MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

Many so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) traditions have their very own diagnostic techniques, unknown to conventional clinicians. Think, for instance, of:

  • iridology,
  • applied kinesiology,
  • tongue diagnosis,
  • pulse diagnosis,
  • Kirlean photography,
  • live blood cell analysis,
  • the Vega test,
  • dowsing.

(Those interested in more detail can find a critical assessment of these and other diagnostic SCAM methods in my new book.)

And what about homeopathy?

Yes, homeopathy is also a diagnostic method.

Let me explain.

According to Hahnemann’s classical homeopathy, the homeopath should not be interested in conventional diagnostic labels. Instead, classical homeopaths are focussed on the symptoms and characteristics of the patient. They conduct a lengthy history to learn all about them, and they show little or no interest in a physical examination of their patient or other diagnostic procedures. Once they are confident to have all the information they need, they try to find the optimal homeopathic remedy.

This is done by matching the symptoms with the drug pictures of homeopathic remedies. Any homeopathic drug picture is essentially based on what has been noted in homeopathic provings where healthy volunteers take a remedy and monitor all that symptoms, sensations and feelings they experience subsequently. Here is an example:

The perfect match is what homeopaths thrive to find with their long and tedious procedure of taking a history. And the perfectly matching homeopathic remedy is essentially the homeopathic diagnosis.

Now, here is the thing: most SCAM diagnostic techniques have been tested (and found to be useless), but homeopathy as a diagnostic tool has – as far as I know – never been submitted to any rigorous tests (if you know otherwise, please let me know). And this, of course,  begs an important question: is it right – ethical, legal, moral – to use homeopathy without such evidence being available?

The simplest such test would be quite easy to conduct: one would send the same patient to 10 or 20 experienced homeopaths and see how many of them prescribe the same remedy.

Simple! But I shudder to think what such an experiment might reveal.

43 Responses to Homeopathy is also a diagnostic method

  • Nice try, Prof. Ernst, but you can´t fool me.
    Although admittedly, homeopaths believe in many strange things, this illustration of the “Merc. Sol. Type” must be satire.
    Which even semi-intelligent person would believe in such stereotypical, zodiacal sign-like classifications of patients?!
    This is just too stupid to be true…

  • Ernst, dear chap;

    It amazes me constantly, how ill-informed critics of the homeopathy remain; how little they know about the true practice rather than the straw man they have in their heads.

    Perhaps you did not know there are automated homeopathic repertories, “expert systems”?
    I think you should have known that, since some have been employed in trials you may have read – sadly not very good trials, since such systems are only a guide, and cannot use monkeys to replace a proper homeopath.

    If you enter the same information, you will naturally get the same results. Although that does depend on the exact implementation, I suspect they are not that far apart.

    Automated repertories will generally suggest several remedies, according to a scoring system.

    The final choice of ‘best remedy’ for the individual patient would be the province of a homeopath who should ideally be well-versed in the presentation of each suggested remedy, its primary and secondary effects, and should be equipped to make the best choice.

    Of course, with the well-chosen remedy, that patient gets cured. This is the true test. This does not show up in poorly-designed trials which the EBM crowd favour, based around eliminating the individual – an approach which lends bias to other medical approaches. But pharmacy addicts will insist on special pleading that theirs is the only proper method for testing. And think it is “Science”.

    Did you know that early homeopath Korsakoff was an inventor of such information systems? Probably not. These were fore-runners of computer systems – using an automated card-index method. Incidentally, it was Korsakoff, not Hahnemann who was actually responsible for the high-dilution preparations, using a machine he had invented.
    Homeopathy was always streets ahead on the scientific approach, and observing clinical evidence and feeding it back into the system. The rest caught up some time later. (Denialists will prefer their straw man)

    I reckon you would find that by-and-large, at least for uncomplicated cases, homeopaths will come up with the same remedies. And justify their choices in the same way.

    Did you imagine they spent years studying, just to throw dice?

    • Will: what I did not know is how patronising homeopathy fans can be. all the rest of the post, I did know of course and is, if I remember correctly, even discussed in my book (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Homeopathy-Undiluted-Including-Comprehensive-Z-ebook/dp/B01M1VD7X3/ref=sr_1_3?keywords=ERNST+EDZARD%2C+HOMEOPATHY&qid=1565277482&s=gateway&sr=8-3). but thank you for confirming: HOMEOPATHY IS A DIAGNOSTIC TEST THE VALIDITY OF WHICH HAS NOT BEEN TESTED AND THUS IS UNPROVEN.

      • All CAPS, Edzard?

        Surely a perfect indication of your level of knowledge of the subject. I would have to say that, yes, homeopathy has from the very inception diagnosed a particular condition as would be brought on during a homeopathic ‘proving’ (which are generally double-blinded nowadays, and are often replicated in colleges, as I’m sure you know). Part of the scientific endeavour to move away from false authority, by actual experiment and investigation.

        However, the triumphalist suggestion that these many instances may have not been correlated rather than just observed to conform, does rather seem to invite an ‘argumentum ad ignorantiam’ – a common pseudo-skeptic failing, wouldn’t you say?

        I suppose a professor of alt med with a genuine interest in the field could have done such a thing. It would seem quite perfunctory.

        Patronising? Could I be forgiven for thinking that ‘patronising’ was the whole theme of your blog, article and average responses?

        Lol.

    • William

      Of course, with the well-chosen remedy, that patient gets cured. This is the true test. This does not show up in poorly-designed trials which the EBM crowd favour, based around eliminating the individual – an approach which lends bias to other medical approaches. But pharmacy addicts will insist on special pleading that theirs is the only proper method for testing. And think it is “Science”.

      So. Let me sum up: “Testing demonstrates repeatedly that homeopathy doesn’t work therefore science must be wrong because we know homeopathy works.”

      THAT is special pleading. And circular logic. And wonderful foolishness. A perfect demonstration of the hubris homeopathy nuts repeatedly demonstrate.

      Please explain exactly why the scientific method is unable to evaluate homeopathy, Will. And wibbling about individuals and nebulous unexplained biases will only get you laughed at.

    • Well designed trials used individualized homeopathy with the pharmacy dispensing a bottle of either the prescribed “remedy”or a placebo. They showed no benefit from the individualized remedies.

  • I can’t stop laughing. Testing of homeopathic remedies is already carried out by means of ‘provings’ on healthy humans. No need to carry out your suggested ‘simple’ test. I’m sure you are aware that the symptoms (rubrics) meticulously written down by each patient over hours, days, weeks and even months have all been well documented in the literature since Hahnemann’s time. Fortunately, no homeopathy skeptic can count on health care consumers to be ill-informed any longer. Another Ernst fail.

    https://homeopathyeurope.org/research/provings/

    • Sandra: thank you for confirming that the test I suggest is crucial but has never been done.

    • ROFL! You are amusing, Sandra.

      If someone was to meticulously write down all the nonsense homeopathy proponents such as yourself have uttered over the years, would that magically make any of it actually true?

      You know the saying: GIGO.

    • A proving is to evidence what homeopathy is to health care: worthless.

      I can’t stop laughing. Oh, wait. It’s not funny. I apologize, Sandra. I shouldn’t laugh as you bob in and out of reality.

    • Sandra

      Do you actually read the tripe you post? Some of the links are beyond comical. The checklist for the minimum quality of provings is headshakingly stupid. This is documentary evidence of fools imagining they’re scientists. Provings are nothing more than collective acts of self-delusion and if you can’t see why it only further demonstrates your own blinkered ignorance.

  • Edzard, where did you supposedly get your training in homeopathy? Doctors who trained in homeopathy went through medical school. They use all the same diagnostic tests and physical examinations as any other doctor. Why dont you run your ignorant posts by someone like Dr Farokh Master of India before making a fool of yourself.

  • The existence of Santa Claus has also been ‘proven’ by counting Christmas preseents. Same methodology.

    • @ Roger,

      I liked your comment on that Bawaji (Dr. Farokh Master) 😀

      • Here in the “west” the tendency is to think of homeopathy as a hippy crank fringe medicine. But it’s mainstream medicine in large parts of the world. There are homeopathic medical schools in Mexico, India, Europe and S.America. These homeopathic doctors have all the same basic training as our vaunted US doctors who kill 300,000 people every year with EBM (Evidently Baseless Medicine). I urge anyone to go to homeopathic medical clinics and sit in. They treat all the same issues that US docs see plus more extremes because of the poverty of large parts of their clientele. They use all the same tests and all the same physical examination procedures to chart progress, and include more, because the have the added perspective of homeopathy.

        Frequently investigating the minutia that regular MD specialists enjoy are a complete waste of time for a homeopath. Looking at the big picture that this Merc-sol picture provides, may be more useful. The same pathological changes can be found in cases requiring different homeopathic remedies. The homeopathic physician has to match the whole constellation of symptoms to the remedy. The allopathic diagnosis may not be very helpful. Sometimes the “diagnosis” are just fancy Latin words that describe the condition but there is no understanding of it to back it up! Useless.

        How many regular doctors get the same diagnosis for the same patient? I saw a study that found that 50% of the time CONMEN (CONventional MEdiciNe) docs get their diagnosis wrong. Second opinion anyone? Everyone!

        • @Roger

          I try not to waste my time responding to your nonsense any more, but surely even YOU can see why saying “I saw a study that found that 50% of the time CONMEN (CONventional MEdiciNe) docs get their diagnosis wrong.” is utterly worthless unless you point us to the precise study.

          (Hint: it’s not the time you spend working out novel insulting acronyms that counts, it’s the reasoning behind the arguments you make.)

        • @Roger
          Saying something does not make it true. E.g. someone saying Santa Claus distributes presents does not prove he exists. Your claims have exactly the same value unless you support them with evidence. Please stop trying to convince us you are a fool and support what you say with credible references. Otherwise we will be regretfully obliged to conclude that you must be a simple fool.

        • Another load of self-contradictory rambling twaddle, Roger. Well done.

          Let’s just look at your claim of 50% diagnostic error, shall we? Presumably you read this in a quack-rag like WDDTY? Or possibly one of Mike Adam’s unhinged screeds?

          Let’s do what proper clinicians and scientists do and look at the evidence properly, shall we?

          https://qualitysafety.bmj.com/content/22/Suppl_2/ii21

          10%-15%, Roger. EBM looks at itself and tries to correct errors in view of the evidence. Show us one time when homeopaths have done this. We’ll wait.

        • Well said Roger.

          • https://www.hifa.org/dgroups-rss/corruption-evidence-based-medicine%E2%80%8A%E2%80%94%E2%80%8Akilling-profit-yet-no-better-alternative-evidence

            “So, why do prominent physicians call EBM mostly useless? The 2 most prestigious journals of medicine in the world are The Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicine. Richard Horton, editor in chief of The Lancet said this in 2015.
            “The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue”

            “It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor”

            “The medical profession is being bought by the pharmaceutical industry, not only in terms of the practice of medicine, but also in terms of teaching and research. The academic institutions of this country are allowing themselves to be the paid agents of the pharmaceutical industry. I think it’s disgraceful”

            The people in charge of the system - the editors of the most important medical journals in the world, gradually learn over a few decades that their life’s work is being slowly and steadily corrupted. Physicians and universities have allowed themselves to be bribed.”

  • I have raised 4 healthy children here in South Africa. From the first child to the last, I have utilised a variety of medical interventions to deal with various types of health issues. Unknown viral infections, parasites, bacteria, fungus and mold are just the tip of the iceberg of all the things we have to contend with in both rural and city environments. My one child almost died from what we presume was a single celled waterborne parasite after a camping weekend at the Hartebeespoort dam in Pretoria. She was ill for 2 weeks and the last week we spent in hospital waiting for her to slip into a coma. Dr’s came from the UK to look at her case and my pediatrician was unable to find the cause of her blood anomaly (they thought it was leukemia at first, but all tests proved negative)

    We ended up using the allopathic medical intervention that time because my homeopath had gone to a conference in Japan. He keeps up with all the latest information and developments and in doing so, has been able to be the very best diagnostician I have ever come across. When no GP, or Specialist or blood test or scan or cray or ultrasound can find the cause of any given health issue, his variety of what this yahoo would call scam diagnostics would result in a reasonable answer that leads to a cure (a quick one at that) every single time.

    Well, my daughter was dying and no one could help because my most reliable Dr was away.
    In the end, she was saved through a miracle healing. A Christian pastor called me at the hospital one evening after the ward nurses had called the trauma counselling people to visit myself and my daughter. We were preparing for her to slip into a coma. It was the most horrendous stress and horror I have had to live through and I’m not sure what would have happened to my mind and heart had I lost my 13 year old at that time.
    The pastor told me to lay hands on my daughter while he prayed. He was waiting for some change to take place. Eventually a change did happen. My daughter suddenly turned a ghastly yellowish mustard colour. I thought she was dying right there and then, but the nurses checked on her and said she was stable.

    She and I fell into a deep sleep and I woke up in the morning to the sound of my little girls voice asking for breakfast. She hadn’t eaten in about 2 weeks, and could hardly speak, let alone sit up on her own. Yet there she was, sitting up in her hospital bed, as chipper as ever, wanting food. Her face however, was covered in big red blotches of what looked like flat, subcutaneous blood blisters. I was elated and afraid at the same time…

    The Specialist walked in a few minutes later and started jumping with joy when he saw her. Apparently, once a virus or something like that has been conquered by the immune system, it can be worked out of the body via skin rashes and other reactions (a form of elimination)

    Whatever she had contracted, that one of the best hospitals in our country couldn’t fathom with all the most advanced diagnostics in the world, was beaten with the power of prayer and an unshakeable faith in our Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ.

    Homeopathy is just another in a very long list of medical interventions that work well. If it didn’t work, the reasons we use it would not have been resolved repeatedly.

    It is very sad to see one medical professional be this childish and close minded. To go and write a whole lot of tripe like this, clearly showing his own lack of understanding and misappropriation of reason actually concerns people like me for the fate of all allopathic medicine. Its really becoming a circus!

    The explanations and descriptions of Homeopathy given in this writ are wildly inaccurate and downright slanderous.

    Dear Edzard Ernest, you have no idea what you are talking about and anyone reading this and taking any of it to heart will be led astray in terms of accurate information.

    Not one medical modality is “the one” that can make our health troubles magically disappear. However, every kind of medical application can give us some answers.

    I have been interested in medicine since I was 11 years old and have thus been reading and researching it all my life. I have had 4 natural births at home and seen 4 wonderful children and many family members and friends through their various phases of growth and development. The most chronically ill, mentally challenged and emotionally unstable of every kind of person I have come to know in my almost 50 years of life have been those who look ONLY to allopathic medicine. These are the ones who tend to live on chronic medicines and suffer long spells of ill health and have to give up their dreams and passions because of their medical challenges. Those who seek answers further afield tend to get better fast, and cure their cancers and other chronic conditions permanently. Many times, they use a combination of a few medical options including things like chemo (which is only 2% effective according to official stats)

    This little piece of creative writing is deeply biased and full of inaccuracies, and is most certainly the kind of misinformation and fake news we could all do without.

    You are a disappointment to your profession sir.

    • “Dear Edzard Ernest, you have no idea what you are talking about…”
      THANKS

      • @ Proff. Edzard : I was just thinking that homeopathy is only succussed water if beyond 12C. If Homeopaths would give such water as medicine, they would definitely be put behind bars for this fraud. But it is not so and it has lasted from 200 years. After the western medicines, it is homeopathy that stands second.

        • If Homeopaths would give such water as medicine, they would definitely be put behind bars for this fraud

          You would think so, wouldn’t you?

          However, they have managed to convince enough people that they are getting away with it.

          Unfortunately people tend to believe whatever appeals to them and to discount any evidence that they don’t like. It takes training to learn how to evaluate evidence properly and also discipline to pay attention to evidence that contradicts our existing beliefs.

          Most people can’t tell the difference between what ought to be and what actually is, which is strange in a way as nobody can ever agree on what ought to be.

          • It’s not the people to decide but the elected government that decides to put fraudsters behind bars. However, in all countries Homeopathy still thrives.

          • When innocents are deceived, the government puts the fraudsters behind bars. This is how it happens here. And it must be everywhere in the world. Truth cannot be destroyed no matter how much you try.

          • Plesa tell us Pamela. Does part or all of your income rely on homeopathy or other health related practices and commerce ?

          • Pamela,

            When innocents are deceived, the government puts the fraudsters behind bars. This is how it happens here. And it must be everywhere in the world

            Do you really believe that? I don’t know which government you are thinking of but I can’t think of any countries where most people would agree with you, and I can think of quite a few where it is the fraudsters who are in charge.

            Truth cannot be destroyed no matter how much you try.

            I am not sure that I understand that statement. On the whole people tend to have different views on what constitutes the truth, and mainly believe that something is true because it fits with their pre-existing views rather than because there is evidence to support it.

            Historians are constantly faced with the problem of trying to extract the truth from conflicting accounts and may not have any objective evidence at all to help them decide. Scientists are in an easier position as they at least have a final arbiter of truth in the form of Nature.

          • @Bjorn : I am no Homeopath.

          • @ Dr. Julian : BTW, on a friendly note, how are you doing at present with the immunotherapy?

          • I did not ask if you were an homeopath, dear Pamela. Please read my question again. Your answer is very important.

        • @Pamela
          I think you need to look a bit more in-depth at the history of both homeopathy and ‘allopathic’ medicine (i.e. what we call regular, science-based medicine today).

          Around 1800, in the early days of homeopathy, medicine was nothing like what we have today. Diagnoses were mostly useless because disease mechanisms were unknown, and many ‘treatments’ were worse than useless, as they did more harm than good. E.g. bloodletting must have killed thousands upon thousands of people – yet this ‘treatment’ was very popular from ancient Greek times onward (which also proves that ‘time-tested’ ≠ ‘effective’). And hospitals were places where people contracted the most horrible infections, as the concept of hygiene was fully unknown – even worse: running around and treating patients with blood spatter and other unspeakable juices on your hands and clothes was a sure sign that you were a very hard-working and therefore Good doctor. It took 60 more years before people like Semmelweiss, Pasteur and Lister found out that this was Not Good At All.

          When homeopathy was invented, it appeared to work miracles: far less people died from all sorts of causes, especially in hospitals. Homeopathy quickly became quite popular, and specialized homeopathic hospitals opened their doors all over Europe and Northern America.
          However, even as early as the 1830’s, quite a few doctors began to doubt if homeopathy was really doing anything at all. Yes, patients generally fared better, but even after more than three decades, none of Hahnemann’s founding principles (‘like cures like’ and ‘higher dilutions = more potent medicine’) had been found to be true, and even the concept of proving (where healthy people supposedly experienced all sorts of ‘symptoms’ when taking homeopathic preparations) was proven false in 1835.
          Later, as regular medicine slowly progressed, doctors noted that homeopathy appeared to lose much of its effectiveness, and it began to dawn that homeopathy was really nothing more than a ritualized way of simply doing nothing. The main reason why it appears to work is that the vast majority of medical complaints resolve naturally over the course of some months at most – and this is what quacks up to this day are banking on: after some weeks or months of ‘treatment’, the patient is better. Success! And, of course, the practitioner’s attention and the placebo effect makes people feel better – even if it doesn’t make them better.

          Also, homeopathy had firmly established itself in society by the time that science had progressed enough to prove homeopathy wrong (or rather: science could not find evidence that homeopathy worked, and, together with new findings in atomic theory and chemistry, found it increasingly implausible that it could work at all). The homeopathy lobby had even succeeded in obtaining sweeping legal exemptions for their ‘medicines’: any homeopathic preparation was automatically registered and licensed for sale as a medicine, without requiring any proof of efficacy or safety, as long as the manufacturer declared that it was ‘prepared in accordance with the homeopathic Materia Medica’, or similar wordings.

          These very strange exemptions exist to this very day in many countries. Even worse: even though science by now has firmly established that homeopathy is 100% placebo treatment (a.k.a. quackery), homeopaths, naturopaths and other medically incompetent quacks increasingly succeed in obtaining the same legal rights as real doctors to ‘treat’ patients, usually under the pretence of ‘Health Freedom’ or the likes. These people can legally diagnose people and prescribe medicines even after only a couple of months of ‘study’.
          The good news is that is mostly a problem in the US, and that the opposite appears to be happening in Europe: ever more countries stop healthcare reimbursements for homeopathy because it clearly does not work.

          Now you ask how I know that it does not work? It really is very simple:
          Even after 227 years, homeopaths have not succeeded in coming up with even ONE ‘remedy’ that has shown significant and consistent efficacy in proper clinical trials. NOT ONE.

          The problem is that legislators are wary to treat homeopathy as the fraud it is, because alternative practitioners still have a strong lobby, and also know how to mobilize people with rhetoric about “health freedom” and untruths about “proven efficacy” – and of course endless testimonials from people for whom it ‘worked’.
          There are also other legal hurdles for instituting a ban on homeopathy or other types of quackery, e.g. the ‘defence’ that clients can know that homeopathy is not real healthcare: it is advertised as ‘alternative’ and ‘complementary’, yet people are using it of their own volition; it is a bit like paying an astrologer or other practitioner of nonsense: you can know that you’re being fooled.

          This is in a nutshell why homeopathy indeed can be considered a fraud, but also why it is not banned as such, at least for now.

        • @ Bjorn : My income goes mainly on food. I am a foodie but now I concentrate on proteins & fibers (no junk food) We all in our family are done with Homeopathy. Health issues are there but very much manageable.

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