Homeopathy and the Law of Similars
by Michael Braunstein
Q: How are Tina Turner and the Queen of England similar?
Homeopathy uses medicines in a way totally different than conventional therapy. Western medicines increase their effect when the concentration is increased. The "stronger" the dose, the greater the effect. Conventional medicine pushes the dose to the point of weighing the side-effects to the benefits. And there are always side-effects in Western medicine. But homeopathic medicines are effective in concentrations as dilute as a million to one. Side-effects are unheard of.
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a) They both know a Proud
Mary when they see one.
b) They both have hot legs.
c) They both have homeopathic physicians.
In the often confusing maze of alternative therapies, it's easy to get lost. Even when we see words over and over, we don't always know what they mean; don't know where they will lead us. Simple words like "holistic" or "organic" keep popping up and we really only know that they have something to do with alternative or natural therapies but exactly what is unclear.
One of the least understood of the alternative therapies is homeopathy. Though many people may admit having heard the word often, it is a little like the term "quantum physics" -- many have heard it, few understand the meaning. Fewer still can relate its application to their world.
A common misunderstanding of homeopathy sees it as a broad segment of different healing arts, almost equating it with terms like "natural medicine" or "herbal therapy." And while homeopathy includes those notions, it is far more specific.
It is not surprising that homeopathy is so challenging for the Western mind to understand. It is based on a philosophy that is in direct opposition to the way American medicine works. In American medicine, also called allopathic medicine, the physician utilizes drugs and procedures to fight against the symptom. But merely fighting against the symptom doesn't cure the disease.
Homeopathy recognizes that disease has deeper, underlying causes. Disease happens on the energetic level. And in order to truly cure the disease, the body must do the healing. Rather than fight against the symptom, why not encourage the body?
The same philosophy holds true in martial arts after all. Martial arts recognize the idea of using your opponent's energy to contribute to his own downfall. Rather than resisting a punch with all your might and fighting back, martial arts like karate and hapkaido get into the flow of the energy and utilize it. The Western way is to attack and kill. The Eastern way is to allow your enemy to destroy himself. Homeopathy is more like martial arts.
And now that you are thoroughly confused, we will examine how homeopathy is used.
Homeopathy sees the body as a whole system. It treats people, not disease. And the whole person includes mental, physical and emotional. In that respect, homeopathy is holistic in nature. Homeopathy does not treat symptoms but sees symptoms only as the outward manifestation of a deeper-level imbalance. Western medicine treats isolated symptoms or events. Western medicine is not holistic in that sense.
Homeopathy recognizes that the body has an ability to heal itself when the energy is balanced. To advance that balance, homeopathy takes advantage of the Law of Similars. The Law of Similars states that "like cures like".
Hippocrates, the father of medicine, was the first to utilize the law of similars in Western culture. In fact, the word "homeopathy" is a Greek derivative. He also happened to give us the "Hippocratic Oath" sworn by all physicians at medical school graduation. Hippocrates, and later others, reasoned and demonstrated that a substance producing a particular symptom in a healthy person would stimulate the body to remove that symptom in a sick person. Hippocrates used homeopathy extensively and 15th century physician Paracelsus documents homeopathic medicines.
It wasn't until a German physician in the late 1700s became disenchanted in the cutting, poisoning and barbaric treatments offered by his contemporaries that modern homeopathy became known. Samuel Hahnemann was a doctor who disapproved of the bloodletting, leeching, blistering and purging that were the main medical practices when he graduated medical school in 1759. Hahnemann worked with herbs and noticed that herbs taken in low dosages cured the same symptoms that those herbs produced when taken in high doses. He experimented on himself with quinine, the herbal cure for malarial fever. When he took small doses of diluted quinine, he became ill with fever. When he stopped, the fever went away. For him, that proved the Law of Similars. Hahnemann began developing his own ultra-diluted medicines. Homeopathy was born. The idea is that if you are sick, a homeopath gives you a medicine containing a diluted substance that would cause the same symptoms as your disease in a healthy person if given in full strength. The body is stimulated to reverse the imbalance that caused the symptoms.
Success breeds professional jealousy. But it also breeds public support. Hahnemann was often attacked by his peers, but homeopathy flourished. It leapt the English Channel and became firmly established in Great Britain. In 1831 cholera swept eastern Europe. Hahnemann studied the symptoms and reasoned that camphor would act as a homeopathic medicine for the disease. Extremely dilute homeopathic solutions were made and the epidemic was stopped. In 1841, England was ravaged by cholera. Statistics showed that four times as many lives were saved by homeopathic medicines than by other conventions of the day. Having succeeded in quashing two serious cholera epidemics in Europe, public acceptance of homeopathy grew. Homeopathy remains tremendously popular in England to this day. So much so, that the Queen herself carries homeopathic remedies when she travels and is attended by homeopathic physicians.
AMA FORMS TO FIGHT HOMEOPATHY
Danish physician Hans Gram brought homeopathy to America in 1825. In 1844, public popularity prompted American homeopaths to form the American Institute of Homeopathy. Two years later, jealous rival physicians formed the American Medical Association to fight what they saw as a threat to their livelihood. The AMA, later funded by pharmaceutical companies, launched an all-out war against homeopathy. That makes sense. How would a pharmaceutical company make any money if the idea of the medicine was "less is more"? By 1900, only 20 Colleges of Homeopathic Medicine remained. By 1923 there were only two; by 1950, none.
Europe, however, was a different story. Homeopathy continued to be a viable form of medicine and with jet travel and rapid communications of the late 20th century, Americans were no longer content to bow to the opinions of a few frightened physicians. Homeopathy, like many other alternative therapies, once more became popular in the United States.
MAN, IT SOUNDS LIKE MUMBO-JUMBO MEDICINE
Homeopathy sounds illogical. But so did the sun at the center of the solar system or the earth being round or quantum physics or acupuncture. Until science found it so. Homeopathy is on the verge of being validated by Western science. It could use it.
Homeopathy uses medicines in a way totally different than conventional therapy. Western medicines increase their effect when the concentration is increased. The "stronger" the dose, the greater the effect. Conventional medicine pushes the dose to the point of weighing the side-effects to the benefits. And there are always side-effects in Western medicine. But homeopathic medicines are effective in concentrations as dilute as a million to one. Side-effects are unheard of. Homeopathic medicines are made from substances that are often poisonous in higher doses. (Western medicine uses some poisons as therapy too, such as arsenic, but the philosophy is different.)
MAGIC OR MEDICINE?
Following the "Law of Similars," homeopathy says to take a substance that produces a symptom similar to the one produced by the disease. It doesn't matter if the substance needed is mercury or chamomile, snake venom or tobacco, it can be diluted as much as one million million times and still be effective. This flies in the face of pharmaceutical chemistry. Critics maintain that there can't possibly be enough of the "active ingredient" to have any effect as a cure. (Those who don't know, always say "no".) But recent research is beginning to support the idea of homeopathy.
In 1996, Shui-lin Lo of the California Institute of Technology, who neither is a homeopath nor wants anything to do with alternative medicine, discovered an odd characteristic of water. When he diluted a substance to the extreme, exactly as Hahnemann did 200 years earlier, Lo found that unusual crystals formed in the water when it was shaken. These "ice" crystals had bizarre electrical forces. In addition, they did not "melt" at room temperature. Lo dubbed the crystals "IE" -- ice with an electrical field. Not much relevance to homeopathy. Yet.
About one year later, UCLA immunologist Benjamin Bonavida discovered that biologically active IE crystals boosted immune systems components up to 100 percent. Let's see, immune system. Hmmm. The homeopathy connection was made. No matter how dilute the solution got, the special ice crystals would form. A very dilute substance definitely could affect the body.
Other recent research published in Lancet found that homeopathic medicines improved health 66 times more than placebo. Most conventional medicines don't do that well.
Several companies in the United States produce homeopathic remedies. Unlike herbal or vitamin supplements, they are very strictly regulated by Food and Drug Administration supervision. There are approximately 1500 different substances used to produce homeopathic medicines. There are two major steps in manufacture. First, extremely dilute the substance to the prescribed ratio, sometimes a million to one. Second, the medicine must be shaken, a process know as succussion. The dilution is shaken, just as Lo found in his research.
With the public desire to find medical practices that are more humane and that work, homeopathy has enjoyed a resurgence. In 1970 there were fewer than 200 practitioners in America. At present it is estimated there are over 3500 in the United States. Homeopathic remedies are found on shelves of national chains like Walgreens, CVS and WalMart. The public spends over 300 million dollars a year on homeopathic remedies.
Though many of the homeopathic medicines are available "over-the-counter" and self-medication is common, the best course of action would seem to be to consult a certified professional or naturopathic physician who knows the art of prescription. With so many different applications available, a professional can be of great assistance.