Updated: May 26
If there's one type of medicine that has been maligned, misrepresented, and misunderstood more than any other, it's homeopathy. Even the Royal Family didn't escape criticism when King Charles, at the time Prince Charles, became a patron for a group that regulates and promotes the use of homeopathic medicines.
"Science" (with the big S and quotation marks) has deemed homeopathy a fraud, a snake oil salesman's gold mine, and nothing more than a placebo. But is the real science really that straightforward?
Is homeopathy really ineffective or, even worse, dangerous? Are there NO scientific studies that show that homeopathy has benefit?
Let's explore this complex medicine and try to see what the real science says on the subject of homeopathy.
What is Homeopathy?
What is homeopathy? Homeopathy is a form of medicine founded in the late 1700s by Samuel Hahnemann, a renowned German physician. The basis of homeopathy is "like cures like". This means that a substance that causes a disease or illness in a large quantity will treat it in a much smaller amount.
Take coffee, or caffeine for example. Everyone knows that a cup, or 5, of a strong brew will wake you up and get you ready to startle day in no time. In the framework of homeopathy, a small dose of coffee (homeopathically prepared) will treat insomnia.
Another principle of homeopathy is the law of minimal dosing. This means that the lower a dose of medicine is, the more effective it will be. For example, when you take a medication, your healthcare provider will prescribe a specific amount. Let's say, 6 mL twice a day for 10 days.
With homeopathy, you wouldn't take such a high dose (gasp). Such high doses would be deemed more ineffective and maybe even toxic for the body. Homeopathic preparations would contain much less, much much less, than 6 mL of a substance. In fact, that's one of the controversies surrounding the efficacy of homeopathy.
Why is Homeopathy so Controversial?
Homeopathy has been the center of controversy for decades. If you do a Google search for homeopathy, one of the first pages to come up will be the respectable National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. This organization will lecture you on the dangers and ineffectiveness of homeopathy.
One of the biggest controversies of homeopathy is that most conventional pharmaceutically trained health care practitioners believe that it is ineffective. The is due the fact that most homeopathic medicines, have a low or no amount of active ingredient in them.
There's a constant called Avogadro's number. This number represents the number of atoms of molecules in one mole of substance, a scientific standard unit of measure. In homeopathy, medicines are dissolved or diluted in water, alcohol or another liquid, and shaken. This method is often repeated over and over again with multiple dilutions and shakings (succussions).
By the time you get to a dilution above 12c, there is no original substance in the diluted and succussed homeopathic preparation. This means that, in terms of chemistry alone. these dilutions don't have any active medicinal ingredient.
This causes opponents of homeopathy to claim that the medicine itself is ineffective because there is no medical ingredients in highly diluted preparations.
Another concern that conventional practitioners have with homeopathy is that it may be dangerous. Some homeopathic medicines are made from dangerous and even deadly substances like the poisonous nightshade belladonna or deadly aconite.
The concerns are obvious especially if your child consumes a lot of a homeopathic medicine that contains these deadly ingredients.
If you go back to the NCCIH, you'll even see a few paragraphs of the results of a 2015 Australian government assessment of homeopathy stating that it is ineffective for any disease whatsoever. Case closed right? Well, not so much. In fact, there are plenty of studies, and anecdotal evidence, that homeopathy is not only effective but it is powerful.
Does Homeopathy Work?
Since critics say that homeopathy is ineffective at best or dangerous at worst, are there any scientific studies that claims the opposite?
Let's examine the evidence.
A 2013 meta-analysis of the clinical evidence of homeopathy in the journal Complementary Medicine Research showed that a previous study debunking the clinical benefit of homeopathy disregarded 90% of clinical trials showing that homeopathy did have benefit in treating disease.
Another study using a homeopathic preparation for musculoskeletal injuries and pain found that those who used the homeopathic remedy healed faster, had a greater reduction in swelling, better range of motion in the injured joint, and less pain than placebo.
Another randomized controlled study published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice showed that homeopathy was effective in treating Covid-19 while used as an adjunct to conventional medications. In fact, the study showed that "on day 10 of treatment, 75.50% of patients recovered in the homeopathy group in comparison to 36.91% in the control group."
Homeopathy has even been found to be helpful in ear infections like otitis media and upper respiratory tract infections. Children who used homeopathy had a faster resolution of symptoms, less parental time off of work, and fewer and less serious side effects than those who used conventional treatment like antibiotics.
That's pretty impressive!
So if homeopathy does have some science supporting its efficacy, why the demonization of this mysterious medicine?
Homeopathy Claims to Cure
Homeopathy has a unique claim in today's world of medicine. Homeopathy often makes claims that the body can be cured of many diseases through the diligent and careful application of homeopathic medicines.
This is almost unheard of in today's conventional medicine landscape. You often hear the terms chronic, treatable, and manageable from your conventional health care provider but you never hear the word cure.
For homeopathy to make claims that there can be, and often is, a cure to diseases like eczema, asthma, and even the flu is considered to be heretical to the modern priests of medicine.
Homeopathy isn't Completely Understood
At the time of this writing, there still isn't a really good understanding of how homeopathic works physiologically. Remember, many homeopathic medicines don't contain any of the active ingredients in higher dilutions.
This may mean that any effect on the body isn't due to any physiological effect of the medicine itself. Some have suggested that water has a memory of sorts that retains the shape of molecules that has been succussed in it, but this theory is just as controversial as homeopathy itself.
Homeopathy is Individualized
One of the most important tenets of homeopathy is that the remedy must fit the picture of the individual. This means that looking at individual symptoms of the person is extremely important to get the right remedy.
There's also a need to be precise and exact when repertorizing (using homeopathic rubrics to find the right remedy). For example, there are many different remedies that you can use for a cough from drosera to spongia to bryonia. The list can be quite extensive based on the quality of the cough, the time of day of the cough, the duration, whether the cough is wet or dry, etc.
Should I Use Homeopathy for My Family?
One of the biggest questions you may have is about the safety of homeopathy. Is it safe? There are those who would claim that homeopathy is both dangerous and ineffective not realizing their contradictory statement. After all, if homeopathy is ineffective due to the lack of any sufficient quantity of medicinal substance, how then can it be dangerous?
Homeopathy is mostly safe when used as prescribed by a knowledgeable health care practitioner. This doesn't mean that homeopathy can be taken without caution. There is anecdotal evidence that taking homeopathy improperly can exacerbate your condition.
For example, when I was just a naturopathic medical student and learning about homeopathy, I decided to take a remedy for seborrheic dermatitis. Basically, I'd get really bad dandruff, scalp itching, and skin scaling even in my hair line and onto my face under extreme stress.
I decided to try homeopathic sulfur without much knowledge or guidance as an experiment because I was extremely skeptical, even critical of homeopathy. After taking too high a dose for week straight, I noticed that my dandruff, scale, and itching became unbearable and I stopped taking the remedy.
I suffered with the exaggerated condition for 3 weeks straight with no relief, no matter what I tried. After the ending of those 3 weeks, my skin and scalp cleared up completely and I've had little problem with seborrheic dermatitis ever since. If I find that I'm starting to have an issue again, a small dose of sulfur easily clears it up.
Therefore, some caution should be used when using homeopathic remedies to avoid flair-ups and provings, another concept that is mostly unique to homeopathy.
Using homeopathy for your family can be an excellent addition to your natural medicine protocol to keep your children and yourself healthy for years to come.
If you'd like to know more about homeopathy for children, sign up for information on our newly developing course Intro to Homeopathy for Kids.
Hahn R. Homeopathy: Meta-Analyses of Pooled Clinical Data. Complement Med Res. 2013;20(5):376-381. doi:10.1159/000355916
Schneider C. Traumeel - an emerging option to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in the management of acute musculoskeletal injuries. Int J Gen Med. 2011;4:225-234. Published 2011 Mar 25. doi:10.2147/IJGM.S16709
Nayak D, Gupta J, Chaudhary A, et al. Efficacy of individualized homeopathy as an adjunct to standard of care of COVID-19: A randomized, single-blind, placebo-controlled study. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2022;48:101602. doi:10.1016/j.ctcp.2022.101602
Dossett ML, Yeh GY. Homeopathy Use in the United States and Implications for Public Health: A Review. Homeopathy. 2018;107(1):3-9. doi:10.1055/s-0037-1609016