September 14, 2011

Homeopathy (pronounced home-eeOP-a-thee, from Greek homeo “similar” and pathos “disease”) is a form of alternative medicine that uses extremely dilute preparations of natural substances to treat disease, by harnessing the body’s own healing energy and restoring balance in the patient’s vital force. Homeopathy originated in Europe and the United States in the late 1700s and early 1800s and developed separately from conventional Western medicine.

Homeopathy is based on two main principles: (a) like cures like and (b) extreme dilution. Under the principle of “like cures like,” diseases are treated with substances that cause the same symptoms as the disease. in fact, if the remedy initially causes worsening of the patient’s symptoms, it is taken as evidence that the remedy is effective. The principle of “like cures like” is not entirely foreign to Western medicine. For example, allergy patients are sometimes injected with small amounts of the substance they are allergic to, in order to reduce the allergic response. Likewise, many of the medications used to treat abnormal heart rhythms can themselves cause abnormal heart rhythms.

The principle of dilution (or “potentization”) is the most controversial aspect of homeopathy. This principle states that remedies become more effective when extremely diluted in water or alcohol. Homeopathic medications are repeatedly diluted and shaken after each dilution. Dilution is sometimes repeated to the point that no molecules of the active substance can be detected using modern methods of chemical analysis. Dilution is sometimes used in conventional Western medicine, as in allergy injections, but these treatments still contain detectable amounts of the active material. Theories about the structure of water and energy transfer have been offered to explain how extremely dilute homeopathic remedies could be effective, but these theories are not commonly accepted by the conventional medical community. it must be noted that even in conventional scientific medicine the mechanism of action for many treatments is not specifically known.

As with conventional scientific medicine, treatment studies are often contradictory. Many studies of homeopathy are considered inconclusive because of weaknesses in the design of the study. However, most homeopathic treatments have not been studied using modern scientific methods.

Homeopathic practitioners consider each individual patient’s set of symptoms before choosing the appropriate remedy, which can be given in pill or liquid form. Homeopathic remedies are also sold over-the-counter. The label will give the dilution of the main ingredient, such as 6x, 12x, or 30x. The “x” represents a 10-fold dilution. The number indicates how many times the ingredient was passed through a 10-fold dilution. So, 6x means that one part of the medication was diluted in 10 parts of water (or lactose), and this dilution was repeated a total of 6 times. Preparations labeled with a “c” (6c, 12c, 30c) were passed through 100-fold dilutions, rather than 10-fold dilutions. More dilute preparations are considered more potent; for example, 12c is considered more potent than 12x, and 12x more potent than 6x.

Although homeopathic medications are generally considered safe, side effects from homeopathic medications may still occur. Because homeopathic remedies are so dilute, the Food and Drug Administration has not traditionally required testing for safety or effectiveness. Homeopathic remedies are allowed to contain more alcohol than other over-the-counter medications, but no problems caused by the alcohol content have been reported to the Food and Drug Administration. Homeopathic remedies probably do not interfere with other medications, but patients should always inform their health care provider of all the medications and herbs they use.

SEE ALSO: Complementary and alternative health practices


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