Homeopathy is bogus. This is the expressed opinion of Nobel laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan who received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2009.

I must admit, those tiny bottles with drops and little sugary pills don’t look convincing. But if what they contain is totally ineffective, why has the use of homeopathic medicine increased 15% in the US in the past five years?

Ramakrishnana who was making the comments in Chandigarh, India recently, echoes the opinion held by a large portion of the general public and the medical establishment that homeopaths are quacks and their medicine at best harmless but certainly ineffective. Mainstream medicine has always looked down on homeopathy criticizing the practice for not being scientific.

There are logical reasons for this. Homeopathic medicines are made by diluting substances to a very high degree.  The resulting dilution makes it practically impossible to trace a single molecule of the active ingredient in the dilution. Homeopaths claim that the substance leaves a trace or memory in the water or other materials used to make the drops and pills.

Intuitively one questions the efficacy of these dilutions, and it indeed poses a real challenge to scientific evaluation of their efficacy because it’s very difficult to evaluate a medicine that hardly contains any or no active ingredients.

In August 2005, the renowned peer-reviewed journal The Lancet published a systematic review and meta-analysis, reported by a research group from the University of Berne, Switzerland. The study compared 110 similar trials on homeopathy and conventional medicine, and reached the conclusion that homeopathy is no better than placebo. The group later corrected their findings by including previously omitted smaller trials which changed the results of the study, but the damage to homeopathy was done.

It’s the reference to the placebo effect, as if it’s something unacceptable and applicable only to homeopathy that’s interesting.  After all, the placebo effect is applicable to allopathic medication as well. Doctors know that some patients react positively and others negatively to the same medication. Maybe the patient whose symptoms improve, expected them to improve, just like a patient who believes he is getting a morphine injection, experiences relief from pain although only a saline solution was administered.

And just like the person who takes homeopathic medicine and gets better.

Harvard medicine professor Ted Kaptchuk doesn’t think it is belief that makes patients better.

He told Brian Resnick of Vox that medicine has ignored the placebo effect for too long. He says the usual definition of a placebo as “the effect of an inert pill,” is an oxymoron because an inert pill can’t have an effect.

Kaptchuk sees the placebo effect as a surrogate marker for everything that surrounds a pill, like the rituals of medicine, the symbols of medicine, and a warm, empathic doctor.  Taking medication activates neurotransmitters in the brain, activates specific quantifiable and relevant brain regions that release neurotransmitters which modulate symptoms. People taking a placebo feel better, or experience less pain because the whole engagement, not only the medication, everything surrounding it, make changes to the brain.

It’s not a case of mind over matter.