Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Homeopathic medicines

  1. Mar 18, 2008 #1
    Do these things really work? By adding alcohol and some herb thing to sugar pellets and just taking 3-4 at a time would these really cure us?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 18, 2008 #2


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Homeopathic medicines are formulated from substances that supposedly mimic the symptoms of the ailments that they are meant to "cure". In order to increase their supposed effectiveness, they are diluted over and over again until there is hardly a molecule of the active ingredient in the dose. Drinking water would be as effective at "curing" you as these phony medicines. Google on "homeopathy" and see what you find.
  4. Mar 18, 2008 #3


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Of course following the story about very tiny amounts of drugs being found in the water supply - if you believe in homeopathic medicine you should be drinking tap water!

    And if you don't, you should only drink the highly purified water in homeopathic medicines!
  5. Mar 18, 2008 #4


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    That's not what homeopathic medicine is. It is a theory by Sam Hahneman from the 1700s that if large amounts of poison or other bad substances make you sick, small amounts should provide an immunity (similar to how a vaccine works). But he reasoned there must be an inversely proportional relationship, so the less you have the better the result. Today, as said above, homeopathic medicine is very highly diluted. The catch is that Hahneman didn't know about molecules and today you can mathematically prove that if done correctly, a particular medicine has a much greater than 99% chance of containing exactly zero actual active ingredient. If done as advertised, it is pure water.

    Here's how it works:
    Take a solution of the "medicine" and diluted it by a factor of 100 (just take 1ml of it and add it to 99 ml of water). Then do it again. And again. And again. 30x is fairly typical, which means (if you do the math), you end up with a dilution factor of 10^60. But 100ml of water only contains 10^23 molecules of water.

    Yes, mgb, that's an irony I hadn't thought of - if homeopathy actually had any merit, the fact that there are a few parts per billion of just about everything in our drinking water already would render it redundant.

  6. Mar 18, 2008 #5


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Another funny thing is that they don't always use water as the diluent. Sometimes, they use other solvents like alcohol, if they find that the active ingredient is insoluble in water. Umm, I guess that's insoluble at the level of 1 part in 10^30?
  7. Mar 21, 2008 #6
    Well the medicines they sell at a local store here are just sugar pills i thought. The ingredients listed are nothing special. I thought it was more of a placebo effect. Especially since i would just take a crap load and nothing would happen.

    The concept of putting bad substances in your body to get your body used to them is the reason i drink tap water, don't really worry about germs that much, and make it a point to eat a lot of raw foods.
  8. Mar 21, 2008 #7
    Occasionally lick door handles too, helps build up immunities.
  9. Mar 24, 2008 #8


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Indeed. What the OP was really referring to was naturopathic medicine (herbal remedies). With those, the answer is, "It depends." Some may be as medicinal as having an extra piece of lettuce in your salad, while others may include ingredients with pharmaceutical properties. The big myth is that being "natural" somehow makes them safer. Quite a few pharmaceuticals are derived from natural sources (read all about heparin manufacture from pig intestines in the news lately, for an example), but the difference is in pharmaceuticals, the amount of active ingredient is carefully regulated (and when there are deviations from this, we hear about it all over the news...the recent heparin contamination problem again is an example), and it is only provided once the active ingredient has been shown to be both effective and safe (and if there are existing drugs on the market to treat the same thing, it has to be MORE effective and safer than those to be approved). Herbal supplements do not have any such regulation, so the dose can vary from pill to pill, doesn't have to be demonstrated to be effective or safe, and doesn't have to be tested for contraindications with other medications you might take or conditions you might have...not to mention it requires you self-diagnose your ailment, which we know is a pretty unreliable process.

    Just by way of pointing out that natural doesn't necessarily mean safe, especially without controlled dosing...warfarin (also known as coumadin) is a blood thinner extracted from plants...it is useful similar to heparin for preventing blood clots in patients with clotting disorders, but, it's other use is rat poison...because the anticoagulant properties in higher doses also can lead to uncontrolled internal bleeding and death.

    The FDA may not be perfect, but I'd sure rather take my chances on FDA approved pharmaceuticals than untested herbal remedies...or at least know that I'm a guinea pig and be compensated for it and any complications if I'm going to take something that isn't yet approved.
  10. Mar 24, 2008 #9
  11. Mar 30, 2008 #10


    User Avatar

    In the UK, a Guardian columist Ben Goldacre wrote an article on the homeopathic industry after another article by a homeopathy practitioner claimed that there is a role for homeopathy in the treatment of HIV in Africa.

    I found it very iluminating:


    Is this why I go white with rage when I hear Lily Allan??
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2008
  12. Mar 30, 2008 #11
    Yeah, but no. We build up resistance to certain things. Things like sex hormones and anti depressants etc, not that type of thing. Who needs resistance to meth, or sleeping pills, or hormones, etc. Most if not all the things that you need a resistance to are killed by the chlorine. Many of the toxins just build up in your system.
  13. Mar 31, 2008 #12
    Care to elaborate?
  14. Apr 7, 2008 #13


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    The trick is that good homeopaths are bad chemistries. They use continuously the same production recipients, allowing for contamination. In this way the dilution is never the theoretical one, but a lot higher... and then it works, randomly from one bottle to the next one.

    Problem is twofold: on one side, therapeutic quantities of highly active substances can be under the detection threshold of standard (and some public substandard) analytic labs: you can measure zero plus minus sigma, and the sigma is enough to cause changes in the speed of reproduction of some fungi. On other side, health officers consider the homeopaths not worth to be monitorized, and then they can keep their practices.

    In a famous essay controlled by Nature, a couple years ago, the results were possitive for homeopath in the above sense: a super diluted mix was causing some biological effect. The researchers of Nature asked to repeat the essay with new, clean glassware: the effect dissappeared.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook