Thursday, January 27, 2011

Homeopathy: Cure or Con?

On January 14th, CBC’s Marketplace aired an episode about homeopathy. I’ve enjoyed Marketplace episodes in the past. There have been several instances when I have watched the show with a feeling of satisfaction as the host makes a clear case that a business owner is obviously ripping people off. Like many others, I support justice and feel vindicated when seeing a con artist ‘caught with their pants down’.

When I heard that Marketplace was doing a segment on homeopathy, my stomach churned a bit. I set my PVR to record the episode and avoided watching it that day. I couldn’t believe how the knowledge of the episode loomed over me until I finally watched it a day later.

You see, I know the problems with homeopathy. Because of the manner in which homeopathic medicines are prepared, exactly how it works is still a mystery. A process of dilution and succession (shaking with force) is used to produce homeopathic remedies. A dose of a homeopathic remedy is often referred to by homeopaths as an infinitesimal dose. These issues weighed on me heavily while I studied homeopathy for three years at the Toronto School of Homeopathic Medicine. I still think about these things in depth on a regular basis. When I consider how homeopathy works now, I’m not trying to prove that homeopathy works. After the ten years of experience I have had treating myself, my family, my friends and my clients with homeopathy, I know that it works.

There was little in the Marketplace story that was surprising to me except that some of the facts weren’t straight and that instead of investigative reporting, the episode had a clear agenda that aimed to prove homeopathy doesn’t work. Instead, the Marketplace episode proved that we cannot ‘see’ the active ingredient in a homeopathic remedy. From a journalistic point of view, the episode really disappointed me.

What I’ve decided to do in response to the show is to list some of the conclusions that the story had and follow each point with my personal opinions on these matters.

 ‘Homeopathy: Cure or Con?’
1. Homeopathy has no science behind it (false)

  •  Samuel Hahnemann, the creator of homeopathy, was a doctor and chemist who attended the University of Leipzig and the University of Erlangan where he graduated with honors. He worked as a villiage doctor and also as the head of an asylum. Later in life, he also lectured about homeopathy at the University of Leipzig.  
  • Hahnemann used his knowledge of chemistry and scientific method to create potentization (a method of dilution and vigorous agitation) in order to make medicines that were effective without harmful side effects. 
  • Hahnemann created homeopathy through many years of detailed research and experimentation. 
  • Hahnemann made a major discovery that scientific research is only uncovering today.

This is what Hahnemann discovered:
When a substance is serially diluted, its ability to have an effect on the body is hindered with each subsequent dilution. However, if, at each stage of dilution, the remedy is shaken with force (succussed), the remedy somehow retains its ability to have an effect on a body. This process of dilution and succussion is known as potentization. The interesting thing to note here is that only a body that is ailing with symptoms similar to those that could be caused by the substance that is being diluted will have a strong reaction to the remedy prepared of this substance. If a body is not ailing with symptoms that match the crude substances’ causative effects, a change is unlikely to be seen in the body. However, if an infinitesimal dose is taken by a healthy person many times repeatedly (not as in many pellets at once but at frequent doses) the healthy body will begin to develop symptoms that look like those that could be caused by the crude substance that has been potentized.

  • Recently a virologist did some research and found that some bacterial DNA sequences produced electromagnetic waves at high aqueous dilutions. It was noted that the solutions were strongly agitated and that this step was critical for the generation of signals. Here is a link to an article written by Dana Ullman about the findings of this experiment and why it relates to homeopathy.
  • The results of successful homeopathic treatment has been documented by homeopaths over the past 200 hundred years. Successful treatment results and the results of  ‘provings’ (when a healthy group of people who take a homeopathic remedy for many days and note the symptoms that occur during this time) have been detailed in the homeopathic materia medicas and repertories. The people who participate in homeopathic provings are always unaware of the remedy they are taking and some are given placebo.
  • I do believe that things can be done to improve the manner in which homeopathic remedies are tested for efficacy. For anyone interested, this article from BioMed Central discusses what some of the problems have been in clinically testing homeopathy and comes to some conclusions about how to improve clinical trials of homeopathy for the future.

2. There is no active ingredient in a homeopathic remedy 
(this is misunderstood)

In the Marketplace episode, they conducted a study where they looked for a trace of the ‘active’ substance in homeopathic remedies. We have not yet discovered how to measure the active substance in a remedy beyond a certain amount. Perhaps we are not looking for a ‘parts per million’ answer here but maybe a measure of the electromagnetic properties of a potentized remedy? We know that the body uses electromagnetic signals and I have seen homeopathic remedies act immediately. It would not surprise me if a remedy is being transmitted to the body through an electromagnetic signature. This is strictly a hypothesis but whatever the answer may be, it is outrageous to me that the answer to the question, ‘does homeopathy work?’ could be, ‘no, we can’t find the active ingredient’. To me, this is like asking, ‘does gravity work?’ and answering, ‘no we can’t weigh it’.

Here is an excellent article by Dana Ullman from the Huffington Post, The Case for Homeopathic Medicine: The Historical and Scientific Evidence. Dana has a wealth of knowledge of homeopathy and is always up to date on the latest in homeopathic research.

3. Homeopathy is modern day snake oil (false)

I practice homeopathy because I know it works. I have seen it work again and again on myself, my children, my clients, my friends, my family, my pet and other animals. I do not practice homeopathy because I am trying to con people. Honesty has always really mattered to me in my life. I would never try to con people. I do take offence to being accused of this kind of behavior. I continue to take up the flag for homeopathy because I know it works. As homeopathy is the second most practiced form of medicine worldwide, I am not alone in this opinion.

Secondly, the host of Marketplace did not speak with anyone who was being treated for a specific disease. Many homeopaths, who were asked, refused to be on camera and the ones they did speak to were not professional. As in every field, there are those who do not behave professionally. I once went to see a chiropractor who spoke on the phone during half of my consultation with him and then waved his hands in front of me at the end of my treatment and said that he was 'locking' my treatment with his hand moves! Of course, I did not see him again. But, I understood that what he was doing was not chiropractic medicine and I have since been treated by two excellent chiropractors who have helped me immensely. I know that if there is something amiss in the world of homeopathy, it is not the medicine that is a problem. I am all for regulation of homeopathic medicine!

4. Homeopathy is dangerous because someone may choose to use it over getting proper medical treatment (people may make poor choices but that is not the fault of the medicine)

In many countries, such as England, France, India and Germany, homeopathy is practiced by doctors in hospitals. In these countries, it is understood that homeopathy is an excellent form of medicine to turn to for many ailments because of its ability to work gently and effectively with few to no lasting side effects.

It must be understood how important it is to have a bone set by a doctor after it is broken, surgery on a cancerous tumor, be treated with antibiotics for a life threatening bought of sepsis for example. All of these ailments can be improved with a homeopathic remedy also (not instead of). Having a system in place that can ensure that the right form of medicine is used at the right time is important to all of us.

There are cases where people choose homeopathy improperly to treat a serious condition that has not been properly diagnosed by a doctor or the treatment for which is not being observed by a doctor. Homeopathy should never be considered an adversary to allopathic medicine but an adjunct. This is why regulation is so important to homeopathy.

I never tell my clients that I will cure them or not to consult a doctor! Anyone who does this is an irresponsible practitioner- all the more reason for regulation. My colleagues and I practice responsibly. We insist that our clients see a doctor and get a proper diagnosis. I have requested lab results from my client’s doctor so that everyone involved in my client’s treatment is aware of the full spectrum of treatment the client is receiving.

5. Homeopathy doesn’t work (false)

Over the past 200 years, doctors of homeopathic medicine have been recording their findings. I am not alone in witnessing very clear curative cases that cannot be whittled down to placebo. In my own practice I have seen rashes that have plagued people for years for which cortisone cream has been given again and again. These rashes return once the cream is removed but they are completely cured after a bought of properly chosen homeopathic remedies and some never return.  I have seen cases of polycystic ovarian disease reverse.  I have successfully treated anxiety and depression, menstrual cramps, high blood pressure, mastitis,  headaches, allergies, urinary tract infections, ear infections and brought down high fevers and this is just a quick short list.

Now, I would never list these as a list of things that I can cure in everyone. The whole point of homeopathy is treating the individual and not just a disease label. I would never assume that if I treated one person for a condition, that I could treat everyone for that condition. I also can safely say, as is the case with any medicine, it will not work for everyone.

In the Marketplace show, they did not actually speak with anyone who was being treated for a disease. It seemed to me that they didn’t even begin a discussion about whether it does work, only that theoretically, it can’t work.

Seeing is believing! Luckily, homeopathy has a lot of evidence that can be seen; results from cured patients!  Whether or not the substance can be ‘seen’ in today’s lab does not really matter that much then does it?

 6. Homeopathy is a waste of time and money (laughable)

This point is ironic to me. One of the only positive points Marketplace mentions about homeopathy is the fact that a practitioner takes the time to listen to patients and take a proper health history from them.

How would you like to spend your time? Learning about yourself by talking at length about who you are and why you are the person you are or being told in fifteen minutes what you need to fix yourself?

Waste of time? I think sitting in a doctor’s waiting room for 45 minutes for yet again another prescription for more antibiotics for a condition that continues to recur again and again is a bit of a waste of time.

Many doctors are frustrated by the present medical model! I've spoken with several med school students who are totally burned out! They are interested in learning more about alternative medicine and how it can work in tandem with allopathic medicine but there isn't enough time in their curriculum to address this. Once they are practicing doctors it is difficult to change an already existing model but some of them try. Some doctors recommend homeopathic remedies to their patients! Some decide to become homeopaths or naturopaths! Are they snake oil salesmen too?

Big Pharma is a top grossing industry in Canada and the US. Here is a great little article written in 2004 by Marcia Angell who is a senior lecturer in social medicine at Harvard Medical School. I found it on the Canadian Medical Association Journal’s website, (note the Advertisement for Nexium in the header- yet another example of how impossible it must be for modern medicine to be unbiased in its research and promotion of certain medicines over others). And here is an interview with Dr. Barbara Starfield in regards to medical error in the US and death.

Dr. Starfield also speaks highly of Canada’s national health care system. We have an excellent model that should continue improving. I feel that the regulation of homeopathy is a step towards that improvement. It will  ensure that those who practice homeopathy are properly trained and qualified to work along with doctors, improving overall health care. Modern medicine can be a slippery slope in many ways. Education, studies and funding for medicines often come from the pockets of those who financially benefit from the sale of drugs. Medical error is a leading cause of death in North America, as Dr. Starfield notes. Sometimes, doctors make mistakes with medicine and kill people. Just because you don’t need to go to the emergency room if you swallow a bottle of homeopathic medicine doesn't mean that it has no value.

Oh, and the average cost of a homeopathic remedy? $8.  And a bottle can have enough doses to last for years depending on the condition you are treating and how much of the remedy you need. This seems like a reasonable cost to me compared to the bill and sometimes risk inherent in some regularly prescribed pharmaceuticals.

In conclusion, homeopathy works, so why not try it first?

♥ Andrea ♥


  1. Homeopathy is wonderful, no one really knows how exactly it works but the same thing can be said for Paracetamol and people use that daily! And at least if you overdose on homeopathic medicine it probably won't kill you, the same thing cannot be said for Paracetamol.

    1. I agree, homeopathy is wonderful :)

      I have much concern about the regular use of many pharmaceutical drugs. It's a real problem. I don't think the average person really realizes the long term effects these drugs have. It seems as though people are trading short term relief for long term chronic illness. Paracetamol is derived from very carcinogenic coal-tar (though it is not itself considered to be carcinogenic). And though the makers and distributors of this medication feel they understand 'how' the drug works as an analgesic and antipyretic and the long list of side effects that can be caused by it, I don't really feel there is a proper understanding of how this medicine is going to really impact someone's life long term. And I'm not talking about what is written in studies and books, I'm talking about the real flesh and blood person who may end up with kidney and liver issues with life altering consequences.

      In some cases, when all other options are considered, 'the big guns' may need to be applied to save a life but in Canada and the US, homeopathy is rarely even considered as a first option for treating illness. In many other countries like England, France, Germany and India, homeopathy would be considered as a first step in the healing process. I really hope the regulation of homeopathy can help us to move in that direction. But it will be the demand of the public and doctors that will be the only thing that will push things in that direction.

      Thank you for reading this very long post Morgan and taking time to leave a comment :)


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