It is said that disasters bring out the best and the worst in people, and sadly, there has been plenty of opportunity to witness this play out of late.

In Australia, the east coast experienced the worst floods since 1974, quickly followed by Cyclone Yasi ravaging as far inland as Mount Isa. Then there was the terrible earthquake in Christchurch where many died across the pond. And then on Friday a massive 9.0 earthquake exploded under the North Pacific Ocean, sending a huge tsunami smashing into the north-east coat of Japan.

The Japanese are suffering terribly, not just because tens of thousands are missing feared dead, but they also face bitter cold as snow is dumped on the devastation. And even worse, 4 nuclear reactors which took the brunt of the tsunami and earthquake are now at risk of meltdown. Although the reactors are built to withstand earthquakes, the combination of such a huge event coupled with a massive tsunami wiped out back-up systems required to keep the fuel rods cool. As water levels dropped the rods heated up, some producing enough hydrogen gas to cause explosions and subsequently the release of radioactive gas into the air.

Authorities are madly dumping sea water from helicopters onto the rapidly heating fuel rods, and as a precaution have set-up an exclusion zone in a 30 km radius around the plant. However, if the meltdown cannot be prevented, there is a risk of the release of radioactive gas clouds which could drift into populated areas.

Enter the vultures.

Several days ago Australian Skeptics Vice President Richard Saunders circulated an email from Homeopathy Plus! describing homeopathic remedies for radiation sickness and poisoning. It described how homeopathy offered “key remedies that have been used either in research or historically to prevent or treat radiation poisoning..”.

Two emails sent on March 13th and the 16th described;

“If at risk of radiation exposure, any one of the above remedies may be taken as an emergency response, three times a day in a 30C potency.”

The remedies referred to are cadmium iodide, cadmium-sulph, phosphorus, strontium-carbonicum and X-ray.

That’s right, homeopathic preparations of X-rays.

But before you get worried that more X-rays might not be just the best thing to treat radiation burns, let’s take a look at precisely what 30C means. This is a common homeopathic dilution – one you might find on your local pharmacy shelf and means the original substance has been diluted 10 to the power of 60 times (in simple terms, 1 with 60 zeros after it). At a dilution this great, in order for you to come into contact with even one molecule of the original X-rays, you would have to give two billion doses per second to six billion people for 4 billion years. Or to put it another way, a 30C dilution is the equivalent of placing 1 mL of liquid into a cube of water measuring a million million million metres per side.

Impossible and also preposterous. But there’s more.

“If radiation sickness has developed, your homeopath is the best person to advise on treatment dosages and potencies as these will depend on the symptoms you are experiencing and their severity.”

But not just any homeopath. Apparently some people are confused by the number of remedies being offered by different homeopaths. (Apparently they can’t agree amongst themselves).

But never fear! Homeopathy Plus! will only recommend you;

“remedies whose effects are also supported by research and/or confirmed with clinical successes as reported by doctors and physicians dealing with radiation exposure during the Great World Wars.”

But what if you can’t get your hands on a super dilute one to the bajillion dilution of X-rays? No worries, you can take a more concentrated dose of X-rays but you just need to take it more frequently.

Yes, you read that correctly, if the preparation is more concentrated you just need to take it more often.
According to the helpful HP! Newsletter, this means

“…taking a more frequent dose for lower potencies (4-6 times a day) and a less frequent dose (1-2 times a day) for higher potencies.”

This is because homeopaths believe that the more dilute the preparation, the stronger it is. You couldn’t make this stuff up. Well, actually you could but no-one would believe you.

So as you might expect HP! have copped a bit of flack for this irresponsible nonsense. The story was reported in The Australian newspaper, on The Punch website, by Phil Plait in his Bad Astronomy blog, by Brian Dunning on Skepticblog and by Ben Radford on the Discovery website. Adam Cresswell from The Australian asked some experts about the claims that homeopathy can treat radiation burns and got a predictable response –

Victorian GP Bill Williams, who is also a nuclear safety expert, said there was “absolutely no evidence” for any of the remedies being promoted by HP! being useful in treating radiation sickness.

“It’s not really very helpful for people to be promoting treatments in a dire situation like this, which could give people false comfort,” Dr Williams said.

Nuclear radiologist Peter Karamoskos said the claims that were made by Homeopathy Plus were “rubbish”.

“Such claims are dangerous in that it might compromise proper treatment and give false security.”

Sadly this is not the first time HP have spouted rubbish on the unsuspecting public. The Homeopathy Plus newsletter and clinic are both run by homeopath Fran Sheffield who is also good mates with the AVN (birds of a feather and all that.)

In 2010, the TGA instructed Ms Sheffield to remove claims that homeopathy was an effective substitute for vaccination from her website and publish a retraction. She refused to do so on the grounds that she didn’t agree with the decision. And, as with approximately 30% of those served with a TGA retraction order, nothing was done to enforce the finding. In fact the TGA told ABCs Lateline programme that no legal action has ever been taken over non-compliance. Which makes the complaints system look like a complete farce.

Indeed following the Lateline report Fran Sheffield jumped a flotilla of sharks and published a piece on her website called “Lateline: can homeopathy safely protect against epidemic and infectious diseases? Can homeopathy treat serious diseases such AIDS and cancer?”. It was a veritable Gish Gallop of references purporting to show that indeed, it can. So, not only did she refuse to remove false and misleading information from her website, when challenged she simply added more.

A few months prior she sent out an email alert entitled “homeopathy as good as chemotherapy for breast cancer and non-toxic”, based on a paper published in The International Journal of Oncology. Firstly the paper had not made such a claim – it was only a cell study – and secondly it was a terrible piece of bad science chock full of dodgy data. So much so that one of the authors left a comment on my blog where I had taken the paper to pieces, dissociating herself from the work saying “…I asked to not be included (on the paper) because I did not think it was a sound study..”

Still, Ms Sheffield continues to claim that magic vibrating water can cure everything. In a flyer sent out for a workshop last year she stated “homeopathy works for autism, infections, anxiety, allergies, insomnia, coughs and colds, depression, irritable bowel syndrome and much much more..”

Sorry Fran, but there is no evidence that homeopathy works for anything, except maybe for hangovers. I love a nice cold drink of water when I’m hungover. But claims that homeopathy can be used for the treatment of radiation burns or illness are complete rubbish and prey on the vulnerable and desperate.

The full emails can be found here and here.

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