Homeopathy Explained – Gentle Healing or Reckless Fraud?
Homeopathy may be the most controversial alternative medicine, however it is also the most popular alternative medicine. While some people argue against it, others swear by its great power.
The first principle of homeopathy is "like cures like". Homeopathic remedies use ingredients that cause the symptoms you want to cure. In practice, that means that remedies against fever could be made from Belladonna. A mixture from bee venom could be used to treat itches and so on.
The second principle is a special method of preparation called potentization. Potentization is the idea that diluting and agitating the ingredients activates their curative powers and enhances them. To do this, the ingredient is dissolved in alcohol or distilled water.
Homeopaths take one part of the solution and mix it with nine parts of water. This is called 1X potency. This process of dilution is then repeated until the desired grade of potency is reached. The finished remedy is then taken orally or sometimes taken as little sugar pellets.
A 20X potency is like dissolving one ibuprofen pill in the water volume of the whole Antarctic. Many homeopathic remedies are much more extreme. A 30C mixture means that one part of the active ingredient is dissolved in one million billion billion billion billion billion billion parts of water. This means that if we wanted a pill with a single atom of the original ingredient, then our pill would be the diameter of the distance between the Earth and the Sun.
Due to this, potentization is one of the most controversial homeopathic principles. The extreme dilution is supposed to make the ingredients more potent, however on a physical level, this doesn't make any sense. Many homeopathic medicines are diluted so much that not even a single atom of the original ingredient is left in them.
The explanation of why the mixtures still work is that water remembers what was put into it. However, this is simply not true as every sip of water on the planet would become a homeopathic cocktail if water had memory.
Homeopathy became very popular as in the 18th century, medicine was very different from today. Treatments like bloodletting were prevalent. So, German physician Samuel Hahnemann wanted to develop a safer and more natural way of treatment and thus developed homeopathy. Homeopathic hospitals soon became successful as doing no harm beats doing harm.
Medicine has changed a great deal in the past 150 years. Humans have never lived as long as we do now. Never before in human history have we enjoyed a comparable level of health. We have now developed new tools such as modern diagnostics to check and prove if a medication works.
In some cases, it appears that homeopathy has worked and cured incurable diseases. This could be due to the placebo effect which has been proven by scientific studies. Placebo is the idea that our brain can convince our body that a fake treatment is the real thing and thus stimulates healing in our body.
But the most powerful tool of homeopathy is time. Our bodies are survival machines and infections pass on their own after a few days. The belief in homeopathy could be bad for public health as it creates distrust in proven medicine.
However, there is one thing that modern medicine can learn from homeopathy. The level of attention and empathy that is shown towards patients in homeopathy can make a huge difference in the well being of the patients. But as important empathy is, it's not a substitute for the actual treatment. Faith can move mountains, but sugar pellets can't cure cancer.