is a system of therapeutics based upon the "law of similars",
introduced by Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843), a physician and chemist of
points of Hahnemann's system were borrowed from Hippocrates who, over
2,300 years ago, wrote,"Through the like, disease is produced and
through the application of the like, it is cured", and from Paracelsus
(1490-1541), "You there bring together the same anatomy of the illness
into one order. This simile gives you understanding of the way in which
you shall heal".
172, 2017 January)
Homoeotherapeutics today is a systematic, empirical
health practice and attracts a wide "New Age" following.
essential tenets of homoeopathy are that the cure of disease is
effected by drugs that are capable of producing symptoms similar to
those of the disease to be treated in a healthy individual. To
ascertain the curative virtues of any drug, it must be "proved" upon
healthy persons — that is, taken by individuals of both sexes in a
state of good health.
"Law of Similia" that treated "like with like" is attributed to
observations he made after ingesting a dose of cinchona bark (the
source of quinine) and experiencing symptoms of fever, which is a
symptom of malaria. He reasoned that as the symptoms were similar to
the condition it was used to treat, his Law of Similia could be used to
evaluate the efficacy of a particular medicine. This process is known
as "proving" a medicine.
theory appears to have been based on a revival of Paracelsus' Doctrine
of Signatures, which declared that herbs would cure conditions of the
anatomical parts they resembled, such as snakeroot for snakebite. This
was much the same as the primitive view of monism, where the ancient
practice of eating various organs of animals and humans was believed to
endow the consumer with the qualities with which they were associated.
A lion's heart for courage, for example.
may well ask however, what sort of qualities could be associated with
some homoeopathic medicines such as powdered starfish (lachryma filia),
skunk secretion (mephitis), crushed live bedbugs (cimex lectularius)
and uric acid (acidum uricum).
homoeopathic consultation consists of taking an elaborate history of
the patient which, apart from the usual standard medical questions,
includes questions about emotions, moods, food preferences and
reactions to the weather. All this is collated, and by referring to the
materia medica, a remedy is found. The extent of this personal
attention may persuade patients that the practitioner is concerned
about their wellbeing.
feature of homoeopathy is its theory of dose. Most homoeopaths believe
in the action of minute doses of medicine which are prepared as
follows: If the medicinal substance is soluble, one part is diluted in
9 or 99 parts water and/or alcohol solution and shaken vigorously. If
insoluble, it is ground and mixed in similar proportions with milk
sugar. One part of the diluted mixture is diluted and shaken again in
proportions ranging from one tenth to one millionth.
remedies today range from 6x to 30x.
to the laws of chemistry, there is a limit to the dilution that cant be
made without losing the original substance altogether. Hahnemann
however, believed that the vigorous shaking with each step of the
dilution (Succussion, or Trituration in the case of non-solubles)
leaves a spirit-like essence that cures by reviving the body's "vital
force". He further believed that dilution increases potency, a
remarkable conclusion when one considers things such as pesticides or
poisons where it could be claimed that a lesser rather than a greater
amount is the more potent. I doubt too, that one is more likely to
become intoxicated by drinking a greater rather than lesser quantity of
soda water with one's whisky.
homoeopathic remedies do not have the side effects caused by some
modern drugs and because of the current disaffection with and the
scepticism of the efficacy of brief and hurried visits to conventional
physicians, the popularity of homoeopathic practitioners and
homoeopathic medicines has increased dramatically in the past two
decades or so.
attempt to answer the obvious question, "How can a sub-molecular
compound possibly have any effect?" Homoeopaths believe that the
pounding and vigorous shaking with each step of the dilution imparts a
memory which helps revive the body's "vital force". However, although
many hypotheses have been put forward to explain "vital force", none
have stood up to scientific scrutiny.
recent attempt to validate homoeopathy came from the French Institute
of Health and Medical Research at the South Paris University in 1988,
where Dr. Jacques Benveniste put forward experimental results
supporting the idea that no matter how small the dilutions of a
substance, it would still have an effect. Dr. Benveniste reported that
human white blood cells respond to a solution of antibodies, even when
the solution is so dilute that it no longer contains a single molecule
of the antibody.
Benveniste and his colleagues estimated that less than one molecule of
antibody remains present when the solution is diluted to 1 x 1014 yet
in this instance, the dilution procedure was taken to 1 x 10120 and
there was still a perceived effect. This claim was taken as supportive
of homoeopathy and its "law of infinitesimals". The scientific
community was agog and incredulous, for if the results were confirmed,
it would question the entire basis upon which molecular scientists
work. However, an investigation instigated by Nature in conjunction
with sceptical investigator James Randi, Walter Stew art of the U.S.
National Institute of Health, and John Maddox, editor of Nature, found
that the results of the experiments were due to wishful thinking and
were a "delusion". Consumer Reports concluded in its January 1987
the laws of chemistry have gone awry, most homoeopathic remedies are
too diluted to have any physiological effect... CR's medical
consultants believe that any system of medicine embracing the use of
such remedies involves a potential danger to patients whether the
prescribers are M.Ds, other licensed practitioners or outright quacks.
Ineffective drugs are dangerous drugs when used to treat serious or
life threatening disease. Moreover, even though homoeopathic drugs are
essentially nontoxic, self-medication can still be hazardous. Using
them for a serious illness or undiagnosed pain instead of obtaining
proper medical attention could prove harmful or even fatal".
last warning is not to be taken lightly. In 1954, a four year old Long
Island boy, Jerald Winston, died of leukemia. For 16 months he had been
treated only with a homoeopathic remedy by his mother, the daughter of
a homoeopathic doctor. The parents were charged with manslaughter.
Among the latest whose death can be blamed on alternative therapies is
that of a fourteen year old Canadian resident Rachel Brarsky, who died
of asthma in January 1989, after being treated by "chemicals and
various therapies from a chiropractor".
coroner's jury found that Rachel's condition was reported to be
treatable by conventional means and that her health care had been
comment from a reputable Fellow of the Royal Pharmacological Society
draws attention to the fact that after brushing one's teeth with
fluoride toothpaste and thoroughly rinsing your mouth, you will still
ingest a dose of both fluoride and flavouring in quantities of the
order of a homoeopathic dose. Also many foods and beverages contain
flavours, colouring, preservatives and impurities in small amounts, so
that the quantity ingested approximates to a homoeopathic dose. Many of
these factors could influence human physiology at least as much as
have been many controlled studies of homoeopathic remedies (Kleijen
1981, Schofield 1984) and while the evidence of clinical trials is
positive, it is not sufficient to draw definitive conclusions because
most trials are of low methodological quality and because of the
unknown role of publication bias.
view of the absence of scientific evidence of the efficacy of holistic
medicine, why are people flocking to alternative practitioners?
page report completed by the British Medical Association in May 1986,
points to a paradox. Along with the great modern developments in
rational therapeutics and the diagnostic techniques that have
revolutionised the effective expectations of medical science, there has
also been a significant change in patient/doctor relationship — less
time to counsel and to support the patient. In bygone days when there
was little else to offer, a long personal chat was in many cases a
therapy in itself. Alternative practitioners, who, according to a
Council of Europe report, spend up to eight times longer over a
consultation than an average general practitioner, seem to fulfil the
personal attention and support expectations of many patients.
the incredible increase in the number of effective drugs that have
become available since the end of World War II, patients expect and
demand instant cures. If conventional medicine cannot supply one, then
maybe alternative, albeit irrational cures, can. The very efficiency of
modern medicine too, turns people away. Those afraid of organic
disease, especially of a malignant nature, may prefer to go to an
alternative therapist because they are afraid what the orthodox
diagnostic process might reveal.
of the testimonies of those who claim to have been cured by fringe
there is the natural variability of all diseases where the pain or
symptom has important points of remission. The patient may feel as
though the pain is diminishing or getting worse. It doesn't matter
whether the patient starts treatment (and the treatment can be anything
from a sugar pill, glass of coloured water or a "healing crystal") on a
worsening slide or an improving climb, the result will eventually be
one of perceived improvement. The important point is the way we
perceive illness — we tend to ascribe cause and effect where none
there is the placebo effect. Many of our ill-effects are psychosomatic
— a variety of problems, particularly headaches, brought on by muscular
tension, anxiety or depression and which, if they arise for
psychological reasons would probably go away for the same reasons.
Therefore, belief in a therapy, regardless of what it may be, and in
the therapist whether genuine or a quack, will lead to an effect on the
mind which in turn will produce an effect on the body.
final observation on radically diluted compounds. Vitamin C is
advocated by both science-based medical practitioners and
homoeopathists as a proven preventative and cure for scurvy. However,
contrary to the "dilution increases potency" theory, homoeopathists do
not potentiate vitamin C by dilution.
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