Homeopathy, also known as homeopathic medicine is one of many different types of complementary and alternative medicine. This branch uses incredibly small amounts of substances that would be toxic in greater amounts, to bring about cures. Homeopathy was created during the early part of the 19th century, and it was in frequent use at that time. The early studies into the effectiveness of homeopathic remedies were carried out on healthy volunteers – much like how clinical trials are done now.
The use of homeopathy is much less common now, as newer and more conventional treatments are considered to be more effective. There are more than two thousand substances that have been tested for use as a homeopathic treatment, though, and it is interesting to look into the studies about the effectiveness of homeopathy, to compare and contrast it with more modern medicine, and to consider the potential side effects and risks that might be associated with homeopathic treatments.
Understanding the Theory Behind Homeopathy
The theory that gave rise to homeopathic medicine is ‘like cures like’. The idea is that if you take a substance that causes illness in someone who is healthy and give it to someone who is ill then they might get better. It is believed in homeopathy circles that just a small amount of a disease-causing substance is enough to stimulate the body to start healing. While, on the surface, that seems ridiculous, that is actually what vaccines do. They take a small amount of an inactivated or ‘dead’ pathogen, and use that to teach the immune system what the more dangerous pathogen looks like so that disease can be prevented.
The Key Principles of Homeopathy
There are three main principles that are associated with homeopathic medicine, namely:
- The Law of Similars: This refers to the theory that has already been discussed – ‘like cures like’.
- The Principle of a Single Remedy: This idea holds that one single remedy will cover the physical, mental and emotional symptoms of an illness.
- The Principal of Minimum Dose: Homeopathy is based on the idea of a small amount of the toxic substance being used in the very first few doses, and then an infinitesimal dose being used later.
Scientific Research into Homeopathic Remedies
The results of research into the effectiveness of homeopathic remedies has been inconsistent so far, in part due to the lack of widespread regulation regarding the practice. There is not a reliable and consistent definition for what a homeopathic dose is.
In one review of literature that was published in 2016, the study design and the results of studies involving homeopathic remedies was evaluated in depth. The conclusion was that individualized homeopathy could have small and specific treatment effects, but more evidence based studies are required to fill in all the details. Another review was published in 2018 in the Cochrane Database of Systematic reviews, and it looked at one of the most common claims that get made about homeopathic remedies: namely that the remedies could play a role in preventing, or treating, acute respiratory tract infections in the young. The review found that there was no evidence to show that the treatments were effective, and that due to the quality of reporting for adverse effects in the studies that were reviewed, the researchers could not draw any conclusions as to whether the treatments were safe.
Homeopathy and Cancer
The role of homeopathy in the treatment of cancer is unknown. There have been some promising studies into the use of homeopathic remedies alongside conventional remedies in animals, but it is unknown whether these studies could be applied to humans.
More research will be needed to address that particular question.
Side Effects and Safety of Homeopathic Medicine
Homeopathy, in general, has a good safety profile, and since people are exposing themselves to only a very small amount of the active substance there is not much risk of anything going wrong. With that said, pregnant women and those who are getting treatment for serious medical issues should discuss their treatment plans with their doctor before adding homeopathy to their routine. Homeopathic remedies are not a replacement for conventional medicine. With cancer treatment there is no evidence that homeopathy by itself has any effect at all. There are studies, however, that show that homeopathy can improve the well-being of a patient who is having other treatments.
Where Can You Get Homeopathic Remedies
At the moment, a lot of homeopathic medications are sold at health food stores. There are some, however, that are available only via a specialist in complementary and alternative medicine or through consultation with a naturopathic doctor.
Homeopathy and Conventional Medicine
Homeopathic medicine is different to what is known as allopathic medicine, conventional, or mainstream medicine because those treatments rely on agents such as medicine, surgery or chemotherapy to produce a different effect to the disease. Homeopathy on the other hand uses agents that cause similar symptoms in order to bring about the desired healing effect.