Skepticism

Sugar Water Cures Domestic Violence

Let’s get the usual explanation out of the way: homeopathy is the belief that “like cures like” (if you get a burn, you should hold it over a flame!) and the more you dilute something, the stronger it gets (the majority of dilutions don’t have a single atom left of the original material).

Knowing this, we bet you can’t wait to hear how homeopath Binal Master says she can cure domestic violence! Obvious trigger warning is obvious.

Don’t worry, she’s not suggesting your abusive partner give you a light spanking, or anything. She’s just printed some sensible advice for people who are escaping an abusive relationship alongside a list of useless “remedies” for the psychological problems that might plague both victims and perpetrators of domestic violence.

Let’s start with the very worst thing she wrote:

Some cases are due to psychiatric disorders such as antisocial personality, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Homeopathy has been found effective in such cases also, where it gives people a second chance to adapt to society and live within the community.

Yep, she’s saying that homeopathy can help people with schizophrenia who are abusing their partners. I don’t know if you’re a person with schizophrenia or if you know anyone who is, but let me tell you what I know: finding the right real medication, like an anti-psychotic, is very, very important for someone with schizophrenia to live a normal, happy life. And once they find the right medication, staying on it can be extremely difficult but necessary. You know what people with severe psychiatric disorders don’t need? Magical water masquerading as medicine.

Let’s just say this clearly: homeopathy has not been found to be effective for psychiatric disorders in clinical trials. In perusing controlled studies, the most positive conclusion I could find was this, in a meta-analysis of 25 studies:

The database on studies of homeopathy and placebo in psychiatry is very limited, but results do not preclude the possibility of some benefit.

Even with that kind of waffling, the authors still state outright that there was no efficacy at all found for stress and anxiety. (They only saw the chance of some efficacy for fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, both of which are medical mysteries in their own right.) Here’s one randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study that found there was no difference between homeopathy and placebo when it comes to anxiety. However, both placebo and homeopathy had substantial positive results, which helps explain why people actually think that the magical water works. In fact, according to a study last month, most people who use homeopathy for psychiatric issues use it for anxiety.

I couldn’t find any studies that looked into the homeopathic treatment of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or antisocial personality, probably because it would be highly unethical for researchers to treat severe psychological disorders with magical water. But I guess that in Binal Master’s professional opinion, if it seems to work for anxiety, it must work for severe psychological disorders, right? And according to her bio at the end of the article, she “wants homeopathy to be considered the first line of treatment and not merely alternative.” If you had an abusive, schizophrenic partner, would you want his or her first line of treatment to be sugar water?

Anyway, Master goes on to provides an entire list of which magic sugar water mixture should be used for which case of domestic violence. For instance, Ignatia should be used if your partner’s abuse caused you “disappointment in one’s life dreams”. Like, your life dream had been to be safe and healthy, and so now you are very disappointed. Natrum Muriaticum should be used if, because of your partner’s abuse, you now “cry horribly while alone looking at pictures and listening to music”. Arnica, which has been shown again and again to not have any effect, will help if the spousal abuse has made you feel “hurt, bruised, and tender”.

There are also “remedies” for the abuser. It’s unclear whether Master expects abusers to read this article, recognize themselves, and medicate accordingly, or whether she wants the abused partner to surreptitiously dose the abuser and wait for a magical cure, rather than get out of the relationship. Regardless, one cure is apparently Lycopodium to improve his self-esteem. Master says he may be domineering to family but meek in public, so Lycopodium should . . . make him . . . domineering everywhere? Unclear.

Lachesis is for the partner who is abusing you out of jealousy, and Anacardium is just for your typical violent, raging abuser. Considering the homeopathic principal of “like cures like,” I assume that Anacardium is a plant that, when eaten, gives you rabies.

I would say that this is the most irresponsible article on alternative medicine I’ve ever read, but let’s be honest, I read a lot of irresponsible articles on alt med. Master gets a few points for actually suggesting that domestic violence victims alert authorities and seek help from a doctor, even if by “doctor” she actually means “the magical shaman who hangs out at the Whole Foods on 15th Street.” Overall, on a scale from “harmless nonsense” to “horrific bullshit,” I’d rate this one as “deplorable fuckery.”

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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21 Comments

    1. Yeah, its usually sweet (Boiron, one of the big makers, has nearly everything with a sweet taste). I grew up only taking homeopathic ‘remedies’, and one of the big appeals for my childhood self was that it tasted better than say, cough syrup.

  1. Realistically, it’s a moot point, anyway… the vast majority of schizophrenics don’t abuse their partners, and the vast majority of domestic abusers aren’t schizophrenic… gotta love scientific word salads from people trying to sound educated (meaning Ms. Master, not RW)

  2. My first thought before the break, was “Oh, like cures like, so this is going to be about controlled domestic violence role play as a form of catharsis. Creepy, but sort of grounded in science.” No such luck. I give these people way too much credit.

  3. I want to make a joke and laugh about the stupidity of that article, but I am feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of this type of thing I run into every day. I don’t know if it’s getting worse, or I am getting better at spotting it. It’s not helping that I am reading The Panic Virus. Sigh.

  4. It appears that Rick Perry just declared himself the homeopathic candidate through complete withdrawal, guaranteeing his eventual victory. But after reading this I am now concerned for the family of the future president.
    Should we call someone?

  5. Rebecca Watson,

    Homeopathy one of the strangest ideas out there. What is it that makes so many people apparently think that it has a basis in medical science? I don’t know of any religious objection people have to non homeopathic medicine. I guess its just desperation really. I have a family member who insists that Homeopathy has saved here one of here pet’s lives on more than one occasion. Its kind of scary, because that kind of thinking could actually get them killed, not to mention herself killed, since it really doesn’t work at all.

  6. I was going to make a snarky comment about the usefulness of homeopathy in cases of severe dehydration, as a topical application for dermal cleansing after the victim has been knocked to the ground or had stuff thrown at them, and when applied in large quantities through a fire hose or water cannon to the abuser as an acute crisis intervention, but it really is too serious an issue to joke about, and Lemuella is totally on target about the underlying bigotry of this homeopath’s stance.

  7. There is a problem in assuming that what pertains in the USA also pertains to the rest of the world; just as there are vast cultural dissimilarities between the USA and India there are also areas in which there are disagreements between psychiatrists in the USA and psychiatrists in India.

    I think you would find it helpful to read the guest editorial:

    Behere PB, Sathyanarayana Rao TS, Verma K. Effect of marriage on pre-existing psychoses. Indian J Psychiatry [serial online] 2011 [cited 2012 Jan 27];53:287-8. Available from:

    http://www.indianjpsychiatry.org/text.asp?2011/53/4/287/91900

    which might perhaps give you some insight into the situation.

    Incidentally, whilst I fully sympathise with your desire to put the boot into the FDA, it does seem to me that there are rather more pressing problems with it than its stance on homeopathy. Research by Prayle et al published in the BMJ earlier this month demonstrates that the legislation enacted in 2007 following the Vioxx debacle is not being enforced, see:

    Compliance with mandatory reporting of clinical trial results on ClinicalTrials.gov: cross sectional study

    http://www.bmj.com/content/344/bmj.d7373

    with a mere 22% being published. Estimates of the number of people killed or seriously injured by Vioxx differ, usually depending on whether the person doing the estimating works for Merck or not, but it certainly ran into many thousands. The whole point of the legislation was to try to stop that happening again; the fact that it is not being enforced endangers everyone who takes FDA regulated medications…

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