It’s no wonder individuals with an excessive sweating condition are looking for effective treatments. Primary or focal hyperhidrosis has a significant impact on quality of life and has been referred to as the ‘silent handicap’. As such, these patients often inquire about the role of homeopathy in the treatment of excessive sweating. I am often asked about my opinion on homeopathy. What is homeopathy? Does it work? Are there specific homeopathic treatments for excessive sweating? These are all very good questions. Let me tell you why you want to think twice about treating your excessive sweating condition with homeopathy. As a pharmacist, one of my primary concerns is making sure my patients get the right medication at the right dose. Sounds pretty simple but I don’t need to tell you how important this is. And, as a pharmacist, one of my concerns about treating with homeopathy is also related to patients getting the right dose.
It wasn’t until the early 1500s that we began to understand the concept of dosing. Paracelsus, a German-Swiss physician/botanist/alchemist was on to the concept of dose when he wrote: “the dose makes the poison.” He understood that any ordinarily harmless substance can be toxic if taken at high enough doses. Similarly, dangerous substances were relatively harmless if given in low doses. Paracelsus also believed many curative substances could be derived from plants and his line of thought was related to the difference between a drug and a poison, that is, its dose. Doesn’t sound like a big deal today, but 500 years ago, the concept of giving substances in prescribed amounts was not part of scientific or medical theory. Some four centuries later, in early 1900s, scientists began to have a greater understanding drug dosing. The concept of dose-response was getting a lot of attention. In other words, the response to a treatment is correlated to the dose and more particularly the drug or active ingredient concentration achieved in the body. Too little will have no effect, too much may be toxic and give rise to unwanted side effects. But somewhere in the middle, a substance may have the desired effect we are looking for, without the burden of side effects difficult to tolerate.
Everything that we have discovered and continue to develop in medicine is grounded by principles and laws of chemistry and physics. One of those principles is based on the fact that desired effects are dependent on the concentration of active ingredient. One of the so-called principles of homeopathy is to give a substance in minute doses (which already sounds a little controversial). In other words, active ingredients in homeopathic preparations undergo a series of successive dilutions until the desired ‘minute dose’ is achieved. From a statistical and mathematical perspective, these extreme dilutions may well mean the pill you are taking does not contain anything purported to be active. For example, the ingredients in Oscillococcinum (Anas Barbariae Hepatis et Cordis Extractum) are diluted 200 times. Each dilution is a 1:100 dilution or a 1% dilution. In other words, every dilution results in a 1% solution or mixture, and this dilution is repeated 200 times. And so what are left behind are probably the pill’s excipients or fillers. Let’s face it, that ‘bit of oscillococcinum activity’ that has been diluted exponentially in somewhere in the blend and probably not in your pill. Any therapeutic response that you get from Oscillococcinum is likely due to a well-engaged placebo effect.
My skepticism about homeopathy is further enhanced by its lack of clinical support. As a pharmacist, I was trained to think that any substance claiming to have a therapeutic effect should be supported by clinical evidence. To put it bluntly, show me that this thing works. And please, not just in 10 people! It turns out homeopathy has very little evidence, if any, to support its claimed effects on medical conditions. But what about homeopathy and excessive sweating? Just to be sure, I accessed the National Institutes of Health’s US National Library of Medicine which houses over 23 million citations from the biomedical literature found around the world. When I entered keywords such as ‘homeopathy’ together with ‘excessive sweating’ or ‘hyperhidrosis’, I thought a few study abstracts might surface from the plethora of citations. My search came up empty, not one citation came to the forefront. The bottom line for me: if you can’t show me that a substance has a therapeutic effect in a respectable number of individuals, it is difficult for me to recommend it to my patients.
Given these arguments, it is hard for me to conceive that homeopathic substances (I choose the word ‘substance’ as opposed to remedy or treatment as it does not inherently suggest that it has a therapeutic or medicinal effect) have any effect on excessive sweating or hyperhidrosis. Having said this, homeopathic formulations containing Nitricum Acidum, Silicea or Ipecacuanha will likely claim to treat and reduce ( BEWARE: you might even see the word “cure”) excessive sweating. If you decide to try any of these and you don’t have much success, at least you will know that it is probably due to the dose and the lack of proof.
The Dry Pharmacist is a licenced pharmacist in Canada with an interest in the treatment of hyperhidrosis. For more on excessive sweating and homeopathy, including a backgrounder on homeopathy from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) click here.