Study Finds Millions at Risk from Homeopathy

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Homeopathy may be the latest craze in the United States, but in areas of many other countries, it is the only kind of medicine people can get. While modern medicine will always trace its roots back to natural remedies, there is a passionate debate amongst global health activists on the merits of homeopathy. Some argue that cultural sensitivity is essential for any kind of partnership for better healthcare, and thus traditional medicine must be respected. After all, it must have some kind of benefits for those who believe in it; why would people keep practicing traditions that never work? Detractors cite the dangerous potential for the sick to remain ill, and even worse, for the healthy to become infirm themselves. If modern medicine will clear up an infection and prevent the rest of a village from getting sick, why should “ineffective” remedies be granted equal standing?

A chemical known as aristolochic acid (AA), found in plants like birthwort, was tied to a kidney disease epidemic in the 1990’s. Those who were infected had been using herbs with AA as treatment for weight loss, arthritis, and asthma. As a result, the medicinal use of plants with this chemical was banned by most Western nations, including the United States. However, a recent study from King’s College London claims that “millions of people are still being exposed, especially in Asia.” Countries like China still allow these herbs to be sold as medicines, which causes those seeking to improve their health to sometimes end up drastically worsening it. The main author of the report, Graham Lord, is the director of a Biomedical Research Center under the umbrella of the National Institute for Health Research. He is primarily concerned with assessing the levels of exposure worldwide to chemicals like AA; he argues that to do so is extremely difficult when many countries allow herbs with AA to be sold freely as medicine.

Proponents of herbal remedies often cite the dangers of modern medicine; pharmaceuticals can cause a wide range of side effects, and sometimes result in addiction, accidental overdose, and even death. Furthermore, they are made and sold by large corporations driven by profits instead of a desire for global health equity – perhaps why there seems to be more concern for curing male pattern baldness than diseases that affect the world’s poor. This opposition to modern medicine ties into – and sometimes stems from – a fundamental resistance to globalization. Advocates for pharmaceuticals have a tough nut to crack when it comes to persuading the world’s population to abandon ancient traditions in favor of hard science.

Jake Simon

Source: TIME

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