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Therapies

Homeopathy

What Is It?
How Does It Work?
What You Can Expect
Health Benefits

How To Choose a Practitioner
Cautions

References
Evidence Based Rating Scale

What Is It?

Homeopathy is a two hundred year old comprehensive system of medicine, which uses medicines (also known as “remedies”) that contain minute amounts of substances to promote healing. The principles of homeopathy are in distinct contrast to those of conventional Western medicine in several important ways that may be difficult to understand for the new user. Most importantly, symptoms of illness are thought to result when the body’s usual mechanisms for maintaining balance and health through homeostasis are disturbed. Suppression of symptoms, as is commonly done with Western medicine, is considered to be counter-productive: rather, the body’s healing efforts are supported with small doses of a substance that produces effects in healthy people that are similar to those of the patient’s illness.

The system of homeopathy is based on the work of Samuel Hahnemann (1753-1843), a prominent German physician and chemist. Deeply disturbed by practices such as bloodletting and purging, which were mainstream medicine in his time, Hahnemann quit his medical practice and began a quest to understand the healing properties of drugs. Hahnemann's research and writings were synthesized into a system of homeopathic medicine in the mid-nineteenth century, which were described in his Organon of Medicine, which went through six editions prior to his death. (1) It wasn't long before homeopathy became an accepted medical discipline in many nations throughout the world, and by the early 1900s it was widely practiced in the United States. The monument to him at Scott Circle in Washington D.C. is the only monument to a physician in the nation’s capital and its dedication in 1900 was attended by President McKinley and the Marine Band. The legislation that created the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1938 was championed by New York senator, Royal Copeland MD, who was himself a homeopathic physician. The Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States (HPUS), which maintains manufacturing standards for homeopathic drugs, was made official with the 1938 Food Drug and Cosmetics Act (FDAC Sec. 201(g) and 501(b)), and revised in 1990 (FDAC Sec. 400.400 Conditions Under Which Homeopathic Drugs May be Marketed (CPG 7132.15))

In classical homeopathy, each patient is treated as a whole system. Imbalances can come from any number of emotional and/or physical assaults, all of which would be taken into consideration in the choice of medicine. Psychological, behavioral, and genetic factors--not just the immediate physical symptoms of the disease—are considered when prescribing the remedy that will create the most powerful healing response in the patient based on the “Law of Similars”. Additionally, the patient’s unique combination of symptoms (rather than the symptoms common to the conventional diagnosis) is crucial to the prescription, e.g. a sore throat that starts on the left side would be treated differently than one that starts on the right.

A second important distinction from conventional medicine is use of the minimum dose of a medicine.  Hahnemann found that by progressively diluting and mixing a drug preparation, he could make an increasingly potent remedy with few or no side effects. Conventional medical doctors and scientists scoffed at the dilution principle of homeopathy, preferring to think that direct chemical actions were necessary for drugs to be effective. Recent discoveries in the fields of physics and materials science have begun to explain how this could work.(2-5) What is important to remember is that it is the body that is doing the healing: the remedy is only a catalyst to this process; so the dosage is less important once the healing has begun.

Homeopathy has had a broad following through the centuries, especially in Europe, South America, and India. The British royal family has been treated with homeopathy since the mid 1800s, along with many other notables (6), and its national health service includes homeopathic hospitals. Early documentation indicates that homeopathy was effective in a number of epidemics including cholera in London in 1854 where the death rate in homeopathic hospitals was 1/3-1/2 that of allopathic hospitals (7) and in the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 where the death rate was 1-2% compared to 20-30% in some sectors. (8) More recently, Oscillococcinum®, made from the heart and liver of a water duck, has been shown to shorten the duration of influenza when taken early in the course. (9)

In the USA, homeopathy saw a decline during the middle of the twentieth century, but is now regaining status.  In 2007, 1.8% of the population had used homeopathy in the prior twelve months according to the National Health Interview Survey: this was nearly one third greater than the number who had used acupuncture.(10) With preliminary scientific studies documenting the effect of some homeopathic treatments, along with the widespread interest in "natural healing," homeopathy has once again become a more accepted method of treatment in the United States.

How Does It Work?

A homeopathic remedy is made by crushing a plant, animal, or mineral substance, then putting it into a solvent such as grain alcohol. The Extract is then further diluted in a mixture of alcohol and water and shaken with each dilution; this emphasizes the signature healing effects of the substance being diluted. The process is repeated many times to achieve a therapeutic dilution with few chemical side effects.

Homeopathic remedies are labeled with numbers and letters that indicate their dilution, or "potency." A solution labeled "30C," for example, has been diluted 30 times at a ratio of one part substance to 99 parts alcohol and water ("C" is for "centesimal," as the ratio is 1:100). A solution labeled "6X" has been diluted 6 times at a ratio of one part substance to 9 parts alcohol and water ("X" stands for "decimal potency," or a ratio of 1:10). Higher potencies, even though more dilute, are thought to be more powerful. It’s important to note that the potencies are not additive, i.e. taking two doses of 6C is not equivalent to taking one dose of 12C. After proper dilution, medicines can be administered in one of many forms, including tablets, ointments, liquid, or spray. Commonly, remedies may be purchased as small sugar pellets that have been impregnated with the drug. For one “dose”, 3-5 pellets or tablets are dissolved under the tongue rather than swallowed. Both children and adults find them easy to take.

Advocates of homeopathy believe that the dilution process increases the healing stimulus of the substance. Critics argue that most homeopathic remedies are so diluted that chemical laboratory tests cannot detect the original active substance. They suggest that homeopathic cures are the result of a Placebo effect caused by the patient's belief in the practitioner or the method. However, studies demonstrating efficacy in animals (11) and plants (12) as well as some good clinical trials in humans, suggest that there is more than a placebo effect in homeopathy. (13)

What You Can Expect

If you'd like to be treated homeopathically for a chronic illness, it is best to seek out a licensed naturopath, osteopath, or medical doctor who regularly uses homeopathy as a treatment modality. Because there are over 2,000 substances used in homeopathic remedies, it helps to have professional advice. The more chronic your illness, the more likely that you will need a remedy that is unique to you. In fact, in a randomized controlled trial testing individualized homeopathic medicines for patients with fibromyalgia, 62 participants were given 41 different remedies.(14)

A homeopathic practitioner should begin your initial visit by taking a detailed health history. You will probably be asked how your current complaint started, how it has developed, and how it makes you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally. You will also be asked to explain exactly what kinds of symptoms are involved, precisely where your symptoms are located, and what kinds of events or actions, times of day, or types of weather make the problem better or worse. You may even be questioned about what foods you like and don't like.

The answers to these questions will help the Homeopath determine what kind of problem you have, what kind of person you are, and what remedy to prescribe to encourage your body's natural healing processes. The homeopath may prepare the recommended remedies for you, or you may be told where to purchase them.

Homeopathic remedies can be used to treat a specific problem, to support resistance to disease, or to strengthen your system in general. Homeopaths will give you the dose best suited for your system (it could be daily, weekly, or just once) and follow your response. If the remedy recommended by your homeopathic consultant fails to improve your ailment, you may need to move on to another remedy or some other form of treatment.

If you have a minor acute condition, homeopathic remedies are excellent choices for self-care. Remedies such as Arnica montana for bruising injuries, Ignatia amara for the emotional stress of sudden grief or loss, or Nux vomica for overeating or alcohol hangover symptoms can sometimes be used with less concern for individualization because the symptoms are more common to all sufferers. Homeopathic self-help guides can counsel you on how to choose the best remedy based on your symptoms. Remedy guides and kits went along on many a covered wagon. A few more current ones are: Homeopathic Medicine at Home by Maesimund Panos MD and Jane Heimlich (15), The Homeopathic Emergency Guide by Thomas Kruzel MD (16), and Homeopathic Self Care: the Quick and Easy Guide for the Whole Family by Judyth Reichenberg-Ullman ND and Robert Ullman ND.(17) There are also guides for more specific problems such as menopause and ADHD and others for treating your dogs, cats, and horses.

One unique aspect of homeopathy is that two people with different conditions but similar constitutional symptoms might be treated with the same remedy according to the Law of Similars. When using a guide, note when you go to the store that the remedy that seems most appropriate for your problem may be labeled for a different condition. The FDA labeling system only addresses conditions—not your unique combination of symptoms; so go with what you have found in the book even if it differs from the label. Another unique aspect—because it is your body, not the medicine, that is doing the healing, you can stop taking it when you feel better: there’s no need to continue the remedy for a specified length of time unless an expert practitioner recommends it.

In addition to the specific single-drug remedies, “combination remedies” are mixtures of homeopathic remedies most likely to be indicated for self-limited common conditions such as a cold, headache, or flu. A hay fever remedy, or bladder symptom remedy, for example, might contain four to eight specific agents. Many homeopathic remedies can be found at heath-food stores, drug stores, and natural pharmacies. One popular combination for musculo-skeletal injuries is Traumeel®. In a multi-center German study of patients with various injuries, 69 treated with Traumeel® were compared with 64 who received conventional care. The Traumeel® group responded as rapidly as the conventionally treated group with better tolerability and fewer adverse events.(18) Calms Forté is a popular combination for insomnia due to stress, and Sinusalia® might help your sinus condition.

Health Benefits

While many mainstream physicians believe that the much-diluted homeopathic remedies are at best placebos, homeopaths argue that the remedies do work--for all types of ailments from hay fever to seasickness. There is now a growing body of clinical evidence concerning homeopathy's efficacy. While many clinical trials have indeed shown homeopathic remedies to be no better than placebos, other studies have found them to be effective. A number of conditions such as postoperative ileus (intestinal obstruction following surgery), childbirth, rheumatoid arthritis, influenza, asthma, and sprains appear to respond to homeopathic remedies. A meta-analysis of studies using individualized remedies for childhood diarrhea demonstrated significantly shorter time to return to normal stools (19); another demonstrated significant and persistent improvement in allergy symptoms within eight days of beginning treatment (20); and a meta-analysis of 89 placebo-controlled trials using a variety of treatment styles showed that homeopathic therapy was  2.45 times more effective than placebo. (13) Still, the need for more solid research in the future is clear.

Homeopathic care may also be more cost-effective. A retrospective study done in Italy, compared the change in cost of care and medications for respiratory problems (asthma, allergic complaints, Acute Recurrent Respiratory Infections) from the year prior to beginning homeopathic treatment to the two following years with matched controls getting only conventional care. They found significant cost reductions of 45-71% in the homeopathically treated group while costs in the conventional care group continued to rise.(21) Another large multi-center study demonstrates more rapid resolution of symptoms, which may also allow for earlier return to work and school.(22)

How To Choose a Practitioner

Homeopaths are separately licensed in only three states in the United States (Arizona, Connecticut, and Nevada). In other states, physicians may include homeopathy in their scope of practice. Naturopathic physicians, also trained in homeopathy, are licensed in 13 states: in some states Chiropractors are allowed to practice homeopathy, and, more recently, several states have passed “Health Freedom” laws allowing anyone to practice as long as they are forthright about their training, credentials, and limitations. The American Board of Homeotherapeutics (ABHt) grants Diplomate (advanced specialty) status (D.Ht.) to those medical and osteopathic physicians who successfully pass a written and oral exam. Licensed physicians, advanced practice nurses, and physician's assistants can also take a Primary Care certification exam offered by the ABHt, which recognizes entry-level diagnostic and therapeutic skills.

The Council for Homeopathic Certification (CHC) also offers homeopathic certification to individuals who have a health-care license (M.D., R.N., D.C., and so on) as well as to trained homeopathic prescribers who are not licensed in any biomedical profession. However, in order to qualify for the certification exam, individuals must submit documentation proving that they have completed coursework in and have sufficient knowledge of the health sciences. (http://www.homeopathicdirectory.com)

In addition, The Homeopathic Academy of Naturopathic Physicians offers Diplomate certification (the DHANP certificate) for naturopaths who specialize in the full classical specialty of homeopathy.

In order to avoid a potentially dangerous misdiagnosis of your condition, it is best work with a licensed and/or certified homeopath who will cooperate with your conventional doctors, or to seek out a licensed M.D., R.N., D.C., D.O. or N.D. who regularly incorporates homeopathy into their licensed scope of practice treating health conditions. A licensed health-care practitioner will also be able to offer you a better rounded treatment plan for your ailment.

Be sure to ask where the homeopath received training and how long the individual has been practicing this form of medicine. To find a homeopath who practices in your area, you can use the practitioner database of the National Center for Homeopathy (homeopathy.org/">http://nationalcenterforhomeopathy.org), the membership list for the American Institute of Homeopathy—the nation’s oldest medical organization (http://www.homeopathyusa.org) The website of the Council for Homeopathic Certification also maintains a searchable directory of certified practitioners in the United States (www.homeopathicdirectory.com).

Cautions

Because the practice of homeopathy is only minimally regulated in the United States., a homeopathic practitioner may be a self-educated person with minimal training. Be sure to check into the practitioner's credentials.

Some unlicensed practitioners "diagnose" the need for remedies by the use of electrical diagnostic devices. This method, even when practiced by trained M.D.s, is controversial within the homeopathic community. Do not accept such diagnostic advice from a person who is not otherwise licensed as an M.D., D.O., D.C., or N.D.

Although the manufacture of homeopathic remedies is regulated under the Food and Drug Administration for safety and purity, the effectiveness of homeopathic remedies has not been tested the same way that new pharmaceutical drugs are tested before coming to the U.S. market.

If you are pregnant, consult your doctor before taking drugs, homeopathic remedies, or supplements for self-care.  

Even though the doses of alcohol are very small, it is wise to avoid taking homeopathic remedies in an alcohol base if you are pregnant, a recovering alcoholic, or otherwise need to avoid alcohol.  

Don't keep taking the same homeopathic self-care remedies once they have helped you recover from a specific problem, or if you have not noticed improvement within a week. Some people can develop annoying symptoms from overused or poorly chosen remedies. 

Don't rely solely on homeopathic remedies to treat a serious illness such as cancer, depression, high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease.

References 

1. Hahnemann S. The Organon of the Medical Art. Redmond,WA: Birdcage Books, 1996.
2. Elia V, Niccoli M. New physico-chemical properties of extremely diluted acqueous solutions. J Therm Anal Calorim 2004;(75):815-836.
3.
Elia V, Napoli E, Germano R. The 'Memory of Water': an almost deciphered enigma. Dissipative structures in extremely dilute aqueous solutions. Homeopathy 2007; 96(3):163-169.
4. Rao ML, Roy R, Bell IR, Hoover R. The defining role of structure (including epitaxy) in the plausibility of homeopathy. Homeopathy 2007; 96(3):175-182.
5. Chaplin MF. The structure of liquid water: overview. Chaplin MF . 6-29-2009.  London South Bank University. 3-6-0009. Ref Type: Electronic Citation
6. Ullman D. The Homeopathic Revolution: Famous People and Cultural Heroes Who Chose Homeopathy. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2007.
7.
Dean M. The Trials of Homeopathy--Origins, Structure and Development. Essen, Germany: KVC/Verlag, 2004.
8.
Dewey W. Homeopathy in influenza--a chorus of fifty in harmony. J Am Inst Homeopathy 21 A.D.;1038-1043.
9.
Vickers AJ, Smith C. Homoeopathic Oscillococcinum for preventing and treating influenza and influenza-like syndromes. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2006; 3:CD001957.:CD001957.
10.
CDC. NHIS Description. CDC . 2007. 3-28-2007.
Ref Type: Electronic Citation
11. Lobreiro J. Homeopathic treatment for infertility in a prize Nelore bull. Homeopathy 2007; 96(1):49-51.
12.
Scherr C, Simon M, Spranger J, Baumgartner S. Duckweed (Lemna gibba L.) as a test organism for homeopathic potencies. J Altern Complement Med 2007; 13(9):931-937.
13. Linde K, Clausius N, Ramirez G, Melchart D, Eitel F, Hedges LV et al. Are the clinical effects of homeopathy placebo effects? A meta-analysis of placebo-controlled trials. Lancet 1997; 350(9081):834-843.
14. Bell IR, Lewis DA, Brooks AJ, Schwartz GE, Lewis SE, Walsh BT et al. Improved clinical status in fibromyalgia patients treated with individualized homeopathic remedies versus placebo. Rheumatology (Oxford) 2004; 43(5):577-582.
15. Panos M, Heimlich J. Homeopathic Medicine at Home. Jeremy Tarcher, 1980.
16. Kruzel T. Homeopathic Emergency Guide. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1992.
17.
Reichenberg-Ullman J, Ullman R. Homeopathic Self Care: The Quick and Easy Guide for the Whole Family. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1997.
18. Schneider C, Schneider B, Hanisch J, van HR. The role of a homoeopathic preparation compared with conventional therapy in the treatment of injuries: an observational cohort study. Complement Ther Med 2008; 16(1):22-27.
19. Jacobs J, Jonas WB, Jimenez-Perez M, Crothers D. Homeopathy for childhood diarrhea: combined results and metaanalysis from three randomized, controlled clinical trials. Pediatr Infect Dis J 2003; 22(3):229-234.
20. Reilly D, Taylor MA, Beattie NG, Campbell JH, McSharry C, Aitchison TC et al. Is evidence for homoeopathy reproducible? Lancet 1994; 344(8937):1601-1606.
21. Rossi E, Crudeli L, Endrizzi C, Garibaldi D. Cost-benefit evaluation of homeopathic versus conventional therapy in respiratory diseases. Homeopathy 2009; 98(1):2-10.
22. Haidvogl M, Riley DS, Heger M, Brien S, Jong M, Fischer M et al. Homeopathic and conventional treatment for acute respiratory and ear complaints: a comparative study on outcome in the primary care setting. BMC Complement Altern Med 2007; 7:7.:7.

23. Gerhar I, Wallis E. Individualized homeopathic therapy for male infertility. Homeopathy. 2002 Jul;91(3):133-44.

24. Kreuzel T. The homeopathic emergency guide: a quick reference handbook to effective homeopathic care. Berkley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1992.

25. Guernsey W. Homeopathic therapeutics of hemorrhoids, ed 2. Philadelphia: Boericke & Tafel, 1892.

Evidence Based Rating Scale

The Evidence Based Rating Scale is a tool that helps consumers translate the findings of medical research studies with what our clinical advisors have found to be efficacious in their personal practice. This tool is meant to simplify which supplements and therapies demonstrate promise in the treatment of certain conditions. This scale does not take into account any possible interactions with any medication/ condition/ or therapy which you may be currently undertaking. It is therefore advisable to ask your doctor before starting any new treatment regimen.

 

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Date Published: 05/19/2009
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