the PharmaCos are hardly whiter than white in how they test and market their wares, IMHO there is no comparison between their drug treatments and CAM therapies. To repeat, for CAM there is in most cases essentially NO reliable trial evidence on whether they work in anyone. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

  6. “Anonymous said…

    You think homeopathy is bad

    Scientists based at McGill Cancer Centre sent a questionnaire to…”

    Now I know it can be considered picky, but…I can’t find any references to that…could you enlighten us?

  7. If you had a non-weasel host like I do this kind of thing wouldn’t be a problem. Read the last paragraph of this FAQ entry:

    (with the line break removed, obviously)

    That’s the kind of hosting I like. I’d be happy to mirror the content for you, but to be honest you could set up a special site with them, just for things that your current hosts object to, and it’d probably cost you almost nothing — they charge per megabyte stored and per megabyte downloaded, and they have no minimum charges for small sites. (You can run a tiny site for months on a single cent if you’re that stingy.)

  8. coracle said…
    “Outrageous. The tyranny of altmed again.”

    Indeed. As I’ve posted on DC’s blog, this tendency to resort to the law like this is one favoured by criminals (or should I say, those with something to hide or vulnerable to protect?). It’s the sort of thing that Berlusconi and Mediaset do here in Italy, for the sole purpose of shutting people up and preventing comment that isn’t favourable to them.
    Why on earth would the SoH do this if they didn’t feel seriously threatened? They are under a fairly sustained and justified attack at the moment because people have come to realise that perhaps public money shouldn’t be spent on bogus medicine. Their public face at the moment isn’t looking too good.
    Although I’m sorry for you Andy, and the Quackometer, this might well turn out to be a good thing as it is sure to backfire on them.

  9. But it’s Big Pharma that does this sort of evile thuggery, right? Right?

    I’m just bummed that I cant read the article. Writing your ISP to mention that to them. Never read you before, came via Orac @ Respectful Insolence.

  10. SoH must feel really threatened if they are resorting to such outrageous bullying. will be interesting to see if they follow up with similar legal threats to the mirrores articles.

  11. This is outrageous. It’s a conspiracy, evil big pharma, I mean, SOH, are trying to suppress the TRUTH! 😉

    The alties have been caught doing exactly what they claim scientists do.
    I agree with others who reckon the SOH are going to regret this stupid move.

    Good luck.

  12. Recently Teek have said in DC”s blog:
    “…we await the tail-between-their-legs response from the SoH to all the comments seemingly flooding the blogosphere in support of le canard noir…”

    It seems it is useless to “await the talibetween-theirlegs response”

    If LeCanardNoir don’t reinstate the deleted page in his blog himself, then SoH’s lawyers will do NOTHING and will keep silent like concrete walls.
    But if he reinstate the deleted page in his blog, then the lawyers will start a legal proceeding against him. That’s all.
    But what about us with our copies of the page????

    Lawyer “spit upon” all us! 🙁 🙁


  13. Anonymous wrote:
    “They were asked to imagine that they had cancer and were asked which of six current trials they would choose. 79 doctors responded of which 64 would not consent to be in any trial containing Cisplatin – one of the common chemotherapy drugs they were trialling”

    wewillfixit said…

    “I went looking for the reference to that McGill questionnaire and found the reference:

    McKillop, WJ, et al. The use of expert surrogates to evaluate clinical trials in non-small cell lung cancer. Br J Cancer 1986; 54: 661-667. “

    The reference in the article is slightly mangled, you will need to search on Mackillop WJ in PubMed to find the study.

    Two important points
    1) It is about agreeing to be a part of experimental clinical trials, rather than existing therapies, as anonymous implies.

    The main thrust was to find better was to ensure clinical trials produced meaningful results, an ongoing quest in medical research.

    2) The study is over 20 years old, things have progressed since then.

    Cisplatin and platinum compounds have transformed the treatment of metastatic testicular cancer increasing the cure rate from 5% to 60% (in combination with vinblastine and bleomycin); the subsequent substitution of vinblastine with etoposide has pushed cure rates to around 80%
    Kelland L. The resurgence of platinum-based cancer chemotherapy.
    Nat Rev Cancer. 2007 Aug;7(8):573-84. Ovarian cancer is also highly responsive to cisplatin.

    Not all tumours respond as well to cisplatin and its related compounds, but even in the notoriously difficult to treat non-small cell lung cancer cisplatin regimes are the most efficacious.
    Rajeswaran A, et al. Lung Cancer. 2007 Aug 27; [Epub ahead of print]

    The take home message: 20 year-old papers on the efficacy of clinical trials is no indicator of how well current therapy works.

  14. I cannot understand why the SOH feel so threatened as to take this course of action. Homeopathy has worked brilliantly for all my family’s ailments for the last thirty years so why should it need defending?

  15. 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 with her homeopathic medicines. Fab again.

  16. From the Alliance of Registered Homeopaths site (

    “Homeopathy works on a principle known as ‘the law of similars’ or ‘like cures like’. This law states that a substance that can cause a disease can also relieve it. For example, coffee – or Coffea as it is known in Latin – is a stimulant that can cause temporary insomnia. Coffea may be used in minute potentised (i.e. homeopathic) doses to relieve that insomnia. Another example is that chopping onions can cause your nose and eyes to run with copious amounts of water. The onion – Allium cepa – can be used homeopathically to treat colds and hayfever where the main symptoms include runny eyes and nose.”

    Ah hahahahaha! This is a joke, right? Are these fuckwits for real?

  17. Have you ever read any testimonies of kids with ADHD from Dr. Judith Reichenberg Ullman’s books? Maybe there is a placebo effect. But that’s some placebo. Even though some pretty strange things are used in homeopathy, they are really safe becaise of the dilution process. But a person should always consult a certificated homeopath. I think you should do more research and talk to people who have actually been healed using homeopathy. Perhaps you’re right that they should not claim that homeopathy cures an illness. But you just sound way closed minded. Hey, I’m really conservative on many topics in life. But when it comes to my health, I’m willing to try something if it has a good record of safety and has helped millions of people.

    “The Church” back in the “Dark Ages” thought that science was hooey and from the devil. Well, many people are realizing that science goes hand in hand with The Bible. For instance, the Bible speaks of the circumfrance of the earth…wow! Too bad those church officils didn’t either read or take that passage seriously. It would have put a lot of fears to rest. I am aware of some of my own bretheren who are quite well known in the Christian Evangelica world in the USA who don’t agree with homeopathy either and think it’s from the devil. I think that Hanneman did homeopathy an injustice by placing some spiritual connotations on it. To me, homeopathy is made from things from the earth that my Heavenly Father made. Homeopathy can be negated from things from the earth that my Heavenly Father made…not a spell. So to me, homeopathy is scientific, but hasn’t been proved to be scientific yet. It’s just something I believe in my gut.

  18. Erm “to quote good ole’ Dr Goldacre

    “The Stupid, it burns…”

    Am i the only one who feels like they are drowning in a sea of overwhelming ignorance!

    mlmsuccess4u2, i’m not sure quite why the circumference of the Earth popped up? Assuming this is an “the Earth is flat thing” then surely the circumference could be accepted for a flat disc?

    I’ll let the “Heavenly father made it” slide as this isn’t a religious arguement.

    Like cures like? If i shoot myself, can i cure myself by shooting myself with a smaller calibre.

    Maybe the cure to GSW is to take a a bullet and dilute it in 10×30 guns and pull the trigger of one at random?

    Its frustrating that i spend all day everyday revising in the hope i can graduate with a degree in Immunology, to work on these problems, while trumped up psuedo scientists can quote everything from our lack of knowledge of asthma (pretty sure that IgE mediated, but who am i to know!), to quoting Quantum bloody physics, with a Doctorate from the University of .com.

    God i’m so angry i can’t even remember what i was arguing!

    Suppose i’d better return to the books.

    If i was a homeopath i’d be home by now!

  19. The comments of Jess Lawrence
    >> The point is that the ability to “prove” a treatment, is always dependent on the criteria and avialability of proof at the time.

    It is now possible to see changes in the brain during an MRI when someone is receiving acupuncture treatment. This “proof” was not available ten years ago. Does that mean that the changes in the brain now evident, did not take place? <<

    Thank you for making the above point.

    • Holy non-sequitur!

      Of course you’re going to see “changes in the brain” when someone starts sticking needles into your skin!

      The appropriate question is: What the heck does it mean, and is it genuine to acupuncture (or just sticking needles anywhere), and does it have anything to say about whether acupuncture works?

      Hint: It doesn’t.

  20. Seems the majority of comments are from people who know nothing or very little about homoepathy. Make yourself knowledgable before you drag something into the dirt. I used homoepathy on myself for 30 years, including homoepathic “vacciations” and malaria protection for a 4-week trip through India. Worked perfectly well.
    (I gues you say I was just lucky….).

    Galileo was killed because he found the earth is a ball – which did not meet the thinking of his time. A true scientist is a rationale observers – watching the actual effects and experimental outcomes and adjusting theories if necessary (as Galileo did).

    “Who heals is right.” Hahnemann

  21. Probably the majority of comments are from people who know nothing or very little about homoepathy. Make yourself knowledgable before you drag something into the dirt. I used homoepathy on myself for 30 years, including homoepathic “vacciations” and malaria protection for a 4-week trip through India. Worked perfectly well.
    (I gues you say I was just lucky….).

    Galileo was killed because he found the earth is a ball – which did not meet the thinking of his time. A true scientist is a rationale observers – watching the actual effects and experimental outcomes and adjusting theories if necessary (as Galileo did).

    “Who heals is right.” Hahnemann

  22. Last week two Dutch homeopathic doctors have been disciplined by the Inspectorate Health Care (IGZ) because their attempts to introduce and actually even prescribe anti-HIV homeopathic drugs. They received a formal warning.

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