Homeopathy has seen a rise in approval in resent times. Its peddlers offer arcane treatments for every ailment imaginable. Alternative medicine enthusiasts are quick to promote ancient cures that mainstream medicine has yet to accept as viable health care. Are these unconventional treatments worth the medical fields recognition? To truly understand the nature of the debate, it’s important to understand exactly what homeopathy is and where it came from. Homeopathy was first developed by Samuel Hahnemann, in the late 18th century.
Hahnemann, who earned a MD from the University of Erlangen, felt that the remedies of the time were lacking in credibility and caused him to abandon medicine and pursue a writing career. During his time as a writer he vowed to correct the malpractice he believed was going on in the medical community. He began developing theories on ways to treat illness while translating a text by William Cullen. Encouraged by a claim that bark from a Cinchona tree was a useful cure for malaria, he self-administered the bark on himself to evaluate its affects.
He discovered that cinchona bark induced symptoms similar to malaria in his healthy body. This led to the conclusion that “like cures like. ” In other words he theorized that if a substance causes specific symptoms in a healthy person, then the same substance would cure those symptoms in an unhealthy person. The theory of “like cures like” or more commonly “the law of similars” is the fundamental principle in homeopathy. The next step is taking the substances and engineer the medicine. The process in which homeopathic remedies are manufactured is called “succession”.
This is the method in which the original substance is diluted by either water or alcohol and then aggressively shaken. It would seem obvious that substances that can cause negative symptoms would need to be diluted in order to be consumed, but the immense amount of dilution that homeopathic medicine goes through is part of what defines them as homeopathic medication and causes such controversy. The substances are diluted according to the “C scale” which is a measurements system designed by Hahnemann. According to the C Scale, homeopathic medicine’s potency is measured by the larger the dilution.
Most commonly the products go through dilutions to the 10,000th degree. Practitioners claim that the substances leave a “water memory” and although it is impossible to distinguish the chemical, its energy was awakened during the shaking process. If the methods in which homeopathy follow are so controversial, why do people believe that homeopathic medicine is effective? Homeopathic practitioners rely mainly on anecdotal evidence as proof that their remedies work. Proponents argue that the fact that patients claim that they feel better is suficenct enough to justify homeopathic practices.
Proponents also argue that homeopathy has been practiced for more then two hundred years, so it must work. They also claim that the scientific community doesn’t want homeopathic medicine because it’s a cheaper alternative to modern medicine. Credibility has largely been established through support by the World Health Organization and that homeopathic remedies are FDA approved. Despite approval by these organizations and all of the anecdotal support, mainstream medicine still doesn’t except homeopathic medicine as a valid treatment.
One of the major reasons conventional medicine doesn’t except homeopathy has to do with the “law of similars. ” It’s a completely counter-intuitive theory, but it is still an essential component to homeopathy’s reasoning. Consider the conventional and homeopathic treatments for insomnia. Conventional medicine use sedatives which slow function in the central nervous system and result in sleepiness. The Homeopathic treatment for insomnia is a caffeine pill. Any rational observer should understand why treating a illness or symptom with a substance that causes that illness or symptom doesn’t make sense.
Homeopaths reason the “law of similars” works is because their remedies function in the same way as a vaccine. Vaccinations are prepared by a benign form of the causative agent of a disease. After the immune system is exposed to the disease, your body forms an immunity. Any claim that vaccines and homeopathy function on the same principals reveals the ignorance of homeopathic practitioners, since homeopathic medicine has absolutely no affect on the immune system. One of the other reasons that modern science is at odds with homeopathy has to do with the dilution method.
Chemists will often object to the dilution method saying that it is impossible for the diluted remedies to have any effect on the human body whatsoever. The most “potent” homeopathic medications are diluted to the point that not a single molecule of the original substance could be found in the finished remedy. The homeopathic medications with a “30x” grade of potency have a original substance-to-water ratio of 1 : 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.
Some of the most “potent” varieties of homeopathic medication reach “200x” strength dilution, which are so diluted that it would be the equivalent of finding a single molecule in something larger then the known universe. This is the reason that the FDA can approve of homeopathic medications. The FDA’s approval just signifies that there is not enough poisonous chemicals to harm a person in the product, not that the product is effective in treating illness. How could a product absent of supposed beneficial substances still affect people?
Nearly all clinical trials of homeopathic medicine have shown that homeopathic medicine is no more effective then a placebo. Most experts say that the majority of studies are contradictory to the findings of the homeopaths. One major study surveyed 110 trials of homeopathy, and found that homeopathy works no better then a placebo (doctors debunk alternative therapy). Furthermore, the study found that conventional medicine was more effective at treating the illnesses then either a straight placebo or homeopathy.
Another study analyzed various clinical trials reports on the homeopathic effects to see if bias was affecting the reported outcome. The study found that larger studies were the least effected by bias. The larger and higher quality studies, showed overwhelming evidence that homeopathy was no more effective then a placebo. It was also found that it was hard to verify how the tests that purport positive effects in homeopathy were done. This leads to a conclusion that the studies were likely corrupted by bad research and experimentation.
They also found that the publishers purporting that homeopathy was more effective then a placebo would ignore false results, to satisfy reader and sensationalize headlines. The results reported by the World Health Organization have been heavily criticized by skeptics. Recently, the WHO has decided that they need to revise their studies on homeopathy, because of inaccuracies in their findings. If homeopathy isn’t necessarily a harmful treatment for aches and pains and people claim they feel better after using them, why should it be necessary to ban it’s practices?
It comes down to the fact that conventional medicine has actual cures with proven effective methods. Keeping the public uninformed about practices have lead to people fully rejecting the help that conventional medicine provides. We often hear of people deciding against chemotherapy to treat cancer and using holistic approaches to cure their ailments. Many homeopathic practitioners’ outlandish claims have undoubtedly caused more death and pain then would have happened if the public was informed. Giving any credibility to homeopathy will support the outlandish and dangerous claims that accompany it and discredit proven methods.
Ignorant homeopathic practitioners are giving uninformed medical advice to people who have life threatening conditions and we are collectively supporting ignorance if we allow these practices to continue. The difference between conventional medicine’s placebos and a homeopathic medication is that the conventional medicine’s doctor will tell the patient that they are taking medication that doesn’t work. Conventional medicine will never include homeopathic practices, because they have absolutely no relevance to modern medicine and is pure quackery.