Healthy Body

What’s wrong with homeopathy?

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Research shows no benefit from treatment.

The terms homeopathy and homeopathic physician, or homeopath, are heard commonly in society. They describe a poorly understood medical discipline. Some people have the impression that it is just another tool in the modern medical armamentarium. Others equate homeopathy with nontraditional medical practices, such as naturopathy, herbalism, chiropractic, acupuncture, and Chinese medicine. It is actually quite different and distinct from any other type of medical practice.

Homeopathy came from Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician, in 1796, based on two premises. The first can be summarized by the expression “like cures like.” He believed to cure an illness, you give the patient a treatment that produces similar symptoms in healthy people. For example, if you have a rash, something that would normally cause a rash would be prescribed. The other premise is the “law of minimum dose.” Briefly stated, this asserts the more diluted the medication is, the more effective it is. 

Homeopathic preparations are measured on a “C” scale. The substances used can be anything mixed in water, including herbs, minerals, metals, chemicals, and more. A 1C dilution means the medication is diluted by a factor of 100. A 2C dilution takes that result and dilutes it by 100 again and so on. Based on this, it is doubtful any dilution above 12C would contain even a single molecule of the original medication. A 13C dilution amounts to one drop of the original substance diluted in all the water on earth! Hahnemann lived when the concept of a molecule was just being recognized. Many homeopathic preparations are diluted to 30C or more. Hahnemann even used dilutions of 300C, which equates to one molecule in the known universe. 

One attempt by homeopaths to circumvent the dilution problem is the concept of “water memory.” They claim that water retains the “memory” of the original substance and produces the therapeutic effect. This is a laughable concept that is not only unproven but ignores accepted rules of science and properties of matter. 

Many modern-day homeopathic practitioners recognize the dilemma posed by prescribing preparations that are basically plain water by using lower dilutions, say 3C-6C. However, this more conservative approach ignores two important facts. There is no proof that “like cures like” is correct or that dilution strengthens the potency of a preparation. One danger of using lower dilutions is many of the substances used in homeopathic solutions are poisonous or toxic. Because of the extreme dilutions, they are just as unlikely to cause adverse effects as they are to treat anything. If the concentration is higher, however, there is the potential for toxicity. 

Another controversial area of homeopathy is “immunizations” in place of traditional vaccines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has the position that “there’s no credible scientific evidence to support such claims (of disease prevention).”

No homeopathic preparation has ever proved effective using scientifically rigorous, objective, controlled studies. In recent years, reviews of homeopathy were done in the United Kingdom, Australia, and by the European Academies Science Advisory Council. 

In 2015, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council results concluded “there were no health conditions for which there was reliable evidence that homeopathy was effective.” The United Kingdom’s House of Commons Science and Technology Committee reviewed the evidence for homeopathy and concluded it was no better than a placebo. In 2017, the National Health Service announced it would no longer provide homeopathic medicines. Finally, in 2017, the European Academies Science Advisory Council found no evidence for effectiveness of homeopathic products. 

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health at the National Institutes of Health published its updated assessment of homeopathy in August 2018. Like all the institutions above, it raised questions about the effectiveness of homeopathy and the lack of quality control among homeopathic products. The review stated, “a number of its key concepts don’t agree with fundamental scientific concepts.” 

Given that most homeopathic products do not contain enough of any active ingredient to have any therapeutic effect, is there harm in taking them? Yes, when it is used to treat or prevent real illnesses in place of clinically proven remedies from real physicians. 

In our world of technology, instant communication, unlimited information, and overwhelming government regulation of medical matters, it is remarkable that homeopathy continues to, if not actually thrive, at least persist. It is an example of the power of belief over facts. 

About the author

Rick Bosshardt, M.D., FACS

Richard Bosshardt, M.D., graduated from the University of Miami School of Medicine in 1978. He founded Bosshardt & Marzek Plastic Surgery Associates, Lake County’s first practice to provide full-time cosmetic and reconstructive plastic surgery services, in 1989.

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