Can sugar heal?

The answer is: No! (Unless you eat enough to get full.)

Always, I encounter people in my everyday life who take homeopathic remedies and spend a fair amount of money on them, believing that homeopathy can make them healthy. Is that really the case? What is homeopathy? Why does it work, and why not? Often, I find myself in discussions with advocates of the sugar pill. Why do people take homeopathic remedies? Why Schüssler salts? Right from the start, I am not the absolute homeopathy expert, but I have read into the subject to some extent and would like to share some insights, hoping to instill a bit of “skeptical thinking” in others.

So, what exactly is homeopathy?

As an introduction, let me quote the German Wikipedia:

Homeopathy [ˌhomøopaˈtiː] (from Ancient Greek ὅμοιος hómoios ‘similar, alike, similar’ and πάθος páthos ‘suffering, pain, affect, feeling,’ literally ‘similar suffering’) is an alternative medical treatment method based on the ideas published by the German physician Samuel Hahnemann in 1796.

It goes on to say:

To produce the remedies, the basic substances undergo a process called potentization, which means they are repeatedly (usually in a ratio of 1:10 or 1:100) shaken or triturated with water, alcohol, or lactose. The dilution was initially carried out due to the toxicity of many of the substances used. Later, Hahnemann prescribed so-called high potencies, where the starting materials are diluted so much that they are no longer detectable. Hahnemann assumed that the special process of potentization or ‘dynamization’ would make an ‘inner essence’ or ‘spirit-like power’ effective in the remedies. To justify the high potencies, he assumed that here ‘the matter’ of ‘raw drug substances’ ‘ultimately completely dissolves into their individual spirit-like essence.’

However, this claimed selective increase in desired effects through the procedures of the potentization process, also referred to by some authors as “ritual,” contradicts scientific knowledge. The principle of similarity proposed by Hahnemann is also scientifically untenable. Clinical studies conducted to scientific standards have not been able to demonstrate any effectiveness of homeopathic remedies beyond the placebo effect. The Department of Human Medicine at Philipps-University Marburg rejected homeopathy in 1992 as a fallacy within the “Marburg Declaration on Homeopathy.

Various scientific studies have thus found no effectiveness of homeopathic remedies beyond the placebo effect. This means that the remedies only work because the person believes they work. Most of the time, what is ingested is simply sugar, alcohol, or water.

The principle of homeopathic remedies is that a substance is extremely diluted, thereby “potentiating” or strengthening its effect. With a dilution of about D12 (1:10¹²), the homeopathic remedy can still contain the original active substance. Above that, no molecules of the active substance can be detected in the solution.

To illustrate how little D12 is, here are a few examples:

  • D8 is the limit of arsenic in drinking water. At this concentration, no harmful effects of arsenic are detectable, even with prolonged consumption. D8 corresponds to about one drop of active substance in 5m² of solvent.
  • D24 is equivalent to about one drop of active substance in the volume of Antarctica.
  • D60 corresponds to one drop of active substance in several volumes of the Earth.

From a purely logical standpoint, it contradicts all common sense and scientific experience that a remedy becomes more effective the more it is diluted. Likewise, it contradicts any experience that something can be effective when there is virtually no active substance left. In that case, the solvent would have to have some kind of memory or have been altered?

Homeopaths assume that the remedies are not “diluted” but rather “dynamized.” This is supposed to be achieved by shaking or triturating the remedies. The idea is that the “energy” is transferred to the remedy and intensified with each “dynamization” (i.e., dilution). What kind of energy this is supposed to be is unclear to me. Also, how the dynamized solvents are supposed to retain, store, and, above all, transmit this energy is a mystery.

In this regard, Wikipedia also states:

Energy is required to accelerate a body or move it against a force, to heat a substance, to compress a gas, to allow electric current to flow, or to emit electromagnetic waves. Plants, animals, and humans need energy to live. Energy is also needed for the operation of computer systems, for telecommunications, and for any economic production.

So what kind of energy is a solvent supposed to absorb? Chemical? Potential energy? Heat? Above all, there should be some evidence after the absorption of any energy, shouldn’t there?

Above all: The molecules and atoms of any type of alcohol, water, or other solvent have existed for billions of years. They have been irradiated from space, heated by the Earth, shaken, and stirred. Shouldn’t they already contain a lot of energy?

So let’s establish: A substance cannot have an effect because there is usually none present. Energy also cannot have an effect since the theory of dynamization is more based on hocus-pocus than any kind of scientific understanding.

But then why do homeopathic remedies work?

There are several approaches to why and how such remedies work. The most obvious one is: The Placebo Effect.

A placebo (Latin, “I shall please”) is, in a narrow sense, a sham drug that contains no active substance and, therefore, cannot have any pharmacological effect caused by such a substance.

Having taken a placebo that appears to work. Placebos are used in double-blind studies to assess the effectiveness of drugs. It’s called “double-blind” because neither the doctor nor the patient knows whether they are receiving a real medication or a placebo. Subsequently, it is determined whether the patients with the active substance fared better than those with placebos.

Similar types of tests have concluded that homeopathic remedies show no efficacy beyond the placebo effect. In other words, everyone could have taken a placebo, and the outcome would have been the same as indicated by the study.

One might argue that homeopathic remedies also work on animals or infants who cannot know that the substance they are receiving is supposed to be effective. Well, the explanation lies in the design of double-blind studies. These studies are conducted “double-blind” because the doctor’s knowledge of the substance, belief in it, can influence its efficacy. So, when administering a homeopathic remedy to an animal or an infant, the expectation of the person administering it often suffices to achieve a positive effect.

However, there are additional factors influencing efficacy. For instance, our current healthcare system is highly rationalized. Doctors have little time, especially for their patients. A medication given by a competent, attentive doctor who spends ample time with the patient tends to have a stronger effect than one prescribed by a stressed, unsympathetic doctor who just “prescribes something.” Therefore, when visiting a homeopath who listens to the patient, they are already accomplishing a significant part of the effectiveness of the medication. This enhances the placebo effect.

There are other factors that amplify the placebo effect, such as the packaging of the pills, the size and color of the pills, or technical terms used in their context. Overall, this explanation is a bit too long for a single post, but there’s more to come from where this came from.

This was my first foray into homeopathy. Stay tuned for what’s to come!

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