Homeopathic Medicine: A Diluted Mess

Image courtesy of Nintendo, Inc.
Image courtesy of Nintendo, Inc.

You know, there are many “alternative” medicines in this world, and I’m not going to tackle all of them. Some of them may have some kind of merit, even if they are unscientific. And if they really help people, who am I to confront them?

But there are cases where non-traditional medicines fly not only in the face of science, but in the faces of logic and common sense too. The case I’m tackling in this article is homeopathic medicine.

None of its principles are science-based (Like cures like? Single remedy?). But the thing I really have a problem with is this: the “minimum dose.” An excerpt from the American Institute of Homeopathy’s website says it all:

Homeopathic medicines are prepared through a series of dilutions, at each step of which there is a vigorous agitation of the solution called succussion, until there is no detectible chemical substance left.  As paradoxical as it may seem, the higher the dilution, when prepared in this dynamized way, the more potent the homeopathic remedy.  Thereby is achieved the minimum dose which, none the less, has the maximum therapeutic effect with the fewest side effects.  In fact, Homeopathy has an enviable centuries old history of safety in use of its potentized oral medicines among patients of all ages, including babies, children, pregnant and nursing women, and senior citizens. (What is Homeopathic Medicine? http://homeopathyusa.org/homeopathic-medicine.html)

The claim here is that, with proper preparation, the more a medication is diluted, the more effective it is. In other words: a medicine’s effectiveness is inversely proportional to its concentration. Before I get into the science, let me ask you a question: has taking less cough medicine ever worked on your cough?

A concept that was introduced in the late 20th century was water memory. This was an answer to an obvious problem with diluting your medications: if you keep diluting, you’ll eventually wind up with a solution that has no medicine in it at all. The suggestion was that water somehow “remembers” the properties of the medicine that was once in it, thereby maintaining its efficacy. If that is the case, why not start off with the lowest dose we are capable of adding to the solution? Why the repeated dilutions?

And what is the “science” behind water memory? Answer: none. There is no theoretical model behind water memory and no evidence to back it up.

There is no substantial evidence that homeopathic medicine is effective at treating human ailments. But that’s not the only problem. According to the National Institutes of Health, current over-the-counter medical products labeled as homeopathic may contain high amounts of active ingredients, even though homeopathic products are supposed to be highly diluted. (You can dilute things with more than just water.)

I have to conclude this article with a thought: is it rational to think that one can create better medicine without science? I say absolutely not. It seems like people have become jaded by the medical establishment, viewing it in the same domain as big oil and politics. Like medicine, this way of reacting to the issues has alternatives, and a good one here would be to educate one’s self as much as possible.

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