Diluting nuclear homeopathy

By Phil Plait | March 16, 2011 12:18 pm

The disaster is still unfolding in Japan. The earthquake, the flood, the cyclical escalating and abating of the radioactive threat from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant… it seems that everyone wants to help, but many are unsure how (I have a list of charities to which you can donate if you want to help financially). But one thing I can be pretty sure of is that not all advice is as good as others, and some is downright dangerous.

My friend, the Australian skeptic Richard Saunders, sent me a note letting me know that if I am worried about radiation poisoning or radiation induced cancers, homeopathy has me covered. The group Homeopathy Plus in Australia has sent out a note telling people they can use homeopathic "remedies" to alleviate radiation sickness, including such things as strontium-carbonicum, phosphorus, and, bizarrely, X-rays.

X-rays? Seriously? Since X-rays are a form of light, it seems weird, even for homeopathy, to claim they can make a diluted solution based on them. If you expose water to X-rays, the molecules of H2O will shatter, but then recombine, leaving… water. Of course, that’s what all highly-diluted homeopathic remedies are anyway.

Interestingly, the website for Homeopathy Plus talks a great deal about the side effects of "western" cancer treatments like radiation and chemotherapy, but neglects to mention the biggest problem with treating cancer with homeopathy, which is you’re trying to cure cancer by drinking plain old water. The efficacy of this when dealing with cancer is pretty obvious: none.

The Merseyside Skeptics posted a good roundup of this, and Ben Radford also has an article up at Discovery News. And I want to point out that the majority of homeopathic groups almost certainly honestly think that what they are doing will help people. They think (despite all evidence) that not only does homeopathy work, but that the method itself has basis in fact. That means it can work for any ailment, and that would include cancer and radiation poisoning. Despite whatever initial (or learned) reaction we have to these claims, we have to remember that these people are not by and large frauds and scam artists. They really do think this will work.

More’s the pity. If they were frauds we could take legal action against them. But either way, our best defense is knowledge. Homeopathy doesn’t work… unless you’re thirsty.


Related posts:

- Diluting Felicia
- Homeopathy: there’s nothing to it
- Homeopathy made simple
- Dear media: Hello. It’s me, science

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Alt-Med, Antiscience

Comments (55)

  1. GrogInOhio

    “Homeopathy doesn’t work… unless you’re thirsty.” – Phil Plait

    Okay… consider that line stolen, but with attribution.

  2. CranialEruption

    Now that you mention it, I am feeling quite parched. How much should I dilute my water to treat that?

  3. Bill3

    There is a malady for which homeopathy is the perfect cure: Common Sense.

    Take a bit of knowledge, dilute it down until nothing remains of that knowledge, and presto!

    The more you believe, the better it works!

  4. AliCali

    Not to nitpick, but the title is either misspelled, or there’s an inside joke I don’t get about taking some path home.

  5. Next thing you know, they’ll be making potions using “puppy barks” and “kitty mewls”.

  6. davidlpf

    The X-ray energy is absorbed on the quantum level and is imprinted on the water. As you take it the water entagles the wat water in your body. That molecole of water in your body now has the opposite quantum numbers as the water ingusted so now it is the oppsite of the radition affecting your body therefore neutralizing the radition poisoning. Also to add to the quantum effects who should use a quantum power balance bracelet to enhance the quantum effects of the homeopathic remedy.

  7. fetchbeer

    “Homeopathy doesn’t work… unless you’re thirsty.” Wait a minute, but how can you use homeopathy to cure dehydration, what do you dilute the water in to make your homeopathic solution.

    Never mind, I forgot that you were supposed to start with something that caused the same symptoms, so for dehydration you need to start with something that causes dehydration. According to google this is diarrhea, vomiting, fever, excessive sweating, and increased urination. So we can dilute whatever excess bodily fluid you want to beyond the limit where any of it is actually left in solution, ans when you drink it, your dehydration will be cured.

    I find it disturbing that homeopathy might actually work for something, but I still don’t want to drink it because of what they would have to start with (as if duck liver isn’t bad enough.)

    But on the other hand, if the more dilute something is, the more powerful it is, then a single molecule of H2O, diluted in the entire atmosphere, should cause anyone to swell up and explode right?

  8. Actually….alcohol and water is involved in making a homeopathic tincture. No offence meant, but you should look things up before you comment on them, disseminating false information. Here is the process:

    For each medicine there is ratio of dry weight to alcohol and water. This is calculated and the formula tells me whether to add any water and how much alcohol to add. The alcohol and water (distilled or purified) are added to the chopped up herb. This sits (for us) a month – the contents are rotated on a regular basis. At the end of the month we pour off the liquid then we place the solid in a press and squeeze. This is all mixed together and is a tincture. The “tincture” is then filtered through a series of new filters until there is nothing left on the “last” filter.

  9. Paineroo

    If the homeopaths are right then the radiation itself should put them out of business: As the radiation in the atmosphere disperses it will dilute to the point that it will become an effective cure for radiation poisoning, and will get even stronger as it continue to disperse. We can expect the entire planet to be immune to radiation within a few days!

  10. Erik

    @7 – You forgot about the magic incantations and rituals necessary to turn ordinary diluted stuff into a ‘remedy.’ You really can’t leave that out – it’s how homeopaths justify the cost of their ‘cures.’

  11. @fetchbeer

    Wait a minute, but how can you use homeopathy to cure dehydration, what do you dilute the water in to make your homeopathic solution.

    Ethanol forms the base for many homeopathic dilutions. Since alcohol can cause dehydration, then one would assume that homeopaths would dilute the water in alcohol.

  12. Graviton

    Will we overdose if we sit in the dark?

  13. Stoy

    If you can make a homeopathic dilution of a form of light, under the axiom of “like cures like,” could you cure blindness with a dilution of darkness?

    Perhaps we can cure hate by diluting a swastika. *NOTE* Make sure it’s a Nazi swastika, as a Buddhist swastika will cause de-enlightenment. If this occurs, treat with 6C dilution of darkness.

  14. Beelzebud

    My favorite James Randi joke: Recently a homeopath overdosed. He forgot to take his medication!

  15. My favorite line is “the water holds the memory of the substance”. Yikes!

    My understanding of the origin of homeopathy was that it was giving a tiny bit of a poison to activate the immune system against the symptoms. Even back when my mother was in medical school it was common to use a touch of belladonna for terrible stomachaches. Of course, in those cases there actually *was* a touch of belladonna, it wasn’t just water. Which is why I’ve always been confused by anti-vaxxers who are into homeopathy – that’s what vaccines are essentially! Taking a dead virus and injecting it into someone to boost their immune system against the live virus. What I thought homeopathy originally was. And that type of homeopathy had it’s place before safer and more effective medicines were discovered – back when there was nothing else. It was definitely more effective than leeches.

    So, I’m baffled by this current snake oil homeopathy business but even more I’m baffled why people think it does anything? But then I’m baffled by a lot in our society …

  16. VJBinCT

    New product suggestion: a universal homeopathic remedy. Ultra-distilled water, guaranteed to contain ALL medicaments below the limit of detection!

  17. Shirt

    Whatever happened to the coffee enema? Did it go out of fashion?

  18. Michael Swanson

    I developed homeopathic stigmata this morning. Apparently, an iron molecule from the blood from Jesus’ wounds floated around for two thousand years and found its way into my drinking water. Also, I’m no longer anemic.

  19. Michel

    “Homeopathy doesn’t work… unless you’re thirsty.”
    So what´s the best dillution to quench my thirst?

  20. Brian Lang

    Most homeopathic remedies I’ve seen are in pill format. So homeopathy won’t even cure my thirst – I have to supply my own water to take a sugar pill.

  21. rob

    @davidlpf #6: the quantum braclet isn’t enugh! you also need to wrap 1000 terns of 18 guage wire around your torso and hook it up to a 9 volt battery. this creates a tesla-power magnetik field parallel with your spine that aligns the nucular mgnetick moments of 99% of the water molecules in your stomach. that way when the homopathic remedey is injested the remedy is aligned in a positive definite monotonically rising method with the water in your stomach. this enhances the bio-quantum entangling of the gastric water and remedie water since they are in the same bioactivated quantum Pauli-Born state. more entangling means more better healing power quantumly!

  22. idahogie

    Shouldn’t we stop pouring water into those reactors? That will just make the radiation more potent.

  23. Josie

    Water must have a lot of memories of poo.

    Hmmm, I wonder how long it takes for the water cycle to bring sewer water ’round again?….and then, how long have people and other animals been pooping?

  24. Thomas Siefert

    17. Shirt Says:
    Whatever happened to the coffee enema? Did it go out of fashion?

    They are still around at most cafes, even global chains have them on the “back room” menu.
    You just order your coffee as usual and when they ask you for size, just mention the name of the seventh planet in the solar system. When they repeat the name, you just nod your head three times and they will take you out the back to fulfil your order.
    All the flavours on the menu are available. If you require a real refreshment, I can recommend an ice-blended variety in the morning. That’ll keep you on your toes for the rest of the day.

  25. Martha

    #8 said: “disseminating false information.”

    The more important issue is that homeopaths are dispensing false products that do not and cannot work because there is nothing to homeopathy. Use of homeopathic products can prevent people from getting effective help from evidence based medicine. Anybody who believes in homeopathy should try:
    http://www.gulligo.com

  26. Thank you, Phil, for pointing out that these folks are not, generally, scammers but people who truly believe what they’re peddling. We often think when we hear or see something we disagree with that the person or group responsible is not acting in good faith when, by and far, they are actually doing what they think is the right thing. People rarely act in opposition to their beliefs and whether you agree or not, it is truly what they believe.
    I have to continually remind myself that there are groups not acting out of spite but rather a fervent belief in something I don’t agree with (all the time). Thanks for pointing this out!

  27. Meskine

    #8 said: “Actually….alcohol and water is involved in making a homeopathic tincture.”

    Now you’re talking medicine! I’m thinking a few scotch and soda tinctures (diluted with a couple of ice cubes, of course) should cure just about anything but laziness.

  28. Frodis

    Phil,

    Thanks for your continued plugs for disaster relief. Being outside the directly affected areas here in Japan, we feel impotent to do anything useful in a hands-on practical sort of way and yet feel so close that it is impossible to remain unaffected by the heartbreaking event. I have never been as proud of my adopted home as I have been over the past week and am so proud of the outpouring of support we have felt from those both near and far.

    Regards,
    Frodis
    Miyazaki City, Japan

  29. I’d like to see a good debunk of the macrobiotic diet radiation remedy:
    http://home.iae.nl/users/lightnet/health/radiation.htm
    if you know of one. I suppose brown rice isn’t expensive or harmful, but I’m watching it circulate on a mailing list and wishing I had a coherent source to point at.

  30. kash

    My DNA prefers diluted X-rays. If one thinks of dilution as “weakening”, then an X-ray with 100 times lower wavelength would be somewhere near ultraviolet? Provided you’re not staring right at it, didn’t we all sanitize our lab goggles in that cabinet with UV? It should be much less harmful. And if you have cooties, it just might be healthful!

  31. MW

    I thought that homeopathy needed to start with something that caused the same symptoms as that-which-is-to-be-cured, but need not actually be that-which-is-to-be-cured. So you start with the symptoms of x-ray induced radiation sickness (so far as I know, the same as other radiation sicknesses), find poisonous plants which would give similar results, and make your tincture from them. No diluted x-rays necessary.

  32. Joseph G

    #2 Cranial Eruption: Now that you mention it, I am feeling quite parched. How much should I dilute my water to treat that?

    You need to put sodium chloride in the water, then dilute it until you’ve got a single molecule in several thousand gallons of water. It’s not the most powerful homeopathic dilution, but you get the small chance of absorbing an electrolyte.

  33. Joseph G

    @13 Stoy: If you can make a homeopathic dilution of a form of light, under the axiom of “like cures like,” could you cure blindness with a dilution of darkness?
    Perhaps we can cure hate by diluting a swastika. *NOTE* Make sure it’s a Nazi swastika, as a Buddhist swastika will cause de-enlightenment. If this occurs, treat with 6C dilution of darkness.

    Just… yes.
    This.

  34. Joseph G

    Question: So if I put a dash of every element in the periodic table into a solution, then put a variety of industrial chemical precursors in it, then ground up a bit of every pill in a pharmacy into said solution, then diluted it all at 30C… does this mean I’d have a cure for every medical condition, ever?

  35. Joseph G

    @26 Bill DeVoe: I have to continually remind myself that there are groups not acting out of spite but rather a fervent belief in something I don’t agree with (all the time). Thanks for pointing this out!
    Certainly that’s true in many cases (see the hysterical anti-vaxxers), but there are still exceptions.
    Those Power Balance (and various knock-off) bracelets, for instance – the “balance test” they give you is specifically designed to give a false result. Everyone who sells those bracelets has to KNOW that they’re a fraud, simply in order to sell them.

  36. Bee

    Actually, whether homeopathic remedies do have an effect depends on the dilution. Our doctor prescribed us homeopathic stuff for the baby and it contains such high doses belladonna (D1), I decided not to give it to her. I know you’re talking about dilutions of order D12 or something, shake it next to water and hope the medical effect jumps over etc, that’s just ridiculous. Just saying, there are indeed plants that contain high doses of active ingredients, maybe you should be somewhat more specific on what you mean with homeopathy. Also, if you don’t have radiation sickness why not take a remedy that has no effect on what you don’t have ;-)

  37. Svlad Cjelli

    They’ve advanced from plain water to broken water! D:

  38. “Homeopathy doesn’t work… unless you’re thirsty.” – Isn’t the water dropped on to sugar pills and allowed to evaporate? So not even good for thirst … ?

  39. JB of Brisbane

    @Joseph G #34 – Don’t encourage them.

  40. Josh

    @Bee 36: Any doctor who would poison a baby with belladonna aka deadly nightshade probably shouldn’t be practicing “medicine”. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/531.html

  41. Jason Dick

    Why should the law care about whether the fraud is intentional or not? If people can simply claim that they believe the nonsense they’re spouting, wouldn’t that let nearly every fraudster off scot free? So shouldn’t it be possible to sue them for promoting false remedies?

    From what I understand, not being a lawyer, you’d actually have to have some personal damages as a result (e.g. be the parent who tried homeopathic remedies to cure a child who subsequently died). But I don’t see why the fraudsters believing their nonsense would help them get away with this.

  42. Nigel Depledge

    Sherry (8) said:

    Actually….alcohol and water is involved in making a homeopathic tincture. No offence meant, but you should look things up before you comment on them, disseminating false information. Here is the process:

    For each medicine there is ratio of dry weight to alcohol and water. This is calculated and the formula tells me whether to add any water and how much alcohol to add. The alcohol and water (distilled or purified) are added to the chopped up herb. This sits (for us) a month – the contents are rotated on a regular basis. At the end of the month we pour off the liquid then we place the solid in a press and squeeze. This is all mixed together and is a tincture. The “tincture” is then filtered through a series of new filters until there is nothing left on the “last” filter.

    Yes, and then you take your alcohol extract (calling it a “tincture” is just alchemical mumbo-jumbo – it is an extract of the plant using an organic solvent), and you dilute it with water, succussing it (bashing it on a hard surface) between each dilution.

    We know what you do. It’s still rubbish. The final dilution has no ingredients in it apart from the water. And water has no capacity to retain any activity of the extract itself, assuming the extract had some activity in the first place.

  43. Calli Arcale

    Julia @ 15:

    My understanding of the origin of homeopathy was that it was giving a tiny bit of a poison to activate the immune system against the symptoms. Even back when my mother was in medical school it was common to use a touch of belladonna for terrible stomachaches. Of course, in those cases there actually *was* a touch of belladonna, it wasn’t just water. Which is why I’ve always been confused by anti-vaxxers who are into homeopathy – that’s what vaccines are essentially! Taking a dead virus and injecting it into someone to boost their immune system against the live virus. What I thought homeopathy originally was. And that type of homeopathy had it’s place before safer and more effective medicines were discovered – back when there was nothing else. It was definitely more effective than leeches.

    Actually, homeopathy has always involved absurd dilutions, right back to Hahnemann. The reason it was better than medicine of the time was mostly that doing nothing was often actually better than the medicine of the time. (Bloodletting was still widely practiced, infection controls were nonexistant, there was still widespread belief in the humoral theory of disease, and there was a widespread impression that the more something hurt, the more effective it would be. Yeah. It was an unpleasant time to need a doctor.)

    Vaccines are most definitely not homeopathic. They operate on an entirely different principle. They have some superficial similarities, but that’s it. And anti-vaxxers for the most part know this, which is why they may be willing to use homeopathy but not get a vaccine.

    As far as belladonna goes, non-homeopathic belladonna has been a medical treatment for thousands of years. It is one of the ancient traditional herbs, and this one actually does have a potent pharmaceutical effect. It, and several other plants (notably mandrake and hensbane), contains the chemical atropine. Atropine is a deadly poison; it’s named after Atropos, the eldest of the three Fates and the one responsible for cutting the thread that determined a person’s lifespan. You can make a sleeping potion out of it; the ancient Greeks first realized that you could use it to help a person stay still during surgery, as a sedative, and so it became the first anesthetic. It has interesting effects on the parasympathetic nervous system; in addition to causing drowsiness, it affects digestion and can help relieve certain gastrointestinal problems; it was used for this in antiquity and still is sometimes prescribed for that purpose today, though now doctors have a much larger choice of treatments available. It’s also useful in treatment of certain types of heart failure (though you have to be very careful about which kind; some cases will be made worse by it). It’s most common use today is actually its ancient cosmetic use — to dilate the pupils. The next time you see an optometrist and get your retinas examined, that’s what’s in those eyedrops that make the world look all funky for a while.

    So belladonna is definitely a real medicine that comes from a plant. It’s use predates homepathy by thousands of years, and it is still used in modern medicine today. It’s actually an invaluable part of the pharmacopeia.

  44. ND

    Can a homeopath point us towards any scientific evidence of this “water memory”, how it works and evidence exists to support it?

  45. Thomas Beck

    I’m sorry, acting in good faith is not a sufficient defense. Absence of malice is not the same thing as actual good-will, and lack of knowledge is not the same thing as lack of purpose. If you give bad advice, even when meaning to give good advice, you must bear some responsibility for bad outcomes. My girlfriend uses some homeopathic remedies, although I’m not entirely sure she understands the entire basis for them, but she also uses real medicine, too, so the homeopathic stuff she uses doesn’t really bother me. She’s semi-rational, at least. It’s the people who are entirely into woo-woo that I’m concerned for, especially when they try to drown out real medicine by getting so-called CAM treated equally for insurance and government funding purposes. Just because the proponents of homeopathy aren’t aware of its inanity does not excuse them of being called the account; it just mitigates the level of their culpability.

  46. Bill

    6. davidlpf Says:
    March 16th, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    The X-ray energy is absorbed on the quantum level and is imprinted on the water. As you take it the water entagles the wat water in your body. That molecole of water in your body now has the opposite quantum numbers as the water ingusted so now it is the oppsite of the radition affecting your body therefore neutralizing the radition poisoning. Also to add to the quantum effects who should use a quantum power balance bracelet to enhance the quantum effects of the homeopathic remedy.

    Let’s take THIS apart.
    1. x-rays absorbed at quantum level. Well, yeah, since x-rays affect sub-atomic particles thee is truth to this.
    2. This is “imprinted” on the water? By what mechanism. X-ray interaction either ionizes a molecule, or causes a change in the nucleus of an atom causing a change from one element to another. Hydrogen is already as far “fissioned” as possible, oxygen can be a bit – but then it’s no longer water, as the affected molecule is no longer H2O.
    3. “entangles the water in your body” — if you are referring to “Quantum Entanglement” you have missed the boat, that only works on sub-atomic particles, not molecules. If you mean it another way, well, please define your terms. “Entanglement” does not apply to anything you ingest.
    4. “opposite quantum numbers” — huh? What the heck do you mean “opposite quantum numbers.” In physics, there is really no such concept – there is up-down, charm-strange and top-bottom. But these do not have “positive/negative number” correlations.
    5. “Quantum power bracelet” — is this one of those toys that works by “a holographic energy?” Those are even more full of it than your post!

    In summary, I would like to say I’ve never heard such a load of baloney as your post — but I can’t, just trying to read any homeopathic web site is even more full of hogwash than that!

  47. ND

    Bill, any use of quantum mechanics to explain something, by anyone who has not studied the subject, is automatically a red herring. Thanks for tearing apart what davidlpf.

    Or is that a form of sophistry? hmm…

  48. Mark Hansen

    Bill, I think you should have checked for a tugging sensation on your leg before posting. I’m pretty sure that davidlpf was taking the mickey with that post.

  49. rob

    @48 and 46 Mark and Bill:

    i assumed that Davidlpf was a snark/poe.

    i’m sad you didn’t rip my post apart too. sniff.
    :)

  50. mike burkhart

    I’m not to woried about radiation from Japan.As for health claims of radiation , this is nothing new in the early 20th centery radiation was seen as a cure all paten med ”doctors” sold things like radium pills and even thoothpaste(some times there was no radium in these products other times there was ) food and drug acts ban these products .The only thing radiation is know to cure is cancer.

  51. Albert

    I have been using homeopathic remedies for over ten years. I use them with my children and other family members as well. I have seen it cure cancer, asthma, headaches, arthritis, etc. 90% of the times works much better than conventional medicine. I have a lot of experience in getting rid of my colds in less than two days.

  52. Matt

    All they need to do is drink some water from the Pacific Ocean. The recently sealed Fukushima Daiichi leak spilled some radioactive water into the Pacific. There the water should be diluted sufficiently for the entire contents of the ocean to be homeopathic cure.

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