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September 5, 2010 8:54 AM   Subscribe

My friend is getting suckered by homeopathy; what do I do?

One of my close friends is currently taking a "colloidal silver" homeopathic remedy (aka water), and a homeopathic pill to treat her anxiety (starch, I'm guessing). She is currently evangelizing these products to me, and I have a hard time saying what I actually think about this matter.

Hive-mind, have you dealt with this problem, and how did you behave?
posted by sonic meat machine to Human Relations (33 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If it's not costing her a big amount of money maybe you should just let her be.
posted by joost de vries at 9:02 AM on September 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

Recommend she reads "Bad Science" by Ben Goldacre and or read some of the postings on his website.

But also - if the homeopathy pills are working for them, albeit maybe due to a placebo effect, then I would be tempted to just smile and nod...
posted by Morsey at 9:06 AM on September 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Lots of people go to church everyday, and give the church 10% of their income, and believe it will make a huge difference in their lives and the lives of others, that it will cure illness, end wars and make all things right.

I don't believe that myself, but I let them do what they want.
posted by HuronBob at 9:07 AM on September 5, 2010 [11 favorites]

Hopefully your friend will grow out of it.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:07 AM on September 5, 2010

Best answer: I've had a couple friends go down various routes with "cures" I didn't particularly agree with; homeopathy and religion being the two biggies. Basically I just relate it to something I -do- believe in; that the placebo effect does work. So I just say, as you do, "Wow that's great" and change the subject. If she recommends you try the stuff, you can always give it a shot, and then tell her, "gee, it didn't work for me" and that might plant the seed of critical thinking in her brain. But mostly I just let people enjoy what they enjoy without worrying about setting them "right" (ie thinking the same as I do), UNLESS it's a serious issue... I had a friend who thought that becoming Wiccan would cure her diabetes, and I had to gently persuade her to keep taking her insulin and monitoring her sugars etc, "until you're sure".
posted by The otter lady at 9:08 AM on September 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

If the colloidal silver remedy is more than just water, you might want to show her one of the numerous websites about people turning gray (permanently) from ingesting it.
posted by elpea at 9:10 AM on September 5, 2010 [13 favorites]

You have two issues in here: one is, should you do anything about your friend's use of homeopathy, and the other is what to do about her "evangelizing" homeopathy to you.

There's not much you can do about her choice to use homeopathy, I don't think. If you're really worried--she's bankrupting herself, or she's doing something you think is actively bad for her--then expressing that, lovingly, once is about the limit of what you can do. "I'm glad the homeopathy is helping with your anxiety...I'm a little concerned that you might need some more conventional medical help as well, and I hope you will stay open to getting that kind of help if you need it," for instance. Otherwise, you're in the realm of offering unsolicited advice, and nobody enjoys that, especially if it happens often enough to become nagging.

Your response to her evangelizing is to say something like, "Thanks, I'll keep that in mind," or, "I'll let you know if I decide I want to look into it." If it's getting really annoying (she's in the realm of offering unsolicited advice to the point of nagging), you can say that same thing more firmly, adding a "please shut up" component: "I'll let you know if I'm interested in exploring that, but until then I'd rather not hear any more about it, thanks."
posted by not that girl at 9:11 AM on September 5, 2010

I say let her be (she's not doing anything that could hurt her physically). But if you want to be an asshole about it (and hey, don't we all), tell her you've been having trouble sleeping recently, and ask her to pick up a bottle of homeopathic sleeping pills for you. Then, when she brings them to you, open it up and down the ENTIRE THING right in front of her. Over the course of the next few hours, when you don't fall asleep or die, you might want to have the homeopathy-is-bullshit talk with her.

Stolen from James Randi.
posted by phunniemee at 9:13 AM on September 5, 2010 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I've been drawn into things like this before, and have ended up trying desperately to convince people of things such as why evolution makes more sense than creationism or why psychics or mediums are invariably con artists and liars. Whether or not it is worthwhile saying anything at all probably depends on how you think your friend will react. If they're likely to become defensive and angry about you trying to convince them homeopathy has been widely discredited as pseudo-scientific nonsense you may regret trying to convince them at all. Your friend sounds like she is very firmly convinced of the benefits of homeopathy, and if that's the case then there's a good chance no amount of discussion, no matter how reasonable or balanced on your part, won't appear to her as aggressive or condescending. So if you would like to convince her that homeopathy is a scam (and most reasonable people would agree, it's just water) then you may just have to take the chance she'll become annoyed. But you can always hope you provide a good enough argument to make her see sense.

If however, you don't want to convince her her beliefs may not be rational, but simply wish she would stop talking to you about them, then I think your best bet is to just simply state your scepticism. Make it clear you don't begrudge her her beliefs, but that you have no interest in it yourself. You shouldn't be afraid to voice your opinion any more than she is, especially as you have the backing of the vast majority of medical and scientific opinion.

I have often worked myself up into a pointless rage because I struggle so hard to convince certain friends of things like this. I know it shouldn't bother me, I know if someone is happy and kind to others it doesn't matter what they believe, but seeing someone devote time, money and effort into things which have no rational basis really really gets to me. So all I can suggest is that if you think your friend will be receptive to any debate, then you should at least try to show homeopathy is nonsense. If you think she will become defensive, then you at least have a right to ask her not to bring up homeopathy around you.
posted by Spamfactor at 9:14 AM on September 5, 2010

Trick or Treatment by Ernst and Singh is another book that lays out the science of homeopathy critically. I find it remarkable how many people are willing to stand by while there friends are ripped off, but it is difficult to get people to engage critically with concepts they have bought into even where these are demonstrably drivel.
posted by biffa at 9:22 AM on September 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh and just as a side note, there is a TED talk by James Randi in which he ingests a "fatal" dose of homeopathic sleeping pills. And I second recommending "Bad Science" by Ben Goldacre to your friend, it's really a great argument against irrational thought.

posted by Spamfactor at 9:22 AM on September 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

posted by astrochimp at 9:26 AM on September 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

It's pretty much impossible to make people change their minds about homeopathy as much of the attraction is that its an alternative to boring old science and reason. There's nothing you can that can't be countered with: "There's still much we don't know about the universe and scientists can't explain everything."
posted by Cicerius at 9:32 AM on September 5, 2010

Just say you tried it and it didn't work for you. I have doubts about homeopathy but, somehow, and I have no idea why, those tablets from Nature's Cure for acne actually worked for me (without using the stupid benzoyl peroxide cream that comes with it). It's weird and, on the record, I would never recommend homeopathy to anyone nor would I say it works. This thing is my secret.
posted by anniecat at 9:34 AM on September 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

If she's annoying you because she's doing something you disagree with, leave her be. Assuming she has free will and agency, her life is her own to run how she sees fit. Whether or not she takes these pills is none of your business.

If she's annoying you because she's talking to you a lot about this stuff, then tell her that you don't want to discuss it with her any longer. The first time she brings it up again, tell her that if she continues, you're going to leave (or whatever consequence you choose). If she continues talking about it, follow through on your consequence.

At the end of the day, she's not hurting herself or anyone else. It's not like she's taking actual drugs that can have an effect. The worst that can happen is that she will suffer the nocebo effect, which seems unlikely given that she seems to think that these pills will help. The best case scenario is that she gets some help from taking them, via the placebo effect.

One other thing: are these colloidal silver pills, or are they colloidal silver pills in homeopathic dilution? There's quite a difference there.
posted by Solomon at 9:44 AM on September 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

Agreeing with Solomon. While we on the bluegreen know the specifics of what homeopathy means, many people use the term to cover many types of alternative medicine. Do not down a whole container of something without being 100% sure it really is only water and not, say, a mix of St Johns Wort and vitamin B or something.
posted by Iteki at 9:55 AM on September 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've dealt with this with my sister, who is big on colloidal silver and believes that it lessens her (still-chronic, of course) sinusitis. She snorts the stuff frequently. I've shown her pictures of the blue man and the other people who have turned silver. Her answer was: 1. That only happens if you do it a lot. 2. It's not like turning blue is harmful.

Seriously, I've found there's no arguing with people about this kind of thing. So I utilize something akin to "Well that's great; hey, look, a tree!"
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:56 AM on September 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

We all have access to the same facts. That is why it's useless to try and convince your friend that homeopathy is bunk. She already knows the facts, but has chosen to ignore them.

I have a friend who's practically an unpaid salesman for those Five Hour Energy drinks. Thing is, they're clearly a placebo. But they obviously work for him. So, hey, who am I to poop on his placebo? If it makes him feel better, then so be it.

When he has tried evangelizing them to me, I say "Sorry - trying to cut back" in a humorous fashion. If he pushes it farther, I solemnly explain that "It's just not for me, but thanks."

If she gets REALLY obnoxious about it, you might have to cut her off your friends list. Just as you would with a friend who changed religions and became obnoxiously hard-sell about it.
posted by ErikaB at 10:01 AM on September 5, 2010

I annoyed the hell out of someone I worked for by mocking her reliance on homeopathy. It's hard not to, but it doesn't help. Watch this if you need to laugh at it privately.
posted by zadcat at 10:08 AM on September 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Play the same game, but to her benefit and the homeopath's loss. The smaller the dose, the stronger the treatment, right? So swallowing half of a pill should be more effective than swallowing a whole pill. Tell her to try a half, then a quarter, then an eighth, and so on, until she finds the strongest dose she can deal with. She might be able to save a lot of money by taking a single grain of medicine a day and making a single one of those overpriced starch pills last a month or a year or more. Just be careful. You don't want her to have an underdose.
posted by pracowity at 10:48 AM on September 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

You don't have to change people's minds about things you disagree with. And if they try to convert you to their way of thinking, you behave just like you would on any matter of things you disagree with (eg. abortion, evolution blah blah). It really boils down to whether you want to convert them back to your way of thinking or you can just live with the realization that its ok to disagree and both of you can still have your own place under the clear blue sky. If they keep bugging you, you convey that this is not up for discussion covertly and/or by removing yourself from the situation.
posted by xm at 11:29 AM on September 5, 2010

It is sad to watch friends give real money to fake doctors for starch pills, though, especially when you know that money could buy some real medicine would make them feel better. For that reason, it's worth doing if you can do it at all and do it nicely.
posted by pracowity at 11:42 AM on September 5, 2010

You might want to be a little gentle with your friend. I have had chronic insomnia for many years. I've taken tons of sleeping pills, done sleep studies, participated in drug trials, tried cognitive behavioral therapy and on and on and on, all under the supervision of trustworthy physicians.

If your friend has had a somewhat similar experience with her anxiety I can totally see why she might be willing to try this. I understand the "What could it hurt? I am DESPERATE not to feel this way!" line of thinking.

I've never been sucked into homeopathy but again, I can sympathize with the inclination to leave no stone unturned.

If she's trying to tell you about homeopathy you might try engaging her instead on how she's feeling and what's going on with her outside of the "treatment". Maybe she's using homeopathy as a way to talk about a problem that is otherwise difficult to talk about.
posted by Saminal at 12:38 PM on September 5, 2010

Although, in my experience no scientific argument will be of any interest to someone who has decided to believe that homeopathy works. Here's what I sent my sister when she offered me homeopathic allergy medicine:
OK, so I'm looking at the box of homeopathic "medicine" you gave me. It says the active ingredients are "Allium cepa 30c" and "Sabadilla 30c". Allium cepa is onion, and sabadilla is a poisonous herb used in medieval times to kill lice, but maybe that's what I need. So, I'd like to take enough of these pills to get some.

"30c" means diluted by 100, 30 times. So there are 10 to the 60th measures of sugar in these pills to each measure of onion or sabadilla. Let's do some rough chemistry and math to see how many pills I'd have to take to get, say, one molecule of those "active" ingredients.

Each molecule of sugar is 12 carbon atoms, 22 hydrogen, and 11 oxygen. The atomic weight of carbon is about 12, hydrogen about 1, and oxygen about 16. So the molecular weight of sugar is about 337, and Avogadro's Law tells us that there will be 6.023 times ten to the 23d molecules in that many grams, so there's about 2 times ten to the 21st molecules in a gram of sugar, which is about what one of these pills weighs.

If I'm getting 2 * 10^21 molecules in each pill, and I expect to find a molecule of medicine for each 10^60 molecules of sugar, I ought to take 5 * 10^38 pills. At $8 for 84 pills, that'll be expensive! Maybe I can get bigger pills somewhere for cheaper...

The mass of the Earth is about 6 * 10^27 grams. So if I could find pills that big, I'd only have to take about ten to the 11th of them, and that's a number we can write out: 100,000,000,000. So, if I took one hundred billion pills the size of the Earth, I'd probably get one molecule of onion and one of, well, poison.

That should fix my hayfever right up.
And this was her reply:
Wow, that's the longest email from you I've ever received, and ever hope to receive. You sure told me! Now just take the stupid pills and shut up.
posted by nicwolff at 12:42 PM on September 5, 2010 [19 favorites]

Best answer: Considering that she's using this stuff for her anxiety - is it making her less anxious? If so, well, OK then. I think homeopathy is dumb, and clearly you do too, but for a low grade psychiatric complaint it's kind of like "whatever gets you through the night". I could see if she was spending outrageous amounts of money, but then people spend outrageous amounts on allopathic psych meds that don't do shit for them, either. So.

As to what you should do if she's trying to get you into it - just say you're not into it. I'm sure you can come up with a tactful, "no, thanks, it just doesn't seem like it's for me" sort of response.
posted by Sara C. at 12:43 PM on September 5, 2010

Your friend is suffering from anxiety. Focus on helping her deal with anxiety, not on her choice of treatment. If she evangelizes, you can say "I've done some reading on the subject, and it's pretty critical." and then let it go. If she wants to know more, she'll ask.
posted by theora55 at 1:22 PM on September 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

colloidal silver is not a homepathic remedy, so are you sure that you are talking about homeopathy and not naturopathy?
posted by lakersfan1222 at 3:15 PM on September 5, 2010

hmm, i might be wrong about that. sorry. it appears that there is colloidal silver that is "homeopathic" (dilute), but i am pretty sure that some forms are generally not considered to be homeopathic and are suspensions.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 3:17 PM on September 5, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, guys. I hadn't really thought about the placebo effect. It's possible that she's able to derive enough benefit from the use of the anti-anxiety medication to remove the necessity for truly psychoactive drugs (clonazepam?) to justify the belief in "woo." The colloidal silver is a concern, but I do believe it's homeopathic rather than naturopathic, so it should be as safe as water.

I'll just suffer in silence, I suppose.
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:56 PM on September 5, 2010

I'd just ignore her taking them, but ask her not to give you medical advice if she tries to push them on to you.
posted by Quadlex at 8:10 PM on September 5, 2010

Or maybe you should visit a professional homeopathist to see how it actually works, if you're so concerned? There's a lot of misinformation on this thread and while some of it is good advice, there's nothing scary at all about homeopathy. So what if it doesn't work? But what if it does, and she feels better about herself and gets treated without having to go on meds that can cause lots of side effects and be equally expensive? Last I checked, anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds don't work for lots of folks too.
posted by Rocket26 at 8:41 PM on September 5, 2010

Response by poster: Rocket26, homeopathy doesn't work. Logically, it simply can't. If anything works, it's the placebo effect—as noted in the comments I marked "best answer." Please view the TED talk by James Randi, linked above, or read one of these articles on the subject:
posted by sonic meat machine at 9:20 PM on September 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

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