The advent of modern medicine brought with it many revolutionary advancements, such as vaccinations. Many found new hope for diagnoses that used to prove fatal. It is no doubt that modern medicines, treatments, and procedures saved (and still saves) many lives.
However, many feel the pendulum swung too far to the other side. There seems to be a pill for everything these days. Modern antibiotics are a marvel, but research has proven that they can also wreak havoc on gut health when used excessively.
Though not a new concept, many have turned to homeopathic solutions to cure some modern ailments. However, the efficacy of homeopathy and its treatments are still up for debate in many circles.
This medical system is built around the concept and belief that the body is equipped to heal itself without active ingredients. Interventions are given in the form of natural substances—the philosophy behind these interventions stands in contrast to modern medicine.
Let’s explore homeopathy a little deeper and see how it stacks up in the world of modern medicine.
A Look at Homeopathy
Homeopathy is considered an alternative or complementary form of medicine; some call it unorthodox — or worse because of a lack of reliable evidence of its efficacy. It is also known as homeopathic medicine. Although its popularity has risen over the last couple of decades, its origins go back a couple of centuries.
Most trace back its original roots to 18th century Germany, to a man named Samuel Hahnemann. Homeopathy gathered more steam and fame throughout the mid-19th century, especially throughout Europe and the United States.
It was met with strong opposition from the medical community and the established medical practices of the day. Many worked on branding homeopathy as an unorthodox approach to medicine that was not an effective treatment.
Principles Behind Homeopathy
Hahnemann was the first to coin the term “homeopathy.” It was taken from the Greek terms homoios, or similar, and pathos, which means suffering.
Homeopathy is founded on two main principles:
- A substance that causes symptoms in a healthy person can be used (in diluted forms) to treat symptoms and ailments.
- The more diluted the substance, the more potent its effects will be.
The first principle is known by the aphorism “like-cures-like.” The latter principle subscribes to what’s known as the “law of infinitesimals.” In short, Hahnemann believed that when a patient had an illness, they could be cured by giving medicine that would make an otherwise healthy person experience similar symptoms.
For example, if a patient was suffering from extreme nausea, they could be given a medicine that would induce mild nausea in a healthy person.
It is no wonder that this alternative form of medicine caused quite a stir among scientists and health care providers. Advocates draw a correlation between homeopathic medicine and traditional medicine, but the jury is still on how close that correlation actually is.
One thing to note is that homeopathy, in its early days, was more concerned with treating symptoms than exploring pathologies (i.e., what causes an illness).
Falling Out of Favor
The history of homeopathy is one of rise and fall.
Since it was a shock to the established medicine of the day, homeopathy received strong ridicule in the public square. In many ways, it received the same rebukes leveled at herbalists, midwives, and other natural medicine practitioners.
Homeopathic medicine posed a triple threat to the medical orthodoxy of the day — a clinical, philosophical, and economic threat.
Although it received acclaim from many high-profile people of the day (Mark Twain among them), it wasn’t long before it was driven into obscurity by the American Medical Association at the turn of the 20th century. Economic viability was also another culprit to its fall. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) actively enforces regulations against certain homeopathic drugs.
Homeopathy In Present-Day
In the later 20th century and into the present, homeopathy sees its biggest influence in Asia. But it has also been gaining traction in parts of Europe and America. Many believe it to be well-suited to use in rural areas that lack the infrastructure needed for conventional medicine.
Homeopathy experienced an awakening in the 1980s in the United States. Today, homeopathic practitioners can be found across many disciplines, from dentists to psychologists. There is still plenty of opposition to homeopathy from the orthodox medical community, so it is still unclear what role it will play in the 21st century.
Is Homeopathy Effective?
Aside from the up and down history, is homeopathy truly an effective form of medicine or cures proven to work? The answer is yes--that is, it can be. But there can be many qualifiers depending on the illness and the type, dose and form of homeopathic treatments used. Treatments are tailored to specific symptoms.
Today, homeopathic doctors treat a variety of ailments. Typically, they will use weakened doses of ingredients to treat these ailments, a process known as potentization. Many of these medicines come in a highly diluted form and at much lower doses. Most come in the form of liquid drops, sugar pellets, gels, cream, and tablets.
Homeopathy treats conditions such as:
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Ear infections
- Some mental conditions
This is not an exhaustive list, but these are among the most common conditions. Homeopathy is also used to treat bruises, scraps, toothaches, coughs, and colds. It is not meant to treat more extreme illnesses or life-threatening emergencies where immediate intervention is needed.
Research is mixed on the overall effectiveness of homeopathy treatments. Some studies show promising findings of homeopathy when used alongside more conventional medical treatment, making its role complementary.
Again, there is a division of opinions surrounding the overall effectiveness of homeopathy. Some believe that the supposed benefits are more of a placebo effect experienced by the patient—believing treatments to work when they’re actually having little to no actual impact.
Generally, homeopathic treatments and remedies have a reasonably safe profile since active substances are typically used in such low amounts.
The topic of homeopathy remains controversial to this day. Many express concerns about it being used to replace proven, more conventional treatment methods and therefore postponing care.
Although there is some overlap, homeopathy must not be equated with natural remedies (e.g., there are numerous proven natural remedies for allergies that wouldn’t be considered homeopathic).
Aside from the concerns of conventional practitioners, the FDA also expresses concern over the use of homeopathic products. In fact, there are no FDA-approved products that are labeled as homeopathic. So, that is to say that any product labeled as such is not FDA approved.
Other concerns are over the presence of alcohol (for dilution) and the presence of heavy metals in some homeopathic medicines.
The Bottom Line
Homeopathy has roots that go back centuries. Since then, its history has been one of ups and downs. However, a homeopathy renaissance has taken place in recent decades that has brought it into the spotlight once again.
Since the beginning, homeopathy has been met with mixed reactions and made to stand outside the modern medical orthodoxy.
The truth is that homeopathy has shown to be a complementary aid to modern medicine in some cases. Still, it lacks the evidence to stand alone, which is why the controversy continues.
Homeopathy treatments might work for some, but it is still advised to consult your healthcare provider before taking the plunge.
A brief history of homeopathy | NIH
American Institute of Homeopathy | American Institute of Homeopathy
Feasibility of Homeopathic Treatment for Symptom Reduction in an Integrative Oncology Service - Noah Samuels, Yakov Freed, Rony Weitzen, Merav Ben-David, Yair Maimon, Uri Eliyahu, Raanan Berger, 2018 | SAGE Journals