It is particularly effective in treating chronic illnesses that do not respond to conventional treatment, and is also a superb method of self-care for everyday conditions such as the common cold and flu.
What is Homeopathy?
The word homeopathy derives from the Greek work homo meaning “similar”, and pathos, meaning “suffering.” Homeopathic remedies are generally dilutions of natural substances from plants, minerals, and animals. Based on the principle of ” like cures like”, homeopathic remedies specifically match different symptom patterns or “profiles” of illness, and act to stimulate the body’s natural healing response.
Throughout its 180 year history, homeopathy has proven effective in treating diseases for which conventional medicine has little to offer. However, due to its low cost, which threatens pharmaceutical profits as well as its divergence from conventional medical theory, homeopathy has been continually attacked by the medical establishment.
Nonetheless, homeopathy is practiced around the world, with an estimated 500 million people receiving homeopathic treatment. The World Health Organization has cited homeopathy as one of the systems of traditional medicine that should be integrated worldwide with conventional medicine in order to provide adequate health care by the year 2000.
In the United States, an estimated three thousand medical doctors and licensed health care providers practice homeopathy, and the number continues to rise. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) recognizes homeopathic remedies as official drugs and regulates the manufacturing, labeling, and dispensing. Homeopathic remedies also have their own official compendium, the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States first published in 1897.
In Europe, the birthplace of homeopathy, there are approximately six thousand practitioners in Germany and five thousand in France. French pharmacies are required to carry homeopathic remedies along with conventional drugs. In fact, the homeopathic remedy Oscillococcinum is the largest selling cold and flu remedy in France. In Britain, homeopathic hospitals and out-patient clinics are part of the national health system and homeopathy is recognized as a postgraduate medical specialty by vote in an act of Parliament. Homeopathy has also enjoyed the patronage of the British royal family for the past four generations. It is also widely practiced in India (where over twenty-five thousand doctors practice homeopathy), Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil.
Homeopathy was founded in the late eighteenth century by the celebrated German physician Samuel Hahnemann, known for his work in pharmacology, hygiene, public health, industrial toxicology, and psychiatry. Reacting to the barbarous practices of his day, such as bloodletting (the use of leeches), and toxic mercury-based laxatives, Dr. Hahnemann set out to find a more rational and humane approach to medicine.
Dr. Hahnemann’s breakthrough came during an experiment in which he twice daily ingested cinchona, a Peruvian bark well known as a cure for malaria. Soon after Dr. Hahnemann began his experiment he developed periodic fevers common to malaria. As soon as he stopped taking the cinchona, his symptoms disappeared. Dr. Hahnemann theorized that, if taking a large dose of cinchona created symptoms of malaria in a healthy person, this same substance, taken in a smaller dose by a person suffering from malaria, might stimulate the body to fight the disease. His theory was borne out by years of experiments with hundreds of substances that produced similar results. Based on his work, Dr. Hahnemann formulated the principles of homeopathy:
Homeopathic Principles – Like Cures Like
According to Dr. Hahnemann, “Each individual case of disease is most surely, radically, rapidly, and permanently annihilated and removed only by a medicine capable of producing (in the human system) the most similar and complete manner of the totality of the symptoms.” In other words, the same substance that in large doses produces the symptoms of an illness, in very minute doses cures it.
Dr. Hahnemann referred to this phenomenon as the Law of Similars, a principle first recognized in the fourth century B.C., by Hippocrates, who was studying the effects of herbs upon disease. This Law of Similars was also the theoretical basis for the vaccines of physicians Edward Jenner, Jonas Salk, and Louis Pasteur. They would “immunize” the body with trace amounts of a disease component, often a virus, to strengthen its immune response to the actual disease. Allergies are treated in a similar fashion by introducing minute quantities of the suspected allergen into the body to bolster natural tolerance levels.
Homeopathic Principles – The More Dilute the Remedy, the Greater Its Potency
Most people believe that the higher the dose of a medicine, the greater the effect. But the opposite holds true in homeopathy where the more a substance is diluted, the higher its potency. Dr. Hahnemann discovered this Law of the Infinitesimal Dose by experimenting with higher and higher dilutions of substances to avoid toxic side effects.
Today, homeopathic remedies are usually prepared through a process of diluting with pure water or alcohol and successing (vigorous shaking). Homeopathic solutions can be diluted to such an extent that literally no molecules of the original substance remain in the remedy. Yet, the more dilute it gets the more potent it becomes. This phenomenon has been the source of great fascination among practitioners and researchers in the field of homeopathic medicine, as from the point of view of conventional chemistry, diluted homeopathic remedies may contain no trace of the original substance. In fact, any homeopathic remedies over 24X potency (twenty – four successive dilutions and successions) will have no chemical trace of the original substance remaining.
A “special” report on homeopathy that aired in the United States on NBC’s “DateLine” in December, 1992, which offered a one-sided argument against homeopathy, contended that a homeopathic remedy received from a prominent homeopathic physician was chemically tested in a laboratory and the results showed that it was “only” water and alcohol. According to homeopathic experts, however, this is exactly the case. After successive dilutions, no molecules of the original substance remain in the remedy.
According to Trevor Cook, Ph.D., DI Hom., President of the United Kingdom Homeopathic Medical Association, the explanation of the therapeutic action of the highly dilute homeopathic remedies appears to lie in the domain of quantum physics and the emerging field of energy medicine. A study using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) imaging demonstrated distinctive readings of subatomic activity in twenty-three different homeopathic remedies. This potency was not demonstrated in placebos (substances having no pharmacological effect).
Some researchers believe that the specific electromagnetic frequency of the original substance is imprinted in the homeopathic remedy through the process of successive dilution and succession, says Dr. Cook.
The distinguished Italian physicist Emilio del Giudici has set forth a theory that helps explain homeopathy’s mode of therapeutic action. Del Giudici proposes that water molecules form structures capable of storing minute electromagnetic signals. This proposition is given added weight by the findings of Dr. Wolfgang Ludwig, a German biophysicist, who has demonstrated in preliminary research that homeopathic substances give off measurable electromagnetic signals. These signals show that specific frequencies are dominant in each homeopathic substance.
If del Giudici’s model is accurate, a homeopathic remedy may convey an electromagnetic “message” to the body that matches the specific electromagnetic frequency or pattern of an illness in order to stimulate the body’s natural healing response. What Dr. Hahnemann may have been doing in his empirical research was unwittingly “matching the frequencies of the plant extract with the frequency of the [patient’s] illness.”
Homeopathic Principles – Illness Is Specific to the Individual
A session with a homeopathic practitioner is a unique experience for someone accustomed to conventional medicine. For instance, you may suffer from chronic headaches, perhaps migraines. While the conventional medical treatment for this condition is the same for most-everyone (some form of analgesics or anti-inflammatories), homeopathy recognizes over two hundred symptom patterns associated with headaches, and has corresponding remedies for each.
Your headache may be in the front of your head. It may get worse with a cold sensation and improve with heat. It may be better while you are laying down, or while you are sitting up. You may be a person who is thin, and easily excited, or the docile, sedentary sort. The first task of the homeopathic practitioner is a process called “profiling,” or recording all of the qualities – physical, mental, and emotional-that will determine the patient’s remedy or combination of remedies.
Practitioners of classical homeopathy consult vast compendiums called repertories and material medicas to determine the remedy that most closely matches the total picture of the patient’s symptomology. These compendiums are compilations of the findings of thousands of tests, for over two hundred years, that record how healthy individuals react to different substances. The very detailed reactions of the subjects are catalogued in these compendiums and the homeopathic practit ioner’s task is to match them exactly to the patient’s profile.
The Healing Crisis and Hering’s Laws of Cure
In homeopathy, the process of healing begins by eliminating the immediate symptoms, then progressing to the “older,” underlying symptoms. Many of these “layers” are residues of fevers, trauma, or chronic disease that were unsuccessfully treated or suppressed by the patient may get worse before getting better. This is often referred to as the “healing crisis.”
In the mid-nineteenth century, Dr. Constantine Hering, the father of American homeopathy, stated that healing progresses from the deepest part of the body to the extremities; from the emotional and mental aspects to the physical; and from the upper part of the body (head, neck, ears, thro at to the lower parts of the body (fingers, abdomen, legs, feet). Herings’ Laws of Cure also state that healing progresses in reverse chronological order, from the most recent maladies to the oldest. By Hering’s laws, homeopaths are able to track the progress of their treatment and restore a patient’s health, layer by layer.
An excellent example of homeopathic treatment is the case of a woman who suffered from lupus, a disease where the body’s immune system attacks its own tissue. After years of unsuccessful conventional treatment, she was told that she could only expect a life of continued pain and drug dependence. In desperation, she turned to a homeopathic physician.
First she was treated for drug dependency and the condition it was to relieve, percarditis, an intensely painful inflammation of the outer lining of the heart. She was prescribed the remedy Cactus grandiflorus, a substance that, in healthy people, produces heart palpitations and depression. The homeopathic dose of Cactus grandiflorus reduced the inflammation, and a new set of symptoms emerged – anger, bitterness, and stress – powerful emotions she had experienced prior to the emergence of her pericarditis.
Nux vomica (poison nut) was then administered. A substance that produces hyperirritability and nervous cramping in healthy individuals helped her to overcome her emotional problems and progress to the next layer of healing. A recurrence of an old back pain and her phobia of cars emerged, the result of a serious accident and injury. As these conditions were treated, the woman was able to return fully to her life, healthy, and free of pain.
Conditions Benefited by Homeopathy
Homeopathy is a complete system of natural medicine that can have a therapeutic effect on almost any disease or health condition. “Homeopathy has been of tremendous value in reversing diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, bronchial asthma, epilepsy, skin eruptions, allergic conditions, mental or emotional disorders, especially if applied at the onset of disease,” states George Vithoukas, Director of the Athenian School of Homeopathic Medicine in Athens, Greece. “The long-term benefit of homeopathy to the patient is that it not only alleviates the presenting symptoms but it reestablishes internal order at the deepest levels and thereby provides a lasting cure.”
Robert D. Milne, M.D., of Las Vegas, Nevada, reports excellent results in the prevention and treatment of acute cold and flu-like symptoms using homeopathic remedies. “The quick use of remedies, such as Aconite, Bryonia, and/or Belladonna, have been a great help in alleviating the acute symptoms of colds,” says Dr. Milne. He also has had success treating conditions such as headaches and female health problems, including symptoms such as fatigue, irritability, premenstrual symptoms, neck stiffness, low back pain, and bloating with homeopathic remedies.
Increasingly, clinical studies are supporting the effectiveness of homeopathic remedies. In a recent article published in the British Medical Journal, 107 controlled clinical studies (performed between 1966 and 1990) were reviewed. Eighty-one of these studies showed that homeopathic medicines were beneficial in treating headaches, respiratory infections, diseases of the digestive system, ankle sprains, postoperative infections and symptoms, and the other health-related disorders.
Studies attesting to the effectiveness of homeopathic treatment for rheumatoid arthritis have appeared in both The Lancet and the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. In a double-blind study on the effects of homeopathic remedies on influenza, it was found that twice as many of the patients who took the homeopathic remedy were cured in forty eight hours, as opposed to those who took a placebo, as reported in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.
Another clinical study shows the efficacy of treating hay fever with homeopathic remedies. A double-blind trial indicates that homeopathic remedies are extremely effective in dealing with dental neuralgic pain followin g tooth extraction. German research reports successful homeopathic treatment of Parkinson’s disease, bronchitis, sinusitis, migraines, influenza, and motion sickness with homeopathic remedies.
Today, many homeopathic practitioners use “combination” formulas that contain several remedies to cover a broad range of symptoms for an acute condition. For example, people with colds experience runny noses, watery eyes, sneezing, fever, and headaches. A combination cold remedy contains remedies for each of these symptoms. The appropriate remedies in a formula will have a therapeutic effect, while the unnecessary remedies will be shed off and have no effect at all. Combination homeopathic remedies have a unique effect on the body–the body assimilates what it needs, and throws off what it doesn’t, making it a completely safe, nontoxic form of medicine.
History & Politics
Homeopathy has a long and distinguished history in the United States, and was popular from the mid-nineteenth to early twentieth centuries. Dr. Constantine Hering, a student of German physician Samuel Hahnemann, and father of homeopathy in the United States established the first homeopathic medical school in the U.S. in 1835 in Allentown, Pennsylvania. By 1844, there were so many physicians claiming to be homeopathic practitioners that the homeopathic medical profession formed the American Institute of Homeopathy, the first national medical association in the United States. The American Medical Association (AMA) was formed three ears later and denounced homeopathy as a delusion. AMA members were forbidden to associate with homeopathic physicians either professionally or socially, and physicians practicing homeopathy were expelled or blocked from becoming members.
Still, homeopathy continued to gain attention in America due in part to its great success in treating acute and epidemic diseases, notably cholera and yellow fever. During an 1849 cholera epidemic in Cincinnati, Ohio, only 3 percent of those patients treated h omeopathically died, as compared to the 40 to 70 percent death rate among those treated with conventional medicine.
In the 1879 epidemic of yellow fever, homeopaths in New Orleans treated 1,945 cases with a mortality rate of 5.6 percent, while the mortality rate with standard medical treatment was 16 percent. At this time some of homeopathy’s more illustrious supporters included John D. Rockefeller, Thomas Edison, and Mark Twain.
By 1900, there were twenty-two homeopathic medical schools and nearly one hundred homeopathic hospitals in the United States. In fact, 15 percent of all American physicians practiced homeopathy at the turn of the century, according to Trevor Cook, Ph.D., Dl Hom., President of the British Homeopathic Medical Society. However, by the same time, the bond between the AMA and the pharmaceutical companies was firmly established. Paid advertisements from pharmaceutical companies in the AMA journal were the AMA’s main source of revenue (as it is today), prominent physicians were paid to endorse proprietary drugs, and doctors were deluged with free samples of pharmaceutical drugs. Through a series of maneuvers including a new rating system for medical schools aimed at eliminating homeopathic colleges, the practice of homeopathy had nearly disappeared as a force in American medicine by 1930.
However, homeopathy is again becoming recognized as a viable alternative medicine, and statistics now show that the American public is returning to the form of treatment in dramatic numbers, with annual sales of homeopathic medicines in the Unites States now reaching $150 million.
The Future of Homeopathy
The official acceptance of homeopathy and its integration into the American health care system could prove to have an enormous impact on lowering the cost of national health care, due to its low cost and tremendous health benefits. Although controlled clinical studies might prove costly, homeopathy’s history of clinical success and the results of studies being carried out in Europe indicate that this is an area where the United States government should provide funds for research. Because homeopathic remedies are derived from natural substances, and as such, are unpatentable, no pharmaceutical company will provide the necessary funds for research to gain FDA approval. The low cost of homeopathic remedies also guarantee that it would be impossible for a company to recoup its research investment. Clearly, homeopathy, like other forms of natural medicine including herbal medicine and nutritional supplementation, is caught in an economic catch-22. But as part of the growing tide of national awareness of alternative medicine, homeopathy should soon receive the attention it deserves from the United States government and become part of the solution to America’s national health care.