Homeopathy for allergies

Ah, Texas. I’ve been to Texas. Have you ever been to Texas? Texas is special in so many ways. Talk about a place where people hold on to their guns and bibles. This story comes out of Houston where:

““Spring in Houston starts in January,” said Dr. Frank Orson, with Baylor Medical Center. He said some of his clients are ditching over-the-counter medicines. “We get a lot of our clients who have been through the Claritin and other allopathic approaches and when they are not getting the result there, they come to us,” said Philip Lanham  with the Homeopathy Center of Houston.

Lanham says diluting what you’re allergic to and drinking the potion, helps your body build up a resistance. “It helps the body identify it, and how to work with it, or fight it,” he said. Lanham said there are no side effects.”

That last part, the “no side effects” part seems to be the selling point of homeopathy. For $20, they’ll give you a bottle of a solution with extremely diluted amounts of the things that you’re allergic to. In a true medical setting, the allergist would also dilute what you’re allergic to, but he or she wouldn’t dilute it to the point where you need a sphere of water the size of the solar system to find just one molecule of the allergen being diluted. It would be diluted enough to give you a mild reaction. The allergist would then keep you in the office for a little bit to make sure you don’t have a severe reaction. Over time, the allergist increases the dose. This builds up your tolerance. For your body to get through the allergies, you have to have that reaction. You have to have side-effects.

Supporters of homeopathy will probably say that their allergies went away with the “potions,” but I propose a simpler explanation. I propose that their allergies went away with the allergy season going away. After all, most allergies are seasonal… And homeopathy is a sham.

In that news article, one of the commenters mentioned this study. I found a PDF of the study in a homeopathic website, so I had a chance to read it all. You don’t have to read the whole thing to find the significant part of the conclusion. You can read the PubMed entry:

“CONCLUSION: The symptoms of patients undergoing homeopathic treatment were shown to improve substantially and conventional medication dosage could be substantially reduced. While the real-life effect assessed indicates that there is a potential for enhancing therapeutic measures and reducing healthcare cost, it does not allow to draw conclusions as to the efficacy of homeopathic treatment per se.”

Read that last part again, the one I’ve highlighted in bold. And remember what I said about side-effects? This is from the results section of the PubMed entry:

“No side effects were reported during treatment.”

Of course! Why would something so diluted give you side-effects?

You might be thinking right now that I just don’t want to listen to the evidence. Oh, but I am. See, this is what they did (from the methods section of the actual paper):

“During the first exam [E1], the treating physician assessed the minimum duration it would take for the current allergic symptoms to resolve without treatment. Then, before starting treatment, the patient was asked to complete the first questionnaire.

All subjects were asked to be present at the practice for completing the second questionnaire within their period of allergic reaction, no earlier than two weeks and no later than 16 weeks after commencement (the second exam [E2] took place at the end of the follow-up period). Intermediate consultations and individual therapy modifications resulted from the course of treatment. The follow-up/treatment period of 2 to 16 weeks was based on a minimum duration of treatment necessary for allowing assessment and a maximum tolerable duration in case of treatment failure. Participation in the trial terminated after the patients had completed the second questionnaire.”

So they asked patients to complete a questionnaire about their symptoms, take the homeopathy, then report back in 2 to 16 weeks from their initial assessment to see if they had a diminishing in symptoms, if they reduced the dose of their allopathic (real) medicine, and to see if there were any side-effects to the homeopathy. Well, you can go read the paper for yourself. I did. But I was strongly encouraged to quit reading when I read that one of the medications these folks were assessed for discontinuation were antibiotics.

I’m not joking.

If they reduced their consumption of antibiotics in 2 to 16 weeks, then that was a positive endpoint. Let me just tell you this: Not a lot of people take antibiotics for more than two weeks. Only the serious things like TB and drug-resistant bugs require antibiotics for months.

Another drug they looked at was steroids. Again, you don’t use those for weeks. You’re not typically supposed to. Yet, the authors use it as a positive sign of homeopathic use that people on homeopathy discontinued the use of steroids. Sure, they write in the discussion that the benefits of homeopathy may be from the natural course of the disease, from the use of the prescribed medications, or from the seasonality of the allergies… But they go back to the whole “no side effects” part.

Listen, I wish that all medications used to treat all diseases had zero side-effects. I wish people could get rid of cancer without losing their hair or being susceptible to serious infections. I really do wish for all that. But that’s not the world we live in. Maybe in the future, but not now. Even aspirin has side-effects. Heck, the cranberry juice you might take for your urinary tract infection will have side-effects (especially if you’re diabetic). The absence of side-effects doesn’t make something “good” or “better.” Working and being proven to work under controlled situations is what makes something worth using.

But you don’t have to take my word for it…

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4 thoughts on “Homeopathy for allergies

  1. Pingback: The dangers within healthcare | EpidemioLogical

  2. Jeez Reuben…we made poor choices for our education and profession. If…I had only known…way back then…that I could have a lucrative *profession* as a homeopathic practitioner.

    Yeah, I’ve been to Texas, where they speak “Texan”, but managed to avoid the large cities in favor of Galveston and a cozy short term rental of a condo on the beach. I’m planning a trip to Texas in the near future to tour the LBJ, George Bush I and George Bush II (scheduled to open May, 2013), Presidential Libraries/Museums. (I’m a Presidential history junkie).

    I’ll be avoiding Austin Texas the geographic center of crappy pseudoscience.

    • Yeah, I could be raking in the dough left and right. There’s a sucker born every minute. Unfortunately for my bank account, I’ve taken it upon myself to protect said suckers.

      • You know you love your work Reuben. There’s never any down time and in the midst of a crisis, all your experience comes into play.

        Now that I’m retired, I miss my colleagues and I also miss some of the more memorable long term TB patients

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