For more than two centuries homoeopathy has been believed to be one of the best alternative medicine systems to the allopathic mode. Millions of people across generations in over 85 countries have been purportedly benefitted by the use of homoeopathic medicines.
This form of medicine was founded by German doctor Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843) around 1795 and from then on, it had an undisputed reign over people’s psyche. Homoeopathy works on the premise that health is restored by administering highly diluted amounts of substances such as arsenic, belladonna, sepia, nutmeg or chamomile.
But modern science doubts that such highly diluted compositions can have any pharmaceutical benefit on a patient. In most cases, the final medicinal preparation doesn’t even contain a molecule of the original mineral.
In adding weight and giving currency to the skepticism, 2009-Nobel laureate scientist Venkatraman Ramakrishnan had a big role, who told an audience in Punjab University, Chandigarh some years back that homeopathy was a bogus science and no one in chemistry believed in homeopathy, which, he said only worked or seemed to work because of the placebo effect.
Several recent studies conducted in different parts of the world by independent scientific bodies like the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council; the United Kingdom's House of Commons Science and Technology Committee; the European Academies' Science Advisory Council; and the Swiss Federal Health Office have corroborated this.
It has been asserted by all of them that homoeopathy is a pseudo-science which doesn’t cure anything but only provides placebo effect, which people think and internalises as an effective treatment. The National Health Service in England has even announced a policy of not funding homoeopathic medicine.
So much so that they have called on the UK Department of Health to add homoeopathic remedies to the blacklist of forbidden prescription items. But in places and among people where homoeopathy has been extant for years and attached to people’s sentiments, it is hard to negate its effectiveness.
In India it is a dicey topic as the war between the affiliates and propagators of allopathic medicine and those advocating homoeopathy is ever raging. There is a huge section of the population which would aver with evidence that homoeopathy has cured them, while there will be an equally large section which would downplay and ridicule its effectiveness.
India is one of the largest homoeopathy markets in the world. The industry is pegged at Rs 1,500 -1,600 crore. Surprisingly, it is growing at a whopping 20 per cent every year. There are close to three lakh registered practitioners apart from the amateur and unregistered ones, while several thousand are being churned out by the 195-odd homoeopathy colleges and 51 homoeopathic universities. Homoeopathy happens to be the second most popular system of medicine in the country after allopathy.
No less than 10-12 per cent of people solely depend on homoeopathy, apart from a large chunk which belief in both homoeopathy and allopathy. The critics of allopath and beneficiaries of homoeopathy vehemently argue in favour of this branch of medicine as the one which is soothing, without the side-effects of allopathic medicines and accurately curing.
Now coming to the placebo effect, several studies say that placebo has a big role to play in allopathic treatment too. A study even established that the placebo effect in homoeopathy was no more than what it was in allopath.
The allopathic industry says that the kind of approach of a homoeopathic doctor, the attention and softness that is usually seen in them, apart from the keen recording of a patient’s past history etc create a mental state of goodness in the patient that ameliorates his maladies to a great extent.
Interestingly, the homoeopathic industry lays down many of the same reasons for allopathic medicines too. The hospital ambience, the high-end treatment facilities, the money involved etc, they say, have a big role to play in infusing positivity and energy in a patient, which act beneficially on his health, helping quick healing. Surprisingly, there is some truth in their claim too.
In a paper titled “The Powerful Placebo’ published in the Journal of American Medical Association in 1955, Boston doctor, Dr Henry Beecher concluded after his studies that even dummy medicines had some medical effects.
He postulated that up to 35 per cent of patients felt better when they were told that they were being given some effective and proven medicine even though they were actually given just dummy medicines.
The study holds true for all kinds of medicines, whether allopathic or homoeopathic. Nevertheless, homoeopaths don’t have any conclusive proof to support the actual medicinal value of their alternative way. It is more a general perception and people’s feedback that largely serves the cause of homoeopathy.
If individuals are talked to, there will be many who would reveal in detail the way they were helped by homoeopathy to come out of irrevocable medical conditions. That may or may not be a direct result of homoeopathic medicine and may have healed on its own or by the placebo effect but the belief and trust people have in homoeopathy cannot be dispelled easily by science through its clinical trials.
In any case, practical world experiences differ from the results of clinical trials and the role of variable parameters has to be admitted. Like homoeopathy in many cases, many allopathic medicines also target the symptoms rather than the actual disease and it is by rooting out of the symptoms that the disease also gets cured. Yet, in the end, science will have to win.
The odds are stacked against homoeopathy. It may not be mere sugar balls that are given in the name of medicine but may also not be much more than that either. The cures homoeopathy brings might just be chance occurrences or lucky escapes. Unless there is a strong scientific basis or a finding tested, re-tested and accepted across the spectrum on the basis of evidence that gives the same results every time, reason cannot give much leeway to homoeopathy.
It will always be out of the scientific realm unless proved otherwise through some future breakthrough in research. But for millions of believers across the world, despite the heartbreaks caused by the scientific revelations, homoeopathy will still remain the best antidote to all their ills and afflictions.