British fans of homeopathic remedies may soon need to acquire their diluted concoctions without help (or covered costs) from the medical establishment. As BBC News reports, Parliament ministers are seriously reconsidering whether the UK's National Health Services (NHS) agency should continue spending over $6 million per year on homeopathic prescriptions and treatments for its citizens when, as the NHS puts it, there's simply "no good-quality evidence that homeopathy is effective as a treatment for any health condition."
First named and described in the early 19th century by German healer Samuel Hahnemann, homeopathic medicine is based on a principle of "like cures like" (or “Similia similibus curentur”), meaning that substances which cause certain symptoms are best used to treat those same symptoms. It's also based on the idea that water has "memory," and will contain and deliver qualities of a substance long after it's all but been removed entirely from a preparation. In keeping with the latter foundational point, it seems, is the homeopathic practice of "potentiation," or heavily diluting water-based treatments—sometimes leaving only a molecule or two (or perhaps even less) of the original, supposedly symptom-causing-and-treating herb or mineral in the mixture—which is supposed to make them more effective.
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Homeopathy has long been the subject of firm criticism from mainstream doctors and scientists alike, but also from proponents of other forms of "alternative" medical treatment. A 2002 report by the dedicated alternative and complementary medicine researcher Dr. Edzard Ernst, for example, found that according to all accessed studies on homeopathy to date, “there was no condition which responds convincingly better to homeopathic treatment than to placebo or other control interventions [and] no homeopathic remedy that was demonstrated to yield clinical effects that are convincingly different from placebo.” In a 2009 paper on the topic, Ernst and colleague Dr. Michael Baum further summarized their not-uncommon view that the watered-down substances can have some powerfully damaging effects should people forgo legitimate medicine for homeopathy:
Homeopathy is among the worst examples of faith-based medicine that gathers shrill support of celebrities and other powerful lobbies in place of a genuine and humble wish to explore the limits of our knowledge using the scientific method … [and its primary axioms] are not only out of line with scientific facts but also directly opposed to them. If homeopathy is correct, much of physics, chemistry, and pharmacology must be incorrect. To put it more strongly, in the parallel universe of homeopathy, life, as we know it, would be inconceivable, and the alien creatures that might dwell in that hostile environment are hard to envisage.
If this is the case, the NHS may do well to keep homeopathic cures separate from evidence-supported ones in its treatment of ailing Brits—in other words, off its prescription pads.
[h/t BBC News]