Celebrating the end of WHAW.
(world Homeopathy awareness week, of course)
You may not be aware of it, but we have just survived world homeopathy awareness week (WHAW), the amazing non-event that was marked by ever-so-slightly elevated levels of pro-homeo spam on twitter, and a plethora of pithy science blogs that carefully pointed out that there was no evidence that homeopathy works, or indeed, how it might conceivably work. This was topped off by a Dilbert cartoon that handily lampooned both homeopathy and astrology.
Homeopaths might want take note of the current plight of UK chiropractors – who this week, finally folded in their attempts to sue Simon Singh for libel. In suing Simon Singh, the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) stuck their collective heads above the parapet of public ignorance/apathy, and were struck down by a combination of artillery fire from organisations like Index on Censorship, English Pen and the “Keep libel laws out of science” campaign, and some precision snipping from science/skeptical bloggers such as Zeno and Simon Perry. As a result of all this:
- the libel laws look set to change,
- the BCA lost,
- the BCA will be paying a proportion Simon Singh’s costs.
- ~25% of all chiropractors are currently under investigation for making unsubstantiated claims on their websites
Given this, one would hope that other “unreality enthusiasts” (© Dr_Aust_PhD) might keep their heads down for a while – but oh no. Not the homeopaths. Despite the 1023 campaign drawing attention to homeopathy, and STFC report into homeopathy concluding that homeopathy is not deserving of NHS funding, the homeopaths continue to draw attention to themselves – by having an “awareness week”.
Of all the “remedies” that homeopaths use1, from the light of Venus, to fragments of the Berlin wall, Natrum Mur has to be one of the most ridiculous, from a scientific point of view. According to this webpage, Natrum Mur is used for:
Homeopaths give this remedy for emotional problems, such as anxiety and depression, that are caused by suppressed grief and other emotions.
Natrum mur. is also used to treat conditions with a watery discharge, such as colds, and phlegm or profuse, clear mucus. Complaints that are generally worse with heat and that are often brought on by stuffy heat or exposure to hot sun are helped by this remedy. These include: migraines with zigzag lines in front of the eyes; eyestrain with aching eyes; headaches that come on after menstruation; and cold sores.
It is also good for mouth problems, for example, gingivitis (inflamed gums), dry, cracked lips, mouth ulcers, and bad breath (halitosis).
Skin complaints, for example, warts, dry cuticles, hangnails, boils, and painful acne are helped by Natrum mur. It is also effective for goiter; anemia; indigestion; constipation with dry, hard stools; bleeding anal fissures; backache; and delayed urine flow.
In women, Natrum mur. is given for absent menstruation induced by shock or grief; irregular menstruation; and a general feeling of being unwell both before and after menstruation. It is also good for a dry or sore vagina, vaginal discharge, and vaginismus (vaginal pain during sexual intercourse).
When ill, people who need this remedy are chilly but dislike heat.
Clearly a highly potent remedy with a wide range of clinical applications. *cough*
But what, I hear you ask, is was in Natrum Mur? It is some exotic herb, a distillation of fermented sheep eyes? No.
It’s table salt. Sodium chloride. The same stuff you put on your chips. The main flavouring in “ready salted” crisps. Salt.
Incidentally, the first crystal structure ever determined was NaCl, which earned Sir W.H. Bragg and his son Sir W.L. Bragg the Nobel prize for physics in 1915.
Salt is an important part of our diet, but problems generally stem from having too much of the stuff. The food standard agency recommend that an adult eat no more that 6g of salt per day. Aficionados of Avogadro’s constant will be able to tell you that this is 6/(22.99+35.453) X 6×1023 = 6.15×1022 molecules of salt – which is “some” salt.
More than “some” salt may cause you problems – hypertension, cardiovascular disease, renal stones, osteoporosis, stomach cancer to name but a few. Now, given that homeopaths follow the law of similars, which states that “like cures like,” one might expect these diseases/pathologies would be the same that homeopaths might claim to cure with Natrum Mur. Curiously, these are all absent from the list.
Salt is also used to balance electrolytes in saline solutions for fluid replacement, and washing wounds with salt water has an antiseptic effect (killing bacteria by “osmotic shock“).
But then we all contain “some” salt – according to Wikipedia (yes, I know!) the human body has about 0.15% by mass of both chlorine and sodium – this will all be present as sodium and chloride ions. However, if you could extract all this as sodium chloride from an average 70kg person, you’d end up with about 150g of salt.
So, given that we contain ~150g of salt, and we consume/excrete 6g of salt per day, how is adding the memory of salt going to make a blind bit of difference to “anxiety and depression”, “migraines with zigzag lines in front of the eyes” etc?
My favourite homeopathic remedy is Natrum Mur – because for me, it really drives home the inane, reality-deprived nature of homeopathy.
1 – of course, homeopathic remedies above a potency of 12C don’t actually contain anything.