About Us

Ann McKay, R.N.C., John McGonigle, M.D. and Mark Brody, M.D. have devoted themselves to homeopathy and related alternative medical treatments. In keeping with the spirit of homeopathy's founder Samuel Hahnemann M.D., we utilize treatments that emphasize safety and the restoration of the sick to health.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Perceptions of homeopathy

A recent New York Times article, printed on a health blogsite, about the use of Arnica gel (Sept 17, 2009) invited all kinds of comments, both supportive and critical of homeopathy, including one from our own Dana Ullman. Homeopathy tends to evoke strong opinions. However, the strength of the opinion often has no correlation with the strength of the arguments used to support that opinion.

There are many types of reactions people have to the idea of homeopathy, far more than the types of reactions that are observed to its clinical applications, which are generally just good, bad or some mixture of these two. As a physician who has been practicing homeopathy for over 8 years, I have found it fascinating to observe the multitude of reactions that it tends to elicit, most of which are apparant in this New York Times blog/article.

First comes the superficial thinker. He knows homeopathy is wrong from the start, because it’s obvious. There’s “nothing” in it, so anyone who believes it can have any effect must be delusional. Research, scientific evidence, and clinical evidence are of no concern to this individual. Familiarity with the history, philosophy and clinical record are also considered irrelevant when nonsense of this type is being proferred as science. By these same arguments, superficial thinkers have argued in the past that the world is flat, that evolution is a hoax, that airplanes can’t fly, and that the earth is at the center of the universe.

Second comes the anti-naturalist. Pointing out that many “natural” substances can be toxic, the anti-naturalist thinker seeks to raise doubts and mistrust about natural treatments, whether they advertise themselves as such or not, because natural treatments are not universally safe.This individual ignores the fact that other (non-natural) treatments are virtually all rife with serious risks, and overall, natural treatments tend to be safer, albeit not necessarily completely risk-free. Intent on rescuing gullible souls who flock like moths to the flame to unproven treatments because of their superficially “natural” label, this individual misses a key point: that many people seek non-traditional alternatives because more conventional approaches simply don’t work for them, or because they have been alienated from conventional treatments by how technology has in general wreaked havoc with nature.

Then there are the stiff-neck thinkers who object to homeopathy based on an imagined lack or absence of scientific evidence. They are unfamiliar with homeopathy, and therefore are unaware that hundreds of studies have been published using the“gold standard” of randomized controlled trials, often in highly reputed allopathic journals (!) where homeopathy has mostly been vindicated as a scientifically valid treatment. It is ironic that sometimes these individuals state that homeopathy should be subjected to the “same” scientific standards as conventional medicine, at a time when the scientific validity of conventional medicine has been greatly weakened by reports of bias among researchers, who are paid by drug companies, by research that is suppressed that is unfavorable to drug companies, when scientific papers are frequently “ghost-written,” and when the authors are on the payrolls of drug companies, even if the drug companies didn’t do the research themselves. Homeopathic research is light-years ahead of modern medical research in terms of being free from economic bias.

There are the “what me worry” thinkers who embrace it uncritically, because it worked for them, or because they are “into” natural treatments, or because their families have used homeopathic medicines. Anecdotal evidence is not without validity, but these individuals minimize the need for more rigorous evidence. The value of anecdotal evidence is generally minimized, and I think unjustifiably so, because anecdotal evidence, when it occurs frequently, acquires a certain gravity than single case reports do not. Still, the greater worry is not so much that these thinkers will blunder into useless treatments as that they may blunder into dangerous treatments (which homeopathy has never been shown to be).

There are the “suspicious” thinkers who seem to distrust it just based on it being different from what is familiar. Any number of excuses might be brought up to question homeopathy’s validity, and they are never at a loss for another one, even if one can argue successfully against any one of them. These folks simply have irrational fears about something that is too different for them.

The wise soul, who I rarely encounter, knows that evidence is ultimately a chimera. Without leaping into the extremes of relativism, the wise soul knows that acceptability and provability are almost always to some degree in the eye of the beholder. Attitudes of blind acceptance or sweeping dismissal are generally over-reactions, whether it comes to homeopathy or anything else in life. The wise soul knows that nothing is completely certain in life, outside of the realm of mathematics. One is always left making judgments, with the imperfect instrument of our emotionally clouded perceptions.