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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
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.
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.
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
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.