An Introduction To Homeopathy

Homeopathy is a school of medicine founded by Dr. Christian Samuel Friedrich Hahnemann in the 1700’s. Dr. Hahnemann offered a method of disease treatment based on the notion that “like cures like.” He inventoried the symptoms of a disease, found substances that mimicked those symptoms, and administered those substances in diluted doses. He believed that the healing “energies” of the solutions grew stronger with a series of dilutions and shaking. Controlled experiments and peer-reviewed studies weren’t common in those days. Common medical treatments were ineffective at best and barbaric at worst. Some physicians welcomed a gentle treatment method that didn’t involve leeches or bloodletting.

Modern homeopaths haven’t strayed much from Dr. Hahnemann’s original theory.  They consult with a patient concerning his or her symptoms.  They find a homeopathic substance to treat those symptoms. That substance is diluted with water or alcohol. The dilution can be as strong as 1/9 parts or as high as 1/1,000,000,000 or more. These remedies are usually measured in drops and taken by mouth or rubbed into the skin.

Practitioners claim that these remedies activate the body’s immune system in a way similar to vaccines. There are multiple problems with this theory. Vaccines are calibrated to contain enough inactive virus to induce an immune response in a patient. Antibodies are produced so that the body can mount a defense the next time that virus invades. Homeopathic remedies are so diluted that they usually don’t contain a detectable active ingredient. Also, the substance used is usually a herb, animal part, or mineral. The body doesn’t usually mount an immune defense against these substances. If it did I’d get sick every time I drank beer made with wild hops, a homeopathic remedy for nausea. This explains why rigorous peer-reviewed studies show that homeopathic remedies have no more effect than placebos.

Homeopathic remedies are regulated as food products rather than drugs because they contain little to no active ingredients. The FDA oversees safety and purity in the United States, but their efficacy is not regulated. Manufacturers have little overhead and can bottle and sell water or alcohol at markups of 1000+ percent and make a lot of money as a result. This is in contrast to the pharmaceutical companies which undergo rigorous clinical testing and FDA approvals before bringing a non-homepathic over-the-counter (OTC) drug to market.

Citations and Suggested Reading:

Barrett, Stephen. “Homeopathy: The Ultimate Fake.” Quackwatch. Aug 23, 2009. Accessed May 31, 2011.

Novella, Steven. “Science-Based Medicine » Closing the Door on Homeopathy.” Science-Based Medicine. Nov 11, 2009. Accessed May 31, 2011.

“Homeopathy: An Introduction, NCCAM Publication No. D439.” National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine [NCCAM]. July 2009. Accessed May 31,  2011.

Weber, Linda. “Homeopathy.” Natural Health July-Aug. 1998: 158. Health Reference Center Academic. Accessed  May 24, 2011.

Other Links

A Skeptics Guide To Homeopathy” on Vic Skeptics

10:23 Campaign organized annually by the Mercyside Skeptics Society

James Randi Speaks Homeopathy Week 2010: