Brauer: Natural Quackery

Cross Posted at Friend of Reason

I was in a local pharmacy the other day when, as I normally do I sought out the “natural” alternatives that were made available. I guess I do this in the hope that once, just once the pharmacy won’t be selling utter nonsense to an unsuspecting and trusting public. That day has not yet come and as usual I located the rather extensive homeopathic range by Brauer Natural Medicine. Brauer is the quack medicine distributor I most commonly see in local Perth pharmacies and I have had the privilege of personally testing their product by taking a “dangerous” overdose of homeopathic pills as part of this year’s 10:23 challenge. So anyway, on this particular trip to the pharmacy I decided to pick up one of the free “product selector” booklets that Brauer medicine produce to peddle their snake oil. In this blog entry I present for you a quick run-​​down on what Brauer says about their product, why science says it’s total nonsense and why it is dangerous.

I won’t get into a long discussion about the history and nature of homeopathy as I wish to focus on the specific case of Brauer medicine. For a more detailed and referenced rundown on why homeopathy is bunk please check out these excellent resources: The 10:23 Website, The Skeptics Dictionary, SkepticWiki, Quackwatch. For a very quick rundown homeopathy is a system of claimed alternative medicine invented in 1796 by Samuel Hahnemann. Since it’s invention it’s core beliefs have remained unchanged despite the world’s advancements in health and medicine including the discovery of viruses, bacterial infection, cancers, vaccines and genetics. It is by all accounts a relic of medieval thinking from a time when the leading hypothesis was that sickness was a result of imbalances in the four bodily humors (blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile). Homeopathy itself is based on three laws; the law of similars, the law of infinitesimals and the law of succussion.

The law of similars says that in order to cure a problem you need to consume whatever causes the problem. This extends to such things as caffeine for sleep disorders, sore eyes with onion and rashes with poison ivy.

The law of infinitesimals says that the more diluted a substance the stronger it’s medicinal effect. This means that the vast majority of homeopathic solutions are diluted to the point that not a single molecule of the active ingredient remains, including dilutions of 1:1000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000. Of course even if some of the active ingredient remained, the ingredient itself is worthless medically.

The law of succussion says that shaking homeopathic treatments increases their potency. Samuel Hahnemann discovered this when after a bumpy carriage ride his solutions seemed (to him) more potent. As a result modern homeopathic solutions are prepared through careful tapping and banging of essentially water jugs at specific points and tilted at specific angles.

With that out of the ways lets get back to the matter at hand of Brauer medicine peddling this stuff at pharmacies in my local town. The image opposite is a scanned cover of the product selector I picked up. The pamphlet itself folds out in four panels, one side has a glossy colour coded rundown of the problems they can cure with their magic water and the other side has a brief history of the company itself. I don’t mean to imply that they are behaving disingenuously by putting together a nice looking pamphlet, that’s simple marketing. What I can’t abide is the kind of dishonesty and obfuscation of facts that quacks often trade in, more on that later though.

This is probably a good time to point out that everything I saw about homeopathy in this article is what I have distilled from the body of scientific evidence out there. This is just a blog entry and isn’t fully referenced but again, click the links above for some more reliable info. Well for now let’s start by looking at the glossy colourful side of the pamphlet.

The scan you see here shows one panel of the symptoms they claim to be able to cure. As well as allergy symptoms and baby and child care the list also includes cough and cold, insomnia, lifestyle health, pain relief, skin care and stress. Notice how they only claim to bring “relief”, a weasel word crafted to get around the fact that they can’t actually cure anything. Also notice how none of what they claim to relieve are specific diagnoses, they mostly general feelings and fuzzy categories without clinical use. The exceptions are things like fibromyalgia which is itself a general sense of soreness and discomfort and Tenosynovitis which is a swelling of fluid around tendons that many people incorrectly self-​​diagnose. It sickens me that these quacks sell their product to parents who then go and use it to treat their poor baby’s flu, colic, earaches, rashes and teething pain. I don’t blame the parents in most of these cases, it is companies like Brauer that are to blame for peddling this crap on an unsuspected public. I mean seriously, this is the health of babies we’re talking about not some self deluded adult popping homeopathic pills to “assist in the maintenance of general well-​​being” (how vague is that!). This is water we are talking about, water infused in a pill or spray and said to relieve this wide range of problems based on magic.

This next scan is a panel on the history of Brauer Natural Medicine. It starts with some story about German immigrants bringing their preferred brand of quackery to Australia in the 1840’s. The Brauer story really took of in 1972 when Warren Brauer, firm believer that homeopathy was the way forward (despite it never actually advancing) managed to get his homeopathic products distributed in national pharmacies. The pamphlet then claims that homeopathy is one of the oldest forms of medicine, which even if true says nothing about it’s efficacy. In fact to a rational person the older something is (especially medicine) the more obsolete it becomes; for reference take a look at lobotomies, leeching and trepanning (drilling a hole in your head to relieve pressure). Just after this “argument from antiquity” logical fallacy comes an “argument from popularity” logical fallacy when Brauer celebrates that there are hundreds of millions of suckered or deluded people who used homeopathy worldwide.

The pamphlet then gets into some drivel about stimulating the bodies own natural defenses, which forms the majority of homeopaths attempts to explain their trade. Strangely enough the only one of the three laws of homeopathy that Brauer describes in the pamphlet is the law of similars. Could this be because the other two of their core beliefs are so absurd that they try to hide it for fear or being mocked? This is just idle speculation, but the pamphlet is full far more of wishy-​​washy immune stimulating nonsense than descriptions of what homeopaths actually base their practice on. I can’t help but chuckle when Brauer describes that “lower rate of side effects are of paramount importance”. Of course their product doesn’t have side effects, it’s water!

That comes to the end of Brauer Natural Medicine’s “product selector”. They list a whole line-​​up of quack remedies that will result in people treating their pain and ailments (and their children’s) with just water. They then spin a yarn full of factually incorrect statements and logical fallacies. What is strangely missing from this pamphlet is any reference to evidence that their treatment works? Oh, but you might say that a pharmacy pamphlet isn’t the place for literature references? Fair enough, so I headed to their website on a grand mission to find their evidence.

I navigated over to the Links page on Brauer’s site looking for references and yep, there they were staring me in the face. Links to reliable, peer reviewed research proving homeopathy’s efficacy… right? WRONG. Their link section consists of the following. Links to the home pages of the chemists of Australia, links to the websites of other homeopathic agencies, links to books written about the subject and finally a dead link to the “homeopathic hospital search-​​able reference database” which is a dead end. The only legitimate peer-​​reviewed site they link to is PubMed, a medical journal database. However they don’t list any references on PubMed to support their claims, they just lead you to the homepage with nowhere to go. The reason of course is that no well controlled study has ever shown a repeatable beneficial effect for a homeopathic remedy.

So that’s it. Brauer medicine is a leading distributor of nonsense treatments in Australia and doing what they do should be made a lot harder. If people want to treat themselves with magic water then fine, but what Brauer does is market its water as ancient natural remedies used by millions. This is unethical and it’s dangerous, and it needs to stop.