Homeopathic St John’s Wort

July 9, 2010 at 9:45 pm (Alternative Medicine, Homeopathic Remedies, Homeopathy) ()

Homeopathy is based on the law of similars – the idea that like cures like. This has been described by some as ‘sympathetic magic’. There is a Wikipedia entry on magical thinking that includes a reference to Sir James Fraser’s division of magical thinking into “contagious” and “homeopathic” magic. Homeopathic remedies also tend to be highly diluted.

St John’s wort is a traditional remedy for depression. There is some scientific research that seems to support the view that St John’s wort is a useful remedy for low mood / depression.

Oddly, you can actually purchase homeopathic St John’s wort for depression. Given that St John’s wort reputedly cures depression, and that homeopathy is based on like cures like, it seems to me that it is quite back-to-front for homeopathic St John’s wort to be recommended for depression.

The wonderfully named* Health BaBa has an odd Q&A on St John’s wort and low mood, which contains the following advice:

Here is what I would do for moods (and enjoy done for pain):

1) I would buy a bottle of homeopathic St. John’s Wort pills, milk sugar substructure. Those are the cylindrical pills, not the orb shaped ones. Strength: X6, X12 or X30. The strength does not really event too much, although the X30 is said to work more on the emotion. X6 or X12 work fine, too.

2) I would place 2-4 pills in a 1 ounce dropper bottle.

3) I would include purified river.

[…]

6) If I would suffer mood swings or depressive states, I would verbs taking the remedy over extended period of time, months, or years. One can skip taking the remedy the weekends to grant the body a break and renew the impact of the remedy.

[…]

I hold never hear of any glum side effect from homeopathic remedy taken this road. [SJW Health Baba PDF]

I make no further comment on this answer, except to say that I am intrigued (and not a little baffled) by the significance apparently attached to the shape of tablets, and the mention of ‘purified river’.

HBC Protocols, Inc. “has [since its creation in 1996] been dedicated to providing new, science-based solutions to consumer health and aging concerns through the discovery and development of research-grade formulations.” [Link to ‘about’ page, PDF] It seems that one of these science-based solutions is homeopathic St John’s Wort:

Homeopathic spray, formulated and produced under the guidelines of the homeopathic pharmacopoeia of the US from research-grade St. John’s wort, works fast to provide relief for moderate to mild depression.

[…]

A series of recent double-blind, placebo-controlled studies indicate that a specific extract of Hypericum perforatum was as effective as prescription antidepressants but had far fewer side effects (thus available without a prescription for the treatment of mild to moderate depression) and cost considerably less — about 25 cents a day.

In Germany, more than fifty percent of depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders are treated with hypericum. Prozac has two percent. [SJW Homeopathic ST John’s Wort PDF]

This is a bit bizarre. I can’t see any mention on their website of whether their homeopathic St John’s wort is highly diluted, but if it is then the scientific research relating to remedies that actually contain a high enough dose of St John’s wort to have some physical effect is utterly irrelevant. If it is not a diluted remedy then in what sense is it ‘homeopathic’ St John’s wort? Could the ‘homeopathic’ tag be merely a label to hang on their product to attract believers in homeopathy? Or could, perhaps, the reference to scientific research into St John’s wort be a red herring? Something certainly seems slightly fishy about this remedy, anyway.

Here’s a link to Google’s results for “hypericum 30c” +depression, just to show that Health BaBa and HBC are not alone…

A note on St John’s wort and depression

The evidence for remedies that, unlike hypericum 30C, actually contain some hypericum is promising, but a bit patchy. There is some positive research, but most of it has been conducted in German-speaking countries. I wrote about this in my post on Cultural Bias in Scientific Research. The Cochrane review I link to in my post is worth reading.

More

*The word ‘baba’ is a Northern slang term that means something along the lines of ‘crap’ or ‘shit’. A website called HealthBaba promoting homeopathic St John’s wort seemed almost too good to be true – talking baba about health, if you will. It sort-of was too good to be true, as the word ‘baba’ apparently means quite different things in other parts of the country. (H/T @ChrisGurr @en_em_ @Paulnuk2O1O @dts1970)

16 Comments

  1. Mojo said,

    See also arnica – used to treat bruising in both herbal medicine and homoeopathy.

    As for why St John’s wort might be used by homoeopaths to treat depression (or indeed why arnica might be used for bruising), they will have made up a remedy and carried out a “proving” of it. Homoeopathic provings are not carried out using actual amounts of the substance, but using the diluted remedies (Hahnemann recommended using 30C). They give the diluted remedy to a group of healthy subjects who then record all of their symptoms, feelings and impressions over the next days or weeks, and then the homoeopath in charge decides which of these are characteristic to the remedy. So basically the remedy will be used to treat whatever the homoeopath thought it should be used to treat.

  2. Neuroskeptic said,

    Mojo: Right. So the homeopath doing that proving must have been an idiot… er, even more of an idiot than usual… because they’ve just “proved” Hahnemann wrong about like-cures-like.

  3. ClaireOB said,

    Logical consistency seems indeed to be lacking in the examples you cite. I find it amusing that homeopaths are very keen to claim the current research in oral immunotherapy (‘desensitisation’)* for peanut allergy as proof that homeopathy works. They seem to overlook the fact that, according the ‘like cures like’ theory, the remedy is based on a substance which will produce symptoms of the disorder in a healthy person. People without peanut allergy can, obviously, consume peanuts without breaking out in hives, wheezing or losing consciousness.

    *don’t try this at home – http://www.jacionline.org/article/S0091-6749(10)00813-4/fulltext

  4. Mojo said,

    @Neuroskeptic:

    “they’ve just “proved” Hahnemann wrong about like-cures-like.”

    No, they haven’t. Hahnemann’s principle of “like cures like” was not that diluted remedies will have the opposite effect to large doses of the same substance. It was not even that a diluted remedy made from a substance that causes particular symptoms in large doses will cure those same symptoms. It was that diseases can be treated using remedies (dilute or otherwise) that cause the same symptoms as the disease. He originally used large doses to treat his patients (having “proved” the remedies at those same doses, of course), and only introduced the dilutions because he discovered that he was poisoning them.

    If a diluted remedy causes certain symptoms (They don’t, of course. At the dilutions usually used in provings they have “no observable clinical effects”) then it would be appropriate according to Hahnemann’s principles to use it to treat those symptoms no matter what effect large doses of the substance causes. All that is relevant here is the symptoms that the remedy itself is supposed to have caused in the proving.

    The suggestion that the dilutions reverses the effect of the substance is a misconception, albeit one that homoeopaths often appear to encourage.

  5. Mojo said,

    @ClaireOB

    Their attempts to compare homoeopathy to vaccination also fall down a similar hole. Vaccines work by provoking an immune response, not by causing symptoms. Homoeopathic remedies will never (other than by blind luck) be made from the infective agent of the disease being treated – they are just supposed to produce similar symptoms. They are not going to carry the necessary allergens to produce an immune response against whatever they are supposed to be treating.

  6. Arj Subanandan said,

    Hi. It’s the first time I’m posting on this blog. Totally amazing stuff. I really like the post on the placebo effect.

    Here’s a BMJ editorial if you’re interested
    http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/330/7500/E350

    There’s a bunch of references at the bottom that should explain how it’s not a homoeopathic cure but it’s a pretty effective natural alternative to SSRI medication that stands the evidence based medicine test in the UK.

    However there’s a cultural medical inertia that means UK doctors very rarely prescribe it. From what I’ve read in GP magazine it’s because doctors don’t know what doses to prescribe because they’re reliant on the BNF manual which doesn’t have it listed in the CNS medications section (though I haven’t read it in a while).

    I’ve tried both SSRIs and SJW (and an SNRI) and SJW has the nicest antidepressant effect with the least undesirable side effects. It’s also so safe it can be sold over the counter in the UK. That’s the sort of information that’s hard to come by without trying the drugs.

    I think what you’ve stumbled across is some marketing that’s mixing up the research with something that has absolutely nothing to do with St John’s wort. (pronounced “wurt”).

  7. Arj Subanandan said,

    btw. Sorry. A declaration of interests that may or may not be important. I used to work at Mind and they have a St John’s wort factsheet. I used to work on the same team as the person who wrote that factsheet however I’ve used SJW on and off for almost a decade before I worked at Mind.

  8. Douglas Barthel said,

    Mojo doesn’t really know what Mojo is talking about and doesn’t base his/her answers on any evidence. Hence…duh. Homeopathic remedies work and have been working for centuries. If it’s not too much trouble ..Y’all do your homework.
    Dr. Doug

  9. Douglas Barthel said,

    As a nutritional specialist and a life coach I use/and recommend a lot of natural cures for my clients. Hoeopathy is a great part of that. I don’t think anyone has any place to recreate the wheel. Homeopathy has been in use successfully for who knows how long in the UK, Germany, Spain, etc. etc.and the results speek for themselves. Rather than disecting them try using them. I personally have been cured of cancer through the use of nutritional supplements, Galvano Therapy and of course Homeopathy. So …I’m a believer.
    Mojo, the Homeopathic remedies are not “diluted” they are “gestampfed” much like passing on the information by a sort of “homoginization” the remedies are passing on or transferring their healing properties by being shaken or stamped.

  10. Douglas Barthel said,

    Basically what I’m trying to say is homeopathy is NOT NONSENSE.

  11. jdc325 said,

    Hi Douglas. You wrote that “Mojo doesn’t really know what Mojo is talking about and doesn’t base his/her answers on any evidence.”
    If you check the fourth comment in this thread, the text “no observable clinical effects” goes to a paper indexed on Pubmed. You, on the other hand, have provided no evidence for your assertions.

    Homeopathy – it’s a kind of magic.

  12. matt said,

  13. jdc325 said,

    Thanks Matt.

    Traumeel S is a mix of plant extracts, each present at around 1%. This is not a typical homeopathic remedy and it would perhaps be more accurate to describe it as a herbal preparation. It wouldn’t be entirely surprising that a herbal remedy, unlike the sugar pills and magic water used in homeopathy, might have some beneficial effects.

  14. nobby said,

    matt you can also read it here in full:

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/1097-0142(20010801)92:3%3C684::AID-CNCR1371%3E3.0.CO;2-%23/full

    as it clearly states “It contains extracts from the following plants and minerals, all of them highly diluted (10−1–10−9 of the stem solution):”

  15. Arj Subanandan said,

    SIngle studies aren’t enough to say if something works or not. Systematic revviews and high quality meta-analysis of proper placebo controlled trials are what are considered the top of the hierarchy of evidence.

    There’s a debate at the moment about electro-convulsive therapy. This is an approved treatment and can be used without consent. A recent review compared sham-ECT to real ECT and in their review it showed sham ECT was as effect as real ECT after treatment and only slightly less effective during treatment.

    Here’s a little information on the Mind Freedom International website and a link to the paper.
    http://www.mindfreedom.org/kb/mental-health-abuse/electroshock/irish-times-read-bentall-ect

    I’m afraid when these techniques are used on antidepressants or homoeopathy treatments they often show the control to be as effective as the active treatment.

  16. annsonya said,

    Re. ‘the wonderfully named ‘HealthBaBa’ : whoever refers to this as northern slang for ‘shit’ does not tell us ? ‘northern’ in which country? England ? (It doesn’t mean that where I grew up (northern England).
    It has a meaning well-known to people who have shown any interest in other cultures, other languages. Throughout Indo-European languages including Persian, and many semitic middle Eastern (including Arabic) and Mediterranean languages, the plosive consonant ‘p’ in the English word ‘Papa’ (father) is a voiced non-plosive in these more numerous languages. Hence the word for father in those languages is pronounced ‘Baba’, translates as Daddy, as does English Papa. So, nothing odd about HealthBabBa = HealthDaddy, HealthTeacher, HealthFather, etc.

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