Homeopathic Remedies: Natural Miracle Cures, “Faith-Based Medicine,” or Plain Old Scam?

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Or are alternative homeopathic treatments—which produce no provable results according to science, yet which are still recommended by some doctors—some combination of natural remedy and mind game?

“Ultimately, who gives a damn whether it’s scientifically proven if it works? … There are very valid questions about how it works, but whether it’s my mind or the product, it’s working and it’s working without side effects.”

That’s the argument for homeopathic remedies presented by Anthony Qaiyum, the co-owner of a large homeopathic pharmacy in Chicago, quoted in a recent Chicago Tribune story. He has a point. If you feel that some vitamin or herb is helping, then it’s helping. Then again, I’m sure that centuries ago, people genuinely felt that leeches helped ease their arthritis or chronic back pain.

For some doctors and scientists, the prospect of unproven, scientifically unfounded treatments is borderline insulting. The Tribune sums up the sentiment of homeopathy critics here:

Few things rile scientific skeptics more than homeopathy, a baffling form of alternative medicine in which patients are given highly diluted and vigorously shaken preparations to trigger the body’s natural healing ability. Though it has been used for centuries and some studies have reported positive findings, the practice has no known scientific basis. Most analyses have concluded there’s no evidence it works any better than a sugar pill.

Who needs evidence? Not the growing number of American consumers who in 2009 bought into homeopathic treatments to the tune of $870 million—up 10% from the year before.

Cough and cold medications—which include some homeopathic remedies—are a $4 billion-a-year business in the U.S., even though, to quote an Infectious Disease Society spokesman, “there’s nothing that works.”

Why do we waste money on products with no provable effects?

Life is full of mysteries, and doctors and scientists don’t always have all the answers. After all, these were the folks prescribing leeches a few centuries back.

Most likely, however, the most powerful all-natural cure is the one provided by the human brain. When you’re sick or in pain, doing nothing but waiting feels like you’re almost giving up. You have to do something, and taking action—almost any sort of action—brings a degree of comfort. That comfort alone may be worth the cost of whatever homeopathic remedy or cold medicine you’re taking.

Now if only you could convince your brain to make you feel better without having to spend lots of money or gulp sugar pills …

That’d be a true miracle.

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