Homeopathy is big business as an alternative to traditional medicine; for hundreds of years, people have sworn by it as a treatment for everything from minor skin irritations to serious illnesses.
But when it comes to actual scientific proof of success, homeopathic medicine simply falls short. Way short. A new video from the American Chemical Society explains why the science behind homeopathy is so flawed that it can’t ever work.
“At best, [homeopathic medicines are] a harmless waste of money, but at worst they might endanger people’s health, by encouraging them to skip treatments they need,” says the ACS.
“When homeopathy was invented, the concept of atoms and molecules hadn’t been developed — so people couldn’t know that you could dilute something until it was gone. At [dilutions commonly used in homeopathy], there is zero chance of finding a single molecule in your vial. You’ve diluted it so many times there really isn’t anything left. Homeopaths also claim that water can somehow ‘remember’ what has dissolved in it. To date, there has been no evidence of this phenomenon — which violates some deeply held principles of physical science. The foundational concepts of homeopathy are bunk.”
So what conclusions, then, should we draw from those who claim homeopathic remedies have successfully treated their condition or complaint? This could be down to the placebo effect (the existence of which the ACS doesn’t deny).
Anything can be a placebo, including all types of alternative treatments. Researchers often use placebos when testing new drugs to determine their effects on a particular condition. Sometimes a person can have a response — positive or negative — to a placebo, which is known as the placebo effect. This can happen both when the person doesn’t know they have taken a placebo (as opposed to a real drug) and when they have. One of the most common theories about the placebo effect is that it is caused by a person’s expectations. If a person expects a pill to do something, it’s possible that the complex relationship between the mind and the body’s own chemistry could cause an effect similar to what a medication might have caused.
Scientific studies have shown that the placebo effect does exist, meaning, for some people, taking a placebo will actually improve their health (depending on the disease — studies have shown that placebos can affect conditions such as depression, pain, some sleep disorders, irritable bowel syndrome and menopause).
Beyond the placebo effect, however, there simply isn’t the science to back up homeopathic practitioners’ claims that the use of highly diluted substances can cause the body to heal itself.