Sunday, July 8, 2007

Homeopathy for scientists

Twice described in her blog her successful attempts to explain to some relatives why homeopathic medication can't possibly work. I am of course impressed by her ability to discuss such topics with her family - I certainly wouldn't attempt that with my parents (and successfully silence my husband, who thinks homeopathy belongs in the group with astrology and superstition). More importantly, I must add that I did use homeopathic remedies myself, and gave them to my children.

I took homeopathic pills when I couldn't sleep because of contractions during my twin pregnancy. I never had serious problems, but in the last two months I was waking up many times per night and contractions, summer heat and double worries made it hard to fall asleep again. So every time I just took a few of my little white pills, and let them slowly melt under my tongue. I thought of my wonderful midwife who had given me the pills, and felt confident, relaxed and happy. I had made it once and would make it again. Did the pills help? Sure they did, even if they contained sugar as only scientifically detectable ingredient.

Does this mean I think homeopathy can work? No. I'm a scientist, and I can do the maths myself. But placebo effect works, as described e.g. in a long article in Der Spiegel a few weeks ago (sorry, I seem to be unable to find an internet reference). Homeopathy can indeed cure actual health problems by placebo effect, and no scientist should be ashamed to admit that. Because the placebo effect can be measured!

I also have another use for it, when the children have an illness for which the doctor recommends to just wait and do nothing since it will go away by itself. The following sample dialog happened several times, with different values for X and different pairs child/disease.
X: "Have you heard how bad C#3's cough is? You should (insert random proposal)!"
Me: "Don't worry, I am already curing him with homeopathic tablets".
X: "Oh well, are you sure it works?"
Me: "Well, the doctor said it could work, it doesn't have side effects, and we can still use something stronger if it doesn't work."
X: "Ok, but don't wait too long."

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