What Is Homeopathy?
Well-Established Alternative Medicine Threatens Big Pharma
Under normal circumstances, a working knowledge of homeopathic medicine is a useful way to avoid harsh medicines and high medical bills for minor ailments. In a sustained emergency scenario, it may be your best - and perhaps only - recourse in the event of a serious illness.
A Brief History of Homeopathy
In the 1918 "Spanish" flu pandemic, which claimed the lives of between 50 to 100 million people worldwide, homeopaths were able to save almost 99% of their patients, while conventional doctors were losing 30% of theirs. Similar results were reported in the cholera and typhoid epidemics of the nineteenth century. Because of these successes, Philadelphia's Hahnemann Medical College was named for the founder of homeopathy and - along with many other American medical schools - was originally founded to teach homepathic medicine.
While the American Medical Association has been successful in largely marginalizing Homeopathy here in America, the official physician to the British Royal Family is - and historically has been - a Homeopathic doctor, and Homeopathic treatment is covered under the national health plans of the UK, France, Denmark, Mexico and numerous other countries.
Closer to home, homeopathy has been the primary form of medical care used in my own family for three generations. I have seen it accomplish cures that appeared nothing short of miraculous. Although the medical establishment has been deriding homeopathy for over a hundred years (look up homeopathy at Wikipedia.org to see it called "an affront to reason" that "violates fundamental principles of science"), the empirical evidence of hundreds of thousands of people who have experienced it for themselves cannot be denied. Indeed, mainstream discussions of homeopathy frequently detail the efforts underway to stamp out this "cruel deception," while failing to explain why people would still be using a system of medicine first developed in the early 1800s, if it were even close to being as ineffective as its critics claim.
Although homeopathic medicine is widely misunderstood, the basic principles of its practice are quite simple. Like chess, it is easy to grasp and difficult to master. My hope is that, after reading this brief essay, you will be motivated to learn more, and to incorporate this safe, gentle, highly effective system of medicine into your family's health care.
Why Learn About Homeopathy?
For the non-medical individual interested in self-sufficiency, homeopathy offers several desirable qualities. Unlike narcotics and antibiotics, homeopathic remedies are legal to purchase, and - if stored properly - have a virtually unlimited shelf life. This makes them ideal for day-to-day use, as well as emergency preparedness planning. While an improperly administered conventional medicine can harm or even kill a patient, giving the wrong homeopathic remedy will simply have no effect at all. The correct homeopathic remedy, on the other hand, can produce results that are faster and more effective than even a correctly selected conventional medicine.
Of course, homeopathy is medicine, not a substitute for trauma care: a remedy will not set a bone or close a wound. It can help the body heal more quickly, and fight off infection, but it cannot effect mechanical repairs.
One of the primary misconceptions about homeopathy is that it is unscientific mumbo-jumbo. This untruth is rooted in, and fostered by, the medical education system, and dates back to the days when Homeopathy was so popular that it threatened to put mainstream doctors (who, at that time, were primarily focused on bloodletting, purging and using toxic chemicals as medicines) out of business. That this prejudice continues to be perpetuated was made patently clear in 2010, when Dr. Luc Montagnier, the French virologist who won the Nobel Prize in 2008 for discovering the HIV virus, publicly shared research that supported the basic premises of homeopathy. Despite the fact that his credentials and methodology were beyond reproach, and that the connection to homeopathy was actually tangential to the main thrust of his work, his fellow doctors reacted to his presentation with a level of hostility that amazed the journalists and observers at the event.
What is the concept that so offends these learned professionals? It is essentially this: that a given substance can have an effect, even when it has been diluted so extensively that not one "pharmacologically active" molecule of the original substance remains in the mixture.
In case your eyes just glazed over, consider a simple example: you mix a drop of liquid extracted from the Belladonna plant (otherwise known as Deadly Nightshade) into a vial of water. You shake it up, and then put a drop of that mixture into another vial of water. You shake it up, and again mix one drop of the resulting mixture into a fresh vial of water. You repeat this process. After three thousand dilutions, the vial in your hand is indistinguishable from pure water. Yet, if you mix this substance with a few grains of pure milk sugar, and feed it to a person who, because of some illness, is experiencing the symptoms of Belladonna poisoning - a sudden, high fever accompanied by dry skin, red face and dilated pupils - the fever will rapidly diminish; probably faster than if you had given the person an over-the-counter fever reducer. To a graduate of a Western medical school, this is impossible. But let's consider it with an open mind for a moment.
What if, instead of a plant extract, the substance in question were Uranium. It is easy (and accurate) to imagine that water that has come in contact with Uranium will retain radioactivity, even if is heavily diluted to the point that there is no measurable amount of the element itself in it. What homeopaths have understood for generations - and what Dr. Montagnier has now proven - is that all substances (not just radioactive ones) leave behind a residual energy or "imprint." Uranium leaves one particular molecular imprint, and Belladona leaves another. Each will have a different effect on the human body. The genius of Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of Homeopathy, was to discover that a homeopathic dilution of a substance will heal the same combination of symptoms that the undiluted substance would produce in a healthy patient.
That last sentence was so important, I'm going to repeat it: a homeopathic dilution of a substance will heal the same combination of symptoms that the undiluted substance would produce in a healthy patient. In other words, if chewing on a Quinine plant will give you the symptoms of Malaria, then somebody with the typical symptoms of Malaria can probably be successfully treated by a homeopathic remedy made from Quinine.
So, to find a homeopathic remedy that will treat a sick person, you have to identify the "symptom picture" of that patient, and then identify the substance that would - in its crude state - produce the same symptom picture. This symptom picture can encompass all sorts of things that a conventional doctor would never take into consideration. For example: Is your sore throat worse on the left side or the right side? Do you feel better moving around or lying down? Are you thirsty for large quantities of water at infrequent intervals, or small sips of water frequently? Is your cough accompanied by any psychological symptoms, such as restlessness, anxiety or irritability?
The catch is this: unlike Malaria, most viral illnesses manifest themselves in different ways in different people. For example, if you and your wife catch the same cold, she might have a sinus headache, pain in the left ear, and restlessness. You might have a terrible runny nose and hunger with no appetite. Same germ, different body. That's why, unlike conventional medicine, homeopathy doesn't treat the disease, it treats the patient. This means that a person with a variety of ailments can be successfully treated by a single Homeopathic remedy, instead of the multiple medications that mainstream doctors often prescribe.
As you can imagine, it's much easier to simply prescribe a drug (or myriad of drugs) that will reliably alleviate a patient's most easily identifiable symptoms than to spend the time trying to find a homeopathic remedy that will actually treat the patient as a whole. The tradeoff, however, is that a palliative drug can only make the patient more comfortable as his body struggles to heal on its own, while a homeopathic remedy will actually help a sick person heal from the inside out.
This is why homeopathic medicine is so well-suited to home care: you can take the time to identify your ill family member's symptom picture, find an appropriate remedy, and then observe the results. If the first remedy didn't help, you can try another one. Doctors don't have that kind of time.
Homeopathic Prescribing In The Home
So, how do you do it? The basic process is as follows:
- Observe your patient to see what symptoms (e.g. fever, lethargy, irritability, etc.) you can ascertain.
- Ask your patient what symptoms they're experiencing. This is called "case taking."
- Look the symptoms up in a book called the "Repertory," and write down all the remedies that are indicated for those symptoms.
- Determine which remedies are the most highly indicated.
- Look up the most likely candidates in another book called the "Materia Medica" which will give you the symptom picture for each remedy
- Decide which one is the best fit - the "similimum" - for your patient.
- Give one dose of that remedy, and watch for improvement. If the patient doesn't feel better within an hour, it was probably the wrong remedy.
In theory, this is simple. In practice, it can get complicated. Most people - especially children - aren't skilled at identifying and articulating their symptoms. Also, if the patient is taking conventional medication, it might conceal or change her symptoms. That's why homeopathic physicians are trained to conduct what's actually called an "interrogation" to glean the information they need to take an accurate case. As a lay practitioner, this is always going to be a challenge. What's more, when you look symptoms up in the Repertory, you need to give more weight to the most important ones. Determining which symptoms are the most important can be tricky. Then, when you look in the Materia Medica, you'll find that many remedies have similar symptom pictures, which makes picking the similimum also difficult.
There are other caveats too. Remember how all substances have residual energy? Well, some very common substances - like camphor, eucalyptus oil, coffee, mint, garlic and other strong-smelling foods - can antidote homeopathic medicines. You could do everything right, but if your patient has been drinking a cup of coffee every morning for her entire adult life, the remedy might not work. If she goes home and brushes her teeth with mint-flavored toothpaste, it might not work. If you stored your remedies in a closet with camphor mothballs, it might not work.
Are you starting to see why clinical trials of Homeopathy have had somewhat mixed results? Two people could be sickened by the same virus, yet exhibit symptoms different enough to require different remedies. They could unknowingly antidote the remedy they've been given. The remedy itself could have been compromised by being improperly stored.
For these reasons, Homeopathic medicines do not acquit themselves well in experiments in which the same remedy is administered to a number of people with a given condition (say, diarrhea). One person's diarrhea symptom picture might be completely different from another's, but because you can only have one variable in a "scientific" study, all the patients will receive the same remedy. The notion that a medicine can be right for one person's diarrhea but wrong for another's just doesn't fit into the framework of clinical trials.
When doctors are confronted with irrefutable cases in which patients have gotten better after Homeopathic treatment, they dismiss the results by citing the "placebo effect" (the tendency of patients to feel better after taking something that they believe will help them, even if it is a completely inert substance). What these doctors conveniently ignore is that homeopathic remedies tend to work particularly well on patients who are unable to experience the placebo effect: young children and pets/livestock. Your baby's fever is not going to drop because he's experiencing the placebo effect. It will only drop if you find and give the correct remedy.
As you can see, homeopathic medicine can be powerful and effective, but trying to use it without a solid knowledge of the principles involved is likely to result in nothing but frustration and wasted money. Of equal importance is the fact that, to be fair, conventional medicine has come a long way from the leeches and mercury treatments of the nineteenth century. Homeopathy can be used to treat strep throat but, under current conditions, you're probably better off just taking antibiotics. And, of course, if you're faced with a dangerously high fever, a truly sick child, or some other potentially life-threatening condition, you need to seek professional medical care immediately.
The Limits of Homeopathic Medicine
Here's the bottom line: All else being equal, Homeopathic home care is not a substitute for qualified medical care in cases of serious diseases. However, for short-lived, self-limiting conditions such as colds, viral infections (which conventional medicine is largely unable to treat), and other ailments for which a doctor would usually prescribe little more than bed rest and fluids, working with the Homeopathic Repertory and Materia Medica can help you find safe, effective remedies. Of equal importance is the fact that this will provide you with valuable practice in a system of medicine that could become vitally important in the event of an emergency that limited your access to conventional medical care, or confronted you with an antibiotic-resistant infection, a serious virus, or some other malady that conventional medicine would be unable to resolve.
For an individual interested in pursuing this further, I would recommend the following:
Visit the Hahnemann Laboratory website, and order one of their pre-made kits of remedies. This company manufactures remedies in a Silicon Valley style "clean room" to maintain purity, and their products are among the very best available. Some of the brands you might find for sale at your local health food store are not manufactured under such strict conditions, and can be of questionable efficacy.
Order a copy of the Homeopathic Materia Medica and the Homeopathic Repertory. They are not cheap, but they'll last a lifetime.
Because much of the language of the Materia Medica and Repertory contains Latin medical terms, it's worthwhile to pick up a medical dictionary as well. That way, when you see a word like "coryza," you can look it up and see that it refers to a runny nose.
There is no substitute for the Materia Medica, but it can be a little overwhelming at first, because the more common remedies have a great many symptoms associated with them. For this reason, it can be helpful to pick up supplementary reference books that will give you a more concise symptom picture for most of the main remedies. While purists tend to frown on these types of resources, I believe that what they lack in precision, they make up for in ease of use. I particularly like a small book, originally published in German, called "Homeopathy Pocket" (I can only imagine that the title worked better in German).
Unlike conventional drugs, the physical quantity of a remedy that you administer at any one time is irrelevant: whether you take one grain of milk sugar, or the whole bottle, the effect will be the same. However, the potency of the remedy is a factor (the greater the dilution, the more deep-acting the remedy), and the frequency of the dose is important. The ideal is to cure a condition by giving one dose of one remedy. Only if the symptoms recur should another dose be given. You can't "overdose" on a Homeopathic medicine, but giving the same remedy over and over, in a misguided attempt to make it work faster, can make it stop working. To get a handle on these issues, you might want to read a book like Select Your Dose and Potency
The best possible way to learn about homeopathy is from a qualified instructor. Because of the overly-litigious society in which we live, most homeopathic lay practitioners keep a low profile, unwilling to take the risk of being accused of practicing medicine without a license. However, many Naturopaths and Osteopaths have a good handle on homeopathy, as do some herbalists. You can find a database of homeopathic practitioners and training courses here: http://www.wholehealthnow.com/homeopathy_info/find-a-provider.html
As with anything involving healthcare, please use caution and common sense: the reputation of homeopathy has suffered from the activities of quacks and scam artists who claim to be homeopaths, and who often know little or nothing.
Whether you are able to work with a practicing homeopath in person or not, independent study is essential. Fortunately, a number of homeopathy self-study courses have been written. Many are aimed primarily at doctors, but they are generally accessible to the interested lay reader.
Here is a classic self-study course: Homeopathy and Homepathic Prescribing, by Harvey Farrington, M.D.
Here are links to the books mentioned previously.
- Homeopathy is a safe, well-established, effective form of medicine.
- Because Homeopathy is based on determining the correct remedy for each patient's symptoms, the skill of the practitioner is key.
- Conventional pharmaceutical testing is based on giving every test subject the same medicine. Because Homeopathy doesn't work that way, it has been vilified by the mainstream medical industry.