Homeopathy may be the most controversial but also the most popular alternative medicine. While some argue against it, others swear by its great power and effectiveness. How does homeopathy work? How did it become what it is today, and what can modern medicine learn from it?
In the 18th century, medicine was very different from today. Treatments like bloodletting left the patient worse off than before. So German physician “Samuel Hahnemann” wanted a non-invasive, natural way of healing and developed homeopathy. And homeopathic hospitals were soon successful because no harm beats harming.
Like Cures Like
Homeopathy is based on the principle of “like treats like” that is, a substance that can cause symptoms when taken in large doses can be used in small amounts to treat similar symptoms. For example, drinking too much coffee can cause sleeplessness and agitation, so according to this principle, when made into a homeopathic medicine, it could be used to treat people suffering from sleeplessness and agitation.
This concept is sometimes used in conventional medicine, for example, the stimulant Ritalin is used to treat patients with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and small doses of allergens, such as pollen, are sometimes used to de-sensitize allergic patients. An important difference with homeopathy, however, is that the medicinal doses (known as remedies) are so small that toxic side-effects are avoided.
The other principle is the special method of preparation called “Potentization”. The idea is that diluting and agitating the ingredients activates their curative powers and enhances their effect. 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, diluting it down to one-tenth of its original concentration, and shaking it. What you have now is a 1X potency. The finished remedy is then taken orally, or sometimes it’s applied as little sugar pellets that are sold as Globuli.
A 20X potency, for example, is like dissolving one aspirin pill in the water volume of the whole Atlantic. But many are much more extreme, like 30C, for example. C means that the mixture has one part ingredient and 99 parts water. So the commonly sold 30C mixture means one part ingredient and ..one million billion billion billion billion billion billion.
Potentization is one of the biggest criticisms of homeopathy. The extreme dilution is supposed to make the ingredients more potent, but on a physical level, this doesn’t make sense. Most homeopathic remedies are diluted so much that not a single atom of the active ingredient is left in them. The explanation of why the mixtures still work is that shaking the mixture after every dilution leaves behind a spirit-like essence of the ingredient. The idea is that water remembers what was put into it.
Why homeopathy is Successful?
So how did homeopathy become the most successful alternative medicine? Medicine has changed a lot in the last 150 years. Never before in human history have we enjoyed a comparable level of health. After countless studies and reviews, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that homeopathy does not have any effect beyond placebo.
But even so, who cares why it works if it helps people? Maybe you tried it and felt better, or you know someone that got over a horrible disease while using homeopathic remedies, and there are plenty of reports of it working for children and animals. What do we make of these experiences? The Placebo Effect is very real and not imaginary. No matter how smart you are, you’re not immune to it. If people believe that something will help them feel better, their trust alone has the desired effect. And it’s been proven that the Placebo Effect can be transferred. Children and animals rely on their parents or keepers and are in tune with their emotions.
What can Modern Medicine Learn?
The first consultation with a homeopath can take hours and is very personal. For a patient who’s already been on a pilgrimage from doctor to doctor, this level of attention and empathy can make a huge difference to their well-being, even if the conversation was not the point of the therapy.
Modern medicine is efficient. It saves millions of lives each year. But it’s also a strictly organized system. Tight budgets force doctors and nurses to deal with lots of patients. Consultations need to be time-efficient, diagnoses made quickly, treatments fast, which can leave patients feeling invisible, scared, and left behind. This is what modern medicine can learn from homeopathy. Modern medicine also includes vaccination which is a different type of treatment in its own.
It meets a human need that has been left unfulfilled. We need to make time for the individual again. See people, not numbers. But as important as empathy is, it’s not a substitute for the actual treatment. Faith can move mountains, but sugar water can’t cure cancer.