Indigestion and constipation following overindulgence.
What is homeopathy?
Homeopathy is a system of treatment that uses minute doses of natural substances (typically plant, mineral, animal substances) to stimulate the individual’s immune function in a subtle but profound way. Homeopathy has been used around the world safely and effectively for hundreds of years. Homeopathy is widely used in Europe, India, and South America. According to the World Health Organization more than 500 million people worldwide use homeopathy. Homeopathy is not as widely used in the United States, but its use is on the upswing.
Homeopathy is based on the Law of Similars, often summarized as “like cures like.” Samuel Hahnemann, a medical doctor in Germany, discovered homeopathy in the late 1700s. Hahnemann questioned the accepted medical theories of his time and learned through experimentation that derivatives of certain substances seemed to produce symptoms in the body similar to those produced by certain diseases. In short, Hahnemann found that a substance that causes a certain set of symptoms in a healthy person will, in very dilute doses, cure a sick person with those same symptoms. For example, a substance like Belladonna will cause high fever, redness of the face, and throbbing pains if given to a healthy person. Homeopathic Belladonna (extremely diluted form of the original substance) will cure a sick person with a similar fever, redness, and pain.
Homeopathic remedies, for reasons that are not fully understood, seem to “jump start” the immune system and allow the body’s natural healing force to function properly.
What can be treated with homeopathy?
Homeopathy can address both physical and emotional symptoms. It recognizes that each person is unique and will have an individual disease pattern. For example, two patients with strep throat may manifest different symptoms. For example, one patient has left sided throat pain that is made worse from drinking or empty swallowing. The other patient has pain on both sides of the throat that shoots into the ears upon swallowing and has enlarged tonsils. These two individuals require different remedies to elicit the healing immune response.
While homeopathy can be used to treat acute diseases (viruses, influenza, etc.), it is perhaps most profound in the treatment chronic disease.
Why isn’t homeopathy more popular or well known in the United States?
Homeopathy views the root of disease and its treatment in a very different way than conventional medicine. Conventional doctors are often critical of homeopathy because its basic premises differ so much from those of conventional medicine. Consider, for example:
- Conventional medicine relies largely on material doses of chemicals (pharmaceutical drugs) to impact the body. Conventional drugs change the chemistry in the body and thus product effects, some desired and some not (side effects).
- Homeopathy uses minute doses of natural substances to elicit the body’s own healing response. The amount of the substance in a homeopathic remedy is so minute that conventional doctors claim their effects on the body are implausible. “How can this remedy have an effect when there is so little of the crude substance present in it?”
- Conventional medicine chooses substances that produce the opposite effect in the body. An insomniac is treated with a drug that makes him or her sleepy.
- Homeopathy treats an insomniac with a very dilute substance that causes sleeplessness -- the law of similars, or “like cures like.” So a treatment like Homeopathic Coffea (extremely dilute preparation of coffee) may be used to treat the insomniac. One can imagine that this notion, treating an insomniac with a substance that creates insomnia, might be criticized by those who don’t understand the theory and practice of homeopathy.
- Conventional medicine studies the effect of a single drug on a disease, so aspirin might be studied for its treatment of headaches. In homeopathy, there is no single substance to treat a disease. Individuals with headaches are treated individually and thus will likely receive different remedies. Individuals with lupus would be treated according to each individual’s unique symptoms. Again, you can see how this fundamental difference makes it difficult to compare pharmaceutical drugs to homeopathic remedies. The comparison is not apples to apples.
Is homeopathy studied by medical researchers?
Homeopathy is studied, but most people don’t hear about it. If an individual uses a reputable medical database, like Medline (a collection of all the medical journals in the world; maintained by the National Institutes of Health) you will find the research. For example, try looking using key words like “homeopathy and migraine” or “homeopathy and allergies.” It’s there.
The Lancet published a meta analysis in 2006 which was largely critical of homeopathy. That analysis was recently disputed in two other published articles citing that the entire review was incorrect. In fact, the later review drew an opposite conclusion looking at the same data. Interestingly, the Lancet published an earlier study in 1997 that was a favorable review of homeopathy.
The best way to determine if homeopathy works is to try it or to talk with individuals that have worked with a reputable homeopathic practitioner. The proof is in the results.
My friend saw a homeopath and didn’t get better. Why does homeopathy work for some but not for others?
When homeopathy doesn’t work it usually boils down to one of two issues -- obstacles to cure or practitioner ability. Homeopathy is a complicated discipline requiring years of specialized training and practice. No homeopath is successful 100% of the time, but the better trained and more experienced the professional, the better the results. Anyone can call him or herself a homeopath is the US, so it becomes the patient’s responsibility to research and select a qualified homeopath. Homeopaths can be many types of health-care practitioners. You will find medical doctors, naturopathic physicians or other practitioners certified in homeopathy. You can contact the National Center for Homeopathy (homeopathic.org) for a practitioner directory.
When a homeopath refers to an “obstacle to cure” he/she means that there is something causing the disease that comes from outside of the body. The patient may be doing or ingesting something that is getting in the way of the remedy’s action. For example:
- An anxious patient who drinks eight cups of caffeine a day may not get better solely with homeopathy.
- A hyperactive child who spends hours a day playing computer games and whose diet is deficient in basic nutrients will need more than a homeopathic remedy to be cured.
- An obese individual with arthritis of the knees may not be cured by a homeopathic remedy alone. The extra 100 pounds of weight on the knees is an “obstacle to cure.”
- However, a patient with allergies can be helped by homeopathy. Ragweed pollen, even though it is an outside substance, isn’t the cause of the problem. Rather, an imbalance in the body that has caused the body to react to ragweed pollen as if it is an enemy. This type of problem can be vastly improved or cured by homeopathy.
Are homeopathic remedies safe or do they have side effects?
One of the best things about homeopathy is that the remedies do not have negative side effects. Homeopathic remedies are prepared according to FDA standards and are regulated by the FDA. The remedies are so dilute that they are non-toxic. Sometimes a homeopathic patient will experience a slight aggravation of symptoms before they get better (called an “aggravation”) but this is usually mild and brief. Homeopaths view aggravations as a sign that the patient’s body is responding to the remedy.