It´s one of the fastest alternative therapies that exist out there. Annual sales in the United States only are $300 million (1)!! But, is homeopathy really effective and if so how does it work?
The funny thing about homeopathy is that people really don´t know what it is or how it came about. So, let´s explain that a little bit.
Homeopathy was invented by a Geman named Samuel Hahnemann at the end of the 18th century. One day when he was healthy he decided to experiment with a drug called Cinchona, which is derived from the bark of a Peruvian tree. Cinchona contains quinine and was being used to treat malaria. When he took this drug, his health deteriorated to the point at which he developed the sort of symptoms usually associated with malaria. He experimented with other drugs that were being used for other diseases and obtained the same results, meaning he would always get sick. So by ¨logic¨ he came to the following conclusion: ¨that which can produce a set of symptoms in a healthy individual, can treat a sick individual who is manifesting a similar set of symptoms(1)¨. But, on top of that, he added that diluting the substance would produce greater effects in curing a person, while reducing its potential to cause side effects. !!Voila!!! There you have it, the ¨science¨ behind homeopathy…..but it gets better ;). How do they dilutate the substance, you ask? Well let´s go ahead and explain that with an example.
They put a plant in a sealed jar with water or alcohol, which dissolves some of the plant´s molecules. After several weeks the plant or solid material is removed, the remaining water with its dissolved ingredients is called mother tincture. The mother tincture is then diluted to such an extent that there will be NO molecules of the original substance left in the dose you get. The typical homeopathic dilution is 30C: this means that the original substance has been diluted by one drop in a hundred, thirty times over. This means that less than one part per million of the original solution is in the final product. But this is not important to homeopaths because (this is the best thing) they say that ¨water has memory¨. Ah, I almost forgot: it´s also very important to vigorously shake the homeopathic remedy at each dilution(1-2).
With all this said, you can imagine that all the serious(3-5) trials that have been done have shown that homeopathy is no better than placebo (homeopaths will defend themselves mentioning some poor quality trial). Even after explaining all this to some people, I will still get the typical homeopathy fan that says to me ¨All I know is, I feel better when I take it¨. So how do you answer that statement? Well, you could simply explain to them about placebo and the effect it causes. Or about ¨regression to the mean¨ (https://sports-diet-pain.com/2013/12/02/why-do-%C2%A8alternative%C2%A8-therapies-seem-to-work/), which basically means that all things have a natural cycle, meaning you will have good days and bad days. It´s like with a cold. It´s going to get better after a few days, but at the moment you feel the worst, that´s when you will do dramatic things to try to get better, like taking a homeopathic remedy. Then, when you get better ( as you surely will from a cold), you will naturally assume that the homeopathic remedy must be the reason for your recovery.
Here are couple of videos that talk about homeopathy. The first video is a MUST SEE!!! It explains what homeopathy is and how scientific trials work.
Until next time!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iUt15WbF1_4 It´s called Homeopathy: The Test (BBC Documentary Films)
- Goldacre B. Bad Science. Fourth Estate. London.2009.
- Singh S, Ernst E. Trick or Treatment? Alternative medicine on trial. Transworld Publishers.2009
- Shang A, Huwiler-Müntener K, Nartey L, Jüni P, Dörig S, Sterne JA, Pewsner D, Egger M. Are the clinical effect of homeopathy placebo effects? Comparative study of placebo-controlled trials of homoepathy and allopathy. Lancet.2005
- Ernst E. Homeopathy: what does the ¨best¨evidence tell us? Med J Aust. 2010 Apr 19;192(8):458-60.
- Wilson P. Analysis of a re-analysus of a meta-analysis: in defence of Shang et al. Homeopathy,2009 Apr;98(2):127-8.
- Homeopathy: The Test (BBC Documentary Films) (wchildblog.com)
- Use of Homeopathy Kills Child (sciencebasedpharmacy.wordpress.com)