Do Homeopathic Remedies Have a Place in HF?
A few weeks ago, I had an interesting interaction with a patient - let’s call him Mr. Potter - at the pharmacy. Mr. Potter has multiple medical conditions, including heart failure and low thyroid levels, a condition known as hypothyroidism. He had been taking a medication called Thyroid which is essentially dried thyroid glands derived from animal sources. Mr. Potter acknowledged that the medication has been working well and that he has not experienced any side effects.
Mr. Potter had seen an over-the-counter homeopathic option that claimed to naturally raise thyroid levels. He was inquiring whether he can discontinue his prescribed medication in favor of the homeopathic remedy instead.
What are homeopathic remedies?
Homeopathy has been around for quite some time. It is based on the notion that like cures like. It involves taking plants, animals, or minerals and grounding them up finely. Then, the powder is mixed with a water and alcohol solution and diluted several times. In fact, it is diluted so much that in the end, there is very little trace of the original substance. Homeopathy is distinct from herbal supplements in that herbal products contain highly-concentrated extracts of active ingredients.1
How popular is homeopathy?
It is hard to track how many people use homeopathic remedies because many people simply do not realize they are using one. Bottles of homeopathic products do not often clearly state that the product is homeopathic. Because these drugs are not sold by prescription, they are readily available over-the-counter. A study conducted in 2012 revealed that 2.2% of adults and 1.8% of children had used a homeopathic remedy within the past year. However, I would personally not be surprised if this number was higher. 1
Is homeopathy effective?
The reason why most healthcare professionals, including pharmacists, physicians, and nurses, are wary of recommending such products is that there is very limited data to support their effectiveness. If there are published studies, they tend to lack robustness and the results are therefore not very reliable. There is also a lot of controversy surrounding their mechanism of action - how could something that has been diluted so many times have an effect? Some people chalk it up to the placebo effect, where our minds perceive the treatment to be working.1
Another concern is that these remedies are not regulated. Unlike your prescription drugs that go through a series of testing and regulation, homeopathic products often do not.
Back to Mr. Potter
When I asked Mr. Potter why he would opt to discard his prescription medication - which was working and keeping his thyroid levels in check - for a therapy with an unknown effect, he stated that it was because he wanted a more natural option. I pointed out that his prescribed thyroid medication was 100% derived from pig, which is as “natural” as medications can get.
It can be very easy to lump medications as natural vs. unnatural, and I would caution against resorting to the belief that only natural substances are effective. While I personally do not recommend homeopathic products, it is ultimately your choice whether you opt to trial one. Before doing so, I recommend doing your own research and speaking to your health team.
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