What are homeopathic medicines?
Homeopathy is a 200-year old European system of medicine. The active ingredients in homeopathic medicines are highly diluted plants, animals, and minerals that are believed to relieve the same symptoms they cause at full strength.
For example, a bee sting causes swelling, itching, and a stinging pain. Similar symptoms caused by hives, a rash, or an actual bee sting may be relieved by a homeopathic medicine made from a high dilution of a bee.
What can homeopathic medicines be used for?*
Homeopathic medicines are used to relieve symptoms of a wide range of acute health conditions, including cough, cold, flu, muscle pain, occasional sleeplessness, and seasonal allergies.
Like all therapeutic methods, homeopathic medicine has limits. When the condition treated is not reversible (e.g., Diabetes Type I where the function of the organ is impaired) or when the patient is unable to react to homeopathic stimulation (e.g., a deep-rooted infection), then homeopathic medicines should not be used.
Are homeopathic medicines safe?
Manufacturers must meet the same quality standards as other OTC drugs (see below). Generally, very few side effects have been reported in association with homeopathic products. To ensure the highest level of safety, carefully read all instructions and warnings on the product label before taking any homeopathic product and comply with all dosing instructions. Make sure to keep all medicines, including homeopathic products, out of the sight and reach of children.
How do homeopathic medicines work?
As with many treatments, the exact mechanism of action in homeopathic medicines is not known. The current theory is that a homeopathic medicine helps the body’s own defense mechanism instead of working against the body as a suppressant. For example, a homeopathic cough syrup may work to loosen chest congestion to make a cough more productive rather than suppressing the cough. It acts as an expectorant, helping the body clear its upper respiratory system.
How are homeopathic medicines regulated?
Products labeled as homeopathic and currently marketed in the U.S. have not been reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for safety and effectiveness to diagnose, treat, cure, prevent or mitigate any diseases or conditions. Homeopathic drug manufacturing facilities are required to be registered with FDA and FDA inspects facilities that produce homeopathic medicines to make sure they are in compliance with Good Manufacturing Practices. The agency also oversees the product label claims made about homeopathic medicines.
Like labeling for conventional OTC medicines, labels for homeopathic medicines must state specific diseases, ailments, or symptoms for which the product is to be used; the concentration of an active substance or substances contained in the product; the recommended dosage; and the route of administration. This distinguishes homeopathic medicines from vitamins or other dietary supplements that are defined and regulated as food under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), as dietary supplements may not make disease or drug claims under DSHEA.
How should I read the label?
Active ingredients in homeopathic medicines are listed on product labels in Latin, which is the international labeling standard.
A “C” or “X” followed by a number indicates the homeopathic dilution. The C scale (or centesimal scale) means that each dilution is 100 times more diluted than the previous one. The X scale means that each dilution is 10 times more diluted than the previous one. The number indicates how many times the substance has been diluted using this process. For instance, 5C is 100 times more diluted than 4C.
Last, the acronym “HPUS” stands for Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States. The HPUS defines the production and usage standards recognized by all reputable manufacturers and the federal government. Consumers should look for this acronym on labels of homeopathic products. It ensures consumers that the ingredients were prepared according to the high standards of this official guideline.
Commonly Confused Terms
Many people incorrectly use the terms below interchangeably with homeopathy. Here are a few simple definitions to help clarify these frequently confused concepts:
- Holistic—While conventional medicine focuses on symptoms that cause pain or discomfort, holistic therapies factor in the whole person—body, mind, and spirit—as well as the environment, background, and history to rebalance and resolve an issue. Homeopathy is just one of many therapies that fall under the general category of holistic.
- Herbal Supplements—These products use plants solely as a raw material. Herbal products do not undergo the homeopathic manufacturing process and therefore are not diluted to the extent of homeopathic medicines. Herbal supplements are regulated as dietary supplements in the United States, while homeopathic products are regulated as drugs.
- Home Remedy—Common household items can be used to relieve symptoms. An example would be the use of honey to soothe a sore throat or steam from a shower to help loosen congestion.
*Claims based on traditional homeopathic practice, not accepted medical evidence. Not FDA evaluated.