How Homeopathy Harms

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

Homeopathy's proponents love to claim that homeopathic products are safe, gentle, and have no side effects. This idea is based on the fact that in most products, the "active ingredient" has been diluted so much that it can't cause direct harm. In fact, in properly prepared homeopathic products that are designated 12C (or 24X) or higher, no molecules of the original substance will be present. Unfortunately for patients, homeopathy can still harm in at least four ways.

Direct Physical Harm

Some products labeled as "homeopathic" have contained toxic contaminants. In 2009, the World Health Organization warned that safety assessment should consider possible impurities of the source material and contamination and failures of good manufacturing practice [1].

In 2012, Dr. Edzard Ernst and colleagues located reports on 1,142 patients who had suffered direct physical harm attributed to homeopathic products. The problems included abdominal pain, flatulence, allergic reactions, burning lips, nausea, vomiting, bladder cancer, severe weakness, mental disturbances, coma, skin disorders, metabolic abnormalities, irritability, acute gastrointestinal illness, leukopenia, weight loss, chronic diarrhea, hair loss, pain, pancreatitis, problems with balance, sleepiness, kidney failure, heart rhythm disturbances, fainting, severe swelling, bleeding, shortness of breath, high fever, low blood pressure, and neurologic disturbances. Several patients required hospital admission and a few died [2].

Indirect Physical Harm

If a product doesn't work, it is not safe to use it instead of real medicine, Delay in getting effective care can result in worsening of conditions that could have been treated properly. Ernst's research group found reports of 17 cases. However, the vast majority of people who are indirectly harmed are not reported.

Economic Harm

The amount of money wasted on homeopathy totals several billion dollars per year worldwide. The biggest individual losers are victims of practitioners who use an EAV device to detect nonexistent problems and recommend useless products to fix them [3].

Harm to Society

Many homeopathic proponents spread false beliefs that vaccines and prescribed drugs do more harm than good. Any lowering of vaccination rates puts everyone in our society at risk.

References

  1. Safety issues in the preparation of homeopathic medicines. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization, 2009.
  2. Posadki P, Alotaibi A, Ernst E. Adverse effects of homeopathy: a systematic review of published case reports and case series. International Journal of Clinical Practice 66:1178-1188, 2012.
  3. Barrett S. Quack "electrodiagnostic" devices. Quackwatch, July 7, 2012.

This article was posted on August 10, 2015.

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