Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Working On Sunshine

I feel very ambivalent about the sunshine. On the one hand, I feel I’m at least three parts cat and I’d like nothing more than to roll around in it, luxuriating and spreading myself across the tarmac, rubbing my face on the bare legs of hot strangers. But on the other hand not only do I burn easily, but my skin dries up and my eczema makes a mini-comeback. In the past, this has always been enough to make me rather hate the sun. This year however, I’m determined to try and fight. Fight for my right to sunbathe.

So first stop, Sally’s homeopathic mother. I sense from a few of the comments I received last week that homeopathy is not particularly well thought of round these parts. And I understand that. I don’t think particularly well of it myself. Or at least I didn’t use to. To be honest, Sally has brought me round somewhat. But I’m still fairly sceptical.

‘What about Ben Goldacre?’ I asked her over the weekend. Did you read that article?’

She shrugged. ‘Skimmed it,’ she said.

‘Well, what did you think? You can’t deny he puts a devilishly convincing case against.’

‘But none of it matters,’ she said, ‘I don’t care about placebos and regressing to mean. All of that may well be true but it totally misses the most important part of homeopathy, and that’s the care.’

I looked at her a bit blankly. She looked quite peeved.

‘Alright, let me try and explain. When was the last time you went to the doctor?’

I told her it was a couple of years ago, when I suddenly started suffering from a lot of migraines.

‘And what was the treatment?’ she asked.

‘I think I was just prescribed some painkillers,’ I said. ‘Oh, and I was advised to keep away from bright light, but I already knew that.’

‘And why were you getting migraines all of a sudden?’ she continued. ‘Did you discuss that with your doctor?’

I shrugged. ‘Stress?’ I suggested.

‘Did you discuss it with your doctor?’ she repeated.

I shook my head. ‘No, I was in and out in about two or three minutes.’

‘Well, there you go,’ said Sally. ‘There’s your conventional medicine right there, in all of its scientific glory. Let me ask you: do you have any pains at the moment? Anywhere in your body?’

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘My calves are throbbing. Like slapped meat. Like Kenneth Tynan’s buttocks.’

She ignored my rather witty allusion and asked me if I had any idea what the cause of the pain might be.

‘Of course,’ I replied. ‘Running. I’ve been running like a wildebeest.’

‘Right,’ said Sally. ‘It’s obvious, isn’t it? Cause and effect. Like getting a hangover after drinking a lot of vodka, or a runny nose after shoving loads of coke up there. So what about your migraines? Why were you getting them?’

I shrugged. ‘Stress?’

‘OK, so why were you stressed?’

I shrugged again. ‘Life?’ I suggested.

‘If you can’t be more specific than that, there’s not much chance you’re going to be able to stop it happening. The painkillers your doctor gave you may have killed the pain but they didn’t make the migraines stop. They stopped for reasons unknown. That’s your Goldacre’s “regression to the mean”. It applies equally to traditional medicines. But the difference between traditional medicine and homeopathy is that, where you got three minutes and some ibuprofen from your proper doctor, you’d get an hour or so in-depth consultation from a homeopath, and with their help, you’ve got a much greater chance of finding out why your body is doing whatever it’s doing. Pain isn’t an accident, you know. It happens for a reason. It’s your body reacting to something. A homeopath is much more concerned with finding out what that is, and it’s that level of care and consultation which helps. I don’t care that Ben Goldacre and that fucking Teabag bloke think it’s a load of bollocks and that the pills are placebos – I don’t care if the pills really are placebos – it’s the full care package that homeopathy offers that works. I have complete faith in it. Is that faith part of the reason it works? Probably. Do I give a fuck? No. Are you a wishy-washy shit-for-brains who changes his opinions according to whatever he’s just heard? Yes.’

‘Hmmm. I’m definitely beginning to understand though,’ I said. ‘Because now I have a terrible headache and very low self-esteem, and I’m pretty sure it’s a direct result of the lambasting I just received.’

‘Good. Yes. Cause and effect.’ Sally nodded. She looked quite pissed off. I felt bad for talking about Ben Goldacre in such glowing terms. (His article about Gillian McKeith is however, a work of art.)

Having said that, what Sally said about care makes just as much sense as Goldacre’s science to me. Plus, crucially, Sally lets me pin her to the kitchen table and sweat into her. Can I say the same for Ben Goldacre? No, I cannot. Not yet anyway.

So, as soon as possible, I’m going to go and have a session with Sally’s mum. Not a pinning and sweating session, but a homeopathic consultation. I’m looking forward to it. I love talking about myself.

Until I have been cured by homeopathy however, I shall have to continue to hide from the sun, which is frankly, really depressing.

I love the sun. But the sun hates me. Actually, maybe Ben Goldacre can help. I shall write to him and find out.

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Anonymous said...

But none of that changes the fact that homeopathy is a load of bunk. In fact it backs it up.

She tells you that there's nothing in the actual treatment process that does anything - it's all down to a kind of therapy and a self-realisation that one has to change one's habits to get better.

Traditional medicine certainly falls short of the mark in doing this, and I don't deny that the care aspect is a good thing, but you could go to a therapist, talk it through with your mates or something similar. It doesn't require a "qualified" homeopath to do that. You would in fact be better off with a qualified therapist, as at least they've qualified in what you're actually going to them for.

Now if you start burning incense or having reiki I shall be most disappointed ... ;)


Anonymous said...

Homeopaths might be *concerned* with finding out what is wrong with you, but just because they're willing to give you an hour's worth of paid consultation doesn't mean they're going to find out. Because they're unqualified new age twats dealing entirely in "holistic" quackery.

If extended periods of sympathy and "being nice" are cures - and for certain conditions it may well be so - then for fuck's sake, spend the money on going on holiday with some mates or something.


dan said...

My 2p worth... At the risk of being incredibly boring, I must say I agree with most of the points both sides are making. There's definitely something to be said for giving people time and understanding - I know a psychotherapist very well and since meeting her I'm much more at ease with myself and I have a much better understanding of my little aches and pains both physically and mentally. This is entirely down to the fact that someone has taken the time to know me, ask about my feelings and console me.

Homeopaths may do this too, but there's also the dangers of relying on untested and unproved techniques. Why not see a doctor AND a homeopath? In my experience a Doctor would encourage this whilst a homeopath would discourage - can anything be read from that?

x (or rather manly hug)

Anonymous said...

Most minor problems (eg sensitivity to sunlight) can be resolved by a mixture of the following:

1. Run it off.
2. More beer.

There is no charge for these words of wisdom.

Anonymous said...

Dan, why would you see a homeopath in that case and not a trained therapist?

Homeopaths are totally redundant however you look at it.

Anonymous said...

Homeopathy is fantastic - you'll love it. I went years ago and had a great time. I just sat in a room for an hour and talked all about me, me me, while some quack made notes, dished out potions and asked more questions about me, me, me.

How I feel, how I felt in the past, my emotions, my upbringing, my fears/hopes/dreams. God, it was brilliant. Cost me £20 an hour, but I thought it was worth every penny. In fact, I went back another two or three times for more of the same. I couldn't get enough of all that me time.

It didn't make the slightest bit of difference to my health, obviously. But you already knew that, didn't you?

Anonymous said...

Bonjour La Bête

What about sunscreen ?
You could ask Sally to sensualy massage your body with factor 60 lotion and enjoy the pleasure of...
the sun on your skin.

Uncle Did

Anonymous said...

To all the homeo-phobes: come one, for goodness sake. Try to be a bit open-minded. You sound like Daily Mail readers. (Actually, the commenters on this post did a good job of providing a counterbalance to this polemic article posted last year on the DM website)


What on earth has anyone got to lose from trying homeopathy? I have successfully used homeopathy for over 15 years for a wide range of issues and only came to it as a last resort when conventional medicine failed to help me. Dan, I have never met a homeopath who did not want me to see a doctor or use conventional medicine at the same time; in fact the opposite has been true. Rather it has been doctors and the scientifically-minded community I work in who have guffawed and suggested that I am a brainwashed 'victim' of charlatans parading as healers. Homeopathy has worked for so many of my peers for all kinds of ailments that traditional medicine simply could not cure - hayfever, migraines, anxiety, cystitis, the menopause – the list goes on. I dare not quote figures for risk of having them thrown back in my face, but for over 200 years in the UK and even longer in continental Europe, homeopathy has been used with definitive results – why would it continue to be so popular and widely available if it was ineffective? As for the claim that homeopaths are not qualified, the Society of Homeopaths and the British Homeopathic Association both regulate practitioners and distribute free lists of medically qualified homeopaths, practising across the country. It is a dreadful lack of government funding and measures to embrace homeopathic colleges that ensures there continue to be rogue practitioners, but it remains easy to spot the real charlatans.

Why is it that the scientific community continues to be so threatened by the idea that we still have a lot to learn about what heals us and what doesn’t? I would sooner hedge my bets and try many alternatives than place an unwavering belief in any one practice. Conventional medicine is not infallible, and many new drugs have their own risks and side effects. Why wouldn’t anyone have the good judgement to try out alternative and complementary therapies if they pose lesser risks?

More like my 200 cents’ worth there, but what the hell, it’s my first comment and I feel strongly about this. Go forth and try it, Bête, and let us know how you get on – I for one, am very interested!


Roszs said...

So they let you talk about why you're stressed for an hour and then give you a placebo? I dunt unnerstand. Are they trained therapists?

I'm not pro or anti homeopathic medicine, as I really don't care that much about it, but if this is the justification for it it seems a little weak to say the least...

Stacey said...

Can of worms... That being said, my mom has been the homeopathic queen since I was about 4 years old (long story that involves a nut-job pediatrician.)

It's purely anecdotal and subjective evidence from my personal experience, but since I was raised that way, I've continued to use natural remedies whenever possible, western medicine as my second choice.

In over 30 years I've needed antibiotics twice, surgery once.I use relatively few pharmaceuticals. I also try to use natural "medicine" on my pets.

Having used homeopathy on my animals, where there's no placebo effect possible, I'm inclined to say there is some mechanism at work there. That being said, if they (or we) are very ill, it's into the doctor.

As for homeopathy, I always say: can't hurt, might help.

The issue I have with the anti-homeo folk is that many of them tend to lump ALL "natural" methods in with homeopathy as "quackery."

Wisewebwoman said...

My daughter, who has MS, has opted to go the naturopathic, homeopathic route because of the side effects of Big Pharm which seems to be the only solution to MS the medical fraternity push. She calls them "pharma flunkies" and has done really well on the alternative route she has chosen.
I have used homeopathy myself but have not followed the instructions all the way through.

Anonymous said...

Homeopathy might be 'bunk' but if it makes me feel better, i couldn't give a flying fart.
now tell me all that she says about the migranes please.....

Anonymous said...

Well I am greatly honoured that I've made it into your real life to the extent that I'm being slagged off by your girlfriend. There's probably a good case for not discussing these issues, since it does sort of involves antagonising your new girlfriend by publicly insulting her mother. But, hey, the can's open, the worms are everywhere, and I'm already involved. So....

Sally seems to be all but admitting is that homeopathy is nothing more than a very effective way of packaging placebos. Placebos work, and we know that they work better when people believe in them deeply, and when they're backed up with hour-long, in-depth sessions. So why should anyone give a flying fart?

Several reasons.

1. Defending the integrity of science. I know, sorry, but I'm a geek. No-one's mentioned the underlying principle of homeopathy, “water memory”: that water remembers chemicals it used to contain, through the echoes of vibrations. I recommend this video of James Randi discussing this issue in some detail (most absurd bit at 11 mins in). If anyone could find any evidence for water memory, it would throw into utter disarray our current understanding of physics, and net them Nobel prizes, fame, and fortune. But they can't. Because it's pure, unadulterated bollocks. To anyone with a dorky interest in science, that is inherently important.

2. Protecting the public understanding of science. Homeopaths are masters of technical-sounding quantum mumbo-jumbo. You can study homeopathy at university and get official-sounding qualifications and letters after your name for doing so. Homeopathic preparations are now licensed and allowed to advertise themselves as remedies for particular diseases in chemist shops, absolutely in the face of all the evidence. All of this adds up to an assault on the public's understanding of science, which again I think is a bad thing, per se.

3. More practically, it is dangerous. You see, it's all very well for Sally to say:

Pain isn’t an accident, you know. It happens for a reason. It’s your body reacting to something. A homeopath is much more concerned with finding out what that is, and it’s that level of care and consultation which helps.

But suppose your migraines were being caused by a PFO. Would a homeopath tell you so, or be able to cure it? Nope, no matter how “concerned” they were. Many medical problems have physical causes, and need proper medical procedures to sort them out. Anyone for homeopathic heart-surgery?

And, at the risk of causing offence (in case I haven't already), this is where we go from harmless(ish) quackery to being positively malign. Homeopaths do not confine themselves to dishing out sugar-pills for minor ailments. There are endless documented cases of homeopaths advising people against taking proper, life-saving medicines when they are genuinely needed.

Here are homeopaths recommending people not to take proper precautions against malaria. Here they are promoting homeopathic cures for AIDS, and here they are advising parents not to immunise their children against measles, mumps, and rubella. This isn't a theoretical debate: gravely misleading information can lead to serious effects in the real world.

Sorry to bang on so long and earnestly, but what can I do if you chuck open pseudocans of nanoworms in my direction?

Best wishes to you both, anyway. Enjoy the sun. - Larry T

Shimacat said...

Oh, for the love of Darwin.

This is a hard one for my brain. In the left corner - the scientist, who casually mentions that there cannot be any active ingredients in a homeopathic treatment after successive dilutions and no, water does not have a memory. In the right corner - my tolerant side, who thinks that whatever gets you through the day without hurting anyone is pretty much OK.

The two sides slug it out most of the time. The topics vary. However, answer me this - if homeopathic ingredients are so utterly critical despite the dilutions, what does that say for the water we drink every day to keep ourselves alive? Surely there's more active ingredients in the water you'd wash the tablets down with than in the tablets themselves...?

It is bunk. Expensive bunk.
But if it works ...

Shophopper said...

Many of you seem to forget that there are some dcotors out there who are traditionally trained but also practice homeopathy. Well, I don't know about England, but there certainly are quite a few of them in Belgium.

Not that that proves anything. Just saying that not every homeopath is a crook. Or a fool.

Anonymous said...

Hey I say, do whatever it takes to keep yourself from exploding when the sunlight hits your skin.

To join in the debate- I say, "Can't we all just get along?"- sheesh.

A doctor and antibiotics are not needed for everything and homeopathic medicine is not a magic cureall.

Use your best judgement with regards to your body and it's health.

My motto is-try the natural remedy where possible. If you feel it is a more extreme or advanced case then see a doctor- if you don't like the doctor's answer, ask another one (doctor) and if you don't like that one- then take up religion.

But I also agree with what AndrewM said...

La Bête said...

Crikey. Worms are indeed everywhere. I haven't had time to read all of these comments yet, but will get round to it just as soon as I can. And then, by Asclepios, I shall have my say.

Anonymous said...

And here was me thinking the sun was supposed to help eczema clear up. I must have been thinking of psiriosis (sp?).

I hate hot sun. It makes me grumpy and slow, and my whole body shuts down. I have to stay out of it. I quite like the way it lights up a room though (as long as it doesn't make it hot).

As for homeopathy, yes, people benefit from having people pay attention to them and talk to them about what's making them feel shit. So go and see a counsellor. Don't pay a fortune for placebo pills. Unless you can get them free from your girlfriend's mum, that is...

Miss Schlegel said...

Is it bunkum? Probably. Does she care? No.

Of course, the rest of the world pretty much has the same attitude. Is astrology rubbish? Yes. Will countless people pay $5 for thirty seconds to hear that rubbish? Yes. & etc & etc.

It's all pretty much been said, but I'd just add this: It's not a matter of keeping an open mind. Homeopathy has been around for a long, long time, and and for a long, long time we have *known* it doesn't work. No credible study has shown that it is any more effective than a placebo.

You should, of course, do whatever the hell you like. I'm just saying.