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Complementary and Alternative Medicine has been used since the very beginnings of humanity. Homeopathy, however, is a considerably new practice, compared to others. But, is it an effective alternative practice or is it just an invention?

There are several examples of practices that does not really fit into what is known as orthodox or allopathic Medicine. The accurate term that is used to refer to them is Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM), and these category includes acupuncture, herbalism, osteopathy and chiropractic, as well as homeopathy. This last one has existed since 1796 and from then on, many people all around the world, including scientists and physicians, have supported it but this practice has also been severely questioned regarding its efficacy and safety.


The origins of Homeopathy

The principles of homeopathy were developed by Samuel Hahnemann, a German doctor who did not agree with how physicians of that time were approaching patient treatment, specially with practices such as bloodletting. He decided then to give up his practice and worked as a medical writer and translator. One day, when translating a medical document he found information on the effect of cinchona bark, a medicinal plant native of South America, that was being used as a treatment for malaria. Hahnemann started taken cinchona and realized that after a few days of treatment he showed similar symptoms as those seen in malaria patients.

This was the beginning of homeopathy, because these observations gave rise to the first principle of this practice: “like cures like”.

With this, Hahnemann indicated that a disease can be cured by a substance that causes the same or very similar symptoms to the disease in question. But how would he prescribe a toxic remedy and expect to cause no harm? 

Homeopathy as we know it

Soon, Hahnemann further developed his theories and established the well-known “potentiation”concept. What is this exactly? Well, toxic substances could obviously cause severe effects on patients, so Hahnemann thought they had to be diluted in order to reduce their toxicity but still exert a curative effect.

He then stated that very high dilutions of substances, such as belladonna, could be given to patients in order to treat a disease, but without any toxic effect at all. 

To give you an idea, the dilutions that Hahnemann used and are still given to patients nowadays are comparable to adding one gram of salt into more than 1 centillion milliliters of water... Impressive right? According to Hahnemann, even at those very low concentrations, the active components of homeopathic remedies could be reactivated by simply thoroughly shaking the solution.

Nowadays, homeopathy is a very common practice all over the world, however, it has always been questioned to the extent of stating that homeopathy effects, if any, are more likely to be placebo effects.

These questioning towards effectiveness and safety of homeopathy is grounded on the extreme dilutions homeopaths use, but also on the lack of clinical evidence confirming that homeopathy actually works, the poor quality of the trials already conducted and the fact that some homeopaths claim that this practice can't really be studied as orthodox medical treatments are. 

Continue reading after recommendations

  • LINDE, K., JONAS, W. B., MELCHART, D. & WILLICH, S. 2001. The methodological quality of randomized controlled trials of homeopathy, herbal medicines and acupuncture. Int J Epidemiol, 30, 526-31
  • LOUDON, I. 2006. A brief history of homeopathy. J R Soc Med, 99, 607-10. RUTTEN, L., MATHIE, R. T., FISHER, P., GOOSSENS, M. & VAN
  • WASSENHOVEN, M. 2013. Plausibility and evidence: the case of homeopathy. Med Health Care Philos, 16, 525-32.
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