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A collection of articles that are relatively short compared to the large blocks of text that I usually write.

1.  The grinding power of the gizzard
2.  The glycemic index
3.  Lutein and zeaxanthin
4.  Turmeric
   a.  Contamination issues
   a.  Effectiveness issues
5.  Homeopathy

The grinding power of the gizzard

The digestive tract of birds is very different from that of humans - it performs the same basic functions but doesn't always do it in the same order or in the same way. Birds don't have teeth, and many species have a holding pouch called the crop at the base of the throat (esophagus).  The stomach of a bird is different from humans too - it's a two-part organ consisting of a proventriculus that secretes digestive chemicals and a ventriculus that grinds up the food. The ventriculus is commonly called the gizzard, and all birds have a gizzard (contrary to what some people may tell you on the internet).  After food leaves the gizzard it progresses to the intestine.  Some bird species have side pouches called ceca extending from the intestine to help with further digestion, but parrots do not.

The gizzard is a muscular organ lined with hard koilin plates, which protect the walls of the gizzard and help with food grinding. Birds can keep stone and other hard materials (grit) in the gizzard to help with the grinding, but they can also process their food effectively without it.  See the Grit article for more information on the subject. 

A bird's gizzard is much more efficient at grinding up food than human teeth are. Perry reports that "the gizzard has a remarkable ability to grind all organic constituents of feed to a very consistent particle size range regardless of the original size of the feed, with some ground as finely as 0.05 mm".

This is smaller than the particles in many flours made for human consumption. 0.05 mm is 50 microns. I've seen sources saying that the most pleasing particle size for flatbread flour is 100 microns or less. The best particle size for noodle flour is 250 microns, and some flours are considerably coarser than that. Human hair ranges from 30-100 microns in diameter (Shopify).

Hetland et al did find some differences in feeding chickens ground grains versus whole grains, but the particle sizes they found in the gut were all within the range of particle sizes for milled flour made for human use.

The available studies were all on poultry of course. Do parrots and other pet birds grind their food as small as chickens do?  We don't know for sure, but the available evidence suggests that they do. The proof is in the poop. Parrots eat a lot of foods that are hard for humans to chew well, like sunflower seed and nuts. Humans will pass noticeable undigested chunks of these foods out of the body.  But parrot poop isn't usually chunky - it's smooth and uniform like it was pureed in a blender. The birds don't chew their food well before they swallow, just break it into bite size pieces. The gizzard mashes it up and turns it into the smooth blend that comes out the other end.

It's possible that the average parrot diet is not as hard as the average chicken diet (assuming that natural foods are being fed in both cases rather than some kind of pellet). But it's not unusual for parrot mixes to contain some of the same foods that are fed to chickens, like dried corn kernels and whole grains of wheat. Many chickens are given the opportunity to eat grit to help with grinding, while many pet parrots are not. Parrots have the ability to remove the hulls from seeds before eating them (although they don't always bother with small seeds). Chickens don't have this ability, potentially increasing the work load for their digestive tract. 

But in any case, the gizzard is like any other muscle.  It adjusts its size and strength to meet the demands that are made on it. Based on the texture of their output, it looks like parrot gizzards are very effective at reducing all the food they eat to a fine mush.   

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The glycemic index

The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly a specific food makes blood sugar rise. A higher number means a faster rise, with pure glucose (a type of sugar) given a value of 100.  The glycemic index is directly related to the amount of carbohydrates in a food, especially simple carbohydrates (sugar). It's also related to how quickly your body can process the food and convert the complex carbohydrates into simple carbohydrates.

It's an imperfect measurement however, because blood sugar changes in the real world will be affected by any other foods that you eat at the same time.  Drinking a sugary beverage on an empty stomach will give you a quick spike in blood sugar.  Using that same beverage to wash down a high-protein high-fat meal (like a burger and fries) will not give the same results.

The glycemic load measures the total amount of carbohydrates in a food. A food with a high glycemic load contains more carbohydrates than a food with a low glycemic load.  But there's a tradeoff here. In any food, the carbs+fat+protein = 100% of the calories. The food with the lower glycemic load has more fat and/or protein than the one with the higher glycemic load.  Trading carbs for protein is generally not a bad thing, but trading carbs for fat can be bad because a gram of fat has twice as many calories as a gram of carbs. 

For years we have been told that we humans must pay careful attention to the GI, and avoid high-GI foods to protect our health. But now questions are being raised about whether the GI actually matters for anyone but people with certain health conditions like diabetes (Reuters). And it's not considered to be all that important even for people with diabetes (Diabetes Forecast).

The GI concept is sometimes extended to birds, with owners being told to avoid giving their birds foods made with flour (like bread) because of flour's high GI. But the importance of the GI is even more dubious for birds than it is for humans. As explained in the Gizzard article above, it looks like birds in general grind all their food as fine as flour before the main digestion process begins. As far as their intestines are concerned, everything they eat is made of flour. But it takes some time for birds to grind up hard food. So when the bird eats intact whole grains and grinds them into flour, the food is expected to reach the intestine more slowly than grains that were turned into flour before the bird ate them.

Birds have a good reason for grinding their food so finely: small particles can be digested a lot faster than bigger chunks. The energy demands of flying are VERY high, and birds have a faster metabolism rate than humans even at rest.  Food needs to have a fast transit time through the body to provide fast energy, and also not weigh the bird down unnecessarily while it's flying.  Lafeber's avian nutrition glossary defines Mean Retention Time as

"The average length of time that food is retained in the gastrointestinal tract. Approximately 15-60 minutes in frugivores, 30 to 50 minutes in most avian nectarivores (80 minutes in rainbow lorikeets), and 40 to 100 minutes in granivores. Usually an order of magnitude shorter than the time required for complete evacuation of the gastrointestinal tract."

According to Clench & Mathias, the transit time for most wild birds is 12 minutes to 12 hours depending on species, with some penguins taking up to 22 hours.  For the Birds DVM says "Transit times vary by the size of the bird with smaller birds having a faster transit time. Most medium sized parrots will take less than 4 hours to pass ingested food." (It's under X for X-ray).

Compare this high rate of speed to the average transit time for healthy humans of 39 to 51 hours, with 2.5 to 5 hours of that time spent in the stomach alone. (VIVO). Carbohydrate digestion occurs in the small intestine not the stomach, and many birds can process food all the way out of their body while humans are still in the first phase of digestion. There's obviously a big difference in the way birds do it versus the way humans do it, and for all we know a high GI might be desirable for birds.

Certain products made with flour are undesirable for reasons that are not related to their GI.  Some birdie bread recipes are undesirable because they are high in fat, and products made with refined white flour are undesirable in general because white flour is less nutritious than whole grain products.

But this doesn't mean that all products made with flour are automatically bad, and some may not have a high GI whether they're good or bad. Pellets are made from ingredients that have been ground into flour, and they're generally considered to be very beneficial (see Pellet article for more info). They're not expected to behave like a high GI food because of their protein and fat content. The better birdie bread recipes are not high in fat and sugar, and contain a substantial amount of protein.  Pasta products in general have a fairly low GI, even though the flour in them may have been refined considerably (University of Sydney).

But relevant or not, here's some information on the glycemic index and glycemic load of commonly used whole grains and the flour made from those grains. Soy is included too, since it's frequently used in pellets. Enriched white flour is thrown in for comparison purposes. Pretty much everything but the soybeans has a high rating for both GI and GL.

Glycemic index scores were not available for intact grains. This is not surprising, since the GI is influenced by the way food is cooked or prepared, and humans don't normally eat whole dry grains. These scores wouldn't mean much anyway, since they're based on inefficient human chewing skills and not on the super-efficient grinding power of the gizzard.  The birds are going to grind these grains into flour, so the human GI score for flour might be a fairly decent estimate of the bird score for intact grains.  All glycemic load figures are for 100 grams of dry grain or flour. 

Glycemic index:
Low=1-55, Med=56-99, High=70+
Glycemic load:
Low=1-10, Med=11-19, High=20+

Glycemic
Index

Glycemic
Load

 

Intact
grain

Flour

Intact
grain

Flour

Yellow corn

??

70 (DC)

 45 (ND)

 48 (ND)

Wheat

??

 69 (DC)

 35 (ND)

 36 (ND)

Enriched white flour

N/A

 85 (DC)

N/A

 53 (ND)

Soybeans

??

 25 (DC)

 10 (ND)

 13 (ND)

Millet

??

 71 (DC)

 44 (ND)

??

Oats

??

 44 (DC)

 37 (ND)

??

Hulled barley

??

53-66 (DC)

 35 (ND)

 42 (ND)

A note on "whole grain" labeling:  It's sometimes said that if a product in the US is labeled "whole grain" rather than "100% whole grain", then the bran/germ of the grain might actually be missing.  But this would violate the FDA guidelines (AACC), which say that:

"Cereal grains that consist of the intact, ground, cracked, or flaked caryopsis, whose principal anatomical components—the starchy endosperm, germ, and bran—are present in the same relative proportions as they exist in the intact caryopsis, should be considered a whole grain food. "

In other words, you can't call something whole grain unless it's actually made with grain that has not had any part removed. If it doesn't say "100% whole grain" then it's possible that some of the grain in the product is not whole. But the FDA takes a dim view of deceptive advertising, and you are risking their wrath if you label something as whole grain without having a significant amount of whole grain in your product. All the grain in the product may have something missing if the word "whole" doesn't appear at all.

The Whole Grains Council advises manufacturers to use the words “whole grain” in the name of a product only if the product contains more whole grain than refined grain (meaning that at least 51% of the grain is whole grain). They also explain that the FDA only allows statements on the label about the health benefits of whole grains if the product contains at least 51% whole grain by total weight of ingredients (including the water/moisture in the total), and the whole grains in the product contain at least 11% fiber.

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Lutein and zeaxanthin

Lutein and zeaxanthin are yellow-colored pigments called xanthophyll carotenoids.  They have important functions in the body, and are even more important to birds than they are to humans. The USDA lumps both of them together for reporting purposes, so it’s hard to get information on them individually. But they are not interchangeable with each other. Their chemical makeup is similar, which may have made it hard to tell them apart at one time, but that problem has apparently been solved now and it is possible to find studies on one or the other individually. The body can not produce carotenoids and must obtain them from the diet, but a recommended daily intake for lutein and zeaxanthin has not been established for either humans or birds. The poultry research on lutein and zeaxanthin is focused on giving egg yolks and meat an appealing color, not on meeting the birds' nutritional requirements.

Lutein is plentiful in leafy green vegetables; many of them contain large amounts of lutein while having no zeaxanthin at all, or a very small amount.  Zeaxanthin is a lot harder to find, and this is why the combined reporting of lutein+zeaxanthin is so frustrating. It takes a special effort to find out which foods are good sources of zeaxanthin. The sources that report the zeaxanthin levels in various foods include Sommerburg et al, Perry et al (see Table 3 for corn, Table 4 for egg, and Table 5 for fruits and vegetables), Sajilata et al (Table 2), Abdel-Aal et al (Table 1), and Arimboor et al (Table 1).

One of the reasons that lutein and zeaxanthin are important to birds is that birds put these carotenoids in their egg yolks to help protect the embryo, and the L+Z in egg yolks is what makes them look yellow. Studies indicate that the level of these carotenoids in the yolk has an impact on breeding success. Table 1 of Sommerburg et al indicates that egg yolk has a lutein: zeaxanthin ratio of 60:40.

Birds that use carotenoid coloring in their feathers get their yellow coloring from lutein and zeaxanthin (Bird Coloration Vol 1 page 512). Parrots make their own yellow pigment and don't rely on dietary carotenoids for this purpose, but they have approximately equal amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin circulating in their bloodstream at the time of feather growth (McGraw & Nogare).

Lutein and zeaxanthin are the only carotenoids that accumulate in the retina of the human eye, where they help to filter damaging blue light.  Zeaxanthin has been called “the most prevalent macular pigment” for humans (Sommerburg et al page 909). Birds have high concentrations of carotenoids in their eyes, including colored oil droplets (something that humans do NOT have). The yellow droplets contain zeaxanthin (Stavenga & Wilts).

Almost any leafy green vegetable will be an excellent source of lutein.  Red and orange peppers may or may not be an outstanding source of zeaxanthin; the levels reported for them are extremely variable, with some very high scores and some very low scores. Arimboor et al says that “The wide variation in the carotenoid composition in same species [of peppers] in different reports may be attributed to the variations in agro climatic and post-harvest conditions and/or limitations in analytical methods”, and it also says that there are some problems with the measurement techniques. So it looks like you can never be too sure of how much zeaxanthin you’re getting from red/orange peppers, but you’re probably getting some.

Although there are vegetables that have much higher levels of either lutein or zeaxanthin, corn is the best overall source for getting a good balance of both at the same time. Table 1 of Sommerburg et al shows that the both the quantity and the proportion of lutein to zeaxanthin in corn is strikingly similar to that of egg yolk, and this same proportion is roughly similar to that in the bloodstream of parrots (McGraw & Nogare).

NutritionData says that 100g of feed corn has 1355 mcg of L+Z and 100g of egg yolk has 1094, confirming that the combined totals are fairly similar. What this apparently means for an egg-laying hen is that she'd need to eat an amount of corn that’s approximately the same size as the egg yolk to get enough L+Z to put in the egg yolk. For small birds like cockatiels, the egg yolk is about the same size as a kernel of corn. That’s nice and tidy, isn’t it? This doesn’t tell us anything about how much L+Z is needed to meet the requirement in the rest of the body, but at least we know how much it takes to supply an egg.

Corn is a major ingredient in many "complete" pellets, so they are an easy way to provide a steady supply of lutein and zeaxanthin. Only one pellet company (Lafeber) reports the amount of L+Z in their product. It ranges from 6.79 to 9.04 mg per kg depending on which pellet you get. They don't tell us how much is lutein and how much is zeaxanthin, but based on what we know about the ingredients and the way birds use these nutrients, it seems likely that it's about half and half.

   
Including some sweet corn in your bird's diet is another way to do it. My calculations indicate that on a dry matter basis, sweet corn has more L+Z than field corn or egg yolk, and that boiled sweet corn has more than raw (click on the thumbnail at left to see the details).  A rich yellow color has consumer appeal, so it's likely that sweet corn is being selectively bred to have more L+Z.

This brings up another subject.  What happens to the L+Z when food is cooked?  The details are sketchy, but the internet indicates that for carotenoids in general, cooking causes some loss of carotenoid content but increases its bioavailability (Eisenhauer et al). This frequently causes a net gain in carotenoid absorption.

The only specific information I could find on what cooking does to zeaxanthin is a study by Wang et al, who reported on zeaxanthin changes when five Chinese vegetables were cooked. The zeaxanthin level went up in three of the vegetables, went down in one, and stayed the same in one.  Most of the changes were relatively small, but in Chinese chive the level went from no detectible zeaxanthin in the raw vegetable to a very high level of 1081 ug/100g when it was cooked.

Chopping up raw food is another way to increase the bioavailability of the L+Z for humans (Oregon State, Nolan et al). But the grinding power of a bird's gizzard may be all the "chopping" that is needed for birds.

What about using egg yolk as a source of L+Z?  It's not a good idea to feed a lot of egg yolk to birds because it's high in fat and cholesterol, and that can cause problems (see the Protein article for more information). Corn and other high-zeaxanthin vegetables are a healthier choice.

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Turmeric

Turmeric is frequently promoted as a wonder drug for people and their pets including birds. A compound in turmeric called curcumin may or may not have real anti-inflammatory properties - the research is still ongoing for that. There are some potential side effects too, but turmeric also comes with hidden risks that have nothing to do with the spice itself.

Contamination issues. There are significant problems with contamination and adulteration with turmeric and imported spices in general. People who use turmeric for medical reasons and believe they're getting good results from it might want to see if they can buy the root and chop/grind it themselves instead of buying turmeric powder. The root is likely to have fewer contamination issues than the powder. It's possible to find it in U.S. stores sometimes, particularly natural grocery stores.

It's estimated that 80-90% of the world's turmeric is produced in India, which also accounts for 60% of the turmeric exports. Most of the rest comes from Pakistan, China, Haiti, Jamaica, Peru, Taiwan, Bangladesh, and Thailand. There's no indication that the US, Europe, and Australia produce any turmeric at all, so it should be assumed that all turmeric in these places was imported from countries with major quality control problems. (Aaditya, Turmeric)

There have been several recalls of turmeric in the US and other countries due to lead contamination. Many sellers illegally add lead chromate to turmeric to artificially enhance the color. This is prohibited in India but a study by the Indian Council of medical Research said that 99% of their samples were contaminated with lead, and about half were also contaminated with arsenic and/or cadmium (The Tribune).

Lead is toxic and it does build up in the body over time, so if you and your bird are regularly consuming lead-contaminated turmeric, you could end up with lead poisoning. Cadmium also accumulates in the body. Arsenic can accumulate in hair and nails but doesn't accumulate appreciably in other body parts.

Metanil yellow - another substance banned in India - is also frequently used as a coloring agent. Studies that fed it to rats showed a significant effect on brain chemistry, and the changes were not reversible in growing rats (Nagaraja & Desiraju).

It's also common for turmeric to be adulterated with more benign substances like chalk, sawdust, or rice powder. If you're into home chemistry, there are websites like the Epicurean Digest and Turmeric for Health telling you how you can test your turmeric for purity.

An FDA study found that 12% of imported spices in general were contaminated with insect parts and rat hair (FDA). The report says that the rat hair is a sign of fecal contamination - the rats groom themselves and excrete the hair in their feces. 7% of the samples were contaminated with salmonella. Imports from India tied with Mexico for the highest rate of overall contamination (New York Times, Scientific American).

The Indian press reports that the curcumin in turmeric may encourage the growth of salmonella (Zeenews).

Effectiveness issues. There have been a number of very promising early results from studies showing that curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric) may have anti-inflammatory effects.  But this early promise has been largely derailed by a study finding that curcumin is the type of substance that gives a lot of false positive results - researchers call these substances IMPS and PAINS (Nelson et al). The abstract says "This manuscript reviews the essential medicinal chemistry of curcumin and provides evidence that curcumin is an unstable, reactive, nonbioavailable compound." Science Translational Medicine goes into more detail about the low bioavailability and high instability of curcumin. NeurologicaBlog says that with substances like this, "the preclinical and preliminary studies are a horrible guide to actual clinical effects."

From the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (which exists to find out which 'alternative' remedies actually work and integrate them into mainstream medicine): "Claims that curcuminoids found in turmeric help to reduce inflammation aren’t supported by strong studies." This is an old statement, and the site apparently hasn't been updated to reflect the more recent finding that curcumin's bioavailability is so low and its chemical volatility is so high that it's unlikely to have any effect.

It's likely that most if not all of the preliminary studies with positive results were using a refined medical-grade curcumin extract, not ordinary turmeric that you can buy at the grocery store.  This is expected to have a considerable effect on the outcome, even if curcumin was not an "IMPS and PAINS" kind of chemical.

The bioavailability issues with curcumin were known for a long time before the Nelson study was issued. A mixture of turmeric, black pepper, oil, and water called Golden Paste is frequently hyped as a way to avoid this problem. The pepper is supposed to boost the bioavailability of the curcumin by 2000% (Shoba et al), but this is based on a single paper published in 1997 so we can't be sure that it's actually correct. The study used purified extracts not the actual spices.

The alleged anti-inflammatory effects of turmeric hasn't prevented rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis from being major public health problems in India (the world's largest consumer of turmeric), with the same disability rate as the US (Times of India, Tucson.com).

Turmeric is generally considered safe when it's not contaminated with nasty stuff, but it's not risk free. Science-Based Medicine says

"high doses have caused indigestion, nausea, vomiting, reflux, diarrhea, liver problems, and worsening of gallbladder disease. The NMCD warns that it may interact with anticoagulants and antiplatelet drugs to increase the risk of bleeding, that it should be used with caution in patients with gallstones or gallbladder disease and in patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease, and that it should be discontinued at least 2 weeks before elective surgery. "

High doses are what's recommended for treating arthritis and other problems, so it could be an issue.

There are large numbers of people who swear that turmeric has helped them and/or their pets, but this could be an example of the placebo effect. An animal has no expectations about what turmeric will do for them of course, but giving unproven medical treatments to an animal can affect the perceptions and behavior of the owner, which in turn can affect the behavior of the animal.

In most cases there's no reason to give turmeric to a bird. It's considered to be a spice not a food in the sense of having a lot of nutrients. If you've got a bird with arthritis and you think that turmeric makes a visible difference in the bird's comfort level, then you need to consider whether it's worth the risk. But it doesn't seem like a good idea for a healthy bird.

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Homeopathy

Homeopathy is a medical treatment system invented by Samuel Hahnemann in the late 18th century.  Many of the conventional medical treatments of the time were downright harmful. In, homeopathy appears to be a placebo, which would have been an improvement over many medical treatments at the time. But it's hard to see any current value in paying money for an "ineffective but harmless" remedy, and it can do a great deal of harm if someone with a serious condition uses this type of treatment instead of seeking more effective help. The concepts behind homeopathy are so badly flawed that it can only be classified as pseudoscience. At present, there is no reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective for any health condition(NHMRC, Science-Based Medicine).

Homeopathy has a couple of basic principles.  One is that "like cures like".  For example, if you are suffering from burning, itching, watering eyes, you need to find a substance that causes these same symptoms, because you can cure your symptoms with this substance if it is prepared in a certain way.  The underlying cause of your symptoms doesn't matter because a substance that causes similar symptoms will solve the problem in any case. 

The other basic principle is that less is more.  When toxic substances are diluted to an extreme degree using a specific procedure, they turn into powerful healing agents. The more they are diluted, the more powerful their effect becomes.

The preparation procedure uses a series of dilutions in specific proportions, succussing (shaking) the mixture precisely ten times between each iteration to trigger the desired effect.  If a preparation is designated as 20X,  it means that the mixture was diluted twenty times with a "one in ten" proportion.  The number of X's indicates the number of zeroes in the proportion, and if there's a C instead of an X you should double the number of zeroes, because C indicates a proportion of 1 in 100.  Homeopathy frequently uses solutions of 30X or even higher.  At 30X the ratio of active ingredient to water is 1 in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. That's 30 zeroes folks, a number so big that I don't even know what it's called.

The last molecule of the active ingredient is expected to disappear from the mixture at around the 24X point.  Proponents use the concept of water memory to explain why highly diluted remedies would have a healing effect:  the water remembers that it used to be in contact with the active ingredient because its memory was triggered by the shaking between each dilution. Less is more, so the remedy is more powerful when there's nothing in it but water.

Vibrational energies are occasionally used as a supplemental explanation for homeopathy and other treatment methods that don't have a plausible science-based explanation for how they work.  These undetectable energies are assumed to exist because something must be causing the effect, and the only real-world principle that can explain it is the placebo effect which is not an acceptable answer. 

Homeopathy theory runs directly opposite to our science-based observations of how the world appears to work.  There is zero objective evidence for the notion that like cures like, and lots of evidence that the best way to cure ailments is to find the underlying cause and undertake a treatment program that is tailored to the circumstances. 

Real world observations indicate that more is more and less is less; you get a more powerful effect when you use more of something, not less of it, and a substance that isn't present can't have any effect at all.  An energy or vibration that is strong enough to cause an effect should be detectable. There is no realistic explanation for how water could possibly have a memory, which is a good thing;  every drop of water on earth has been through a lot of things that we wouldn't want it to remember, for example a flush down the toilet or being drunk by someone who was dying of a terrible disease.  Shaking a container of water isn't known to have any effect on it at all beyond introducing some air bubbles or stirring up any particles that might be in it. This is good too; think of the terrible things that might happen if it actually worked, and a germ or a speck of dust got into the water that was used to make the homeopathic remedy.

The "mind power" involved in the placebo effect is very powerful and can cause a measurable improvement in physical condition.  This is why scientific studies on medicines always use a control group taking a placebo; the simple act of taking something is expected to have a positive effect even if it's completely inert. The real test is whether the medicine performs better than the placebo did.  The only time that homeopathic remedies have been found to perform better than the placebo was in badly flawed studies conducted by homeopathy proponents who did not follow proper scientific procedure. When proper procedures were followed, homeopathic remedies did not perform better than placebo.

Animals don't have any expectations about what the remedy is supposed to do for them of course.  But the placebo effect has an influence here too.  The human's perception of the animal's condition will be influenced by the knowledge that the animal took the remedy, and the way the human observes and interacts with the animal may have an influence on the way the animal behaves..

Timing factors can also lead to homeopathy or some other type of treatment getting credit for a cure that it didn't really accomplish.  Some treatments take time to work, and the cure might have actually been brought about by something that was done earlier.  In addition, the body will often cure itself after an ailment has run its course, and it may have been a simple coincidence that homeopathy was tried at the same time there would have been a natural recovery without any treatment at all. 

Although most homeopathic remedies use extreme dilutions that can't reasonably be expected to do anything, there are some that use a dilution of only 2 or 3 X. That's a concentration of 1% and 0.1%, respectively.  There are some substances that can have an effect at this concentration, so there is a risk that low-dilution homeopathic remedies could be toxic..

Here are some interesting links:
Science-based Medicine - an article detailing the results of a scientific review that considered more than 1,800 studies, with additional discussion on several other reviews and how homeopathic practitioners respond.

Wikipedia: Water memory - a description of the Benveniste water memory studies, which established that water remembers when proper scientific procedures are not followed, and forgets when proper procedure IS followed.

The SkeptVet - information on the dangers of veterinary use of homeopathy.

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