Founded in early 19th century Europe, homeopathy is a medical discipline based on the ancient law of similars: the same substances that cause an illness will cure it when administered in infinitesimally small doses. (Vaccines operate on a similar principle). Using serially diluted remedies from natural sources, homeopaths (most of whom are naturopaths) treat and prevent illness using one medicine at a time at the lowest dosage possible to create the required response. Licensing requirements vary from state to state, and you will often find acupuncturists, naturopaths, herbalists, DO’s and MD’s who are also licensed homeopaths.
What the Science Says About Safety and Side Effects of Homeopathy
- While many homeopathic products are highly diluted, some products sold or labeled as homeopathic may not be; they can contain substantial amounts of active ingredients, which may cause side effects or drug interactions. Negative health effects from homeopathic products of this type have been reported.
- A 2012 systematic review of case reports and case series concluded that using certain homeopathic products (such as those containing heavy metals like mercury or iron that are not highly diluted) or replacing an effective conventional treatment with an ineffective homeopathic one can cause adverse effects, some of which may be serious.
- Liquid homeopathic products may contain alcohol. The FDA allows higher levels of alcohol in these than in conventional drugs.
- Homeopathic practitioners expect some of their patients to experience “homeopathic aggravation” (a temporary worsening of existing symptoms after taking a homeopathic prescription). Researchers have not found much evidence of this reaction in clinical studies; however, research on homeopathic aggravations is scarce. Always discuss changes in your symptoms with your health care provider.
- The FDA has warned consumers about different products labeled as homeopathic. For example, in 2017 it alerted consumers that some homeopathic teething tablets had excessive amounts of the toxic substance belladonna; in 2015, it warned consumers not to rely on over-the-counter asthma products labeled as homeopathic, because they are not evaluated by the FDA for safety and effectiveness.
Homeopathic treatments can be useful in many cases. But you need to try them out on individual basis.