How homeopathy “works”

How homeopathy “works”

(Note that in 2018 an article was published that supports what I’m saying here)

What if the placebo effect isn’t a trick?

For a long time, I put homeopathy in the same category as organized religion. I felt both were based primarily on faith with little science to back them up. I believed that both were the refuge of the weak or less intelligent among us.

The problem is that even among smart people, homeopathy is very popular and many people swear by it. Heck, in much of Europe and Asia, homeopathy is practically mainstream. Is this a pervasive mass delusion?

Before too many people think I’m crazy, I should mention that I strongly believe that homepathic remedies simply cannot work based on their physical content. They are basically salt or sugar pills or plain water and the notion that they contain some “essence” or “memory” that has a physical effect on the body makes little sense.

So, how is it that so many people feel that homeopathy works?

Complicated question, but the body is a complicated thing! Western medicine has long operated on the notion that you see a doctor, get a diagnosis, and get some sort of treatment (usually pills). Then you are cured or at least back to being productive.

Homeopathy comes from a completely different angle, in that it believes your body has a great deal of power to heal itself and that making yourself healthy will both help you recover from illness as well as prevent future illness. I don’t see how many people could find that much wrong with this specific aspect of homepathy.

Homepathic doctors also greatly differ from Western doctors in the following ways:

  1. They spend a significantly greater amount of time with their patients.
  2. They tend to be very empathetic.
  3. They spend a lot of time on psychological issues, making them almost hybrids between doctors and therapists. Because of the mind-body connection in health, this can be very important.
  4. They can often convince people (and rightly so!) that the body has an amazing power to heal itself. When people go to the doctor and expect the doctor to fix the problem, that implies that the body is somewhat weak and helpless and that it’s mostly out of your control. It’s not.

Just having a doctor listen to you and help you understand how strong your mind and body are and how it really can assist in recovering from or preventing illness is, in my mind, a huge reason why homeopathy works for many people.

Now we get onto the subject of homeopathic remedies, which is what people tend to focus on. Here we have doctors prescribing people pills or liquids with absolutely nothing in them and yet people claim they actually work! Smart people, even!

How does that happen?

Well, I think there is a strong case that the placebo effect has a lot to do with it, but I think there’s more to it than that. When a homeopathic doctor prescribes a remedy, s/he will tend to associate it with something very specific, like a specific symptom or illness or a specific psychological issue.

Even if you are a die-hard skeptic such as myself, when you take this remedy, I believe your subconscious mind is remembering what your doctor associated this remedy with, even if you don’t consciously recall that while taking it. Perhaps when the remedy was given to you, you discussed the importance of relaxing and letting go of something painful in your past. It’s not inconceivable that taking a salt pill that your brain associates with letting go actually makes you let go a little.

Combined with placebo effect and the empathy of the doctor, I can see how over time, people can feel that a remedy “works” even though it essentially contains nothing. I think the subconscious mind is so ridiculously powerful that even crazy stuff like this is possible.

Having said all this, I have a lot of disdain for homepathic doctors that claim all sorts of magical powers in these remedies. It’s like acupuncturists that claim things about mystical pathways in your body. The truth is that sticking needles in your body does seem to have some sort of therapeutic effect. We don’t know completely why, but it works for a lot of really smart people. Not because of crazy pathways, but because the body and mind are amazing things.

I also have disdain for these manufacturers making homepathic remedies that contain no active ingredients and charging more for them than over-the-counter medicines. $35 for a small eye dropper bottle full of water is absurd, even if it does “work”.

For a long time, I believed that homeopathy was a gigantic crock. I think someday we’ll understand how homepathy actually works for so many people.

One interesting counterpoint here is that if you read the information booklet that comes with prescription drugs, you’ll find that few of them actually contain info on how the drug works, because they really just don’t know! Is that any less crazy than taking a salt pill that your subconscious brain can potentially use to reduce your stress or anxiety, leading to better overall heath?

Organized religion is still bunk, though.