8.5 Homeopathy

Samuel Hahnemann was a German physician who established the system of medical treatment known as homeopathy. When testing an antimalarial drug, quinine, he observed that the drug produced a malaria-like fever. He concluded that the drug was effective because it produced a similar effect to the illness it was meant to cure. From this he developed the principle of homeopathic medicine, that is, ‘like cures like’. The opposite concept is allopathy, which is the treatment of disease by conventional means, that is, with drugs having effects opposite to the symptoms.

Homeopathic dilution involves diluting the homeopathic preparation in alcohol or water. Practitioners believe that during the mixing process (known in homeopathy as succession) the preparation is ‘activated’ and successive dilutions (serial dilutions) increase the ‘potency’ of the preparation.

Dilutions of homeopathic products that are sold today usually range from 6X to 30X. This is homeopathy’s system for measuring dilution, and it doesn’t mean 1 part in 6 or 1 part in 30. X is the roman numeral representing 10. A 6X dilution means 1 part in 106, or 1 in 1 million. A 30X dilution means 1 part in 1030, or 1 followed by 30 zeros. A few products are even marketed using the C scale, C being the roman numeral representing 100 – so 30C is 10030!

  • Do you think homeopathy works?


Extreme dilutions

Although it remains a popular alternative medicine, the British House of Commons Science and Technology Committee concluded in 2010 that homeopathic treatments fare no better than placebos.
The most widely accepted method of testing the effectiveness of a new drug is the randomised controlled trial. In this method one group of patients, the control group, receives a placebo or standard treatment, and another group of patients receives the drug being tested. To avoid bias the trial is conducted double-blind. That is, neither the patient nor the practitioner making observations knows if the treatment is the trial drug or the placebo.

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