Some commentators on this blog and elsewhere keep on claiming that conventional medicine is dangerous, certainly more dangerous than homeopathy (or other alternative therapies). To test the validity of this assumption, I invite you to a little thought experiment:

Imagine 100 patients suffering from each of the conditions listed below.

  • cancer
  • AIDS
  • Ebola
  • sepsis
  • TB
  • MS
  • dementia
  • coronary heart disease
  • stroke
  • diabetes
  • peripheral vascular disease

(this list could be extended ad libitum)

Now imagine all of these patients would receive alternative treatment in the form of homeopathy.

Next ask yourself in how many of these patients would hasten death (i. e. contribute to a fatal outcome earlier than necessary).

Here are my estimates (based on the best available evidence):

  • cancer: 100
  • AIDS: 100
  • Ebola: 100
  • sepsis: 100
  • TB: 100
  • MS: 100
  • dementia: 100
  • coronary heart disease: 100
  • stroke: 100
  • diabetes: 100
  • peripheral vascular disease: 100

(Please don’t tell me that homeopaths do not regularly claim to be able to treat those conditions; and please don’t say that they do not advocate homeopathy as a truly alternative therapy, because they do – if you don’t believe me, do a simple google search yourself.)

And now imagine these patients are being treated by conventional medicine. It seems obvious that not all lives would be saved and that some would die of their condition. But that was not my question. It was, in how many of these patients would conventional medicine hasten death?

Here are my estimates (based on the best available evidence):

  • cancer: 0
  • AIDS: 0
  • Ebola: 0
  • sepsis: 0
  • TB: 0
  • MS: 0
  • dementia: o
  • coronary heart disease: 0
  • stroke: 0
  • diabetes: 0
  • peripheral vascular disease: 0

I know this is a bit simplistic (as well as provocative). But I was merely trying to make a point: Homeopathy (and many other alternative treatments) are by no means as safe as its proponents seem to think.

9 Responses to Homeopathy is so much safer than conventional medicine … Oh really?

  • Since you failed to include any, I have to imagine you provided a link to comparison statistics to validate your theory.

    • It’s a thought experiment, Sandra.
      Nevertheless, from the 12 examples of potentially lethal ailments: i.e. 1200 patients I struggle to imagine homeopathic involvement doing aught but accelerating revenue for homeopaths and funeral directors.
      Giving medical attention to all 1200 may incur transport and parking charges for their friends and family. Let’s add the cost of food and warmth for the extra days, weeks, years (e.g. 8 extra years for my wife) of life. If we want to dwell on the negative, maybe we could cost in the delayed receipt of life insurance payouts, the cost of loved ones travelling great distances to visit the patient who’s come to terms with an honest diagnosis.
      One glaring difference between the genuine medical professional and charlatans: they’re honest about diagnosis and prognosis. When all else is set aside, it’s honesty that equips patients, friends and family to ready themselves for the dignity of death. All the years of grief are not subsequently tarnished by regrets as realisation that the dying were preyed upon.

      • Rich Wiltshir

        “Nevertheless, from the 12 examples of potentially lethal ailments: i.e. 1200 patients I struggle to imagine homeopathic involvement doing aught but accelerating revenue for homeopaths and funeral directors.”

        There is a paradox: (Year 2000)
        “In the absence of official figures, the Jerusalem Post surveyed non-profit making Jewish burial societies, which perform funerals for the vast majority of Israelis, to find out whether the industrial action was affecting deaths in the country.
        “The number of funerals we have performed has fallen drastically,” said Hananya Shahor, the veteran director of Jerusalem’s Kehilat Yerushalayim burial society. “This month, there were only 93 funerals compared with 153 in May 1999, 133 in the same month in 1998, and 139 in May 1997,” he said. The society handles 55% of all deaths in the Jerusalem metropolitan area. Last April, there were only 130 deaths compared with 150 or more in previous Aprils. “I can’t explain why,” said Mr Shahor.
        Meir Adler, manager of the Shamgar Funeral Parlour, which buries most other residents of Jerusalem, declared with much more certainty: “There definitely is a connection between the doctors’ sanctions and fewer deaths. We saw the same thing in 1983 [when the Israel Medical Association applied sanctions for four and a half months].”
        Motti Yeshuvayov of Tel Aviv’s only burial society said that he had noticed the same trend in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area in the past two months. The only exception to the trend of decreasing deaths has been in the Haifa area.
        The coastal city of Netanya has only one hospital, and it has been spared the industrial action because staff have to sign a no strike clause with their contract. Netanya’s burial society, headed by Shlomo Stieglitz, reported 87 funerals last month, the same number as in May 1999. It reported 97 in April compared with 122 in April 1999, and 99 in March as compared with 119 in March 1999. Mr Stieglitz said that his burial society services not only Netanya but also other cities, including Hadera and Kfar Sava, where hospital doctors have joined the sanctions.”‘ strike in Israel may be good for health

        Year 2008
        Doctors’ strikes and mortality: a review.
        “A paradoxical pattern has been suggested in the literature on doctors’ strikes: when health workers go on strike, mortality stays level or decreases. We performed a review of the literature during the past forty years to assess this paradox.”

        Year 2016:
        Using studies from 1999 onwards and extrapolating to the total number of US hospital admissions in 2013 Makary and Daniel calculated a mean rate of death from medical error of 251,454 a year.

        None of above was written by homeopaths and the data is not from homeopaths.

        • You are extracting a wild allusion there fellow Iqbal. These might well be totally coincidental findings. You have a wild imagination, which is proven by your belief in homeopathy anyway.

          Let’s stick to the point now, homeopathy (used as a synonym for “doing nothing” in medicine) hastens death in cases of serious disease. Truth is something that you cannot deviate from, even with all the cherry-picked evidence in the world..

        • Iqbal.
          Interesting stuff, though the first link didn’t process (will try on a different device later). Any paradox fascinates me but I don’t see one here: in the arena of proper medicinal care (as with any diligent activity) errors will occur despite best intent. It’s the openness with which the medical profession necessarily operates (no pun) that enables improvement in experience and outcome. Indeed, it would be interesting to see a comparable scrutiny of homeopathic and other charlatanry effecting outcomes.
          Short periods of “industrial action” (for which I’ve never found justification, even though I have massive compassion for our under-appreciated professionals and support staff) would, I infer, need thorough analysis of pre- and post-event behaviours to extrude consequences. For example, there’s no mention of whether more severe cases gained earlier attention in anticipation of the “action”.
          Either way, just as Prof Ernst suggested we try a thought experiment, any mass of actual data would require isolation of each factor in order for meaningful inferences to be made – though I accept DavidP’s observation in the following comment.
          As I said before: it’s the honesty of diagnosis and prognosis that equips the patient and those left behind to manage death and grief.

          • Rich Wiltshir

            Paradox is a routine feature in scientific medicine.

            Fewer heart attack patients die when top cardiologists are away at conferences, study finds

            “High-risk patients with heart failure and cardiac arrest hospitalized in teaching hospitals had lower 30-day mortality when admitted during dates of national cardiology meetings. High-risk patients with AMI admitted to teaching hospitals during meetings were less likely to receive PCI, without any mortality effect.”

            And this has continued for years. Glaucoma:

            Scientific logic: Reduce high pressure in eye balls with medication. Outcome-exactly opposite.

            “One example of Dr. Eddy’s work cited by the article’s author, John Carey, involves a search of the literature in 1987 to evaluate the effectiveness of the medical treatment of glaucoma: Dr. Eddy “ferreted out decades of research evaluating treatment of high pressure in the eye-ball, a condition that can lead to glaucoma and blindness. He found about a dozen studies that looked at outcomes with pressure-lowering medications used on millions of people. The studies actually suggested that the 100-year-old treatment was harmful, causing more cases of blindness, not fewer.” Mr. Carey goes on to state that Dr. Eddy submitted a paper to the Journal of the American Medical Association and that the publication’s editors sent it out to specialists for review who “marshaled a counterattack.”

            And this has continued for years: fever

            “A randomized control trial published by our institution in 2005 sought to evaluate the impact of antipyretic therapy on outcomes in critically ill patients. Patients were randomized to an aggressive treatment group, consisting of acetaminophen 650 mg every 6 hours for fever >38.5 °C with addition of a cooling blanket for temperature of >39.5 °C, or a permissive group where treatment was initiated at a temperature of >40 °C with acetaminophen and cooling blankets. The study had to be terminated at the interim analysis as there were seven deaths in the aggressive group and only one death in the permissive group.”

            You really have no option: Edzard’s choice of medical system has only paradoxes, and IF we agree with Edzard, no other medical system works. Either way, you are dead

          • It is a wonder, where on earth Iqbal finds all these bits and pieces to quote out of context! Of course people don’t die when their fever is treated and, thankfully, experience alone is usually enough for everyday people to know. But… the interesting paper cited by Iqbal has another paragraph exactly after the one with the 7 deaths, which were most likely due to reasons other than fever suppresion.

            The next paragraph is “New Evidence”:

            […] In this prospective controlled trial by Young et al. published in the NEJM on December 3, 2015, 700 ICU patients with fever of known or suspected infectious etiology were randomized to receive either 1 g of intravenous acetaminophen or placebo every 6 hours until ICU discharge, resolution of fever, cessation of antimicrobial therapy, or death (20). The patients in the treatment group did have a statistically, but likely not clinically, relevant lower mean daily average temperature (absolute difference −0.28 °C, P<0.001). Sustained resolution of fever was also significantly higher in the treatment versus placebo group (22.8% vs. 16.9%, P=0.05). The main outcome was ICU-free days until day 28, which was not shown to be decreased in the treatment arm. Secondary outcomes, including 28 and 90-day mortality and ICU and hospital length of stay, were also not significantly different between groups. However, acetaminophen was associated with a shorter ICU stay than placebo among survivors and a longer stay in non-survivors. In terms of adverse events, there was no difference between groups in discontinuation of the drug due to liver dysfunction, and one patient in the placebo group suffered from markedly elevated temperature associated with death. […]

            So, ten years after, nobody died at all, and nobody’s liver was harmed either, as Iqbal would have us believe is inevitable. Fever treatment simply eased the pain, and might even have prevented the death of that poor patient in the placebo group with a very elevated temperature.

            Fellow Iqbal, not that you amaze me anymore, but your expertise in citing things out-of-context has weakened a bit. You better train a little harder. I expect more fear-mongering sources next time.

            Oh…and, I almost forgot. Sugar pills!

  • I think you are a little over enthusiastic here. Of 100 cancer and heart disease patients, I would expect best practice medicine to hasten the death of 1 and delay the death of many, but not all. Some of those treatments have substantial risks to go with their benefits.

  • A teaspoon is also very much safer than a surgical scalpel. But it is completely useless for cutting tissues.
    Homeopahy – the air-guitar of medicine. Good for laughs but useless for anything else

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