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We always used homeopathic teething remedies for our kids, and they certainly seemed to help. But outside of teething, many people don’t understand the wider range of homeopathic remedies and wonder if they really work. And I can’t blame them… the truth is, homeopathic medicine is a little confusing! I did some research to get more clear on homeopathic remedies, what they are, and how they work.
I may not have 100% of the picture (because researchers don’t yet, either!) but combined with my own personal experience, I’m ready to weigh in.
What Is Homeopathy?
Many people think of homeopathy as an umbrella term for natural medicine. But homeopathy is its own unique therapeutic system.
Homeopathic remedies are made from natural substances such as plants and minerals. Some are made from animal products (like snake venom!). These remedies are diluted until there’s hardly any of the original material left. The more diluted the remedy is, the more potent it is thought to be.
Confused yet? I was! Read on…
History of Homeopathy
Homeopathy was created in 1796 by German physician Samuel Hahnemann. The system is based on his doctrine that like cures like.
While translating medical texts, one passage piqued Hahnemann’s interest. It read that Peruvian bark was a remedy for malaria because of its bitter quality.
Hahnemann didn’t believe bitterness was why it worked, since other substances are also bitter. To understand Peruvian bark better Hahnemann took a dose of it. He then had symptoms similar to those of malaria. He reasoned that a substance that causes a certain symptom in a healthy person would also cure that symptom in an ill person.
He then spent his career doing “provings.” These are primitive studies where he and his colleagues gave various substances to healthy people and recorded the symptoms they caused. These recordings became the basis for what each substance could be used to cure.
Why Homeopathic Medicine Is So Popular
At the time Hahnemann was studying homeopathy, allopathic medicine was crude and ineffective. Bloodletting, purging, and using multiple drugs without knowing how they might interact was standard.
Homeopathy, on the other hand, was safe (due to the low dose) and focused on the patient as a whole instead of just pathology. This made it popular with many people.
And it continues to be popular, actually rising in popularity among educated middle-class people, for some of the same reasons. While anecdotal evidence is not as scientifically valuable as clinical studies, it’s still worth something. Many people swear by homeopathic medicine.
How Does Homeopathy Work?
Homeopathic remedies are labeled with their dilution potency. You may have seen homeopathic products with these labels:
- X (1:10 ratio)
- C (1:100 ratio)
- LM (1:50,000 ratio).
These potencies can be further altered by adding a number to represent how many times the remedy was diluted and succussed (shaken). For example, 6C means a remedy was diluted to 1:100 and then shaken and diluted to 1:100 six times.
As you can see, the remedies end up very diluted which homeopaths say makes them more potent. They are so diluted that they no longer contain the original substance.
It’s unclear exactly how homeopathic remedies work in the body. But there are some theories as to how homeopathy works. Here are two main theories:
- Water memory – The water that dilutes the remedy “remembers” the information from the original substance. This is supported by some research which found that a Raman and Ultra-Violet-Visible (UV-VIS) spectroscopy could distinguish between homeopathic remedies and even different dilutions
- Water structure – The structure of water changes when it’s diluted. Some research from South Korea found that there are larger clusters of molecules in diluted solution than in concentrated ones. This was an unexpected finding and may explain why homeopathic solutions that are heavily diluted are still potent (or more so).
Because we aren’t sure exactly how homeopathy works, it’s difficult for many people to believe it does.
Homeopathic Safety Guidelines
Homeopathic remedies are considered safe by much of the general population, but are they really? To monitor the growing number of homeopathic products on the market for everything from a cough to chronic illness, the FDA began a “Risk-Based Enforcement Approach” in 2016. This means some aspects of homeopathic remedies (but not all) are overseen by the FDA.
It is important to note that (according to FDA.gov):
There are no homeopathic drug products marketed in the United States that are FDA-approved. This means that FDA has not evaluated them for safety or effectiveness. Thus, such products may not meet modern standards for safety, effectiveness, and quality.
This puts the burden on the consumer to research the brand and their reputation carefully (always a good idea and the reason I have a day job!).
What Conventional Medicine Says About Homeopathy
Critics of homeopathy argue that it just doesn’t make sense, so it can’t be real. And it’s understandable. There is no clear mechanism of action that is commonly agreed upon and supported by science.
Homeopathy defies the basic laws of physics and chemistry. For example, the amount of dilution. At some point, a solution will be diluted enough so that none of the original substance remains. Many homeopathic remedies go beyond this point. They are essentially just water or alcohol.
Additionally, it’s commonly understood that more of a substance (not less) will create more of a reaction. Homeopathy says the opposite, that less is more.
The provings that Hahnemann performed as much as 200 years ago are also hard to take seriously. These studies were not controlled like quality studies today are.
Critics also say that homeopathy simply doesn’t work. There aren’t any significant medical studies that support homeopathic remedies. In fact, a systematic review of the systematic reviews conducted (yes, you read that correctly) found that homeopathy is not better than placebo.
It’s not hard to see why critics of homeopathy have strong feelings that it is nothing but quackery.
Why Homeopaths Disagree
Proponents of homeopathy disagree despite the damning evidence above. And they have a pretty good argument too.
Clinical Studies Not Reliable
According to an article from the University of Minnesota, clinical studies are not as valuable when studying homeopathy. Lab research looks at one ailment and one medication. Homeopathy never does a one-size-fits-all treatment. For example, people who suffer from joint pain would be lumped into a clinical study. But homeopathy sees each of these people (with the same symptom) individually. They all have different overall presentations, constitutions, levels of vital force, etc. They would then be treated with different homeopathic remedies.
Research that looks at this individualized “prescription” finds benefits in homeopathy. One 1989 study included only those patients whose homeopathic evaluation indicated the remedy Rhus Tox. It concluded that there was a significant improvement over placebo under those conditions.
Mechanism of Action
Critics say homeopathy is impossible. But proponents say that the mechanism of action is not impossible because the explanation for how homeopathy works is reliant on quantum physics, not basic (classical) physics.
If you know anything about quantum physics, you’ll know it’s bizarre (and fascinating). One of its cornerstone ideas is that one particle can be in two places at once. Quantum physics, in many ways, is impossible according to classical physics. Therefore, proponents of homeopathy believe that the mechanism of action is just not fully understood yet.
Additionally, they argue that the mechanism of action for some pharmaceuticals are also unknown, yet are prescribed anyway. According to Wikipedia, there are 67 medications with an unknown mechanism of action.
Dilution Does Not Make a Substance Less Beneficial
Homeopaths argue that there are many pharmaceuticals that work in a similar way to homeopathy, but no one says that those are quackery. Some pharmaceuticals have one effect at a small dose and the opposite effect at a large does as some research published in 2009 suggests.
Homeopathy Despite the Lack of Research
More tailored research is needed to know for sure if homeopathy really works, but that doesn’t stop people from using it anyway.
A Harvard study in 2016 (explained in this article) found that Americans who use homeopathic remedies see a benefit from homeopathic remedies. This is especially true if they see a homeopath for their remedies. But critics might argue that it’s a placebo effect.
Another point to weigh: according to this article, 13 percent of doctors use antibiotics as placebos. Homeopathic remedies, even if they don’t work at all, are a placebo choice that at least won’t wreak havoc on the all-important gut microbiome.
Additionally, many people use homeopathic remedies as a last resort when other things aren’t working. Other times people use homeopathic remedies as part of a holistic natural health regime they come up with after deciding to avoid conventional treatments (like vaccines or chemotherapy). They have already made the choice to avoid those treatments (whether or not homeopathic remedies exist or work). Choosing to use homeopathic remedies is usually only one part of a holistic health regime.
Some critics think homeopathy is risky because it keeps people from using conventional treatments. But in this case, we should consider whether those people weren’t going to use conventional treatment anyway.
My Take on Homeopathic Remedies
We may not know for sure if homeopathy works until there is more research that looks at homeopathy as a system of medicine that can’t be measured the way conventional medicine can. In the meantime, there are a lot of strong opinions on both sides.
For minor ailments or where other treatments have failed, some people would say there’s nothing to lose in trying it.
As a mom of 6 children, I’m confronted daily with toothaches, growing pains, rashes, scrapes, stomachaches, and otherwise mysterious ailments. If I can give them something with a long established record of general safety to help them calm down, go to sleep, or feel better, I’m more than willing to do that!
My take on this topic as it currently stands is this: Even if we don’t understand everything about how homeopathics work, in my experience they seem to help. And science does show that placebos can have real physical effects if we believe they will. That being said, I did my research (and always recommend everyone does their own as well) and make sure to buy a quality brand.
At our house, we use Genexa’s Sleepology, Arnica (for pain/scrapes), and Cold Crush when needed. They’re chewable, safe for kids over 3, certified organic, and definitely make a difference for us.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Scott Soerries, MD, Family Physician and Medical Director of SteadyMD. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
What do you think? Does homeopathy work? What is your experience?
Discussion (28 Comments)
I will begin by saying that I am a proponent of homeopathy, and like you, Katie, I also believe in doing my research. But homeopathy speaks for itself. It has been around much longer than our modern-day pharmaceuticals, and that isn’t an accident. Things that withstand the test of time do so because they work. I have chosen homeopathy as my primary method of medical care, though I also employ other safe, natural, holistic methods, too. Homeopathy can cure, where pharmaceuticals merely mask symptoms. Homeopathic remedies aren’t accompanied by a long list of side-effects, many of which may be even less desirable than the symptom you’re trying to eliminate. And most of all,…THEY WORK. When my dog was in obvious pain from an injury, I gave her a remedy, and fifteen minutes later she was back to her usual perky self–and the injury healed several times faster than it would have on its own. That’s not a placebo effect; she’s a dog! My close friend who had a debilitating autoimmune disorder and could eat almost nothing without a severe reaction has experienced a reversal of her condition and can now eat a normal, healthy–albeit slightly limited–diet (her homeopathic cure is still in progress). When I suffered a violent emotional trauma and couldn’t sleep at night or shake the awful energy of the memory, homeopathy cured it in three days. I still remember the event, but I could function normally again, as if the memory was more distant than it really was. Homeopathy has already “proven” (homeopathy joke) itself. There’s no down side. In my opinion, the only research needed is for people who are not familiar with it to learn more about it and embrace it too.
Hello, one of my experiences with homeopathy was when I was about 6 and I woke in the night to a horrendous pain and screaming sound in my ear. I think it may have been leaking stuff too
My mum is somewhat unconventional and so took me to the doctor ( I’m in the uk so my free g.p) who diagnosed a perforated eardrum. At this time we had a homeopathic hospital in London and back in The 80s you could insist to be referred there so my mum insisted the doctor did this. Now I wasn’t allowed any painkillers as mum was like that but I must have got an emergency appointment at the homeopathic hospital. I remember parts of the consultation or maybe the fact that someone was interested in me as she was asking about non medical things anyways I got my prescription all free on the NHS at that time and my ear healed and I haven’t had any return of ear problems I don’t even remember what ear it was. So who knows it worked for me and I was 6. Maybe it was the placebo effect I don’t know.
Love this! Homeopathy changed my life and my daughters and my husbands …i dont know where we would be without it!
I use homeopathy nearly exclusively to treat my family. I started working with a classical homeopath for behavioural issues with my daughter 6 years ago (which improved tremendously). Since then, the homeopath has tutored me on how to choose a remedy for a given situation, and just as importantly, how frequently to dose. The thing about homeopathy is you have to have the RIGHT remedy for it to work. If it’s not the right one, it won’t show much effect. Given that there are thousands of remedies it is easy to get the wrong one! But having experimented with it under guidance, I understand much better how it works. Even if we do get sick (colds, flu, gastro), or injured (I’ve treated concussion, broken nose, broken toe, broken sacrum, broken wrist, dislocated thumb/pinky – all with no pain-killers) we can rely on these remedies to help support our bodies without side-effects, instead of using drugs with questionable long term outcomes. And of course, if necessary, I go to the doctor and get medication (we went for strep-related things). For my two kids, aged 7 and 10, that has been maybe 4 times total. Not bad, really!
What I love the most is that the power is in my hands. I have the remedies in my house, and the knowledge at my fingertips, and most of the time I can keep a situation within manageable parameters.
Thank you for one of the best explanations of homeopathy that I’ve ever read. I’ve been a sales rep in the Natural Products Industry for 25 years. I work with health food store owners and buyers daily. I have represented many homeopathic medicine companies. I use homeopathy every day. I am in my late fifties and take no conventional medicine. I find combination remedies work best for me. A willingness and consistency in practice helps to achieve desired results! There are traditional doctors who are also homeopathic doctors. Your local health food store is a great source of information. For chronic, long term dis-ease I would, and have, consulted a homeopath. I am not opposed to conventional medicine by any means. My goal is to utilize the most natural forms of medicine for as long as I can!
This article is well written! We use homeopathy at our home and have successfully for years. A resource I find myself using over and over is Joette Calabrese. She is s wealth of information in the area of homeopathy.
I started using homeopathy on my dog. Immediate and unbelievable results, he knows nothing about placebo effects. Bee sting limping gave Apis Mellifica gone in one minute. In bed with me can’t sleep stomach rumbling and gurgling can’t sleep gave nux vomica gone in 3 minutes. Took my sourdough bread out of 450 degree oven using a woven hot pad did not know it had a hole in it. One finger directly made contact and burned like a ?????. Put lavender on immediately no relief looked for a nosode for burns had it and took Cantharis, took the bread out of my pan then looked at my finger felt almost Nothing Barley pink NO blister. No placebo for me. I am totally shocked and amazed and a believer. It is beyond unbelievable because of first hand experience. I have NEVER commented on a site before but more people need to l know and I don’t know if I can say this but I started following g Joette calabrese a homeopath that has a blog on her website with information one in particular you need to check out is called moxie for moms. I have no children but use it for
My dog and myself. Her site if you have children will change your life Just from the information she provides you with on her site. Good Luck
I agree, homeopathy is amazing! I follow Joette Calabrese and Banerji Protocols. I also recommend Cristina Villacorta. She has good blogs with a lot of info.
My experience with homeopathy has been mixed, either very good or neutral, but never bad.
Some of the striking experiences included curing of of my son when he was barely 2 years old of his bronchial asthma. The clinical regular doctors and hospitals were finding it tough to treat, and kept repeating that it would keep returning. It was a renowned old timer homeopath whom we contacted with a certain amount of hesitation who assured us that it would be cured; and it was!
Another was the quick healing of my fractured bones, including an improperly healed fracture 17 years old.
My daughter at birth was contracted jaundice. After much hesitation and caution, took the advice of our reliable homeopathic friend … One small homeopathic pill dissolved into her tiny delicate mouth had her out of the hospital the next day.
Treatment for fever, injuries and such minor ailments might or might not be as quickly effective but no harm is done.
Such incidents gave me a firm believe in the capabilities of correct homeopathic treatment.
The catch is that the homeopathic doctor has to make a correct analysis of the case in an holistic manner. Otherwise the chances are that he/she will may not be able to give the correct treatment.
After years of unexplained (and un-diagnosed) fatigue, foggy-head, general blahs and other symptoms, my naturopathic doctor prescribed homeopathic Genestra HAD adrenal drops. They were a life changer. I don’t care if it’s because of a placebo effect, I don’t care if quackery. For whatever reason (and I WAS willing to try almost anything), I felt better a few short weeks later…and still feel better. It worked for me. I would not hesitate trying homeopathics again.
Thank you for such a concise breakdown of homeopathy!
How can I find Homeopaths?
I live 40 minutes south of Chicago.
The National Center for Homeopathy has a directory, and the Council for Homeopathic Certification has one too.
I have been really surprised that homeopathy can be really psychological . A skilled homeopath is listening well beyond physical ailments. I love Wellness Mama but I think this analysis misses a huge aspect of real homeopathy.
That said you can work with a homeopath over the phone and get benefit. I’m not sure that recommendations are allowed in comments here but Karen Gorney in nyc is very well respected.
Love this! Homeopathy changed my life and my daughters and my husbands …i dont know where we would be without it! It addresses the whole man..emotionally physically ECT. Nothing else like it.
Having many years of illness and not getting completely better despite diet and lifestyle changes (including supplementation), I decided to go to a homeopath 2 years ago. Now I feel completely back to my old self and found the experience to be quite personal and effective! I highly suggest homeopaths!