Blog Post

There's a Difference Between Homeopathy and Natural Remedies

TG writes: "I recently stumbled upon a few of your blog posts about homeopathy. I was recently introduced to homeopathy by a large group of very devout and influential Catholic women, so I was rather startled to see your blog post. I come from a family where almost everyone is in the medical profession, so I never really questioned conventional medicine. Once I was introduced to these women, I began to feel like I was ignorant or blind by subscribing to conventional medicine and I began to question whether or conventional medicine (like antibiotics or medicine during childbirth) was equivalent of sinning through negligence...

"However, after reading your blog posts, I began to wonder if this group of Catholic women and the Church are using the term "homeopathy" in the same way.  . . . Could it be possible that some people might be using the term "homeopathic" to mean "home remedies" or "natural remedies", rather than what Samuel Hahnemann developed? Certainly Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life is not condemning gargling with salt water when you have a sore throat or following a healthy diet, so where do we draw the line between home remedy and 'homeopathic'? What should I tell my friend? Are there any Church documents that talk specifically about this? I really just want to understand how to advise people on this because right now I am literally surrounded by 'homeopathic Catholics,' who I know would obey the Church's teachings if they were made aware of them.

"They also advise me not to get my son immunized. Is that homeopathic advice as well? Does the Church advise on immunization?"

I see several red flags in this e-mail. First, the fact that these "very devout and influential Catholic women" managed to nearly turn you against conventional medicine is very troubling to me. While many homeopaths and natural cure enthusiasts are quick to cite every horrible side effect and false diagnosis known to modern medicine, they almost never mention its many triumphs that have managed to rid the world of contagions, illnesses and conditions that have assailed mankind since the beginning of time. These include illnesses such as leprosy, small pox, diptheria, tuberculosis, polio, etc. Advances in medicine have drastically lowered the infant mortality and maternal death rates, increased the life span of most people in developed countries and enabled millions to live much longer and much better with serious medical conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

I can see people being turned off by some of the failures of modern medicine and pharmaceuticals, but to turn away so radically from conventional medicine is just not rational. Unfortunately for many of these folks, when they throw out the baby with the bathwater, they end up substituting untested alternative treatments that are propagated by quacks, scam artists, and people whose only background in healthcare is their mail-order "medical licenses."

Furthermore, if these devout ladies were to choose to forgo conventional medicine for an untested alternative in the case of a serious or communicable disease, they would be treading into the realm of superstitious medicine.

As Kevin G. Rickert, Ph.D. writes in Homiletics and Pastoral Review: “When a person is confronted with a life threatening condition, or some less serious illness (especially a communicable disease), which can be easily treated by ordinary means, there is a moral obligation to do so. Extraordinary means, on the other hand, are never required but instead remain optional. Unscientific medical cures are neither ordinary nor extraordinary, because they are not real means at all. As such, they are neither required nor permitted. The main problem with these kinds of 'cures' is that they don’t really work; they are irrational, and as such they are contrary to the natural law.”

The ladies' statement on vaccinations is also worrisome to me. While the Church has no position for or against vaccination, this is what Msgr. Jacques Suaudeau, a medical doctor and official at the Pontifical Academy for Life said about using vaccines - even those developed from aborted fetal matter (when no other alternative is available).

"We are responsible for all people, not just ourselves," he told the Catholic News Service. "If it is a question of protecting the whole population and avoiding death and malformation in others, that is more important" than abstaining from vaccines developed from abortions that might have occurred decades ago, he said.

(This statement entitled Moral Reflections on Vaccines Prepared from Cells Derived from Aborted Human Fetuses will answer any questions you might have on the use of illicit vaccines. In addition, this page on vaccines compiled by the National Catholic Bioethics Center is also very informative.)

In other words, the issue of vaccinations isn't just about us. It's also a communal decision, and one that must be based in the virtue of charity toward our neighbor and the broader needs of mankind, not just our own.

As for their belief in homeopathy, to dismiss the research that appears on this site as just being "anti-homeopathy" is a cop-out. There is plenty of evidence-based science proving that homeopathy doesn't work and these women owe it to themselves and those to whom they promote these products to educate themselves on the whole subject - not just the parts that agree with their position.

Is it possible that they're mistakenly calling natural remedies by the name of homeopathy? This could very well be so, but even this position raises a red flag to me. Surely these women, if they are to be trusted advisers on health matters, should know that while both homeopathy and "home remedies" or natural medicines use herbal extracts, the mode of preparation is vastly different - too different for one to confuse one with the other.

For instance, home remedies are usually based in plants, but homeopathic medicines also use mineral and animal products.

In addition, homeopathic remedies are produced based on the concept of similars or "like cures like" meaning that a disease can be cured by a substance that produces similar symptoms in healthy people - which is not something attributable to herbal remedies.

And surely these women know that the amount of these substances in homeopathic medicines is so infinitesimal as to be non-existent. This is because homeopaths believe that the substance has left its imprint or memory on the water which is said to stimulate the body to heal itself (this theory is called the “memory of water”).

These beliefs are what caused the National Institutes of Health to declare that many of homeopathy's key concepts are "  . . . inconsistent with the current understanding of science, particularly chemistry and physics . . . . Most analyses have concluded that there is little evidence to support homeopathy as an effective treatment for any specific condition . . ."

There are no Church teachings that are specific to homeopathy, just like there are no Church teachings specific to the pros and cons of using medical intuitives or psychic surgeons. However, when one applies the "ordinary means" test enunciated above, it's quite obvious that homeopathy and all other untested and unscientific alternatives should not be used by Catholics (or anyone else, for that matter) to treat any serious or communicable condition.

Incidentally, there has actually been some sound scientific testing on the practice of gargling with salt water. You can read more about it here!

Send your New Age questions to