Homeopathy: what is it and what is it for?
The recent decision of the University of Barcelona to remove the master’s degree in Homeopathic Medicine from its academic plan has once again put homeopathy in the spotlight. The center alludes to the “lack of scientific evidence” that, it maintains, defines this therapeutic method. Still, the truth is that homeopathy is prescribed by more than 10,000 doctors in Spain, and thousands count the patients who resort to this type of medicine. The Spanish Society of Homeopathic Medicine (SEMH) appeals to the more than 200 years of clinical experience of homeopathic doctors worldwide and to the research work carried out in this field to claim its scientific character, but what exactly is homeopathy? And what is it used for?
What is homeopathy?
Homeopathy is a therapeutic method based on the law of similarity or similar, which states that a substance that causes certain symptoms in a healthy person, in small amounts, can cure the same or similar symptoms in a person sick.
Homeopaths elaborate the treatments by consulting reference books known as repertories, where, for elaborating a homeopathic remedy, factors such as the set of symptoms of each patient, the physical and psychological state of the same, or their medical history and of a lifetime. Since its inception, homeopathy has been the subject of debate and controversy among medical experts (pharmacists, doctors, etc.) and has supporters and detractors. Some experts have categorized it as a pseudoscience.
Medicines or homeopathic remedies are made by successive dilutions in water or alcohol. The original substance that produces the effects of the disease is reduced to an infinitesimal amount. The products used to make these remedies can be animal, vegetable, or chemical origin ( mineral or organic). To make homeopathic medicine, a certain process is followed:
- Dilution: It is the progressive deconcentration of the substance. It is achieved by dissolving it in water or alcohol. The idea is to repeat the dissolution process as many times as necessary until the substance is not perceptible, diluting the diluted until the process is complete.
- Dynamization: It must be carried out after each deconcentration and vigorously shakes the solution.
Homeopathy experts argue that to develop a drug of this type, it is necessary to take into account both the characteristic symptoms of the disease and the particular symptoms that each patient presents with the same pathology, so the first step that must be taken into account in the preparation of a detailed medical history of the patient and the performance of all the necessary tests for a correct diagnosis of the disease. Homeopathic medicine is used both as a single treatment and a complement to conventional drugs.
Effective remedy or placebo effect?
Some studies have shown that the successive dissolutions of the substance that causes symptoms of various diseases to end up making all the rest of it disappear completely, so the principle on which homeopathy is based would be refuted. However, experts in this discipline defend its effectiveness by appealing to the memory effect of water. According to this theory, water can remember the substances with which it has come into contact and acquire, in a certain way, some of their properties (in this case, cure the symptoms that the substance, in large quantities, causes).
Other studies state that homeopathic treatments should be used in a complementary way with pharmacological ones since they would have a placebo effect. The defenders of this theory defend that the perception of receiving effective treatment can influence the patient himself. Still, in reality, it would be a harmless substance, that is, without effects directly related to the treatment of the symptoms of a disease. The scientific explanation is given by the stimulation of an area of the patient’s brain, believing that the treatment will end the pathology, which would result in the improvement of the symptoms.
On the other hand, although many specialists and institutions endorse homeopathy, some experts and studies have defined it as a “sham,” a baseless remedy based on theories that go against science. The World Health Organization (WHO) advises against its use to treat important diseases such as malaria, AIDS, tuberculosis, the common flu, or childhood diarrhea.
Homeopathy has its origin in the ideas of the late 18th and early 19th-century German physician Samuel Hahnemann, who enunciated the law of similarity on which this therapeutic method is based. Hahnemann believed that tiny doses of substances that produced certain symptoms caused curative effects since by reducing the doses consumed, the symptoms disappeared. According to the expert, the underlying causes of the diseases were phenomena that he called miasmas and that homeopathic remedies acted on them.
Following the postulates of his law of the like, Hahnemann began to examine the effects that each substance produced in man, a procedure that later became known as homeopathic testing. Some experts consider that similarity is not a medical law but a postulate.