Homeopathy, the use of highly diluted remedies, aims to trigger the body’s healing mechanisms.
This holistic therapy may be the one of the most popular alternative therapies, and probably the most controversial. There are huge numbers of homeopaths and patients who swear by homeopathy, but there are also many naysayers.
How does homeopathy actually work?
How and why does homeopathy work? How was it developed, and is there anything we should learn from it?
The central concept of homeopathy is the idea that “like cures like”.
This means that you would be prescribed a remedy that contains an ingredient that, in larger doses, would cause the symptoms you are trying to cure.
For example, a bee venom-based remedy would be used for an itchy swelling or belladonna for fever.
The second concept of homeopathy is potentization.
Potentization is how the remedies are prepared, and is based on the idea that diluting and shaking or mixing the ingredients activates them and their curative powers, enhancing their effect.
The first step in potentization is to dissolve the ingredient in distilled water or alcohol. This solution is then taken and mixed with nine parts of water, which dilutes it to 1/10th of its original concentration. It is then agitated and shaken.
This creates a 1X potency, made of one part ingredient to nine parts solvent. The naming comes from the Roman numeral for 10, X.
This process in then repeated, mixing one part of the 1X with nine parts of water and shaking. This creates 2X potency. This process can then be repeated until the required potency is reached.
The remedy can then be taken orally, or in globuli, small sugar pellets.
Here’s why homeopathy just doesn’t make sense
The dose you are given may seem laughable. As a 20X potency, for example, would be a similar strength to dissolving an aspirin pill in the Atlantic Ocean.
30C, a commonly sold mixture, has one part of the ingredient to 99 parts water. This means that there is just one part ingredient and one million billion billion billion billion billion billion parts water.
If we want to make a globuli with a whole, single atom of the original ingredient in it, then the projected pill size would have to be the same size as the diameter of the distance between Earth and the Sun. This would be a whopping 150,000,000 kilometres!
This extreme dilution is supposed to increase the potency of the ingredients, but this doesn’t really make sense physically. Most remedies are diluted to the point that not even a single atom of the original active ingredient is in them. According to homeopaths, the mixtures still work because the shaking during dilution means the ingredient leaves behind a sprit-like essence of itself, as if the water was remembering what was in it.
However, if this were true, every substance that was ever in contact with water, even a drop, would leave its essence behind, and lead to unknown effects every time we had a glass of water. What effect would an octopus homeopathic remedy have? Or a random trash cocktail? Your water would be a random homeopathic remedy.
So, why is homeopathy such a successful alternative medicine?
The story begins in the 18th century, when medicine was very different than it is today. Regular techniques such as bloodletting often left the patient worse off, if it didn’t kill them.
German physician Samuel Hahnemann wanted to practise a non-invasive, more natural way of healing and ended up developing homeopathy. His homeopathic hospitals actually became very successful, because letting your patients recover gives you a better survival rate than accidentally killing them!
This success probably stemmed from the very strict rules imposed on Hahnemann’s patients.
These included avoiding tea and coffee, any alcohol, and spicy or sweet food. Patients were not allowed old cheese, onions or meat. Clothes from sheep’s wool were banned, and so sedentary work, sitting inside in stuffy air, warm rooms, riding horses, naps, playing games, and much more! When these requirements were met, and only then, according to Hahnemann, would his remedies work.
In the last 150 years, medicine has changed so much, and the human race has never had such good health as it does now, nor lived as long. The new tools we have to work with, such as accurate, double-blinded studies, modern diagnostics and scientific evaluation have a lot to do with this. Also thanks to these tools, we know for sure, after many, many studies, that homeopathy does not have any effect other that by placebo.
But who cares, if it is helping people? Maybe you have tried it, and truly felt better. Maybe someone you know has recovered from an awful disease while using homeopathy. There are many reports of homeopathy working for children and even animals.
The Placebo Effect is very real and not imaginary.
No one is immune to the Placebo Effect. No matter how smart you are!
Belief that something will make you better will have the desired effect itself, and this effect can be transferred to children and animals, as they are very in tune with the emotions of their carers. And this is why homeopathic medicine is so successful.
A major benefit homeopathy has is time. Our bodies are made to heal themselves, and fight to survive. If you use a remedy while you are sick, chances are you will recover. Is this solely because of the remedy? It is impossible for it to be so, even if it helps.
People are willing to spend money because it’s not costly, and there are virtually no side effects. So what’s the harm?
First, as with many unproven medicines, people using them may forego treatments that may actually be vital for their recovery. This may delay getting the correct treatment on time, which may delay their recovery or make their condition even worse.
Also, contrary to the common belief, the homeopathy industry is highly profitable, worth billions of dollars, and has extremely high profit margins. It’s not some small shop selling a handful of natural remedies. Boiron, one of the largest manufacturers of homeopathic medicine, reported earnings of 614 million euros (751 million dollars) in sales just in 2016.
So it is very important, whatever your stance on homeopathy, that you do not allow it to blind you. Some argue that homeopathy is bad for the field of medicine, as it creates a distrust in proven remedies and treatments.
Something we can learn from Homeopathy
Homeopathy has gotten some things right though, and has some lessons to teach us. A consultation can take hours and is very detailed. This can be very beneficial to a patient, especially if they have been to doctor after doctor. The attention and empathy they will receive will make a huge difference to their well-being, aside from any remedies prescribed.
Time and empathy are so important to care, and this is one thing modern medicine can learn from homeopathy.