When you have a particularly bad headache or come down with a cold, you might buy some medicine from a local drugstore and take the day off. However, another option for relieving your symptoms is gaining popularity: homeopathy.
It emerged in the late 18th century when physicist Samuel Hahnemann developed homeopathy as a response to the unhygienic and dangerous medical practices at the time. Although it did lose popularity after his death, it saw a resurgence in the 1970s. Sold in small glass containers, homeopathic treatments typically come in the form of small, rounded pills. These pills are made from diluting substances that cause the ailment they intend to cure.
For example, homeopathic treatment for skin rashes might include bee venom, belladonna, or poison ivy, all of which typically cause skin rashes. Most homeopathic medicines are diluted in water, to a point at which no atoms of the original substance are present, but the 'essence' remains.
For some, it can sound tempting, or maybe even trustworthy, but homeopathy is not scientifically supported. It is considered a pseudoscience by most scientists because it is chemically impossible for an 'essence' to remain with no atoms of the original substance. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved any homeopathic treatments, thanks to numerous studies on homeopathy that reveal the lack of significant effect on the illness it intends to treat. Although certain studies have shown minimal effectiveness in treatments, they are often the result of the placebo effect.
Homeopathy is intended to be an alternate and complementary medicine, meaning it cannot replace conventional medicine prescribed by a certified doctor or pediatrician. Most treatments are marketed for minor ailments, such as allergies, migraines, or bruises, and are relatively harmless. But certain homeopathic medicines claim to cure serious illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, or even cancer, which can prove dangerous to consumers who equate them with actual treatment for those illnesses.
Homeopathy is often marketed as a safe, reliable, and personalized treatment, and with huge pharmacy industries monopolizing medicine, it works. Valued at more than a billion dollars, the homeopathy industry is only continuing to grow. Used by an estimated 6 million Americans, and often advertised in supermarkets and by promoters of healthy lifestyles, corporations like Hahnemann Labs and Boiron have amassed millions of dollars.
Another aspect of homeopathy that attracts many is the 'personalized' approach it takes. In conventional medicine, treatments are developed to alleviate symptoms, even at the cost of heavy side effects individuals might suffer. Doctor's visits are largely impersonal: get in, get your prescription, and get out.
Clinical trials underrepresent minority groups who may suffer more extreme side effects. On the other hand, homeopathy consists of personalized sessions with a homeopathic practitioner, which can last up to several hours at a time. Practitioners attempt to understand each patient thoroughly, and tailor treatments accordingly.
It has also gained popularity, especially among teenagers, for treatments targeting mental illnesses. As many as 15% of teenagers suffer from a diagnosable mental illness, a number which rises to 25% by the time they are adults. However, depression and anxiety disorders lack effective modern medicines and can cause unwarranted side effects. This provides the perfect conditions for homeopathic companies to market themselves as a viable treatment.
After all of this, you might be thinking, why should I care? Well, the homeopathy industry has a projected growth rate of 12.5%, so it won't be long before alternative medicines start appearing on drugstore shelves as well. It is important to stay informed about alternate treatments, and the risks they pose. If you decide to purchase homeopathic or complementary medicine, always consult a medical professional. Although they may pose as a harmless, mild treatment, they aren't government-approved, and therefore, don't meet sanitation and safety requirements.
Next time you head to the drugstore for headache or cold medicine, you might just see a homeopathic label on a pill bottle. Just remember to make informed, safe decisions for your loved ones.