RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Today in Your Health, we'll explain why watching TV may be good for you. First, though, we'll take a look at homeopathy. That form of medicine has become popular and controversial as an alternative to modern medicine. This morning, the Food and Drug Administration opens a two-day hearing to scrutinize homeopathy. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein has more.
ROB STEIN, BYLINE: It's another busy morning at Dr. Anthony Aurigemma's office in Bethesda, Md.
WENDY RESNICK: How are you?
ANTHONY AURIGEMMA: How are you doing? It's good to see you again.
STEIN: Wendy Resnick's 58. She's been seeing Dr. Aurigemma for years for all sorts of things. Today, she's back because she just can't seem to shake a nasty bout of laryngitis.
RESNICK: I don't feel great. I really don't. I don't feel myself. I look at myself - my eyes - I don't have a lot - the degree of energy that I normally have.
AURIGEMMA: Well, let me look at your throat. Just put out your tongue. Say ah.
STEIN: Aurigemma went to medical school and practiced as a regular doctor, but switched to homeopathy more than 30 years ago.
AURIGEMMA: So open your mouth and take a deep breath.
STEIN: He listens to Resnick's lungs, but also asks her lots of questions that go beyond her symptoms - how she's sleeping, whether she's having any weird cravings.
RESNICK: I'm craving saltier - like cheese - mustard; like, kind of spicy.
STEIN: Eventually, instead of pulling out a prescription pad, he looks through a thick book, using her answers to come up with a homeopathic diagnosis. He then searches through heavy wooden drawers filled with rows of small, brown glass vials - vials filled with what look like tiny white pellets. He pulls out two.
AURIGEMMA: That's the first dose. That's a higher dose. And then I'll give you a daily dose. Really, it's to try to get underneath into your immune system to try to help you strengthen your energy, basically, 'cause, you know, the healing comes from within, not from the medicine.
STEIN: This kind of medicine is hugely controversial. Here's why - it's based on something called like cures like, which basically means if you give somebody something, like a plant or a mineral that can cause the symptoms of an illness, it will cure that illness if it's been diluted so much it's essentially no longer there.
AURIGEMMA: We believe there is a memory left in the solution. You might call it a memory. You might call it an energy. You might call it a sub ectopic charge. In any case, each substance in nature has a certain set of characteristics - physically and mentally. When a patient comes who matches the physical, mental and emotional symptoms that a remedy produces, that medicine may heal the person's problem whatever it happens to be.
STEIN: But critics say those ideas are nonsense. Study after study has failed to find any evidence it works.
STEVEN NOVELLA: Homeopathy is an excellent example of the purest form of pseudoscience.
STEIN: Steven Novella is a neurologist at Yale.
NOVELLA: These are principles that are not based upon science, run contrary to physics, chemistry, physiology, biology, medicine, and homeopathic remedies can't work. And when we look at them, they don't work.
STEIN: And there's some concern they could be dangerous if they're contaminated or not completely diluted or even if they simply don't work.
NOVELLA: Somebody who is having, for example, an acute asthma attack who takes a homeopathic asthma remedy may very well die of their acute asthma attack because they were relying upon a completely inert and ineffective treatment.
STEIN: So for years, critics like Novella have been asking the FDA to crack down on homeopathy. The FDA doesn't require homeopathic remedies go through the same drug approval process as regular medical treatments and prove they are safe and effective. But today, for the first time in 25 years, the FDA is starting to revisit that policy. The agency's Cynthia Schnedar says that's for two big reasons - first, homeopathy's popularity has exploded in recent years.
CYNTHIA SCHNEDAR: In addition, we've seen some emerging safety and quality concerns, and so we thought it was time to take another look at our policy.
STEIN: But this is making a lot of people nervous, like some of the companies that sell homeopathic remedies, and practitioners like Dr. Aurigemma who use them.
AURIGEMMA: It would be a terrible loss to this country if they were to do something drastic. There's no question that it helps patients. I have too many files on too many patients that have shown improvements. All I could say is that it's a form of medicine that should be allowed to be continued and studied and fostered.
STEIN: His patient Wendy Resnick agrees.
RESNICK: Why would they want to take that away from us, from those of us that, you know, have found it to be so helpful? That, you know, let us have choice. Let us have the freedom to decide what works the best for us.
STEIN: The FDA says this week's hearing is just a chance to start gathering information and decide what, if anything, the agency should do about homeopathy. Rob Stein, NPR News.
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