Woo in the Telegraph

Someone may die after reading this tosh!

Article about treating ovarian cysts with magic water

It is grossly irresponsible of the Telegraph to publish an article like this without any accompanying opinion from a genuine health professional.
If people choose to “treat” their hay-fever using “homeopathic medicines” (i.e. “medicines” with no ingredients) that’s fine by me. If people choose to treat their ovarian cysts using “homeopathic medicines”, they could die.
Yours faithfully
Dr Schroedinger99

Footnote to anyone reading this who might be inclined to believe that there is something in homoeopathy:

Let’s take one of the remedies mentioned: Nux Vomica. This is an extract from the Strychnos Nux Vomica tree which contains a number of highly poisonous alkaloids – none of which, to my knowledge, have any useful role in the treatment of hangovers. Fortunately for Annabel Croft, homoeopaths do not supply this extract in its pure form. They dilute it first. They really really dilute it:

As you will find if you follow the http://www.healthroughhomeopathy.com/ link for this article: “Over the counter remedies tend to come in 6c and 30c potencies. A solution labelled as '6c' has been diluted six times at a ratio of one part substance to 99 parts alcohol and water, whereas a solution labelled as '30c' has been diluted 30 times at a ratio of one part substance to 99 parts alcohol and water. 6c potency is typically used for long standing conditions, such as rheumatic pain. 30c potency is typically used for first aid or acute situations, such as the onset of a cold or bruising after a knock or fall.”

What this means is that homeopathic Nux Vomica with a potency of 6c has one part Nux Vomica to 100 to the power 6 parts alcohol and water – eg 1 ml Nux Vomica in 1000000000000 ml of alcohol and water; homeopathic Nux Vomica with a potency of 30c has one part Nux Vomica to 100 to the power 30 parts alcohol and water – eg 1 ml Nux Vomica in 1000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 ml of alcohol and water (which won’t even display on my calculator).

(I hope I've got these figures right, but, hey, I could be out by several million and still make the same point)

This alcohol and water is sprinkled onto pillules (typically containing lactose) and these are then dried – ie the alcohol and water is allowed to evaporate. The pillules can then “be dissolved in warm water” (I am not making this up) which the patient can (presumably) either drink or dilute 1000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 times and begin the whole process again.

Anyone who believes that these remedies could possibly have any effect is, IMHO, in serious need of clinical help.

I suppose, to be fair, I should at least consider the possibility of "water memory":

It has been suggested that one way to explain the alleged efficacy of homoeopathic remedies may be that water somehow "remembers" what used to be in it. There is, in should be noted, no scientific evidence for such a mechanism or for the efficacy of homoeopathic remedies, but I think it is also worth pointing out that the notion of "water memory" is inherently implausible.

For example:

* The tap waster we all drink has had all sorts of things removed from it and would be extremely hazardous if it "remembered" those constituents in the sense suggested by homoeopathy.

* There are (I suppose) chemicals that "remember" other chemicals (in a certain sense) like antibodies; but injecting someone with rabies antibodies will not produce a similar effect to injecting someone with rabies antigens.

* Even if we allowed water to "remember" what had been in it, how are we to explain the transfer of that memory to pills (which may be made of lactose or calcium carbonate or almost anything and which have lost all the water put on them to evaporation) and from the pills back to water?


  1. I was particularly impressed by a few things.

    1. simple ovarian cysts frequently spontaneously resolve. strange no-one mentioned that.
    2. the good "physician" didn't even examine the patient. amazing.
    3. she goes for "an MOT" every six weeks for five years. if my car mechanic wanted just to do an "MOT" every 6 weeks for 5 years I think I would change garage.
    4. only £30 a time is actually quite cheap but that £1560 sure does mount up. and all the free advertising in the Telegraph won't hurt either
    5. but i do respect her right to use magic water to treat something that may just have gone away on its own.

  2. Yes, most ovarian cysts are benign. Many resolve spontaneously, and - even if they don't - will not necessary require medical intervention. On the other hand, ovarian cysts *may* herald malignancy or a number of other potentially serious health problems.

    I realize that patients are unlikely to diagnose ovarian cysts without having initially visited a real medical practitioner, but my concern would be that a patient - having received a diagnosis of ovarian cysts and then having read this ridiculous article - might begin using these overpriced ingredient-free medications rather than following the advice of the real medical practitioner; or might delay returning to a medical practitioner when new symptoms appeared or initial symptoms failed to resolve.

    Everyone has the "right" to use magic water (personally) to "treat" whatever he or she sees fit to treat, but journalists and people in the public eye have a responsibility to inform potentially vulnerable members of the public what the consequences of exercising such "rights" might be.

  3. Why would you expect journalists to behave responsibily? It's not in their interest and will often leave them without a good story hook. let's face it, most people whoe read about homeopathy either know it's valueless or are convinced that there must be something in it. Yes it plays to and exploits their fears, rational or irrational, and is wrong, but if celebrities want to show how stupid they are in using valuless products then so be it. let them.

  4. "pills containing an active ingredient diluted down to microscopic quantities" They just don't get that these 'remedies' contain NO active ingredient. Something that most senior homeopaths acknowledge, leading to the laughable 'water memory' nonsense. These journalists/commentators don't get what homeopathy is even as the homeopathy establishment understand it.

    "belladonna [not poisonous at this level of dilution]" No shit!

  5. another example of celebrity-based medicine - jesus wept

  6. I know you're probably preaching to the converted here, but I'm not sure using the word 'magic' helps explain things factually - to the uninitiated looking for an explanation of what homoepathy is, they could be put off by this sneering tone. Why not just call it water, seeing as that's what it is.

    (I know some people who try to read up on this sort of stuff but are put off by words lik "magic" and other such inferences - you are seen as introducing your own bias while at the same time trying to appear impartial & scientific...)

  7. @isitmedicine
    Ok, point taken - though I try to entertain (& perhaps provoke) as well as inform. I'll remove the offending words from the footnote.

  8. How much of a 'drop in the ocean' are these so-called active ingredients in homeopathic remedies?

    For those willing to suspend their disbelief, and for those simply hard of understanding it might be better to demonstrate the dilution through examples. I mean we're not talking about a drop in a pint glass here, or a drop in a bath tub. I'm sure at those levels we're not even talking about a drop in an Olympic swimming pool are we?

    Just how big a body of water are we talking about for one drop of the 'active ingredients'?

  9. Well 100^30 ml = 100^24 m^3 = 100^15 km^3 = 1000000000000000000000000000000 km^3. Now according to this site http://www.lenntech.com/Water-Quantity-FAQ.htm (which I can't vouch for) there are only 1400000000 km3 of water in the entire world. So we are talking 714285714285714285714 planets worth of water (to the nearest planet).

    Of course homoeopaths don't actually use this amount of water. They take a drop and mix it with 100 drops of water; then they take a drop of that and mix it with 100 more drops of water and so on. But the relative dilution is the same.

    [As ever, if there's any maths nerds out there who spot flaws in my figures, I shall issue a grovelling apology and correct my sums forthwith.]

  10. Thinking back to the introduction of Rang, Dale and Ritter's "Pharmacology" textbook. A 30C dilution is equivalent to one molecule of active ingredient in a sphere of water the size of the orbit of Neptune.

    And to put that into some sort of perspective "Voyager 2" travelling at 17km/s took 12 years to travel from the Earth to Neptune.


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