You may have seen it in movies, or heard it talked about like it’s an ancient myth: old women creating at-home remedies to help cure various ailments. Homeopathy, which literally means “like disease” in Greek, aims to treat illnesses using very small amounts of herbs and other natural substances.
Homeopathy, like a lot of holistic medicines, can quickly seem much like other natural approaches to health. But homeopathy is its own distinct branch of natural, non-conventional medicine with a philosophy all its own.
Here are seven fast facts to help you explore the often-misunderstood world of homeopathy.
Homeopathic remedies are regulated by the FDA.
Unlike supplements, homeopathic remedies are actually regulated by the FDA in America. But—and it’s a big “but”—the FDA doesn’t actually test the remedies for safety or effectiveness. What does that mean? The FDA evaluates the purity of ingredients, but not whether the components deliver on their claims.
Still, the FDA has been known to warn consumers against homeopathic products that could be especially ineffective—for example, over-the-counter homeopathic asthma products back in 2015.
Homeopathy was created by a German physician about 250 years ago.
Homeopathy may be confused with Eastern medicine, but the two have very different origins. Homeopathy was the brainchild of a physician named Samuel Hahnemann, who created it as a response to an experience self-medicating with dosages of quinine bark. Hahnemann, a licensed physician in Germany, believed an illness could be cured by medicines that would cause similar symptoms if given to an otherwise healthy person. This is the origin of the philosophy of “like cures like.”
Homeopathy is intensely personalized.
Homeopathy, from its beginning, has always relied on in-depth one-on-one consultations between physician and patient to determine lifestyle factors that might contribute to their illness, stressors and past health issues.
Homeopathy is extremely popular, especially in Britain and India.
Despite the FDA’s dubious take on homeopathic remedies and some arguing that key concepts in the medical approach actually contradict the fundamentals of chemistry and physics, homeopathy is a burgeoning market.
About 15% of Brits claimed to trust homeopathy, and it remains extremely popular in Germany, its country of origin, and has the most devotees in India.
Meanwhile in the U.S., sales of homeopathic remedies reached $6.4 billion in 2012; that’s a 3% growth from the year before and a major 16% growth since 2007. As health and fitness continue to enter the mainstream, the U.S. market for homeopathy is expected to grow.
Homeopathy has always been favored by royalty.
Homeopathy had an early reputation for being quackery. But it was able to rise above that, thanks in part to its very notable devotees. In its early days, homeopathy was favored by the British Royal family, Charles Dickens, W.B. Yeats, Pope Pius X, outspoken American abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and Zabina Eastman.
Today, David Beckham, Tina Turner, actor Jude Law and the present day Queen of England all count themselves among homeopathy’s faithfuls.
Homeopathy is still popular for certain diseases.
Some of the most common conditions treated by homeopathy are depression, hay fever, headache and migraine, neurotic disorders, arthritis, asthma and hypertension. Five homeopathic hospitals have been founded in Britain, two with in-patient units.
The concentration of homeopathic remedies actually varies (a lot).
Homeopathy is characterized by—and often ridiculed for—its extremely diluted formulas. And that was exactly how Hahnemann wanted it.
Modern-day medical professionals are baffled by how a medication with almost no active ingredient could cause any change. However, liquid homeopathic remedies sometimes contain levels of alcohol that are higher than allowed in conventional drugs, and some remedies advertised as being homeopathic aren’t diluted at all or enough. A 2012 review found that certain homeopathic treatments even contained non-diluted levels of mercury, iron and other heavy metals—all of which may cause serious adverse effects.
Homeopathy might be considered outdated or “wishy washy” by many. But it continues to be popular in Europe, and is becoming more so by wellness-minded people in the U.S. Just know that if you’re dabbling in homeopathy, you should let your doctor know to ensure it doesn’t interfere with any other medications. And take your homeopathic formulas with a grain of salt, figuratively, as they might not actually do much.