Nobel laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan put the spotlight on homeopathy when he dismissed it as bogus science, but it’s business as usual for the 2.65 lakh registered practitioners of homeopathy in India.
“No one in chemistry believes in homoeopathy. It works because of placebo effect,” said Ramakrishnan, the India-born President of the Royal Society, who won the Nobel for Chemistry in 2009, speaking at the Panjab University at Chandigarh.
Over the past decade, modern science has dismissed homeopathy as nothing more what it appears to be: sugar pills that do nothing more than give you empty calories.
A major nail in the coffin was an analysis of 110 homoeopathy trials and 110 matched conventional-medicine trials published in The Lancet in 2005 that concluded “the clinical effects of homoeopathy are placebo effects”. It found homoeopathic treatments were not more effective than dummy pills, but allopathic medicine were.
In India, however, the modern medicine versus homeopathy battle is far from over. Advocates of homeopathy are quick to dismiss it and similar findings as pharmaceutical industry’s attempt to rubbish the growing popularity of alternative medicine, which is finding new converts every day and becoming a threat to allopathy.
“Instead of complaining about homeopathy’s lack of benefit, doctors should contemplate about the failings of modern medicine to address patients’ needs for personalized care. People use homeopathy because it orks for them,” says Dr Ramjee Singh, president, Central Council of Homeopathy, which is hosting a three-day national seminar on homeopathy supported by the Ministry of Ayush in New Delhi from Jan 8-10.
India is among the world’s biggest market for homeopathy in the world, pegged at Rs 1,500 crore and projected to grow by 20% each year. India has 195 homeopathic medical colleges, 51 homeopathic universities and 27 state councils, which train and register thousands of practitioners each year.
According to India’s Ministry of Ayush, it is the second most popular system of medicine after allopathy in the country with roughly 10% of the population relying soley on homeopathy for treatment.
Following a philosophy of ‘like treats like”, German physician and chemist Samuel Hahnemann developed homeopathy in 1796. He restored health by administering highly diluted amounts of substances such as arsenic, belladonna, sepia, nutmeg or chamomile, which, in larger quantities, cause symptoms like those suffered by the patient.
He believed that the water retained a memory of the vital essence of the substance used. Scientists have long questioned the very basis of homeopathy because it seems implausible for such diluted forms of a chemical to have any medical or pharmacological action. In most cases, the final homeopathic preparation does not contain a single molecule of the original herb or mineral.
Will the questioning of its effectiveness be the beginning of the end of the multi billion-dollar industry? Even critics of homeopathy doubt it.
For one, there are many other studies, both clinical and non-clinical, that demonstrate homeopathy’s efficacy and safety in treating some diseases. “It has survived for over 250 years because people consider it far safer than other forms of medicine. I don’t mind using alternative medicines because it is not toxic and has no side effects. And it works for me,” says the Delhi-based teacher Meenakshi Kriplani, who has been using homeopathy to treat her asthma.
After all, they say, what harm can a few sugar pills do?
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