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Homeopathy is not a natural remedy

Posted by Michael Druker on July 31, 2009

I must admit, I am somewhat embarassed by most natural/organic food stores and sections in grocery stores. And obviously not because of the organic food, but because the shelves full of homeopathic “remedies” are indefensible.

Most people don’t know what homeopathy actually is. The idea is very simple: if you have an ailment, you find some substance that causes symptoms similar to those of the ailment, dilute it in water to a minuscule, barely- or not-detectable level, and then… take it as a remedy for the ailment. Why does this work? First, placebo effects can be very real. Second, it doesn’t. And in some cases it does active harm because it prevents people from seeking an actual treatment.

Homeopathic claims are well-established quackery. The concentrations that are used often ensure that not a single molecule of the original substance is even present in the water. No, the water molecules do not “remember” anything about the intention of the homeopath. They’re just molecules of water, nothing special — and no curative effects. It’s not that the mechanism is unproven, it’s that current scientific knowledge precludes the operation of any conceivable mechanism.

So homeopathy is not a natural remedy because it is no remedy at all. I’m sure plenty of supposed natural remedies are placebos as well, but at least there is a possible mechanism — plants contain numerous substances and it’s entirely possible that some of them have an effect on the condition for which they are used. There are plenty of well-established plant medicines, including many that have made the jump to purified pharmaceuticals (e.g. willow bark to aspirin). When you have a cold, it’s a better bet health-wise and certainly more pleasant to have chicken soup or tea with honey and lemon than any homeopathic placebos.

My concern is that association with homeopathy and related quackery makes a bad name for other alternative, but vastly more legitimate items that are to be found in natural food stores.

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