Alternative medicine is a medical practice that is generally founded on metaphysical beliefs. Many a times, alternative medicine is found to be antiscientific. The practice of alternative medicine has progressively become popular in the recent past decades with more and more patients preferring alternative medicine to modern scientific medicine (Skeptic dictionary, 2009). Alternative medicine practice falls into five main categories as classified by National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).
These include alternative medical systems such as acupuncture, ayurveda, homeopathy, and naturopathic medicine; mind-body interventions like art therapy, dance therapy, hypnotherapy and meditation; biologically-based therapies like diet supplements, herbal products and megavitamins; manipulative and body-based methods such as chiropractic massage therapy, osteotherapy, reflexology and acupressure and finally energy therapies like biofield therapies (e. g. therapeutic touch and Qi gong) and bioelectromagnetic-based therapies like pulsed fields and magnetic fields (Wong, 2009).
With a lot of controversy arising as to whether alternative medicine is quackery, this paper focuses on homeopathy with specific attention on the way it is believed to work and the various controversial issues about homeopathy such as dilution problem, quantum entanglement, and clinical evidence and whether it is simply an elaborate placebo. Homeopathy is a system of medicine whereby individuals are treated with natural substances which are highly diluted. These remedies trigger the body’s natural healing power thereby providing relief from physical and emotional states.
The principle of homeopathy is Similia Similibus Curenturc meaning that “let likes cure likes”. The implication of this is that if a substance can bring about signs and symptoms in a health individual, the same substance can be used in curing the same signs and symptoms in such a person (Holistic Being, 2009). Homeopathy identifies an individual’s unique health state and thus homeopathic preparations are customized for each individual. Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843) is believed to be the one who came up with homeopathy.
The German physician was stirred by the medical practices that existed then such as bleeding and purging which did not satisfy him. The “Principle of Similars” according to Hahnemann was based on the philosophy that disease is due to a vital force or spirit and diseases are not material due to the fact that foreign materials are removed from the blood system immediately they get introduced. As such, Hahnemann believed that knowledge of the symptoms of a disease would help in looking up for substances that stimulated the same symptoms in a healthy person.
Hahnemann together with his followers tested the effects of about 100 substances on themselves by taking in a small amount of specific substances and noting likely reaction thereby giving “prove” that a certain substance would cure a certain symptom successfully. It is unfortunate that healthy controls showed related symptoms with a homeopathic dilution intended for belladonna or with a placebo (Ramey, Wagner, Imrie & Stenger, 2009). The principle of “infinitesimal dilutions” in homeopathy was based on the minuscule doses that individuals used to ingest during tests.
The doses were that small since they were generally toxic as in the case with snake venoms and poison ivy. There are allegations that the most dilute remedy is the most potent in homeopathy practice. It is however critical on the benefits of high dilutions. The high dilutions can be such that the molecules that are believed to be curative are no more in the remedy due to increased dilutions. High dilution liquids are also required to remain with the smallest remedial substance which is highly potent. The suggestion by homeopaths that water has a memory lacks scientific basis and therefore not highly supported by many scientists.
The debate becomes hotter when homeopaths argue that memory can be retained by water since water can exist in a sub-atomic level of photons and electrons. Water memory according to homeopaths is based on quantum entanglement whereby Einstein described it as ‘spooky action at a distance’ (Ramey, Wagner, Imrie, and Stenger, 2009). The argument is that splitting a pair of sub-atomic particles makes them move into separate directions. Trying to make one of the particles change its direction of movement makes the other particle also change likewise even if the distance between the two particles is very large.
This argument is used to support that the therapeutic substances behave the same way as water and retain memory thus making the substance remain therapeutic (NHS, 2009). The principle of “potentization” by Hahnemann that suggests that inert diluted substances are made to release energy thus becoming active is not very clear. The principle argues that latent substances ion drugs are made active or excited thus making them active against the disease forces. Vigorous shaking of diluted solutions (succussion) is done whereas powdered substances are ground up robustly in a process called trituration.
With potentization, it is believed that the therapeutic substance’s energy is given out and the energy persists even when the doses are diluted to the lowest concentrations (NHS, 2009). Among the several advantages mentioned in relationship with homeopathy is that it can be individualized. In fact, Hahnemann based the therapies on body types and personalities. The blood body was also termed as sanguine or warm-hearted and volatile whereas a person with a black bile as body type also belonged to the choleric personality which is characterized by quick anger. A phlegm body or a phlegmatic is termed as sluggish or apathetic.
Miasms or primary acute and chronic disease causes were also described by father of homeopathy with the first miasm being known as “psora” or itchy and was regarded as the origin of all chronic illnesses. Syphilis and sycosis were the other two miasms and also believed to cause most chronic illnesses. With such theoretical arguments on the principles of homeopathy, one cannot stop doubting the scientific evidence of this medical practice. This method must continuously raise questions in this modern and scientifically based clinical research. There is no clinical evidence when one is talking of homeopathy.
The effectiveness of homeopath in curing diseases is undergoing criticism since there is no comprehensive clinical evidence based on clinical trials regarding its effectiveness. The question of whether homeopathy is any better compared to a placebo came into light after a clinical trial involving 100 subjects was carried out and published in The Lancet in 2005 showed no evidence that homeopathy was more effective than a placebo (NHS, 2009). This research finding makes all the other advantages of homeopathy somehow irrelevant for what good will it be to have a gentle, affordable, non-invasive, non-allergic, non toxic and non ddictive medical practice that does not really cure? The practice of homeopathy does not integrate well with the modern medicine of clinical trials. Individualization of the treatment requires that the individual gets medications that are designed to fit his/her circumstances. This means that he is fully aware of the treatment and therefore they may anticipate healing and actually get healed due to their faith and not due to therapeutic effectiveness of the drug. Standardization and randomization principles as applied in clinical trials become irrelevant and contradict homeopathy principles.
This may be the reason why homeopathy is best viewed as an elaborate placebo. Although homeopathic remedies have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and their preparations based on the U. S. Homeopathic pharmacopoeia, the credibility of homeopaths is still questionable. The risk of falling into an uncertified homeopathy practitioners is very high. The profession is unlicensed in most states in America leaving healthcare seekers prone to the hands of quacks (Homeopathy School International, 2009).
The mechanism by which homeopathy work is not well known although it is noted that it is either undiscovered or it works against the existing principles of physics, chemistry and pharmacology (Ramey, Wagner, Imrie, and Stenger, 2009). Homeopathy as an alternative medicine cannot escape serious criticism despite its recorded benefits. Its failure to give scientific based explanations into how it works makes it appear out of place in this scientifically advanced era. Its placement as an elaborate placebo in the scientific medicine best fits it.
It is based on estimations and assumptions which equally raises ethical issues. Homeopathy is just another alternative medicine that can deny a patient effective cure and therefore its practice requires more review if it is to fit in the modern medicine that values scientific evidence and clinical trials. It is however equally important to reconsider homeopathy in medical practice for there is no doubt that it has been effective in the past and thus it just requires streamlining. References: Homeopathy School International. 2009). About homeopathy. Retrieved 30, November 2009 from http://www. homeopathyschool. org/about_homeopathy. html NHS. (2009). Homeopathy: issues surrounding homeopathy. Retrieved 30, November 2009 from http://www. nhs. uk/Conditions/Homeopathy/Pages/Issues. aspx Ramey, D. W. , Wagner, M. , Imrie, R. H. and Stenger, V. (2009). Homeopathy and science: a closer look. To be published in The Technology Journal of the Franklin Institute. Retrieved 30, November 2009 from http://www. colorado. edu/philosophy/vstenger/Medicine/Homeop. tml Skeptic dictionary. (2009). Skepdic. com. “alternative” health practices. Retrieved 30, November 2009 from http://www. skepdic. com/althelth. html The Holistic Being. (2009). The Holistic being. com. Homeopathy. Retrieved 30, November 2009 from http://www. theholisticbeing. com/Homeopathy. htm Wong, C. (2009). About. com Guide. What are the 5 main types of complementary / alternative medicine? Retrieved 30, November 2009 from http://altmedicine. about. com/od/alternativemedicinebasics/a/types. htm