Get the Word! Podcast Episode: Homeopathic Not Home Remedy

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Greetings friends. This is Get the Word! with Mike Butler. An etymology podcast for word nerds. I am your host, Mike Butler. Today we’re talking about a word that’s often misused, and misunderstood. Homeopathy. I want to start off by saying that this term ‘homeopathy’ or ‘homeopathic’, which is its related adjective, is not just another way to say ’natural’ or ‘alternative’ medicine. It’s something very specific. Yes, It is a form of alternative medicine, but it is not itself a synonym for alternative medicine.

Today we’ll get into the history of how this term came to be, and of course we’ll pick apart the word syllable by syllable. We’ll also discuss homeopathy a bit to try to clear up any confusion around it.

So let’s start with a man named Samuel Friedrich Hahnemann (HA-ni-mahn). Hahnemann was a German physician who lived from 1755 to 1843. Starting in around 1790 until his death, he worked on and developed a system of medicine that he would eventually coin as homeopathy. One source gives us the date of 1824 as the first recorded use of the term homeopathy, however, another source tells us that it first appeared in print in 1807.

Hahnemann was fed up with the practices he was seeing all around him, like bloodletting. He felt there had to be a better way! He rejected mainstream medicine of the late 18th century.

It is believed that at one point Hahnemann came across the theories of Scottish physician William Cullen when translating a medical treatise of Cullen’s into German. Hahnemann disagreed with Cullen’s theory surrounding the reasons why cinchona bark, the bark of a tree found in South America, is an effective treatment against malaria. Hahnemann felt that more research needed to be done, so he decided to try out the bark himself as an experiment. Mind you, he did not have malaria at the time. After taking it he developed symptoms that seemed to mirror the symptoms of malaria. Fever; shivering; joint pain. Hahnemann came up with a connection based on this. A ‘cure’ for malaria was provoking symptoms very similar to malaria. After testing the effects of the bark on some other people, along with similar findings after experiments using several other substances, he felt confident enough to propose the theory of homeopathy, ‘let likes be cured by likes’.

This led Hahnemann down the long road of believing that like cures like, the basic foundation behind those little sugar pellets you see in tiny bottles at health food stores today. Of course, through subsequent scientific work performed we now know that cinchona bark cures malaria because it contains quinine (ˈkwīˌnīn ) which kills the protozoan parasite that causes malaria. From ( https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/homeopathy-and-evidence-based-medicine-back-to-the-future-part-i/ ) “(This) mechanism of action has been elucidated, and it has nothing to do with “like cures like,” … (or) any other process proposed by Hahnemann or his followers.”

Homeopathy is considered by many to be pseudoscience, or quackery. As one source puts it, from the journal Bioethics in a paper entitled Homeopathy is Unscientific and Unethical “ The  notion  that  homeopathic
preparations  could  have  any  biological  effects  represents  a  fringe  view-
point, one not entertained by serious scientists nor supported by reason
and evidence.”

Now that we have that straightened out…

Let’s break down the word. Homeo / homoeo / homio is a prefix that stems from Greek which can translate into English roughly as ‘like / resembling / of the same kind / equal’. The suffix of p-a-t-h-y as in words like telepathy, neuropathy etc is also from Greek meaning ‘suffering / feeling’ or even simply just ‘emotion / disorder / disease’.

To put it simply, it’s the idea of like cures like. The National Institutes of Health puts it this way: “Homeopathy is “the notion that a disease can be cured by a substance that produces similar symptoms in healthy people”. The NIH also describes homeopathy this way, and this is key to fully grasping what homeopathy truly is: “Many homeopathic products are so diluted that no molecules of the original substance remain” with the notion from homeopathic practitioners that the lower the dose of the medication, the greater its effectiveness.

For those of you outside of the United States who are unfamiliar with the NIH, the National Institutes of Health is one of the world's foremost medical research centers and is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

I hope this is clearing up any confusion. If you take an herbal supplement, for example, you are not taking homeopathic medicine. If you use essential oils you are not using homeopathic oils. Traditional medicine, like traditional Chinese medicine or Ayurveda has nothing to do with homeopathy, both of which far predate the theories of Hahnemann. So, homeopathic products do typically come from plants (some common ones are poison ivy, belladonna, stinging nettle) and typically come in the form of a round little sugar pellet to be placed under the tongue. It’s hard to think of it as anything more than the sugar pellet itself because, as I said earlier, these homeopathic products are often so diluted that no molecules of the original substance remain.

Whatever substance is decided on, in homeopathy, wether it be animal based, plant based, mineral or synthetic, that substance is then diluted with alcohol or distilled water and then shaken vigorously in a process called ‘succussion’ (sə-ˈkəsh-ən). Homeopathic practitioners believe then that the succussion causes the water molecules to ‘remember’ the active ingredient, even when there is not a trace of that ingredient left. The ingredient is gone, but the memory remains. This memory is then placed into a sugar pellet and off we go.

For those of you who have benefited from homeopathy just remember the powerful affect of placebo. Shout out to the fantastic podcast Hidden Brain and their research on placebo, including evidence pointing to the fact that the placebo effect sometimes even works on people who are told by their doctor that they are taking a placebo. That’s right, just having faith in your medical practitioner that you trust with your health is enough to cause a placebo effect even when being told you are taking a placebo. ( https://www.npr.org/2019/04/29/718227789/all-the-worlds-a-stage-including-the-doctor-s-office )

While homeopathy is widely regarded as pseudoscience I would like to appease certain irate listeners right now by discussing a publication entitled Philosophy of Pseudoscience: Reconsidering the Demarcation Problem written by James Ladyman, who has worked extensively on scientific realism, constructive empiricism and structural realism, and is a professor at the University of Bristol in the UK, and may or may not be a ladies’ man. I don’t know the guy. In this publication, Ladyman has this to say about the connection between science and homeopathy: “Yet homeopathy is a paradigmatic ( ˌperədiɡˈmadik ) example of pseudoscience. It is neither simply bad science nor science fraud, but rather profoundly departs from scientific method and theories while being described as scientific by some of its adherents (often sincerely).”. I just wanted to point out that there are some people out there who truly do adhere, sincerely, to the idea of homeopathy as science.

After the break we’re going to talk about the potential dangers of homeopathic medicine. You don’t wanna miss it. Stick with us.

— Break —

Before the break I promised that we’d talk a little about the dangers that can come from taking homeopathic medicine.

The first nugget of information speaks specifically to laws here in the United States. However, there may be a similar situation happening around the regulation of these products in your country as well. It may be worth looking into. The danger here in the United States is that there is no regulation of these products labeled as homeopathic. The FDA, Food and Drug Administration here in the United States has not approved any products labeled as homeopathic. Therefore, every product that is being marketed in the US as homeopathic has not gone through FDA evaluations for safety and effectiveness.

So you may be saying, “Mike, what’s the issue? How is there any danger if these pills are ultimately just sugar pills?”. Well, the problem at least here in the United States is that since it’s not regulated very much at all that certain products from manufacturers of homeopathic medicine may not be actually highly diluted. Some of these products being sold have been found to contain measurable amounts of the active ingredients, which are sometimes ingredients like arsenic and belladonna, as I mentioned before, and in the words of the FDA could therefore ”cause significant patient harm”. Check out the show notes of today’s episode for a link to the FDA page that highlights about a dozen or so examples of this kind of trickery happening due to lax regulations of homeopathic medicine.

This other PSA of mine goes out to anyone who may be taking advice from homeopathic doctors at this moment, during a pandemic. To quote the NIH, there is “no evidence to support homeopathic immunizations”. Some homeopathic products are being promoted as substitutes for conventional immunizations. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is telling us there is no credible scientific evident to support these claims. For more info visit vaccines.gov and feel free to reach out to the podcast. We can look at your sources together and decide if they are fact based.

— Fact Cabinet —

Speaking of facts, let’s open up the fact cabinet and take a peek inside. And also speaking of fact checkers, shout out to Chris Sawyer for pointing out my error of spelling ‘peek’ as ‘peak’ instead of ‘peek’. I truly do love corrections and fact checkers and highly encourage all of you to be vigilant people. It’s more important than ever. Chris DJs for one of the best community supported radio stations in the country, KBRP. Shout out to Chris and the folks over at KBRP ( https://www.kbrpradio.com/ ) KBRPRADIO.COM.

That brings me to my first fact, actually. According to the Oxford English Corpus, the mistake between ‘peak’ and ‘peek’ is so common that almost a third of citations for the expression ‘a sneak peek’ are for the incorrect spelling, p-e-a-k. Ah, it always feels good to make excuses, doesn’t it?

Here’s my piece of the Berlin wall, the concrete barrier that divided East and West Berlin from 1961 to 1989. I know, many people have chunks of the wall as souvenirs, ain’t nothin’ special, right? Well fewer people have what I have. You see, my pieces of the Berlin wall are actually just memories. Nope, I’m not talking about pictures, I’m talking about a little bottle of Berlin Wall homeopathic pellets from the UK based Ainsworths Homeopathic pharmacy. This pharmacy, which very proudly states on their website is the official homeopathic supplier to the royal family, has released little bottles of pellets they claim is made from ground up pieces of the concrete from the Berlin Wall.

Some believers have said that the Berlin Wall pills are effective in “cases where traumatic incidents from the past have been walled off” and have also been touted to be good for boosting relationships and breaking down emotional barriers.

Wow!

— END FACT CABINET —

That’s all I have in the fact cabinet this week. Do you have any experience with homeopathic medicine? Write in to the podcast and tell us your stories. Find us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok… find all of this and a lot more at www.englishsessionswithmike.com

Write in to the podcast: getthewordpodcast@gmail.com . Give us your word suggestions, and I’ll take them into consideration for the podcast. Please rate and review this podcast ANYWHERE that you can. It’s super helpful. Podcast artwork by Bruno Sanches. You can find a link to his work in the show notes. Music performed by the Monroeville Music Center. Production, editing and research performed by me, Mike Butler. Write in to the podcast and give us your comments. That email again is getthewordpodcast@gmail.com. We’d love to hear from you.

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Show notes:

https://hahnemannlabs.com/homeopathy.html

https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/homeopathy-and-evidence-based-medicine-back-to-the-future-part-i/

https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/homeopathy

https://www.ainsworths.com/about-us-1/

https://www.etymonline.com/word/homeopathy

https://research-information.bris.ac.uk/en/persons/james-a-c-ladyman

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/shortcuts/2019/aug/21/berlin-wall-pills

EXAMPLES MENTIONED: https://www.fda.gov/drugs/information-drug-class/homeopathic-products

https://www.vox.com/the-highlight/2019/10/16/20910346/homeopathic-homeopathy-holistic-alternative-medicine-oscillococcinum-history

https://www.kbrpradio.com/

Dean ME (2001). "Homeopathy and "the progress of science"" (PDF). Hist Sci. 39 (125 Pt 3): 255–83

Lasagna L (1970) [1962]. The doctors' dilemmas. New York: Collier Books. p. 33.

https://www.si.edu/object/nmah_724242

https://ids.si.edu/ids/deliveryService?id=NMAH-73-7206&max=1000

https://www.bbc.com/news/health-50207231

https://www.nature.com/articles/448838a

https://oldtimeyclips.com/clip/885-0-ill-never-forget-it/

https://oldtimeyclips.com/clip/352-2-its-the-very-heart-of-science-its-the-truth/

https://oldtimeyclips.com/clip/127-0-you-see-its-a-matter-of-science-lad/

https://www.npr.org/2019/04/29/718227789/all-the-worlds-a-stage-including-the-doctor-s-office

www.homeoint.org/morrell/glasgow/preface.htm

Robert W. Ullman; Judyth Reichenberg-Ullman (October 1, 1994). The patient's guide to homeopathic medicine

https://books.google.com/books?id=71R6CgAAQBAJ&pg=PT8&lpg=PT8&dq=william+cullen+theory+on+malaria&source=bl&ots=zpwO2Ga1Mn&sig=ACfU3U2PxiAA-FbS4e51jievs0IjMBHPGA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwi-6v_q6czyAhVLCs0KHXQMBg0Q6AF6BAgMEAM#v=onepage&q=william%20cullen%20theory%20on%20malaria&f=false

www.homeoint.org/morrell/glasgow/preface.htm

Edzard Ernst; Singh, Simon (2008). Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine. New York: W. W. Norton. ISBN 978-0-393-06661-6.

https://zenodo.org/record/1035885#.YSaUFcZOkWo

https://www.npr.org/2019/04/29/718227789/all-the-worlds-a-stage-including-the-doctor-s-office

Every episode:

Music performed by Monroeville Music Center: https://monroevillemusiccenter.bandcamp.com/track/the-perfect-planet

And Kevin Macleod https://freemusicarchive.org/music/Kevin_MacLeod/Jazz_Sampler/Faster_Does_It_1271

Artwork for Get the Word! created by Bruno Sanches: https://brunofsanches.myportfolio.com/

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