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What are homeopathy and homeopathic remedies?
Homeopathy is a practice based on the premise that “like cures like.” Those who use homeopathic remedies believe symptoms of illness are a normal response in the body to regain health. If a particular substance is causing these symptoms, homeopathic practitioners believe that giving a person a very small amount of that same substance will help boost the body’s normal healing process and cure the illness.
How many people use homeopathic remedies?
According to the National Center for Homeopathy, more than 500 million people worldwide use homeopathic remedies.
How are homeopathic remedies made?
The highly diluted active ingredients in homeopathic remedies are usually made from plant material, although some are made from specific minerals, salts, and insects. Very few are made from animal products or disease material itself. Most homeopathic remedies start with these active ingredients but have very little left after the dilution process. They are available in various forms, including capsules and tablets, creams and ointments, gels, granules, liquids, and sprays.
Are homeopathic remedies regulated by the FDA?
While the active ingredients in homeopathic remedies are considered to be drugs by law, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not specifically evaluate homeopathic remedies for safety or effectiveness. Most are manufactured and sold according to FDA guidelines but without FDA approval, as long as:
- The remedy contains only an active ingredient listed in the Homeopathic Pharmacopeia of the United States (HPUS)
- The product, outer container, or accompanying leaflet includes at least one major indication (i.e., symptom to be treated), a list of ingredients, the number of times the active ingredient has been diluted, and directions for use.
Is a prescription needed for homeopathic remedies?
Most homeopathic remedies are available over-the-counter (OTC) because they treat minor health problems, like a cold or headache, which typically go away on their own without treatment. If a homeopathic remedy claims to treat a serious disease such as cancer, a prescription from a licensed practitioner is needed.
Are homeopathic remedies effective?
Critics of homeopathic remedies believe any positive effect from homeopathic remedies is from a placebo effect—meaning that thinking it will be helpful makes it so. Supporters of homeopathic remedies believe that the diluted active ingredients contain enough medicine for the body to recognize and react to it. However, actual evidence of effectiveness is conflicting. While several earlier studies1,2 suggested that the clinical effects of homeopathy were only due in part to a placebo effect, later studies, including a 2005 study published in The Lancet,3 concluded that the positive effects of homeopathic remedies were due only to the placebo effect.
1) Linde K, Clausius N, Ramirez G, et al. Are the clinical effects of homoeopathy placebo effects? A meta-analysis of placebo-controlled trials. Lancet. 1997; 350:834-43.
2) Taylor MA, Reilly D, Liewellyn-Jones RH, et al. Randomised controlled trial of homeopathy versus placebo in perennial allergic rhinitis with overview of four trial series. BMJ. 2000;321:471-6.
3) Shang A, Huwiler-Muntener K, Nartey L, et al. Are the clinical effects of homoeopathy placebo effects? Comparative study of placebo-controlled trials of homoeopathy and allopathy. Lancet. 2005;366:726-32.
Are homeopathic remedies safe?
Most homeopathic remedies are considered to be safe. But like all remedies, care should be taken to avoid misuse and errors. Consider the following:
- Strength varies. Most homeopathic remedies are prepared in a highly diluted form. However, some products that are sold or labeled as homeopathic may not be very dilute; they can contain significant amounts of active ingredients. Like any drug or dietary supplement that contains chemical ingredients, these homeopathic remedies may cause side effects or drug interactions.
- Manufacturing not regulated. Homeopathic remedies fall under the category of “buyer beware.” Like any drug or dietary supplement, these products could pose risks if they are improperly manufactured (for example, if they are contaminated with microorganisms or incorrectly diluted).
- Alcohol content. The liquid homeopathic drugs may contain alcohol. The FDA allows higher levels of alcohol in these remedies than it allows in traditional medicines. Homeopathic products containing alcohol should be used with extreme caution in children.
- Not a substitute for medical care. Do not use homeopathy as a replacement for proven conventional care or to postpone seeing a healthcare provider about a medical problem.
- Not a substitute for immunizations. Certain homeopathic remedies have been promoted by some as an alternative to conventional immunizations, but data to support such claims is lacking. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) supports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations for immunizations/vaccinations.
- Let your doctor and pharmacist know. If you are considering using a homeopathic remedy, bring the product with you when you visit your doctor or pharmacist. They may be able to help you determine whether the product might pose a risk of side effects or interact with other drugs you are taking.
Additional resource: http://nccam.nih.gov/health/homeopathy