As for the dangers of the homeopathic medicines, it is widely recognized that their greatest danger may be only their delaying the use of other potentially effective medical treatments. Since most homeopaths are medical doctors or some other licensed medical professional, they generally know when conventional medical care is required or when referral to a specialist is indicated.
Another potential danger of homeopathic medicines arises if a person continues to take a medicine when it is not indicated. A small percentage of such people may experience a "proving"---the symptoms produced in overdose of the subsubstance. These symptoms may occur, as previously described, even with high potencies. Homeopaths do not consider the symptoms of a proving to be a major danger since they usually end shortly after the person stops taking the medicine. Some homeopaths stop a proving by prescribing the same medicine in a higher (more dilute) potency, and some homeopaths give a medicine which is known to antidote the symptoms of the medicine being proven. Because a proving is possible when a person isn't taking the correct medicine, it is recommended not to take a medicine longer than one week unless under professional homeopathic care.
The first time an American medical journal ever published a case suggesting that there is danger in taking homeopathic medicines was in a recent letter to the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine. (1) In the case reported, a patient took eight doses in two hours as recommended by a chiropractor and shortly thereafter experienced severe epigastric pain which was later diagnosed as pancreatitis (a potentially dangerous disease). It should be noted however the remedy prescribed by the chiropractor was a "combination medicine" (with 19 different ingredients) and that it was prescribed for the treatment of cancer. Although the patient's health history was not described in the letter, one might assume that he wasn't healthy prior to treatment, and one should not necessarily assume that the medicine caused this condition.
There is general consensus that homeopathic medicines are safe, though like carrot juice, vitamins, and many "natural" substances, can be misused. Homeopathy is promoted by the National Center of Homeopathy as "The Safer Medicine." There is little disagreement on this fact.
1. H.D. Kerr and G.W. Yarborough, "Pancreatitis Following Ingestion of a Homeopathic Preparation," New England Journal of Medicine, 314, 25, June 19, 1986.
Copyright 1991 by Dana Ullman, M.P.H. used by permission of the author from
the book Discovering Homeopathy: Medicine for the 21st Century published
by Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam.
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