FAQ: What is homeopathic medicine?

Eucalyptus leaves being ground for use in homeopathic medicine.

Homeopathic medicine, or homeopathy, has been around for more than 200 years, and there are often questions about what it involves. It’s based on three basic principles:

  • There’s a single remedy able to cure or help the physical, spiritual, emotional and mental symptoms of an illness.
  • A disease can be cured by a substance that causes the disease.
  • The minimum dose of a medication is the most effective dose.

Homeopathy isn’t evidence-based — there’s no evidence to support homeopathy as an effective treatment for any specific condition. Here, I answer some of the most common questions about homeopathy and its principles and explain reasons for caution in its use.

What's minimum dosing?

Minimum dosing is what most people probably think of when they think of homeopathic medicine. It's a very low dose of a medication, or the lowest diluted amount of a medication. In homeopathic medicine, the belief is that the lowest dose has the greatest effectiveness. There’s a dilution process that, in the end, results in essentially no molecules of the original substance in the final product. It does not go through any safety or efficacy approval because there's essentially not much product in it, if anything at all.

Homeopathic vs. “natural”

I think sometimes people confuse homeopathic medications and herbal medications, but they’re two different things.

What are some examples of homeopathic products?

Homeopathic products come from plants, minerals, poisons and sometimes crushed insects. A product might contain onions to treat congestion, for example. Another example is poison ivy: The idea is that, if poison ivy can cause a problem, it can also treat the same problem. So, following homeopathy, the substance that causes a problem, in diluted form, would, in theory, act as a stimulus to trigger the body's natural healing process.

Is there risk in using homeopathic products with medications?

There isn’t a comprehensive list of contraindications that exist for these products. However, some products do contain ingredients that can cause concern when taken with medications. For example, calcarea carbonica contains an impure version of calcium carbonate, made from shells, which can have a negative reaction with some medications. Another example is eucalyptus, a natural ingredient found in trees and shrubs, which can have some drug interactions.

Further, while many homeopathic products are highly diluted, some products labeled as homeopathic could contain active ingredients. It’s important to understand the ingredients in any product taken. The best advice is to tell your provider and pharmacist what you're planning to take, and they can check for you to ensure it’s safe.

Is there risk in using homeopathic products to treat illness?

There are statements about not using these agents for treating chronic and severe diseases like asthma, cancer, cardiovascular disease or in any emergency situation. Also, there’s no proven efficacy for homeopathic vaccines, so they should never be used in place of traditional vaccination to prevent communicable diseases.

Alcohol is often used as a vehicle for some of these preparations. Always use caution with special populations, like children and people who are breastfeeding or pregnant. People who are lactose intolerant should also use caution because some of the preparations could contain lactose.

Does the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulate homeopathic products?

Homeopathic products are regulated as drugs by the FDA and are subject to the same requirements and standards related to approval, manufacturing and branding. However, there are no FDA-approved homeopathic products.

Ohio State's Outpatient Pharmacy is uniquely positioned to give our patients individualized care.

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