Homeopathetic Pamela Anderson

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There's been a lot of controversy over Janet Jackson revealing her breast at the Superbowl, which must make Madonna and Britney envious (though Madonna is cleaning up her act in some ways: she has reportedly quit smoking and is trying to get Britney to do likewise). The real booby prize for Celebrity with a Bad Idea should go not to poor Miss Jackson, though, but to...actress Pamela Anderson.

Having contracted hepatitis C (not on video, as far as I know), Anderson announced late last year that she would not be treating the condition (which can lead to liver failure) with interferon or anti-virals. Instead, she said she would treat the condition with homeopathy, specifically with a special remedy whipped up just for her by her homeopathic doctor, Wendy Hewland.

Homeopathy is the practice of diluting substances until the resulting solutions are effectively nothing but water, with no proven medicinal value, then charging people for an ongoing regimen of the solutions (which are supposed to contain a magnetic "energy memory" of the original substance). As with most other alternative medicine scams, homeopathy is not backed by scholarly studies but is backed by a great deal of wishful thinking on the part of its customers and extremely vague criteria for success on the part of its proponents. People's moods fluctuate, and many use their homeopaths as substitutes for psychotherapy, so it is a fairly simple matter for homeopaths many of whom are no doubt sincere in their belief that they can heal to convince customers that blahs and aches and pains are being transformed by homeopathy into "high energy" states of wellness.

But it would be nice if the customers learned to alter their moods without paying exorbitant prices for colored water, undermining science, enriching mystics and con artists, and worst of all tempting people such as Pamela Anderson away from real medical treatment that might improve their health and even save their lives. If you've ever met gung-ho homeopaths, you know they tend to talk in the soothing, let-us-learn-from-the-pretty-dolphins tones of aging, spacey hippies ah, but listen to them change to a more combative tone when the conversation turns to criticisms of homeopathy by mainstream medicine...

No studies showing homeopathy works? Well, all the medical journals are being paid to lie about it by the pharmaceutical conspiracy, comes the response. Was homeopathy displaced by mainstream medicine over a century and a half ago? Only because of the American Medical Association monopoly has bee using its power to silence the truth about homeopathy's superiority! Are manifestly useless homeopathic remedies lining the shelves of drug stores? Well, that's not real homeopathy, which requires a commitment of time (and money) to a complete, holistic change in lifestyle, not just a few pills or swigs of elixir. Are there no homeopathy-corroborating statistics out of the National Center on Complementary and Alternative Medicine, which is sucking up some 100 million taxpayer dollars per year to find working alternative medicine methods and hasn't come up with anything yet? Well, statistics don't work for studying homeopathy, since it's such an individualized course of treatment.

(Can't they show a general trend toward homeopathy patients faring better than non-homeopathic patients, though, if the practice is generally sound? Do they even understand what statistics are? And if individual, anecdotal accounts with their obvious tendency to be subjective and unreliable are all that matters, should I listen only to the homeopathy fans, or should I care just as much about stories like the one told by a user of Zicam Homeopathic Zinc Cold Remedy Nasal Spray, who says the spray has caused him to lose his sense of smell? Normally, I'd say you need lots of such accounts, even some solid statistics, before leaping to any dire cause-and-effect conclusions about a product but, hey, if the homeopaths don't believe in statistics, only in individual experience, it sounds like they owe that man a new olfactory system.)

A reader once wrote us here at the American Council on Science and Health lamenting that his wife uses all sorts of alternative medicine methods, including homeopathy, and that he fears for the health of his children, who are being denied antibiotics and other mainstream treatments when ill. Our medical director, Dr. Gilbert Ross, amidst his usual sound advice about consulting a licensed mainstream pediatrician, told the reader gently that at some point, if he becomes concerned that his wife is really imperiling the kids' health and won't listen to reason, he might also want to consider marriage counseling.

I would add that people's adherence to homeopathy seems rooted more in psychological tendencies than their dispassionate weighing of scientific evidence.

So I make this plea to Pamela Anderson, if she's out there, reading (and I like to imagine that she is): Remember those difficult times during your marriage to Tommy Lee, when sometimes anger flared and you later realized, perhaps even with the help of a marriage counselor, that emotion can impair rational judgment? Well, the scientific method has developed to avoid similar problems of bias and poor judgment (with scientists aiming as much as possible to study things in a dispassionate, unbiased fashion, comparing users of a medicine to a control group who do not take the medicine in order to check for subtle differences in the rate of improvement or side effects, showing their work to peer reviewers, letting others try to replicate or criticize the findings in new studies) while in all likelihood, your homeopath, however well-meaning she may be, plays upon your emotions, convincing you that she cares more about you than the hospitals and the doctors do, that you'll be in a better mood if you talk to her instead of to them.

In all likelihood, that's true in the short term. But long-term, reliance on the homeopaths could put you in the V.I.P. lounge by the bay in Slab City, baby. So I hope you'll talk to a mainstream physician or two about your condition before putting your life solely in the hands of a homeopath.

Responses:

February 19, 2004

The commercial homeopathic remedies purportedly sold to cure sleeplessness or air-sickness are in violation of a fundamental tenet of homeopathy: that "like cures like" [with small/homeopathic doses having the opposite effect of large ones]. So, since materials like valerian and hops cause sleep when taken at high doses and ginger in high doses is good against queasy stomachs, it would seem to follow that a so-called homeopathic solution of valerian and hops ought to keep the user awake all night, and that homeopathic ginger ought to cause vomiting.

Jay Mann
Christchurch
New Zealand