For many of us who question whether homeopathy works, the natural healing technique is a dim concept we associate slightly with remedies brewing in cauldrons. Or we think of it as a tablet of hocus pocus we slip under the tongue.
In short, most of us, including conventional doctors, know very little about how homeopathy works, says homeopathic physician Dr. Toni Bark, director of the Center for Disease Prevention and Reversal in Chicago and adjunct professor at Boston University.
Homeopathic medicine, founded in the late 1700s, is essentially the use of like to cure like, somewhat like using fire to fight fire. The medications are hugely diluted doses of a substance -- herbs, minerals or other natural substances -- that would produce certain disease symptoms in a healthy person, explains naturopathic doctor Brad S. Lichtenstein, chair of the Bastyr University Homeopathy Department in Kenmore, Wash.
So, for instance, if a healthy person takes arnica, a European herb, continuously, she will develop aches and pains. However, if a person with aches and pains takes a solution or tablet that contains arnica, the aches are likely to subside.
The science behind homeopathy is complex -- and not entirely understood (as is true of many conventional medications). However, a number of factors -- the rise of targeted medicine, the economic crisis in medical care, and concerns about drug side effects -- are causing researchers and practitioners to reconsider homeopathy.
Below are several reasons for you to reconsider homeopathy as well:
Mounting evidence that homeopathy works. A 2012 multicenter study presented at the 2012 Annual European Congress of Rheumatology and published inthe Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases involved 449 patients with ankle sprains.
Two groups were given Traumeel ointment or gel, a homeopathic treatment containing a number of ingredients including arnica; another group was given diclofenac gel, a topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory.
Each group applied the ointments three times a day for 14 days with a six- week follow-up. Researchers found that the Traumeel relieved pain and improved function as effectively as diclofenac.
In 2011, the Swiss government issued a report evaluating homeopathic medicine’s effectiveness and cost efficiency. After reviewing a wide swath of homeopathic studies, researchers found homeopathic remedies so effective that the government health insurance program is now offering reimbursement for homeopathic treatments.
Homeopathic remedies for upper-respiratory infections made a particularly good showing in the Swiss study, says Lichtenstein: “The report cited 29 homeopathic studies on upper respiratory infections. Twenty-four had positive results.”
Homeopathy is cost-effective. Studies indicate that homeopathy helps contain medical costs -- for doctors and patients. The 2011 Swiss report found that doctors who specialize in homeopathy had 15 percent lower practice costs than conventional physicians and those who practice complementary and alternative medicine but not homeopathy.
A 2005 German study of 493 patients published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine found that, at similar or lower costs, homeopathic treatments for complaints such as headache, backache, insomnia and sinusitis were more effective than conventional medicines.
“Cost is a great reason to reconsider homeopathy,” says Lichtenstein. “Many remedies cost about $8, and you can usually use the minimum dose.”
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, insurance companies are more apt to cover homeopathic remedies if they are prescribed by a medical doctor or doctor of osteopathy.
It’s worth checking with your insurance company. Remedies are available over the counter or by prescription.
Side effects are rare. Homeopathic remedies work electrically, not chemically, says Bark: “We believe they stimulate the body’s electro-magnetic system to (return) to the right pattern. They work through specific (energy) frequencies that allow energy to flow again.”
In homeopathy, a disease state is stuck energy, she explains.
“With the remedies, we’re trying to match the disease state to the remedy, which stimulates the body to heal itself.”
That’s different than taking pharmaceutical drugs that suppress or alter body functions, she says.
“For instance, when you take antidepressants you’re altering the absorption of serotonin. When you take antibiotics, you alter the bacteria in the colon.
“Nothing is completely safe,” notes Lichtenstein. “But you usually take a homeopathic remedy a few times at a low potency, so there are no side effects.”