Why Users Say Homeopathy Works

William T. Jarvis, Ph.D.
April 1, 1997

Homeopathy is a fraud perpetrated on the public with the government’s blessing, thanks to the abuse of political power of Sen. Royal Copeland (chief sponsor of the 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act).

There are at least six reasons why users may say homeopathic remedies work:

  • The placebo effect. This was inadequately dealt with by Stehlin and obviously misunderstood by Jennifer Jacobs, M.D. [a family physician with a license to practice homeopathy]. Placebo responses are due to more than just pep talks. Belief in a substance is only one mechanism of placebo action. Suggestibility and conditioning are among some others. Animals are subject to both. Recall Pavlov’s classical experiments. Animals also respond well to attention by humans. Further, whether the animal is better or not is determined by humans observing the creature, not objective reporting by the animals.
  • Natural ups and downs of symptoms or natural remission. The person (or animal) would have gotten better anyhow through natural healing processes. Such responses can be long term and are unpredictable.
  • The remedy contains an effective dose of real medicine. There is no way of interpreting the labels of homeopathic products because active ingredients are not quantified. There have been reports of toxicity from homeopathic products. Most products are not 24X dilutions.
  • Adulteration. Remedies may be spiked with real medicines or stimulants not named on their labels. These may work effectively or produce a “Dr. Feelgood” response.
  • Denial of discomfort. For true believers, homeopathy is a religion. Homeopathic vitalism validates the existence of soul for many. Such believers are delusional and see only what they want to see.
  • Liars, with a financial interest in selling the products or with a self-interest in telling a good story.
  • The National Council Against Health Fraud believes that all medicines should comply with standards American con-sumers have a right to expect:
    • interpretable labels
    • premarketing proof of safety
    • premarketing proof of efficacy
    • good manufacturing standards that guarantee product quality
    • effective tracking to uncover unanticipated adverse effects
    • truthful advertising.

Let’s have a level playing field.

At thentime this was written, Dr. Jarvis was President of National Council Against Health Fraud and Professor of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Loma Linda University Schools of Public Health and Medicine. This analysis was originally published in the April 1997 issue of FDA Consumer magazine.