DEAR READERS: There are many letters in the queue with questions involving homeopathy. Rather than responding to each, this column addresses homeopathy as a general topic.
Homeopathy is a system of medicine that came into prominence when medical practice included bloodletting and the use of leeches -- not its most shining hour. This new approach claimed an ability to stimulate the body's innate defenses and healing mechanisms, activating a vital force to help make the body well.
Traditional medicine sees symptoms as being caused by an underlying condition. Its medicines can have two separate types of effects: direct and reactive. The direct effect is what the drug is designed for. For example, the direct effect of an antibiotic would be to destroy a bacterial invader responsible for an infection. Reactive effects are also known as side effects or adverse reactions, because they are not desirable in most cases. A reactive effect of that same antibiotic might include nausea, abdominal pain or diarrhea.
Homeopathic medicines claim to be curative in nature, but to do so in a different way. Its medicines are formulated to encourage the body to heal itself. Such remedies do not have a direct effect of relieving symptoms, nor of addressing the underlying health problem responsible for them. Rather, homeopathic remedies are designed for their reactive effects: their purported ability to stimulate the body's healing powers. The body, stimulated in this way, heals itself, the theory goes -- and the symptoms are no longer present.
Key to homeopathic medication selection is the concept of "like cures like," also referred to as the "Law of Similars." According to this principle, an extremely dilute amount of a substance is used to treat symptoms that it would cause if taken at full strength.
For example, ipecac serum was once used to induce vomiting in cases of accidental ingestion of certain poisons. (Be aware that ipecac is no longer recommended: see b.link/4a4hbg.) Ipecacuanha is the name of the plant from which ipecac is derived. The active ingredients undergo 60x serial dilutions in a typical homeopathic preparation of ipecacuanha to treat nausea and vomiting.
Such homeopathic preparations are not recognized as effective by the Food and Drug Administration. Imagine the difficulty of investigating the effectiveness of homeopathic preparations in which the solution is so dilute that it is unlikely there's even one molecule of the original substance. This is one reason that evidence-based medicine remains skeptical about homeopathy: the lack of reproducible research that homeopathic preparations are effective for any clinical condition.
In 2016, the Federal Trade Commission began taking action against claims touting the efficacy of homeopathic drugs, holding them to the same standard as other products making the same claims -- a "prove it before you claim it" policy.
Although homeopathy medications may be safe, the theoretical danger is that someone with a treatable illness could bypass proven methods in favor of homeopathy, only to find that their ailment had grown in severity during homeopathic treatment.
Homeopathy has been around for about 200 years, but it remains theoretical, its underpinnings defying scientific logic. Consider that homeopathic products with totally different formulations can claim the same anti-disease effect. One thing they share is a lack of objective, placebo-controlled evidence supporting their efficacy. While different prescription drugs can be prescribed for the same problem, in such cases, evidence would have been submitted, and approval granted prior to the drugs' sale.
The bottom line is that homeopathy is based on a mysterious force scientists have yet to observe or quantify. Science is full of discoveries that transform the way we see the world, but until there is conclusive evidence to say otherwise, we are left to conclude that homeopathy and homeopathic medicines represent placebos.
Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to email@example.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.