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Homoeopathic medicine: Just the tonic or plain quackery?

Mersey sceptics lead mass UK overdose outside Boots

Published on January 28th 2010.


Homoeopathic medicine: Just the tonic or plain quackery?

PRINCE Charles is a staunch ambassador and millions of people swear by it. However, most UK doctors consider homoeopathic remedies to be little more than superstition and a waste of money.

'We know that many people believe in the benefits of complementary medicines and we aim to offer the products we know our customers want' says a Boots statement

That's according to the Merseyside Skeptics Society, anyway. Indeed, so convinced are they themselves, of the inefficacy of products made by the multi-million pound homoeopathy industry, that later this month they are planning a mass overdose.

Up to 300 self-styled sceptics plan to stand outside branches of Boots in cities and towns the country over and swallow whole bottles of homoeopathic potions in a bid to prove their worthlessness.

The action day, next Saturday, January 30, will see sceptical ranks coming together on the high streets of Liverpool, Manchester, Edinburgh, Bristol, Glasgow, Birmingham, Southampton and London, with sympathy protests in Australia, Canada and the United States.

A sceptic might wonder where this stunt - the British Homoeopathic Association's word for it - might get anyone.

But Michael Marshall, Merseyside sceptics spokesman, said: "Homoeopathic remedies themselves may not be directly harmful, but there is a real danger in misleading customers into thinking that homoeopathy is somehow equivalent to real medicine.

"Patients may believe that they are treating themselves or their children adequately, and delay seeking appropriate treatment; or they may receive dangerous advice after consulting with homoeopaths rather than their GPs."

The Merseyside Skeptics Society, a group of "rationalist thinkers", with beer, set up their highly popular pub group on a Liverpool barstool or two around a year ago. They got themselves so het up about the issue that they started the 10:23 Campaign which “aims to raise awareness about the "reality" of homoeopathy” and pledging to inform people “how it can be proven not to work, why homoeopaths' claims are impossible, why you should care”.

Boots, chemist and pharmaceutical giant itself, sells a wide range of alternative medicines alongside the conventional. It says while it supports the call for more research into homoeopathy it believed in giving consumers a choice.

“We know that many people believe in the benefits of complementary medicines and we aim to offer the products we know our customers want.” says a statement.

But in an open letter to Boots, the sceptics urged the retailer to take the products off their shelves: “As you are aware, the best and most rigorous scientific research concludes that homoeopathy offers no therapeutic effect beyond placebo, but you continue to sell these products regardless because "customers believe they work". Is this the standard you set for yourselves?”

Just to get you in the mood for all this, the Mersey sceptics are staging an event this Thursday night (21 Jan) at the Vines pub (The Big House) on Lime|Street with a high profile speaker.

Science journalist and one-time Tomorrow's World producer Simon Singh (MBE) investigated the evidence for and against alternative therapies and published his conclusions in “Trick or Treatment?”, a hard-hitting examination and judgement of more than 30 of the most popular treatments.

Singh will discuss how and why he got involved in writing about alternative medicine. In particular, he will discuss the origins, philosophy and testing of acupuncture and homoeopathy, two of the most popular forms of alternative medicine. Singh, who is currently being sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association, will also comment on his ongoing legal battle and the impact of libel laws on scientific journalism.

*Simon Singh, “Skeptics in the Pub” at the Vines in Lime Street, this Thursday, 21 January 2010, 18:30 – 20:30.

*Mass Homoeopathic Overdose, outside Boots, everywhere. 10.23am, Saturday 30 January.

Visit the MSS site here for more info.

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16 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

TheQuackulatorJanuary 20th 2010.

So, big pharma is evil because it makes treaments which w*rk and alternative medicine is good even though it doesn't? *sigh*

Sceptic tankJanuary 20th 2010.

Who is to say that these "skeptics" (sic) aren't being bankrolled by the big drug companies? Or that they aren't being duped by people like 10.23 and Simon Singh. How ironic would that be?

SiobhanJanuary 20th 2010.

Runny bottoms and billious tummies? From sugar pills? There's no other active ingredient. You're more likely to get tooth decay! Even if you ignore the fact that the active ingredient is diluted to such a weakness of less than one molecule in a volume of water the size of the solar system, there isn't even any water in the sugar pill. It's all dried out. I'd rather not believe in theory of the 'memory of water' (which is supposed to provide the benefits), considering how many other living organisms that water may have passed through over millions of years.

Tillie FigalillyJanuary 20th 2010.

When these sceptics swallow all the tablets outside branches of Boots, will they trouble NHS doctors with their runny bottoms and bilious tummies?

SiobhanJanuary 20th 2010.

I'm not saying the big pharmaceutical companies are always faultless but they are subject the fairly stringents testing, the like of which would cause homeopathy to fall at the first hurdle.

Dr Arben StrukovJanuary 20th 2010.

I am doktur but I have no longer the surgery, just van in carpark. Many times i give placebo to patient as lot cheap for me but for them very expensive. Sometimes work sometimes not but nobody die. They happy, i happy. Is good busynes for me I think but tribunal say no good. This discrimination by drug companies and also hompathies because I make my own remedy and pill in garage. Just one pill is need and some tin paints for the different colour but paint was old, is my mistake - cheap job lot lovely jubbly but high lead contents and some hair from next door cat. I say but you have have of dog why not cat? They threaten me to prison so now I try make living from my van and I just make the one special blue pill for the gentlemen problem or special ocassion, believe me is very hard.

Alan TrumpetingJanuary 20th 2010.

I am told that Milk Thistle capsules work wonders for a fellow the morning after a night on the tiles. Good for your liver too.

Throbbing GristleJanuary 20th 2010.

I imagine that Dr. Strukov is up against some stiff competition.

BewareOfSkepticsJanuary 20th 2010.

TheQuackulator and sceptics are free to avoid herbal medicines, etc. But what right do they have to stop people like me using them. I'm not stupid or easily dupped and when I spend my money on 'alternative' medicines it's my choice. I am more worried and concerned by people campaigning to prevent me getting access to these treatments, those people scare me more than anything. As for the word alternative medicine, it was hijacked many years ago by alopathic medicine practitioners. At one time herbal medicines and remedies were all that was available - they were not alternatives, the were 'it'. Then along came the potion makers - forerunners of today's pharmaceutical industry and suddenly 'proper' medicine became the alternative.Study organs like the BMJ and Lancet and its clear the pharmaceutical industry spend outrageous sums of money 'courting' doctors and medical students to win them over to prescribing their goods. If their medicines were so good, so miraculous, so safe, they would not have to spend zillions on freebies and goodies to seduce doctors into w riting out prescriptions. Such practice is a national scandal.Not so long ago a luxury liner was berthed in the Mersey, hired by a pill maker to host one of the most splendid banquets ever seen, the guest list was made up of doctors.Try to get one of the doctors to come out at night to see a patient and you're struggling, give them a night to remember with caviar and champagne aboard a floating palace and they are sitting ducks.Just leave the herbs and stuff to those of us you want them will yer!

Pharma GilesJanuary 20th 2010.

Oooh! Pass me that rubber ring will you?

GordonJanuary 20th 2010.

Gin is just the job! It's those botannicals you know!

scousekrautJanuary 20th 2010.

What a waste of time. When sitting on their bar stools getting sloshed they should talk about really big lies like 9/11.Apart from that, in a free society people are not only allowed to decide upon their own preferred method of treatment, but encouraged to do so.

Professor Chucklebutty 70% Prof.January 20th 2010.

My view is that any doctor who has signed the hippopotic oath or any Apostrophe, should not be dealing in expensive, useless placebo domingoes for a tenor a throw. However, missus, having said that, I am not a complete septic. I wouldn’t dismiss it all, I mean look at Aspirin. He started off doing the news and then discovered alternative medicine on Quackerjack. Next thing you know people are writing in by the thousand to Ask Asprin. But it’s not just about pills and potions. I once considered trying one the ancient Chinese remedies, even though I hate needles, and was driving out to Warrington, where they are slightly less mad than the quacks here, but unfortunately I got an acupuncture on the way. Aroma- Therapy is another one, I tried that - tying an old sock full of onions around your neck. Very good for tired legs, always got me a seat on the bus. Another one is spraying Lavender Pledge on the pillow each night. that always helped me rise and shine. Mrs C was tempted to try aroma therapy when she had a blocked nose, so I shoved her head under the duvet and said here see if this clears it - serves her right for doing all those sprouts. Mind you I had a terrible head on me the next morning, probably caused by her bouncing the alarm clock off my skull afterwards. Now my mother used to swear... frequently and she would also swear by Gin as mother nature's cure all. Any ailment, get some gin down them, she would say - add a little Ribena for the under 5s. Half a bottle usually did the trick.I won't say it didn't have side-effects as it often caused drowsiness and too much could cause nausea and vomiting. My uncle used to make his own out the back and if he wanted a few extra days off work, just to make sure he didn't get better too soon, he would use Sloe Gin. I know some people these days are into Crystal Therapy, well there’s room for both in my view. You can combine the best of both worlds with a bottle of Blue Saphire.

Orb and ScepticJanuary 20th 2010.

They are obviously a sinister conspiracy to undermine life on this sceptic isle!

SiobhanJanuary 20th 2010.

I really do believe that any therapy that, in double-blind testing, demonstrate no positive advantages beyond placebo e.g. homeopathy, kineseology and the like should be refered to as Placebo Medicine as opposed to Complementary Medicine. The whole thing makes me so cross.

TheQuackulatorJanuary 20th 2010.

I was intending to respond to BewareofSkeptics but the comment is so muddled I don't know where to begin. How about if I just point out that the stuff GPs prescribe has been shown to have an effective outcome in significant numbers of cases. The idea that most standard treatments have side effects which need further treatment is pure ignorance, and simply isn't true. Placebo medicine (love that!) doesn't have any effect at all, none, the placebo is in the mind not the medicine. If "alternative remedies" actually w*rked they wouldn't be alternative, everyone would use them as needed.

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