Homeopathy: Real Treatment or an Expensive Placebo?

Most people think that homeopathy is just at type of herbal medicine, but the reality is different. While herbal extracts can indeed be used to treat illness, homeopathy is based on a set of principles that are incompatible with modern science.

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Most people think that homeopathy is just at type of herbal medicine, but the reality is different. While herbal extracts can indeed be used to treat illness, homeopathy is based on a set of principles that are incompatible with modern science.

The unlikely beginnings

There is a huge difference between homeopathy and, say, Tibetan herbal medicine or Ayurveda. Unlike these traditional practices, homeopathy has a date and place of birth – Germany, late 18th century. In 1796, a physician called Samuel Hahnemann took a large dose of quinine (used to treat malaria) and… felt the symptoms of malaria – fever, agitation, and thirst. This led him to form the so-called law of similar: the same thing that causes illness can cure it when taken in small doses. Indeed, the name “homeopathy” consists of two Greek words – “like, similar” and “suffering”, meaning that like cures like. That is the main principle of homeopathy.

The science of potentiation

In homeopathy, various toxins (for example, poisonous plants) are dissolved in liquid, shaken with vigour, then diluted with more liquid and shaken again, and so on – the process is called potentiation. Usually the process starts with one part of a toxin is taken for 10 parts of water, but the final result can contain just one-thousandth of the original mixture, or even one-millionth – that is, no molecules of the toxin can remain there at all (you can read more on potentiation here). Of course, the original homeopaths knew nothing about molecules; modern practitioners claim that even if there are no molecules of the active ingredient, a memory of it is retained by water itself.

The homeopathic view of disease

Homeopaths claim to treat a person and not an illness. A practitioner assesses not just the symptoms, but also the current emotional state of a patient and his or her “constitution”, which can bear exotic names like Oxygenoid, Hydrogenoid, etc. The remedy is prescribed on the basis of all three factors. While the individual approach seems similar to that of slow medicine (which we have written about before – ссылка, пока статья не опубликована), the fact remains that homeopathic premises lie far beyond the realm of science and firmly in the land of magic.

Does it work?

The short answer is no. Though thousands of homeopaths swear by their methods and Americans spend up to 3 billion dollars on homeopathic remedies, so far scientific studies have failed to prove that they work any better than placebo (a pill containing only sugar). A large review by the Australian Health Council, for instance, shows that homeopathy is not efficient for treating any condition at all. Following these results, the US authorities announced that homeopathic remedies will need to state on the label that there is no scientific evidence that they work.

Why do so many people use it?

Super-diluted solutions of toxins cannot possibly work, and water does not have any memory, but placebo does work (see this study, for example). People reported same improvement in symptoms when taking placebo and homeopathic remedies – both seem to “work” better for cold, flu, otitis, and other minor infections. So yes, homeopathy does help – if you believe in it.

Many types of alternative medicine deserve serious attention, be it acupuncture or herbs. However, the methods of homeopathy defy the very concept of science. Do not be fooled by inflated claims of homeopathy enthusiasts – save your money for real medical treatments.

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