Homeopathy Awareness Week 2018 starts today. Let’s help celebrate by reminding people that it’s quackery!

I like to refer to homeopathy as The One Quackery To Rule Them All, so much so that I ought to . There are, of course, very good reasons for that, and, although I sometimes refer to reiki or “energy medicine” or “energy healing” as contenders for the title of The One Quackery To Rule Them All, because the idea that humans can channel “healing energy,” be it the patient’s own or from a “universal source,” is arguably equally ridiculous to the notion that diluting a substance to nonexistence produces stronger remedies, thanks to the “memory of water.” Still, for the sheer ridiculousness of its precepts, I still give the nod to homeopathy, albeit just barely, because of the contortions and distortions of science and logic engaged in by homeopaths to justify their quackery. Also, homeopaths have Dana Ullman.

The sheer ridiculousness of homeopathy is one reason why I view Homeopathy Awareness Week as being even more ridiculous. After all, if homeopathy is The One Quackery To Rule Them All, then Homeopathy Awareness Week, which begins today, must be the biggest waste of a perfectly good week as I can think of. The reason Homeopathy Awareness Week starts on April 10 is because Samuel Hahneman, the founder of homeopathy, was born on April 10, 1755. The official website of World Homeopathy Week describes it this way:

In celebration of all those who have healed with Homeopathy, homeopaths and supporters share education and accessibility of homeopathy around the world, beginning on Dr. Samuel Hahnemann’s Birthday every year.

During World Homeopathy Awareness Week (WHAW) free public events such as lectures, media interviews, volunteer first-aid at sports events, free & reduced clinics, written materials, pieces on Twitter and Facebook, publication articles and much more are shared in over 40 countries.

Through more awareness and access to homeopathy resulting in profoundly improved health, the paradigm in the understanding of healing and healthcare can truly shift.

Join us! April 10th – April 16th every year. This year April 2018 we are celebrating our 14th World Homeopathic Awareness Week.

Each year, World Homeopathy Week has a theme. Some of them are quite disturbing:

2006: Homeopathy for Children
2007: Homeopathy for Women’s Health
2008: Homeopathy in Sport’s Medicine
2009: Homeopathy and Allergies
2010: Homeopathy for Mental Well-Being
2011: Homeopathy and the Musculoskeletal System
2012: Homeopathy for Infertility
2013: Homeopathy for Trauma & Disasters
2014: Homeopathy for Men’s Health
2015: Homoeopathy for Infectious Diseases
2016: Homeopathy as Preventative Medicine.
2017: Homeopathy For Elderly

And the theme for 2018? Drumroll, please… The theme for Homeopathy Awareness Week 2018 is:

The theme for 2018 is ‘Homeopathy for Pregnancy and Childbirth’. Some of you might not be aware of homeopathy, or its benefits. But throughout this special week you’ll learn loads more! Homeopathy can offer effective help to those personally affected by crises. In such times the right homeopathic remedies can help treat individual and long term experiences.

Homeopathy for pregnant women and childbirth? The thought is horrifying. However, consistent with the theme of this year’s “celebration,” you just know that I had to do some Googling for webpages related to this year’s theme, and Google I did. Sadly, there were a lot of articles to choose from, a disturbingly large number. For instance, here’s a “case report” for homeopathy in induction of normal labor and preventing caesarean section. The report comes to us courtesy of Sapna Gupta and Dr Parul G Wadhwani,BHMS MD of the Nehru Homoeopathic Medical College and Hospital.

The case presented is this:

A 25 year old primigravida, consulted on 29 January 2017 for delayed engagement. In her last visit to Obstetrician on 28/1/17, the doctor told her that there is already a delay in descent of child into the uterus and cervix was thick and not effaced, which should have taken place by this time of gestation in a primigravida and if the same does not happen within 3-4 days, Caesarean section shall be required.

Her last menstrual period was on 2/5/16 and as per ultrasound report dated 8/1/17, her expected date of delivery was 26.1.17 +_2 weeks. Her antenatal period had been uneventful except that she suffered from dry cough during her pregnancy.

Apart from above findings, she also complained of pain in vagina since last 4 days which aggravated in the evening and was worse turning in bed and first motion. It was better by continued motion and warm fomentation. She used to go for long evening walks which relieved her pain. Also, there was pain in left leg.

OK, so we have a young woman expecting her first child. Her estimated due date was 1/26/27, but she presented three days after her expected date, with her fetus not having descended into the true pelvis. This process is known as “lightening” or, in lay terms, “dropping,” and it’s a sign of impending labor, as the fetal head drops into the pelvis and becomes engaged within the pubic bones. The authors note that in first time mothers, dropping usually occurs between three to four weeks before deliver, but it can happen earlier. In women who have already had children, it might not happen until right before labor begins. In their view, this woman was in danger of requiring a Caesarian section.

You can see where this is going, of course. The homeopaths treated the patient with homeopathy:

29/1/17 (1 PM): Pulsatilla 200/ three doses/ 30 minutes interval.

30/1/17: On waking in the morning, patient felt a sense of relief on her chest, a symptom suggestive of engagement, and also felt as if the uterus has come down. BY 1 PM, labor pains started and at 5: 30 pm , she was admitted to hospital. Obstetrician confirmed that the cervix was dilated and effaced. At 10:30 PM, she delivered a healthy baby boy by normal labor.

So what, exactly, is pulsatilla? Basically, it is the diluted extract of pulsatilla nigrans, described by the British Homeopathic Association as “one of our oldest and most useful homeopathic medicines” and that it was “proved by Samuel Hahnemann in 1805 and was extensively used by him to treat many hun­dreds of patients.” Recall the Two laws of homeopathy, first the idea that, to treat a symptom you must use something that causes that symptom in asymptomatic patients (a principal with no basis in science or even clinical observation) and, second, that serial diluting a compound, with vigorous shaking (succussation) at each dilution step to “potentize” it makes a homeopathic remedy stronger. Never mind that diluting anything beyond 12C (twelve 100-fold dilution steps) is unlikely to leave any molecules of residual starting material, at least in an ideal world. In the real world, there might be a tiny amount of starting compound that carries through dilution steps by sticking to the glass vials used to dilute the homeopathic remedy, but even then that’s doubtful given the number of dilution steps.

In any case, pulsatilla is more commonly known as the whole meadow anemone, also known as the pasqueflower or windflower, a member of the Ranun­culaceae or buttercup family. THe BHA describes it as “soft and beautiful with pendulous bell­shaped flowers, purple petals and a gold heart.” The BHA further describes pulsatilla as “predominantly a female remedy,” and, no, the complete description is not sexist at all (not):

It is classically thought to suit blonde, blue­eyed females of a mild, shy and tearful disposition. Yet there is often much more to these fair types, for they are usually quite paradoxical in virtu­ally all areas of their life.

The image they project often belies what they feel inside. Although they tend to be good­natured yet they can hide their indignation about some slight they may have received. They tend to bottle things up and hold onto emotions. On the other hand they can certainly be weepy. Indeed, they will tend to weep when they describe their symptoms and their upsets, but they will also be moved to tears when listening to music, watch­ing a romantic film or even seeing distressing news on the television. They can be hopeless romantics and will prob­ably be moved to weep when shown kindness or given a present. The emotions they hold onto can also be very nega­tive ones. They can hold grudges and classically they feel peeved. They can become quite jealous, quite sorrowful, depressed and very anxious.

They can also hold firmly to their views, in that they can be deeply reli­gious, or dogmatic about things that they hold dear. Their views can be held so rigidly that any slight personal mis­demeanour, especially if of a sexual nature, can be regarded as a great sin and they hold onto guilt. And figura­tively speaking they can beat themselves up with this guilt, just as they can with any of the other negative emotions. Pulsatilla types are full of fears. They can fear the dark, illness, death, ghosts, doctors, dentists and appointments. Sympathy always helps them. A cuddle or a hug may make them weep, but it will usually help. It is that touch, that comfort that is important.

So what do homeopaths think that pulsatilla is good for? The BHA describes it as being useful for grief and bereavement, painful periods, premenstrual syndrome, vaginal discharge, menopause, venous problems, and wandering pains. The BHA also gamely notes that it’s “not just women,” but that pulsatilla “often works well when men have a problem with their testicles,” such as mumps orchitis (which you’re going to see a lot of if homeopaths, who are generally antivaccine, had their way.) Oddly enough, failure of the fetal head to engage or delayed labor is not listed as a use for pulsatilla. It is, however, listed elsewhere as a treatment for delayed labor. For instance, this article by a woman named Piper Martin who offers a training course she calls—shudder—the Homeopathic Midwife, Pulsatilla 200C- when and why to use this remedy, tells you when to use this homeopathic remedy to “augment” labor. Remember that a 200C dilution is two hundred 100-fold dilutions or a 10-400 dilution. As I like to mention whenever discussing homeopathy, there are only estimated to be around 1080 atoms in the known universe. So Pulsatilla 200C is basically water, and that’s what our intrepid homeopaths doing the case review I started with.

Circling back to that case review, I’m not an obstetrician (obviously), but it didn’t take me long to find evidence that the authors were also acting a bit precipitously. For instance, contrary to the view that in nulliparous women (women with no children) the fetal head is engaged 1-2 weeks before labor, one study suggested that in 75% of nulliparous women the head was not engaged until labor and that there was no statistical difference between the unengaged-head group and the engaged-head group was determined for incidence of vaginal delivery, cesarean section for cephalopelvic disproportion, midforceps delivery, mean and low Apgar scores, and birth weight. It’s also been noted that, even in some primigravida mothers, the head doesn’t engage until labor starts, and that this is within the range of normal.

So basically, a young primigravida woman presented to them three days after her estimated due date (for which an error range of ±two weeks was cited), her baby’s head not having engaged. They gave her three doses of pulsatilla, and she went into labor a day later. Who can argue with that? I can. It’s almost certainly coincidence, given that, even if pulsatilla had any effect at all inducing labor, what they gave her was diluted to nonexistence. Also, there is actually a Cochrane Review on homeopathy for the induction for labor. Its results are negative, although, just like nearly all Cochrane reviews, it describes the data as there being “insufficient evidence to recommend the use of homoeopathy as a method of induction” and that “rigorous evaluations of individualised homeopathic therapies for induction of labour are needed.” No, they are not. That’s because, even if the herbal and plant-based remedies used as the starting solution for dilution had medicinal value for the condition being treated, homeopathic dilutions like pulsatilla 200C cannot work because there is no active drug in them.

None of this, of course, stops homeopaths from providing laundry lists of homeopathic remedies to assist with labor and delivery, be it the ubiquitous Arnica montana (which seems to be good for everything!) for “soft tissue damage (perineum or abdomen) following birth or caesarian section” or Cocculus for “tremendous tiredness because of breastfeeding and the nights of broken sleep.” One site notes that “200C often works well during and after labor.” Again, 200C is the most watery of homeopathic remedies. Well, not quite. There do exist dilutions beyond 200C, as incredible as that sounds.

Personally, I find Homeopathy Awareness Week to be useful in that it gives me (and others) an excuse to remind my readers how utterly pseudoscientific and, yes, utterly ridiculous homeopathy is. It’s an occasion to remind people why I like to refer to homeopathy as The One Quackery To Rule Them All.