Homeopathy is a discipline that has been around for over 100 years. It was developed by Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician who was practicing medicine in the 18th century when bleeding and purging were widely used in mainstream medicine. At that time, homeopathy was warmly embraced by some U.S. practitioners as a more humane alternative. The practice of homeopathy is based on the law of similars. This means that what a substance can cause, it can cure. Dr. Hahnemann proposed that "like cures like."
The basic tenet of homeopathy is that disease can be cured by giving the patient minute amounts of a substance that can induce similar symptoms to the actual disease itself. This was felt to restore the patient's vital force. Dr. Hahnemann gave volunteers numerous different compounds and recorded the symptoms that these compounds caused in great detail. He then recorded this information in a book called 'Organon of Medicine' which is still used today to guide the homeopathic doctor in which treatment to use. This book has been used for years to treat numerous different ailments. The very compound that was used to cause a particular condition was used in extremely small doses to treat patients who presented with similar symptoms. These drugs were diluted so many times they actually would not contain any molecules of the actual substance that was initially diluted. Interestingly, Dr. Hahnemann claimed the potency actually increases as the drug becomes more and more dilute. The solution used to dilute the drug could be either water, alcohol or a combination of both. The process of repetitively diluting a drug is call potentiation. Each time a dilution takes place, the solution is vigorously shaken in order to evenly distribute the molecules in the solution. Homeopathic physicians will freely admit that their most potent medications do not contain any molecules of the initial drug that was diluted. The mechanism of action of this medicine has never been explained scientifically. There has been some speculation that the diluent supposedly remembers, or in some way fingerprints, the initial drug that was diluted.
Another tenet of homeopathy is that you are treating the patient rather than a particular disease or organ system. The homeopathic medicine is given with hopes that the vital forces of the patient will be reestablished. In his book, 'Organon of Medicine', Hahnemann suggests that the essence of illness is a disorder in the vital forces. Because of this disorder, people are susceptible to different disease entities. By restoring the vital forces, the body is able to rid itself of the disease.
Another tenet of homeopathy is that patients must allow enough time for the homeopathic remedy to work. They are to avoid caffeine or other medications that may interfere with treatment.
The Problems With Homeopathy
Homeopathy is not presently accepted by traditional medicine in the United States. Although there are a few health caregivers that subscribe to homeopathy, they are few and far between. One of the basic problems with homeopathy is that it was founded before the principles of modern science were developed. Homeopathy was developed before the dramatic advances of chemistry and physics in the 1900s. Dr. Hahnemann had no idea what the molecular structure of a substance was. Unfortunately, as science progressed, homeopathy did not attempt to incorporate any of the basic scientific principles into its basic tenets. Certainly, modern medicine treats numerous diseases with medication and the mechanism of action is unknown, even though the treatment is successful. The problem with homeopathy is that it is totally unscientific and it runs counter to the basic laws of chemistry, physics and common sense.
Studies of Homeopathy
There have been numerous studies that have attempted to prove or disprove the effectiveness of homeopathy. One such study by C. Hill and F. Doyon was a review of randomized trials of homeopathy. This was published in 1990. The review covers 40 published randomized trials in which the results of homeopathy treatment were compared to those of standard treatment, placebo, or no treatment at all. Most of the studies were double blinded. This means that neither the patient nor the physician knew if the patient was getting a placebo, a conventional treatment, or a homeopathic remedy. The authors concluded that the results do not provide acceptable evidence that homeopathic treatments are effective. Another study was performed on 175 children with frequently recurring upper respiratory tract infections. Approximately half were given homeopathic medicines and the other half were given a placebo. The children were followed for 1 year to see if there was a decrease in the number of colds, tonsillectomies, adenoidectomies, and the necessity of antibiotic therapy. The authors concluded that homeopathic medicines seemed to add little to careful counseling of children with recurrent upper respiratory tract infections. There was no significant difference in reducing the daily burden of symptoms, use of antibiotics, or the need for adenoidectomy and tonsillectomy. Interestingly, both groups had a decrease in the amount of antibiotic usage as well as surgery. This was explained on the basis of education of both groups concerning when to seek medical care, as well as just basic counseling on upper respiratory infections.
Homeopathy has no scientific basis whatsoever, and the concept of potentiation by dilutions is absurd when modern basic scientific principles are considered. The argument has been made that homeopathy works by some, yet unexplained, mechanism. This certainly could be true, but it would be easier to accept if clinical trials could consistently show a difference between homeopathy and placebo.
On the other hand, homeopathy does have some good principles that I believe modern medicine could benefit from. The first is that given time, most disease processes will resolve spontaneously without treatment. This is certainly true of colds and viral infections. Please refer to the article "The Truth About Viruses" previously reported in the Health Gazette. Homeopathic doctors believe that antibiotics are harmful and, indeed, sometimes they are. Our society as a whole would be better off if we would avoid the tendency to put everyone on antibiotics for simple colds. Homeopathy also attempts to treat the whole patient rather than a specific disease. I believe that many times physicians have a tendency to focus on the disease or malfunctioning organ rather than listening to the patient and considering other factors that may be involved. Fortunately, residency programs are actually emphasizing a more holistic approach to the patient than was advocated in the past. Although, science is an integral part of modern medicine, the art of medicine is still exceedingly important.
1. Dooley TR. Homeopathy: Beyond Flat Earth Medicine. Timing Publications,
4095 Jackdaw Street, San Diego, CA 92103.
THE INFORMATION PROVIDED ABOVE IS OFFERED AS A COMMUNITY SERVICE ABOUT HEALTH-CARE ISSUES AND IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR INDIVIDUAL CONSULTATION. ADVICE ON INDIVIDUAL PROBLEMS SHOULD BE OBTAINED FROM YOUR PERSONAL PHYSICIAN. THIS INFORMATION IS BASED ON RESEARCH BY THE AUTHOR AND REPRESENTS HIS INTERPRETATION OF THE LITERATURE.
* * *
Readers may send questions to our email address. This column is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional or medical advice.
* * *
This web page is best viewed in 1024 x 768 resolution.
Last updated April 2009. Over 1,194,000 page views.
This web site is maintained by Washington Publishers, Tallahassee Florida, USA, and uses Sun Domains and Software.
To have objectionable or potentially copyrighted material evaluated for removal on this site, click here.
Copyright © 2000 - 2009 All Rights Reserved Washington Publishers
Washington Publishers is not an affiliate of Inside Washington Publishers.
Learn more about our current privacy and information practices.