Homeopathy is a very popular “alternative” to conventional medicine. Unfortunately, not only is there no evidence that it works, but it flies in the face of basic science and common sense. It is based on three central tenants:
- Like cures like
- Diluting something makes it stronger
- Water has memory
If any one of these assumptions is incorrect then homeopathy cannot work. The first premise is downright absurd and has no scientific basis, so I’m not going to deal with it here. Rather, I am going to explain a simple and safe way that you can personally test the last two premises of homeopathy so that you can prove to yourself that it is nothing but a scam.
Homeopathic treatments are made using serial dilutions. Usually, this is done in either steps of 1 in 10 or 1 in 100 (i.e., at each step you dilute 1 part active ingredient in 9 or 99 parts inactive ingredient, usually water). For example, you might take 1 milliliter (ml) of the active ingredient and add it with 9 ml of water. Then, you mix that solution, remove 1 ml of it, and mix that 1 ml with another 9 ml of water. You repeat this procedure over and over again. Common sense tells us that things become weaker as they become more diluted (this is why you have to dilute many cleaning products to avoid damaging your clothes, furniture, etc.), but homeopaths disagree. They argue that the “essential essence” of the active ingredient (whatever that means) becomes increasingly strong with each dilution. Therefore, their most “powerful” treatments are the ones that are extremely diluted. In fact, they are so diluted that there is no active ingredient left at all, which brings up the last premise: water has memory. In between each dilution you have to “success” the fluid. Homeopaths don’t all seem to agree about how to do this, but basically, you shake the vial a certain way or tap it against an elastic surface and somehow this is suppose to make the healing essence of the active ingredient magically leave the ingredient and get trapped (memorized) by the water.
If all of that sounded utterly ridiculous, good, it should have, but in case you’re not convinced here is a simple way that you can prove to yourself that this doesn’t work. Simply make some homeopathic beer. First, take one cup of beer and mix it with 10 cups of water. Pick and use your favorite method of successing the fluid, then pour one cup of that mixture into 10 cups of water and success it again. Dilute and success it a total of four times (note: homeopathic “remedies” typically involve at least 30 dilutions, so if you want to be really realistic, keep diluting it, but four dilutions is more than enough to prove my point). At this point, science tells that you now have a 1 in 10,000 dilution. In other words, you would need to drink 10,000 cups of your homeopathic beer in order to get the same amount of alcohol as 1 cup of regular beer! In contrast, homeopathy tells us that each dilution has made the beer more potent. So one cup of homeopathic beer should have a far greater impact on you than one cup of regular beer, and you should get drunk extremely quickly on the homeopathic beer.
At this point, we have two competing hypotheses with competing predictions. Now, test the hypotheses by seeing which prediction comes true. Go get a group of your friends together and start drinking the homeopathic beer. If homeopathy has any truth to it at all, you should get drunk very easily, but if science is right, then you’re essentially just drinking water and you simply are not going to get drunk off the homeopathic beer.
This simple and safe demonstration clearly illustrates the absurdity of homeopathy. Diluting something does not make it stronger and water cannot remember the “essential essence” of anything. Therefore, homeopathy cannot possibly work.
Note: for this to be a truly scientifically valid experiment, you would need a negative control group (just water) and a positive control group (normal beer) as well as a complete randomization of study subjects, blinding procedures, and carefully controlled rates of intake, but in this case, homeopathy makes such a clear and outlandish prediction that you can be very confident in the result that it doesn’t work without setting up a rigorous experiment. It would however be best not to tell your friends that the fluid they are drinking contains some alcohol as people can trick themselves into thinking that they are drunk while drinking non-alcoholic beverages.
Disclaimer: unless you drink an absurd amount of water, there is now way that you can injure yourself with this experiment, but we live in an insane and sue-happy world. So I am not responsible if you somehow manage to contrive a way to injure yourself while doing this test.
Addendum: Some people on various online groups have been complaining that my test is invalid because I ignored the “like cures like” premise. In other words, they are arguing that if you consider being drunk to be an illness than alcohol should actually make you sober. In this case, however, that is an unnecessary complication. Everyone (including homeopaths) agree that alcohol makes people drunk. Therefore, if diluting something actually makes it stronger, and water actually has memory, then homeopathic beer should be very potent regardless of whether or not like cures like. In other words, I am focusing entirely on those two premises, and we should be able to test them without worrying about the like cures like premise. Further, that premise is particularly irrelevant in my example because I am not proposing a cure for anything (unless you consider sobriety to be a disease). Finally, this argument is actually a misunderstanding of homeopathy. Generally speaking, homeopaths try to cure a disease by giving you something that induces its symptoms, rather than giving you the disease itself. In other words, they would not use alcohol to cure being drunk, but they would (in concept at least) use it to treat someone who is acting drunk but is not actually intoxicated.