Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician disenchanted with these
methods, began to develop a theory based on three principles: the law
of similars, the minimum dose, and the single remedy.
The word homeopathy is derived from the Greek words for like (homoios)
and suffering (pathos). With the law of similars, Hahnemann theorized
that if a large amount of a substance causes certain symptoms in a
healthy person, smaller amounts of the same substance can treat those
symptoms in someone who is ill. The basis of his theory took shape
after a strong dose of the malaria treatment quinine caused his healthy
body to develop symptoms similar to ones caused by the disease. He
continued to test his theory on himself as well as family and friends
with different herbs, minerals and other substances. He called these
But, as might be expected, the intensity of the symptoms caused by the
original proving was harrowing. So Hahnemann began decreasing the doses
to see how little of a substance could still produce signs of healing.
With the minimum dose, or law of infinitesimals, Hahnemann believed
that a substance's strength and effectiveness increased the more it was
diluted. Minuscule doses were prepared by repeatedly diluting the
active ingredient by factors of 10. A "6X" preparation (the X is the
Roman numeral for 10) is a 1-to-10 dilution repeated six times, leaving
the active ingredient as one part per million. Essential to the process
of increasing potency while decreasing the actual amount of the active
ingredient is vigorous shaking after each dilution.
Somehomeopathic remediesare so dilute, no molecules of the healing
substance remain. Even with sophisticated technology now available,
analytical chemists may find it difficult or impossible to identify any
active ingredient. But the homeopathic belief is that the substance has
left its imprint or a spirit-like essence that stimulates the body to
Critics of homeopathy point out that no way such a dilute medicine could work. People are feeling better because of theplacebo effect. Critics also say the research in homeopathy is very unimpressive. Proponents of homeopathy point out to numerous trials that have been successful.
Recent homeopathictrialsinclude a trial done byA Swiss-UK review of 110 trials found no convincing evidence the treatment worked any better than a placebo. However, there seems to be many problems with this type oftrial.
The University of Limberg investigators, who are allepidemiologists, conducted an exhaustive search of the published
medical literature to find evidence of homeopathy's efficacy regardless
of implausibility. They found an astonishing 107 controlled studies.
Many of them compared a homeopathic remedy with a placebo. While some
studies were well designed, the investigators found that the methods
used in the majority left much to be desired. But their findings were
favorable enough toward homeopathy to suggest further evaluation: "Of
the better studies, 15 trials showed positive results whereas in seven
trials no positive effect could be detected (in one trial only
homeopathic treatments were compared with each other)."
They used strict criteria for the selection of the best trials.
Highest marks went to the studies with these characteristics: a large
number of participants, double blinding (neither physicians nor
participants know who is receiving thehomeopathic remedy), aplacebothat was described as indistinguished from the homeopathic remedy, and
random assignment of participants to a treatment group.
All in all, the University of Limberg investigators found that number
of published studies to be impressive. "The amount of positive evidence
even among the best studies came as a surprise to us." But they
acknowledged that many questions remain. Chief among them is a
plausible explanation for howhomeopathic remedieswork.
The article that quoted thehomeopathic studiesis a 1991 article. All homeopathic trials examined were before 1991. In part 2 of Homepathy: Proven Medicine or A Placebo we will look at more recent trials and guage those results.