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Biology 202, Spring 2005
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Examining Homeopathy

C Frintner

In the 19th century, Samuel Hahnemann of Leipzig, Germany found that quinine, a drug that caused symptoms of malaria when given to healthy people, actually could be used to treat malaria in people who had the disease. From that point on, small doses of drugs that produced the same symptoms of a certain disease were used to treat people infected with the disease. (1) Such treatments were called homeopathic remedies. Remedies may be made from plant, mineral, or animal material, and sometimes chemical drugs. (4) The remedy is diluted with water and/or alcohol until just the essence of the remedy is left-- generally one part of the remedy to about 1,000,000,000,000 parts of water. (2) and (4)

There are three principles of homeopathy. They are:

1) Like cures like. (As in quinine being used to treat malaria.)

2) Minimal dose. (Remedy taken in dilute form.)

3) The single remedy. (One remedy used to treat all symptoms as one, which means symptoms do not usually reappear post-treatment.) (2)

Currently, homeopathy is "the second most widely used system of medicine in the world." (2) It is, however, a form of alternative medicine that is not given much attention in United States medical schools (1) though it has been growing in popularity over the past decade (2). Some physicians in Europe and Asia have been incorporating homeopathy into their treatments more frequently as they have come to recognize its benefits. (1)

Perhaps the reason homeopathy is not very popular is due to the fact that many people think it is just a placebo. However, homeopathy has been proven to work on individuals who are unconscious, infants, and even animals. Medical treatments that are similar to homeopathy include giving an allergy sufferer a small amount of the material she is allergic to, and vaccinations "where an impotent form of the virus is given to bolster the immune system against that particular virus." (2)

Homeopathy does not treat symptoms the way other forms of medicine do (for example, cough suppressants taken to "cure" a cough), because symptoms are the body's way of trying to bring itself back to full health. Homeopathy helps this process. In other forms of medicine, if a patient takes medication regularly, and then stops taking it, the symptoms will return because the medication she has been taking have been to suppress the symptoms, not to restore her to full health. A homeopathic remedy aims to restore a person to full health, thus, when she stops treatment eventually, the symptoms should not return. (3)

Homeopathy remains a controversial practice. Many doctors believe it is quackery, and there are groups and individuals who want to sue distributors of homeopathic remedies for false advertising and other crimes, and even to see homeopathic remedies banned. They believe there is insufficient evidence to support the effectiveness of these remedies. (8) Indeed, many studies have been done, but few have been able to prove any real difference in results between patients who were administered a placebo as opposed to a homeopathic remedy. (5) and (6)

Other questions and arguments over homeopathy are: [How] can such a tiny amount, to the extent of being unmeasurable, of anything actually have an effect of any kind? How can something that causes certain symptoms cure an illness that is responsible for these symptoms? Does a remedy need a thorough explanation or detailed evidence of how it works? Is it enough just to know that is does work, somehow? (7)

Those arguing for the benefit of homeopathy say that remedies are highly individualized in that they depend very much on the detailed specifics of each person and each aspect of their illness. They say as well that the kinds of experiments generally done to prove whether any non-homeopathic treatment works or not cannot be applied in the same way to homeopathy because a homeopath (a physician who administers homeopathic remedies) would try a different remedy if the first did not help the patient. (2) Also, there are other non-homeopathic remedies that work which have not been fully studied. (7)

I personally have used homeopathic remedies and know a doctor who advocates their use whole-heartedly. However, the questions above are ones that I myself have asked from the beginning. I tend to think that a remedy that is not harmful does not need thorough explanation if it is indeed working. Yet I do recognize that homeopathy must be more thoroughly examined if it is to become a more widely-accepted and widely-used treatment.

I am left with the following questions:

* How does homeopathy work to restore full health?

* To what extent does believing in any treatment, homeopathic or not, make the treatment work? (The placebo effect.)

* If it is so harmful to one's body to suppress symptoms as homeopaths or homeopathic advocates say, why are symptom-suppressing medications so widely used and accepted?

* What is health? Are we healthy when we want to be or believe ourselves to be healthy? How do our minds and/or brains serve to let us know that we are sick? Can we be sick without knowing it—that is, can our bodies be fighting a virus while our brain doesn't allow us to feel the effects of that fight?

* Do people who are more mentally fit (not sure how exactly to define this) get sick less? Is it possible that mental and emotional health dictate how often and to what extent we get sick more than physical health/fitness does?


1), Search "homeopathy", Definition of Homeopathy.

2), All about homeopathy.

3) National Center for Homeopathy. How does homeopathy differ from conventional medicine?, One in a series of questions about homeopathy.

4) National Center for Homeopathy. What Are the Meds?), Another in a series of questions about homeopathy.

5) National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Q&A. Study results 1.

6) National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Q&A. Study results 2.

7) National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Q&A.

8) Homeopathy: The Ultimate Fake, Arguments against homeopathy by Stephen Barrett, M.D.

9) The Faculty of Homeopathy., Patients' assessments of the effectiveness of homeopathic care in Norway: A prospective observational multicentre outcome study.

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