HOMEOPATHY Overview Information
Homeopathy was started over 200 years ago by the German physician Samuel Hahnemann. The word comes from Greek and literally means “similar disease.” Homeopathic products usually contain extreme dilutions of herbs, minerals, or other substances. Common homeopathic ingredients include aconite, antimonium, arnica, belladonna, chamomile, iron, mercury, magnesium, nux vomica, poison ivy, and many others. These products are often so dilute that they do not contain any of the original active ingredient.
Homeopathic remedies are taken by mouth or applied to the skin (used topically) for a range of conditions including the common cold, swine flu, and flu (influenza), hayfever, asthma, eye infections (conjunctivitis), diarrhea, cancer, dermatitis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), anxiety, depression, fatigue and stress, migraine headache, tension headache, osteoarthritis, muscle pain, motion sickness, otitis media, and many other conditions.
The legal status of homeopathic remedies in the United States is unique. In 1938, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act was sponsored by Senator Royal Copeland who also happened to be a homeopathic physician. The senator wrote wording into his bill that recognized all products listed in the Homeopathic Pharmacopeia of the United States as drugs and made them subject to regulation by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The legislation passed, and as a result, homeopathic products are legally sold in food stores, pharmacies, and elsewhere as a unique category of drug.
In 2003, sales of homeopathic products in the United States were from $300 to $450 million. They are among the top 10 best-selling nonprescription products in the specialty pain-killers, pain-killers for children, and cough and cold categories.
Despite such widespread use, the FDA regulates homeopathic preparations much less stringently than conventional drugs. Homeopathic products are not required to prove effectiveness or safety. Some regulations do apply. For example, homeopathic products can only be sold without a prescription if they are specifically for self-limiting conditions such as the common cold. Products marketed for severe conditions such as cancer are prescription-only.
How does it work?
Homeopathy is guided by several basic theories and principles.
Law of similars. The creator of homeopathy, Samuel Hahnemann, believed that “like cured like.” If a substance in large amounts CAUSES a certain disease, then that same substance in small amounts could cure the disease. Hahnemann believed that administering a diluted form of a toxic substance could provide the stimulus the body needed to begin to heal itself.
Law of infinitesimals. In the beginning of homeopathy, small doses of a substance were used. This eventually evolved into using extreme dilutions of the original substance. Hahnemann suggested that the more dilute the substance, the more potent the effect it had against a given disease.
Potentiation through dilution. Related to the law of infinitesimals is the concept of potentiation through dilution. The preparation of a homeopathic product involves a step-wise dilution process along with “succussion.” Each dilution is succussed, or shaken vigorously. It is believed by homeopathic practitioners that this process leaves behind the image, essence, or spirit of the original compound in the water. The more times this process is repeated, or the more dilute the end-product, the stronger the homeopathic preparation.
Homeopathy was created before there was a modern-day understanding of chemistry, physics, and the science of drugs. As a result, these theories and principles are generally inconsistent with our current understanding of science and are not generally accepted by the medical or scientific community.
- Common cold and flu (influenza).
- Hayfever (allergic rhinitis).
- Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
- Fatigue and stress.
- Migraine headache.
- Tension headache.
- Muscle pain.
- Motion sickness.
- Ear infections.
- Other conditions.
However, other studies have found statistically significant benefits. When all evidence is examined regardless of study quality, findings often suggest that homeopathic preparations might offer some benefit. But many of these studies did not use generally accepted scientific methods and they are considered to be of low quality.
Analyses of higher quality studies suggest that homeopathy is not effective. Likewise, analyses of studies published in major peer-reviewed journals generally show that homeopathy is ineffective. Homeopathy opponents suggest that this is because these journals are more likely to publish higher quality research. But homeopathy proponents argue that these journals are more likely to publish negative studies due to a basic bias against homeopathy.
Overall, there is a shortage of high quality evidence on homeopathic products, and research has produced inconsistent results. Consistent, reproducible, high-quality evidence is needed.
HOMEOPATHY Side Effects & Safety
There are no known safety concerns. Since most homeopathic products contain little or no active ingredients, these products are not expected to have any beneficial or harmful effects.