Homeopathy 101

aka deadly nightshadeMany had expected homeopathy to die out by now, but the appeal of a more natural approach to health and healing is an excellent one. Healthy eating, exercise, sleep and relaxation do a body good, and when illness strikes, supporting the body’s self-healing with treatments like fluids and rest is the cornerstone of supportive care.

With scientific reason to the contrary, however, many believe in homeopathy’s curative powers. Homeopathy can be explained by its credo similia similibus curentur—like cures like. This is the mentality behind taking the hair of the dog that bit you.

Contrary to conventional medicine, homeopathy seeks to reinforce, not suppress symptoms. The remedies are usually prepared from plant, animal, mineral or other sources in nature. The paradoxical concept of minimum dose is also a hallmark of homeopathy: it states that the healing properties of a medicine increase as the preparation is increasingly diluted. For homeopathy, less is more. “Potentizing” is the homeopathic process of diluting and “successing” (hitting the glass bottle a certain number of times on a rubber mat). Typical strengths range from 3x to 60x. The less dilute, yet lower potency preparations ( 3x to 12x) are for home use. The more dilute, higher potency preparations such as 60x may be overseen by the homeopathic practitioner. Some preparations are diluted beyond Avogadro’s number—a point at which the probability of a single molecule of the original material remaining is practically nil.

Homeopathic remedies are recognized as drugs under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938, but their effectiveness has been questioned ever since conventional medicine put away its leeches. To achieve FDA approval for an over-the-counter product, the medication must treat the symptoms of self-limiting conditions—ones that if untreated would go away by themselves.

Homeopathic products are sold for colic, teething, seasonal allergies, and dermatitis: conditions that meet the criteria of self-limited. But do they work?

Without well-controlled studies, it’s hard to know if  over-the-counter preparations do what they claim to do. The placebo effect is strong: fully one third of people taking any type of preparation—conventional or alternative—report improvement.

A meta-analysis of placebo-controlled homeopathy trials published in Lancet found that “there is insufficient evidence from these studies that any single type of homeopathic treatment is clearly effective in any one clinical condition.”

Natural does not mean safe, and alleged inconsistent manufacturing processes were cited in a recall of homeopathic teething tablets that sickened babies. The remedy included belladonna, or digitalis, a poisonous extract from deadly nightshade.

The Holistic Pediatrician: A Pediatrician’s Comprehensive Guide to Safe and Effective Therapies for the 25 Most Common Ailments of Infants, Children and Adolescents by Kathi J. Kemper, MD is an excellent source of information for parents.

About Lisa M. Asta, MD

Lisa M. Asta, M.D. is board-certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, for which she is also a Media Representative (she has been interviewed for “Kids Health” on Health Radio, and quoted in Parenting Magazine, USA Today, and the New York Times, among other publications). She is a Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California at San Francisco and past pediatric chair at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek. She graduated from Temple University School of Medicine and the Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Asta is also a writer whose fiction has appeared in Inkwell, Philadelphia Stories, Schuylkill, and Zeniada. Her essays have appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Hippocrates, the San Jose Mercury News, and The New Physician Magazine. She is an occasional contributor to KQED public radio’s Perspectives series, and has written articles for Bay Area Parent, Valley Parent, Parents’ Press, and Parents Express, as well as online at WebMD.com, Rx.com, and MyLifePath.com. She wrote a chapter in The Field Guide to the Normal Newborn, ed. Gary Emmet, M.D. BabyCenter.com currently has two how-to videos for parents in production which feature Dr. Asta. For more on Dr. Asta’s writing, visit www.LMAsta.com
This entry was posted in 101, Babies!, DIY, Health Care, Medicine, Pediatric Bits and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Homeopathy 101

  1. Melissa says:

    Thank you for posting this, Dr. Asta!
    I was just about to call with teething tablet questions.

  2. Pingback: Reading the Box: Tiny Cold Tablets | Casa Verde Pediatrics, Inc. Blog

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