Differences Between Homeopathy and Herbal Medicine

The terms homeopathy and herbal medicine are often used synonymously. Let's see how they differ and their effectiveness according to published studies on the matter.
Differences Between Homeopathy and Herbal Medicine

Last update: 31 August, 2021

Alternative medicine includes many different practices that can often be confused with each other. Despite their scant scientific support, these methods have continued their popularity in recent years. Recently, we have seen how homeopathy and herbal medicine have been increasingly accepted by patients. That’s why today we’d like to take the opportunity to clear up any questions you may have about the topic, as we tell you the differences between homeopathy and herbal medicine.

Although it’s true that these methods share several characteristics in common, in reality, the way they operate is completely different. Some sources treat them as the same thing, which doesn’t help to solve the problem at all. If you’re not very familiar with the characteristics of each one, we’ll explain five points that you need to take into account.

5 differences between homeopathy and herbal medicine

The fields in which many of the methods of alternative medicine operate can be confusing. There isn’t only confusion around homeopathy and herbal medicine, but also with regards to variants such as trophotherapy, naturopathy, aromatherapy, and herbalism.

This occurs because these distinct practices are all lumped together under the banner of alternative medicine or natural medicine. However, researchers have gone to great pains to distinguish them very clearly. Stay with us as we bring you five criteria to help you understand the differences between homeopathy and herbal medicine.

1. The origin of the products

The differences between homeopathy and herbal medicine include their origin
Obtaining the chemical compounds, in addition to the original products themselves, is different both in homeopathy and herbal medicine.

One of the most important differences between homeopathy and herbal medicine is found in the origin of the products. Phytotherapy exclusively uses plants to prepare its treatment. They can be taken from leaves, flowers, stems, roots, or extracts in the form of oil.

Homeopathy also uses plants, but makes use of other types of ingredients as well, such as minerals (such as phosphorus or white arsenic), animal products (such as snake or bee venom), and sometimes synthetic products. In this way, they explore other alternatives besides plants.

2. The elaboration of the products

Another difference between homeopathy and herbal medicine lies in the way the product is made. As you probably already know, each type of homeopathic medicine has gone through different processes in which the ingredients are diluted in alcohol or distilled water. These processes are known as empowerment or dynamization.

The number of times the ingredients are diluted is at the discretion of the homeopath. It can be just one time (very rare) or up to 400 times. During preparation, some, but not all, homeopaths include steps to maximize the effectiveness of the compound. For example, by exposing it to sunlight or X-rays.

This doesn’t happen with herbal medicine. In general, these plant-based products are taken through tea infusions. For this reason, there’s no prior elaboration of the remedies. It’s also possible to find them in the form of capsules and tinctures. The latter case is the closest thing to homeopathy: the herb is macerated for several days in water and then strained to obtain its active principle (undiluted).

3. Active compounds

This brings us to another of the differences between homeopathy and herbal medicine. As you have seen, practically all the active compound is lost during the homeopathic dilution process. So much so that studies and research show that in high dilutions there are practically no molecules of the original active compound.

In this way, the patient ends up drinking or ingesting a product with little or no concentration of the active compound. The opposite happens in herbal medicine. Regardless of the distribution that the patient chooses (infusions, tinctures, or capsules), they always end up consuming an infusion of one or more active ingredients. However, in some cases, the doses can be higher than what experts recommend.

4. Side effects

As the evidence indicates, and also taking into account that it doesn’t have active principles (or, at most, insignificant amounts of them), homeopathy doesn’t produce side effects. If the dilution is very low, some are likely to be present; but they’re usually unnoticeable. The sequelae can also appear due to the placebo or nocebo effect.

High concentrations of active compounds in herbal medicine and infusions can expose the patient to side effects. Because of this, the researchers warn of the uncontrolled use of these types of alternatives. Although some plants may have beneficial ingredients, they may also have some poisons.

5. Interaction with traditional medicines

The differences between homeopathy and herbal medicine are clear
Combining alternative and traditional medicine can be dangerous. Drug interactions often increase the risk of adverse effects.

It isn’t uncommon for patients to decide to treat a disease using conventional and alternative medicine at the same time. This poses a number of risks, as the latter can inhibit the effectiveness of traditional medications.

This happens mainly with herbal medicine for the reasons we’ve already explained. If you start a herbal treatment for hypertension and at the same time take antihypertensive drugs, for example, there can be negative sequelae due to the interaction between their compounds. For this reason, doctors recommend abandoning these options you’re following traditional treatment.

As for homeopathy, there’s no evidence that it interacts with conventional medicine treatment. This is due to the reasons we explained regarding the absence of active compounds in the final process (or at least their infinitesimal presence).

As you can see, there are many differences between homeopathy and herbal medicine. They don’t operate under identical principles, and, for that reason, we can’t consider them to be synonymous. Of course, there are other distinctions we can make, although these five are the main ones. We could also mention that homeopathic treatment is usually more expensive than ones based on herbal medicine.

Does homeopathy work?

The consensus among medical specialists is unanimous: there’s no substantial evidence to support homeopathy as being effective in any way. There are hundreds of studies and research that disprove the alleged properties of homeopathic medicines.

Evidence suggests that the placebo effect plays a leading role in many alleged drug-based cures. Although, from some contexts, people proclaim that homeopathy is more effective than a placebo, in reality, researchers point out that many of these studies have rather precarious methodological support.

In summary, there’s no conclusive evidence on the effectiveness of these treatments. Despite this, it’s an industry that generates millions of dollars every year, and its growth has continued to increase. The propaganda around the method and the closer doctor-patient relationship has led many people to consider it among their treatment alternatives.

Does herbal medicine work?

It is estimated that between 65% and 80% of patients living in developing countries turn to herbal medicine as the first line of defense to treat a disease. Unlike homeopathy, there is evidence to support the use of some herbs to counteract the effects of a condition.

To cite just a few examples, its effectiveness in treating kidney stones, inflammatory lung diseases , periodontal disease, coughs, allergic rhinitis, psoriasis, and benign prostatic hyperplasia have been studied. This doesn’t mean that they cure these conditions, but, rather, that patients report some improvement after use.

Specialists always recommend resorting to this option with caution. The doses aren’t always respected when following treatment, and the adverse effects are often similar to those of conventional medicine. And, apart from this, for all these conditions there are scientifically tested, safe and effective drugs.

We hope our article on the differences between homeopathy and herbal medicine has been helpful to you. If you plan to use them, we urge you to discuss it with your specialist if you’re treating an already diagnosed disease.

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