Homeopathy Debate

December 19, 2003 • Volume 13, Issue 44
Does the treatment work?
By Sarah Glazer

Introduction

Hundreds of homeopathic medications are sold over the counter in the United States for a wide range of chronic ailments. Homeopathy is the world's second-leading form of health care after herbal medicine, according to the World Health Organization.  (Courtesy Dr. John Ives)
Hundreds of homeopathic medications are sold over the counter in the United States for a wide range of chronic ailments. Homeopathy is the world's second-leading form of health care after herbal medicine, according to the World Health Organization. (Courtesy Dr. John Ives)

Growing numbers of Americans are using homeopathy, a 19th-century system of medicine that relies on highly diluted remedies to spur self-healing. Some hospitals are offering homeopathic treatments, and some health insurance plans now cover them. Despite tales of dramatic healing from some patients, skeptics say it is biologically impossible for homeopathy to work as believers claim. The medicines are so diluted that it's highly unlikely they retain any of the original active ingredients. But some randomized, controlled studies have found that homeopathy works better than a placebo for flu, allergies, postoperative constipation and childhood diarrhea. Patients' reports of miraculous cures remain a mystery, but some experts attribute them to the healing power of belief.

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