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The Myth of Homeopathic Medicine

Updated on September 26, 2013

The Origins of Homeopathy

Although Hippocrates may have been the first to exercise a homeopathic principle in 400 B.C., the term itself does not appear in medical literature until 1807 when it was coined by Samuel Hahnehmenn. It is helpful to consider that bloodletting and the administration of Venice Treacle (of mixture of potent drugs and toxins) was also included in the medical literature of the time.

Hahnemenn began to establish his theory of homeopoathy and it's underlying tenets while translating the writings of William Cullen, a Scottish physician.

The basis principles of Homeopathy are as follows;

1. Like cures like. In other words administering a compound that cause the symptoms complained up will cure the symptoms.

2. The more dilute the concentration of the "active ingredient," in a solutions is made the more potent the solution's apothecary value becomes.

3. These dilute solutions produce therapeutic vibrations that can be passed to untreated water and thus make this water also medicinal.

Why homeopathy is a Waste of Money

Examining just the first principle of homeopathy shows it to be fallacious. There is no evidence that introducing something into the immune system that provokes the symptoms complained of will lead to a long term amelioration of said symptoms.

Secondly even if we were to grant this, (which I am not) we must consider the level of dilutions with which Homeopathy deals. A typical solution available at any drug store, is diluted to one part in 1x10^1,500. Avogadro's number ( 6.02214129(27)×1023 mol−1) states that there is only a chance of a single atom or molecule of the origin solvent (active ingredient) in a solution once it has been to the point of Approximately 6X10^23. A homeopathic solution is dilute around 1,477 more than this and with each of these successive dilutions the probability of the solution containing one molecule or atom of the active ingredient is reduced by 1/10.

An analogy to help understand this level of dilution is helpful. If an active ingredient, the size of a grain of rice, was diluted in a vat of water the size of our solar stem and then that solution was diluted in the same manner 2 Billion times we would be very close to the level of dilution that homeopathic "medicine" is subjected to.

And so the plain fact is that every homeopathic medicine you buy is purely water if in a aqueous solution or inert fillers if in a pill or capsule form. The fact that these products are sold at nearly all major pharmacies (of course over the counter) alongside actual medicine at a price far higher than many actual medicines testifies to the overwhelming power of the placebo effect.

A Consistent Track Record of Clinical Failure

From the Nazi scientist Paul Ulrich Unschuld, to the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 which declared homeopathic solutions to be drugs, to the financial incentives that encouraged pharmacies to market Homeopathic solutions as real medicine in the 1990s, not a single properly controlled double blind study has determined homeopathic solutions to be any more effective than pure water or sugar pill placebos.

Based on long demolished scientific precepts, the new age appeal of Homeopathic solutions seems to convince consumers of their effectiveness by speaking of nebulous scientific sounding terms like, "quantum vibrations." This is of course simply a ploy that uses jargon from emerging scientific theories like Quantum Theory, and then perverts the meanings of the terms and principles upon which these sciences are based in order to attain something that ostensibly sound like ultra modern breakthroughs and consequently like plausible treatments. The opportunistic practitioners of homeopathy and the companies that produce homeopathic solutions are responsible for the needless pain and suffering of many children and credulous adults who believe they are providing themselves and their loved one's with real medicine when in fact they are only paying for very expensive water and sugar pills.

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    • mbwalz profile image

      MaryBeth Walz 

      4 years ago from Maine

      Well, I'm sorry you've never tried homeopathy with a licensed practitioner. The one I go to now is an NP, the other I used to go to before he moved was a doctor. And no, it has not been the placebo affect because when the wrong remedy was chosen, it actually made me worse. This is when I called them at home and they reevaluated me based on my reaction. I have used it with my children, but my homeopath NEVER tries to replace our normal "conventional" care. Both my kids have used inhalers, had surgery for ear infections, dairy pills for lactose intolerance and the ER for other things. We go to an osteopath (3 of us have Ehlers - Danlos Syndrome for which there are no remedies or medicines) and have a regular doctor who supports us complementing their work with homeopathy. Most newly trained doctors learn about herbs, pharmaceuticals, homeopathy, and other complimentary medicines as no doctor is an island.

      You state (and it is widely thought) "if a treatment can't stand up to an experimental design that controls for the placebo effect". The problem is that there is only one test which is considered valid. That does not make the experiment the correct one. The double blind would mean that 2000 people with, say, chronic ear infections were given a consultation with a homeopath and then given either a placebo or the same remedy. But being given the one remedy for the same ailment over 2000 people is NOT how homeopathy works. Many would end up with a same remedy, but there might be 10 or 15 different ones given based on the individual's personal needs and history. And then they would each follow up to find out if this was pushing the body toward healing. Then if it wasn't, more information about the patient would be gleaned and the remedy adjusted or they would be counseled as to how to better take the remedy. Sometime you take it once a month, sometimes you do that and take a different dose in between. Sometimes you take something every 15 mins at the onset and then 3 times a day for 3 days. And the homeopath would not judge their effectiveness in helping the patient heal if the ear infection went away (as most when left alone will on their own) but whether the incidences of the ear infections became less and then very occasional if at all. This is different from going to the doctor as they give you antibiotics (which the homeopath will encourage you to seek out if the ear infection is so stressful to the body and person) and then call it a day.

      The MD establishment has a long and infamous history of working very hard to put legitimate practitioners out of business by using negative PR. That why homeopathic and osteopathic hospitals went away and midwives were likened to witches punished in the name of science.

      Fortunately, these practitioners are integrated into the fabric of the best complimentary care here in the US.

      I do not use crystals, copper bracelets, or faith healers. However, I am a Reiki practitioner, just as many nurses within the hospital environment are. If homeopathy had not worked, I would not have used it for 17 years. I've left many a practitioner because their modalities or practices were not helping. I'm ornery and very knowledgeable and while it took me until I was 47 to figure out it was a rare syndrome that no one else had detected, I did figure it out. Now, I help my practitioners by educating them and even supporting patients if they want to contact me. I have no patience for charlatans or practitioners that only offer 1/2 the options because of their closed minds..

    • adamschwartz profile imageAUTHOR

      adamschwartz 

      4 years ago from Syracuse NY, USA

      Well I didn't give up after one bad homeopath, I've never been to one. I've also never been to a faith healer and I don't wear a magnetic band that purports to increase my strength and balance. While I agree that just because we don't know how something works we shouldn't discount it, we know how homeopathy "medicines", (and the act I cited specifically does call these solutions medicine, which is a medical travesty in my opinion) you state as much, it's the time the homeopath takes with you which further promotes the placebo effect, if a treatment can't stand up to an experimental design that controls for the placebo effect, and homeopathy never has, it's simply not medical science. And I'm sorry but the analogy between well known mechanisms by which vaccines promote antibodies in the immune system doesn't hold in homeopathy. There is no mechanism by which the body inures itself against toxins that are not even present in a glass of water or a sugar pill. If a homeopath has helped you then I'm glad, I don't like to see anyone in pain. But it was a result of the placebo effect, which is very strong by the way, there are some estimates that say 60% of all pharmaceutical efficacy is cause by the placebo effect. But there are instances when relying on the placebo effect can be deadly and cruel to child patients. It may cause decreases in subjective pain, but it will never cure a serious bacterial or viral infection or save some one from acute heavy metal poisoning, or correct a genetically inherited condition for which dietary supplements are needed. These cases require medical science which works time and again. You seem to assume I had a bad experience with a homeopath and wrote this in retribution. NO, I am having a bad experience with new age, "healers," fleecing the credulous people around me who are suffering and a bad experience with all the pseudoscience that is flourishing in this amazing age of quantum theory, gene therapy, and neuroscience breakthroughs.

    • mbwalz profile image

      MaryBeth Walz 

      4 years ago from Maine

      "The chief obstacle to discovery is the illusion of knowledge." Daniel Boorstin

      What has your experience been when working with a trained homeopathic practitioner? What symptoms did you have and what remedy did they give you? I'd be interested to know because it sounds like perhaps you did not have an adequately skilled homeopath (I've been to more than a few doctors like that, not to mention I've had two good homeopaths, but the 2nd was far more knowledgeable) or you gave up after just one try - which isn't the way homeopathy works.

      As far as the principle of like cures like, you can simply look at how the smallpox vaccination was invented. The problem, of course, is that like in Hanneman's time, these substances are given at doses that for some may cure and some may hurt. (I am, by the way, pro-vaccination for my children.)

      Just because we do not understand the mechanism by which a remedy (it's not called a medicine, by the way) works, is not proof that it doesn't work. They don't really understand what mechanism in Sumatriptan works on migraines, but it does for many people (but certainly not all.) And of course, we should never forget the lesson that Dr. Semmelweiss taught us. Just because his discovery couldn't be explained scientifically at the time made it no less valid.

      Homeopathy can not be proven by the double blind test as it is a method of treating a person personally. The remedy for your flu, or chronic ear infections or some constitutional issue will be different than mine (most likely.) Sometimes, it takes tweaking before the right remedy is found. And often as time goes on, the remedy finishes and a new remedy will be found if needed - in the case of constitutional rather than acute issues.

      There were a few times when I prayed for the placebo effect! But unfortunately, the wrong remedy was given and the results were seen within minutes. I've seen that with other members of my family as well experienced it myself. But with better information from me, the homeopath was generally able to correct the remedy and give us relief.

      No modality works for everyone. Often, cancer patients don't react to radiation or chemo. Sometimes people die from Tylanol. And other times, people take anti-viral drugs and still suffer from the flu. For some people, one anti-depressant works better than another and for others none of them work well enough.

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