Something to Think About

"I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love."
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

An Examination of Homeopathy

I overheard a co-worker describing some sort of medical treatment as homeopathic - in a manner that one would relate that a treatment was "natural" or "organic" or perhaps even "herbal" - and it occurred to me that many people are simply not aware of what homeopathy really is.

Homeopathy is an alternative medicine that is based on the idea that something that causes the symptoms of a disease can also cure the disease and that if these substances are watered down they become more potent.  In fact, the greater the dilution, the stronger the treatment is supposed to be.

Yes. You are reading that correctly.

Let's try an example. A person has allergies and one of his major symptoms is watery eyes.  Onions are known to cause a person's eyes to water so a tiny bit of onion is diluted in water. Then it is diluted several more times to the point that it is unlikely that any particular dose of this "medicine" contains even one molecule of the substance being diluted. (This article contains a chart a near the bottom of the page that shows what I mean.)

To explain how their "medicine" could work without even a molecule of the cure in the solution, proponents have a theory that water has memory of the substance that it once came in contact with.

From what we know today about the way things work, it seems unlikely that these treatments would be effective, doesn't it?

Let's backtrack a little to the origins of this alternative medicine.  In the 19th century, a man named Samuel Hahnemann was looking for an alternative to the treatments popular at that time - namely blood-letting.  When a person became ill, a doctor would cut open a vein causing the patient to bleed.  It was thought that the illness would leave the body along with the blood.

Hahnemann was correct in thinking that bloodletting is not an effective treatment for disease but that might be about the only thing he was right about.  His medications were designed to help the vital force - an energy he believed was contained in the human body -  magically heal the body. One can see the attraction of his therapy over the blood-letting or the mercury treatments of the day but, unfortunately, they were not effective either.

There have been no scientific studies done that show that homeopathy is more effective than a placebo and there have been hundreds studies done to test the effectiveness of these treatments.  Despite this, there are a lot of people making a good amount of money off of people who want to believe that it works.  It's sad, really, that some folks are so willing to hand over their hard-earned cash for such a dubious alternative to medicine.

What might have made more sense back in the 19th century when folks didn't know any better should not be considered effective treatment today in light of what we now know about the human body and disease. Homeopathy is not a sensible medical treatment for any illness.

Information for this post was found on the following websites:
Popular Science
Science-Based Medicine 
Rational Wiki

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and was obtained here

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