Homeopathy- An Overview

Homeopathy is a system of medicine based upon the phenomenon that substances, which cause a particular illness in healthy individuals at high doses, can be used to cure or mitigate similar symptoms when given in very small doses.

History

In 1790 a German physician named Samuel Hahnemann, distressed by the toxic medical methods of his day, abandoned the practice of medicine.  At the time, the primary arsenals of medicine were bloodletting with leaches, and the use of toxic metals. Hahnemann was a linguist and, to support his large family, he went to work as a translator.

 While translating a work describing the use of Peruvian Bark in treating malaria, it occurred to him that the herb was effective because, when given to a healthy person, it caused symptoms similar to those of the disease it was treating. Hahnemann called his observation that “like cures like” the Law of Similars.  Previous medical intellects, Hippocrates (5th century BC) and Paracelsus (16th century), also observed the phenomenon of like curing like, as did the ancient Greeks, Asian Indians, American Indians and other primitive cultures.

Hahnemann conducted many detailed experiments, giving hundreds of plant, animal and mineral substances to healthy volunteers. He painstakingly recorded their symptoms. He named his medical system homeopathy from two Greek words, homeo meaning similar and pathos meaning disease and called preparations remedies.  After several years, Hahnemann tested dilutions of substances known to be poisons. He found that serial dilutions of a substance, accompanied by vigorous succussion (shaking with impact) gave the remedies a more powerful, deeper healing effect. Hahnemann named the experiments provings and the process of dilution potenization. He developed a comprehensive list of remedies called the Materia Medica, which describes physical symptoms characteristic of each remedy. The objective of homeopathy is to match the patient’s symptoms to the remedy.

Homeopathy versus Conventional Medicine

The premises of homeopathy are opposed to modern medical science. Conventional medicine suppresses symptoms, kills invading microorganisms, and blocks or stimulates physiologic receptors with drugs. In contrast, homeopathy is a gentle system of medicine that invokes the body’s ability to heal itself. To someone trained in Western science, homeopathy appears to be quackery.  Indeed, during Hahnemann’s era through today, homeopathy and conventional medicine have been in conflict. In 1847, the American Medical Association was formed with the sole purpose of eliminating homeopathy.  Despite the opposition, homeopathy survived in the U.S. because, on a grass roots level, it was adopted and supported. In Europe, widespread adoption by physicians sustained the practice. Today, homeopathy is integrated into mainstream medicine in Europe, Russia, India, and Mexico. 

 

The following table illustrates differences in mindset between the two systems.

 

Clinical Observation

Conventional Response

Homeopathic Response

Patient has a rash

Suppress symptoms with steroids or antihistamines

Expression of symptoms is good. Suppression drives inflammation into deeper organs such as lung and creates worse, chronic condition. Choose remedy to stimulate body to heal.

Patient with rash does not respond

Increase dose; choose another drug; reassess diagnosis.

We picked the wrong remedy, reassess symptoms; try another.

Rash worsens

Raise dose

Great!! We have the right remedy. Body’s healing mechanism is engaging. Situation is temporary.

Two patients have the same flu, same severity of illness

Treatment plan is the same for both

Remedy is not necessarily the same. Response to illness is individualized. Symptom profile may vary; match remedy appropriately. Emotional response to illness is considered as symptom.

 

As one can appreciate from the above table, comparing conventional and homeopathic interventions is like comparing apples and elephants. Evaluating the efficacy of homeopathic interventions in a clinical trial is difficult. Clinical evidence supporting the efficacy of homeopathy is mixed.  There are some high quality clinical trials with positive results. Homeopathy has been shown to be more effective than placebo in acute hay fever, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, allergic asthma, influenza, and childhood diarrhea.1 

Conventional doctors remain skeptical about homeopathy because of a lack of an identified mechanism of action. Theories are evolving in basic science. The problem is it takes a PhD to understand them. Simply and briefly:

  • Water has a memory – Duringdilution and succussion, water records a memory of the substance potentized.  Small clusters of water molecules called clathrates, which are unique to the substance potentized, have been observed. Other theories involve electromagnetic or subatomic energy transfers. The imprint invokes a physiologic response.
  • Hormesis – the phenomenon of a substance being beneficial at very low doses, even though it is toxic at high doses. This phenomenon has been observed with radiation and pesticides.

As these theories are better elaborated, perhaps there will be more acceptance of homeopathy by conventional medicine.

Regulation

In the U.S., Canada and Europe, homeopathic remedies are regulated as drugs. The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938 recognized homeopathy and established a Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States (HPUS). Certain remedies are availably only upon prescription.

Conditions For Homeopathy

For homeopathy to work certain conditions must be met – the illness treated must be reversible and the patient must be capable of reacting to the remedy and regaining physical balance. Homeopathy is not to be used alone in a serious illness, such as cancer, AIDS, birth defects, or structural damage to the body. Homeopathy requires an intact immune system. Homeopathy can be used with conventional medicine.

Types Of Homeopathy

Hahnemann practiced classical homeopathy, for which the patient’s symptoms are matched to only one remedy at a time. Complex homeopathy, which developed after Hahnemann, uses multiple remedies in one product. This type of homeopathy is more practical in a retail setting because it does not require long interviews.

Self Medication - Understanding Dilutions 

Self-medication with homeopathy should be limited to common ailments and first aid. Do not use homeopathy alone in place of conventional medicine for serious illnesses. 

In the U.S. remedies are dosed using two systems – the decimal or the centesimal. Decimal remedies are labeled X or D and are diluted 1 part in 10 of the solvent. For example a remedy labeled 6X has undergone a 1 in 10 dilution with succussion 6 times.  Centesimal remedies, labeled C or CH, undergo 1 in 100 serial dilutions. Remedies with higher dilution numbers are considered stronger and deeper working. Remember it is dilution with succussion that potentizes the remedy. Potencies 12C or over do not have any molecules of the original substance left.

Products labeled 1X to 6X still have significant amounts of the original substance. Use caution if you are allergic or if you are pregnant. This level of dilution is not quite homeopathic; if the remedy contains plant material, you are really dealing with herbal medicine.

Potencies in the 4C to 6C range work for a short time and on a basic physiological level. They are dosed more frequently and used for acute conditions. For pain, or other acute symptoms, wait until the symptom returns before taking another dose.

Potencies in the 12C to 30C range work a bit deeper. They are dosed less often and may be used for acute or chronic symptoms.  Potencies higher than 30C should be reserved for physicians. These higher potencies are used for chronic conditions and are thought to work on a deeper “constitutional” level, which includes the emotions.  The higher the potency the more important it is to correctly match the remedy with the symptom.  

 

Here is an example of the use of different potencies.1

Condition

Remedy

Acute neuralgia aggravated by cold

Aconite 6C

Acute neuralgia with tingling, numbness, aggravated by cold

Aconite 12C

Acute neuralgia with tingling, numbness, aggravated by cold, plus anxiety and panic

Aconite 30C

 

General guidelines for self-medicating:

  • Take remedy 15 minutes prior to or after eating
  • Clear mouth of strong flavors. Peppermint, caffeine, garlic and strong spices interfere with the remedy.
  • If using pellets, dissolve in the mouth, preferably sublingually. Do not swallow.
  • Drops can be taken straight or diluted in water.

Homeopathy Past, Present and Future

In 2005, the British journal Lancet published a paper highly critical of homeopathy. The study, which was an analysis of previous studies, declared that homeopathy is not better than placebo. The Lancet study, which was highly criticized for being methodologically flawed and flagrantly biased, created a furor and illustrates the severity of ongoing animosity.  This animosity may be hazardous to our public health. According to the National Center For Homeopathy, during the 19th and early 20th centuries, homeopathy treated various infectious epidemics with greater success rates than conventional medicine.  The account on its website is an interesting read. Take a look at http://www.homeopathic.org/crhistJW2.htm.  Considering the situations we find ourselves in today - the threat of bio-terrorism, the problem with microbial antibiotic resistance, not to mention escalating drug costs – it seems about time for homeopathy and conventional medicine to reconcile. Many homeopathic physicians integrate both systems of medicine. During the years 1990 to 2000, sales of homeopathic products rose 1000%. Americans spend $165 million annually on these products1,a trend that is expected to continue. The public is waiting.

1)       American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, June 2007

2)       Boiron Institute, pharmacists workshop

 

These statements in the preceding article are for information purposes only – they have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. They are not intended to diagnose, cure, prevent or treat any disease.

Debbie Edson is a registered pharmacist, with a background in hospital and community practice. She is proprietor of Healthy Morning, LLC – A Natural Apothecary. Her passion is educating people about evidence based natural healing. She is a recent contributor to the best selling book, Prescription For Nutritional Healing, 4th Edition. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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