These days, when illness strikes, many of us feel like we?re on our own- or we rely on medicine. Perhaps our healthcare coverage is inadequate. Or perhaps we avoid using the coverage we have for fear of establishing “pre-existing conditions.” Indeed, many of us are disenchanted with conventional medical care and try to find more gentle and natural ways of dealing with illness. We also work hard to prevent disease in the first place by taking better care of ourselves, eating healthy foods, and exercising. Whenever possible, we may use alternative forms of healing like naturopathy, homeopathy, osteopathy, acupuncture, or chiropractic care.
How Alternatives From the Past Can Help Us Today
Whether or not we try to avoid conventional “allopathic” care, there are actually good reasons to be wary of it. Allopathic treatments are the third leading cause of death in the United States, and according to some, may now be the leading cause. A 2009 investigative report published in The New Yorker found that areas of the United States that utilize more conventional medicine and treatments tend to have worse health outcomes. In contrast, nearby areas with similar demographics but lesser use of medical procedures and drugs tend to experience better health.
Of course, there are times when allopathic care is lifesaving and an absolute must?for instance, in emergencies or life-threatening situations. But one need only look at the daily headlines to become hesitant about incorporating yet another drug into your daily regimen. It is now commonplace to hear about medical studies tainted by financial self-interest or recalls of once-touted ?safe? wonder drugs.
Nevertheless, most of us tend to go for quick fixes for our health problems. Life has become so fast-paced and demanding that we resort to popping another pill rather than dealing with ailments on a deeper, more fundamental level. But the next thing we know, we are using pill organizers to keep all our medicine straight. Sadly, many of our children need to use pill organizers now, too.
Eventually, of course, there are consequences to this pill popping. Just as you can?t continue to cover up financial problems with more loans, you can?t patch another ailment with another pill?because the net effect will likely be something much worse. In fact, a fundamental tenet of many alternative therapies?including my own favorite, homeopathy?is that repeated suppression of disease symptoms eventually force the energy of a disease to deepen and become more chronic. Just like the global economic meltdown, the net effect of more and more suppressive medicines might be a global health breakdown. In fact, studies indicate that Americans have become more chronically ill than they were in the past.
In 2002, an article in JAMA reported that 80 percent of US adults take some form of medication every week, with 50 percent taking a prescription drug. The numbers have gone up since then and pertain to children as well. In 2007, a survey found that 51 percent of all Americans take one or more prescription medicine for a chronic problem. That included two-thirds of all women age 20 and older, one in four children and teenagers, 52 percent of adult men, and three quarters of people over age 65. More recently, a February 2010 article published in JAMA reported that chronic health problems among children in the US have risen from 12.8 percent of children in 1994 to 26.6 percent in 2006. Most parents today are all too aware that their children have become prone to chronic diseases like asthma, diabetes, learning disorders, hyperactivity, severe allergies, and autism. Schools and summer camps must now be informed of complex drugging regimes, and adorn their walls with epipens just in case of unexpected anaphylaxis from allergens. This was not the case 40 years ago. What happened?
For one thing, our food supply and eating habits have become compromised and new toxins have been introduced into our environment. But it may be our increased use of suppressive medicines that is even more to blame. The next time you see an ad on TV about a new drug for allergies, acne, or the ?blues,? try paying a bit less attention to the happy visuals and a bit more attention to the serious potential side effects that quickly rattle by. Rather than add one more pill to your weekly routine, think twice. There could be another way?an approach to health that helps you decrease, not increase, your use of medical interventions.
An Answer from the Past
How can we find better health for our families? One answer might be found if we revisit some forms of medicine from our past. Now I know what many of you are thinking: people in the past used to die at much younger ages than we do now. That is true. But this higher mortality was due to acute infectious diseases and infant mortality, not the chronic diseases we experience now. Indeed, most of the improvements in mortality were due to improved sanitation, not medicine. While drugs like antibiotics can sometimes be lifesavers, it is also true that more of a good thing isn?t necessarily better. The overuse of antibiotics has led to deadly resistant superbugs like MRSA and immune systems that are weaker, not stronger. And if the tenets of alternative medical systems like homeopathy are correct, the overuse of drugs has also led to more widespread chronic disease.
So how did people survive before the days of modern pharmaceutical drugs? They relied on natural home remedies and treatments?most of them herbal, but increasingly after the mid-1800s, many of them homeopathic. In fact, the very first American domestic manual (a home medical reference) was published in 1835 by the father of American homeopathy, Constantine Hering, MD.
Hering came to the United States from Germany in 1833, and like many German immigrants of the time, settled in Pennsylvania, where he founded America?s first homeopathic medical school, as well as America?s first medical society of any kind, the American Institute of Homeopathy. Because of Hering?s efforts, Pennsylvania became the state where homeopathy first took root in America. I fondly remember how, during a 2004 family road trip to Hershey, we paid a visit to a quilt museum in Lititz, PA. Tucked away in the back of the museum was a display of home remedy kits and manuals from the 1800s?all describing the use of homeopathic remedies for a wide variety of common ailments. I pointed this out to the museum curator and she was surprised; she had no idea what those little vials of pills were all about!
The institutions that Hering established in the mid 1800s ultimately led to a golden era for homeopathy in the United States?one that spanned nearly a hundred years. During that time, homeopathy became a widespread and trusted form of medicine that was favored for home care and by the American elite. Many members of the Republican party that swept into power with President Lincoln were aficionados of homeopathy. Feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton was an accomplished lay homeopath, and Susan B. Anthony?s personal physician was homeopath Julia Smith, MD, of Chicago. In fact, the very first women?s medical school was homeopathic (New England Female Medical College, founded in 1848), and most of the women physicians of that period were homeopaths. In 1900, President McKinley dedicated a monument in Washington, DC to Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy (still standing today at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and 16th Street), and in 1922, President Harding (whose father was a homeopathic physician) held a convention of homeopaths at the White House. There were even homeopathic medical corps during World War I.
So, if homeopathy is merely quackery or placebo, why were all of these people so enthusiastic about it? The answer is simple: homeopathy works. Homeopathy?s growing popularity during the 1800s was fueled by its immense success in treating epidemic diseases, including cholera, typhoid, influenza, and scarlet fever. In the early 1900s, homeopathic practitioners were so successful in treating and preventing smallpox outbreaks that the state of Iowa ruled homeopathic treatment to be a legal substitute for conventional vaccination. And during the 1918 flu epidemic, homeopathic practitioners had a death rate of only 1 percent, whereas conventional physicians had a death rate of 30 percent. The charity hospital on Wards Island had the lowest percentage of deaths in New York City during the epidemic, and was overseen by the city?s health commissioner (and later US Senator) Royal Copeland, MD, who used homeopathic treatment in all cases.
Homeopathy was also successful in treating chronic disease. In fact, many tried and true homeopathic medicines of those times, such as nitroglycerine and digitalis for heart disease, are still used by conventional doctors today. And as the pioneers made their way across the vast expanses of the American West, it was homeopathic medical kits that helped them get there. As actress Jane Seymour points out, it is very likely that her TV character Dr. Quinn was a homeopath. She should know?her sister is a homeopath in the UK.
Interestingly, most homeopaths of the 1800s were medical doctors, many of whom had abandoned allopathy for homeopathy. This trend became so alarming that the American Medical Association (AMA) was formed in 1847 in response; its charter forbade members to associate with homeopaths or to use homeopathic medicines. Soon, further attempts to disenfranchise homeopaths were put into place; homeopathic doctors were barred from state medical societies and forbidden to publish in medical journals.
However, it was the rise of the large pharmaceutical companies in the early 1900s, with their growing financial clout and power, that finally undermined homeopathy and many other forms of alternative medicine. Gradually, licensing opportunities for alternative practitioners were removed and their institutions became weakened. Many of the great American homeopathic medical schools, including the famed Hahnemann Medical School in Philadelphia, were slowly converted to allopathy. By World War II, allopathic medicine had won a complete monopoly over American health care.
But nothing lasts forever. In the 1970s, various forms of alternative therapies began to grow from the dormant seeds lying patiently in the soil of America?s healing history. Chiropractic, naturopathy, traditional osteopathy, and homeopathy began to blossom and spread once again, as the limits of conventional medicine became increasingly apparent. As America and the rest of the world now struggles to cope with rising health care costs, it is both fitting and ironic that the alternative healing modalities that ?big pharma? squashed in the early 1900s provide a solution. Our current health care crisis might be an opportunity for medicines like homeopathy to shine once again?if they are given a fighting chance to do so.
Alternative Medicine ? The Solution to Today?s Health Care Crisis
When it comes to health, people tend to vote with their feet. Harvard studies have shown that a growing number of Americans use some form of alternative medicine, and that these numbers are increasing across all demographic groups. While skeptics and quackbuster organizations are constantly on the attack, saying that all alternative therapies?and especially homeopathy?are worthless, science is increasingly proving them wrong.
In Europe, where homeopathy is used by large segments of the population and where many countries incorporate homeopathy into their national health-care system, long-term studies measuring use, outcomes, and satisfaction with homeopathic treatment have been possible. One study conducted in Germany and Switzerland followed nearly 4,000 patients over the course of eight years, with problems ranging from allergies to headaches, from eczema to recurrent infections in children, and found that homeopathy yielded highly significant improvements in health. In fact, the more serious the disease, the more positive the outcome was. Another six-year study encompassing 6,500 patients carried out in Bristol, England, found that about 70 percent of patients using homeopathy for problems such as eczema and asthma experienced significant improvement. In one 2001 study of 456 patients with upper respiratory problems like allergies and ear aches, 82.6 percent of homeopathically treated patients responded well, in comparison to only 67.3 percent of conventionally treated patients.
The next time you hear that homeopathic treatment is worthless and that there are no studies to support it, please remember that this is simply false. In fact, the increasing attempts to discredit and belittle homeopathy may actually be due to the fundamental threat that homeopathy poses to the pharmaceutical giants. Not only can homeopathy be highly effective medicine, it is also much safer than conventional treatment, with fewer potential side effects. Best of all, the cost of homeopathic medicines is negligible compared to conventional medicines. While appointments with a homeopath can be lengthy and make up the bulk of treatment cost (a cost that, unfortunately, is not usually covered by health insurance in the United States), the general improvement in health enjoyed by many homeopathic patients leads to lowered health care costs in the long run.
For example, a 1996 study conducted in France found that the number of paid sick-leave days by patients under the care of homeopathic physicians were 3.5 times less than those under the care of allopathic physicians. Another study that surveyed 1,200 American homeopathic patients found that their insurance and out-of-pocket medical costs were lowered by an average of $1,033 per year. Perhaps one of the reasons European countries have had success with single-payer, government-run health care is that they also tend to incorporate the use of alternative medicines like homeopathy, which help keep costs under control and improve the general health of their citizens.
How Does Homeopathy Work?
Unlike conventional drugs, homeopathic remedies do not cause symptoms to be disguised or suppressed. In fact, they do not force chemical changes on the body at all. Instead, they create precise and subtle energetic ?nudges? that mimic the nature of a person?s disease symptoms. These nudges then stimulate the natural healing mechanisms of the body. The result is that ?incurable? chronic conditions like asthma can often be cured, not simply palliated.
The homeopathic strategy, developed by Samuel Hahnemann in Germany in the early 1800s, is based on a simple therapeutic principle called the Law of Similars. It states that if a substance can cause the symptoms of a disease in healthy people, then it can be prepared in such a way that it triggers a curative response in sick people. In fact, that?s what the word ?homeopathy? literally means?similar (?homeo?) suffering (?pathy?).
Here?s a simple example. Everyone knows the effects of drinking coffee?you feel awake and elated, your mind races with ideas and excitement, and sometimes you experience heart palpitations. Many people with insomnia experience these same symptoms after an exciting night on the town. An appropriate homeopathic remedy for their insomnia (the remedy most similar to their insomnia) would therefore be Coffea Cruda, which is prepared from coffee. But unlike conventional medicine, which uses the same drug for each classification of disease (e.g., anti-histamine for hay-fever, aspirin for headache, or a narcotic for insomnia), the selection of the most appropriate homeopathic medicine is individualized. Thus, if a patient?s insomnia symptoms are different?say, sleeplessness from worry and exhaustion and accompanied by dizziness?a different remedy would be chosen. For this reason, it is usually best to consult a certified classical homeopathic practitioner who can find the remedy that best matches your overall symptom picture.
One important difference between herbalism and homeopathy is that herbal medicines are usually in the form of dried or tinctured plants, whereas homeopathic remedies?which can be made from any substance in nature, not just plants?are created through a process of repeated dilution and agitation. In fact, homeopathic remedies are so dilute that they no longer carry molecules of their original substance?a source for controversy since the development of homeopathy in the early 1800s. Nevertheless, recent studies by noted medical and material scientists demonstrate that they do indeed convey the action of the original substance.
During the past 200 years, over 1,000 homeopathic remedies have been developed and tested in homeopathic drug trials called ?provings.? Each proving determines and records the physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral effects of a remedy on healthy test subjects. This database or ?materia medica? of remedy symptoms forms the basis for homeopathic treatment. When a patient comes to see a classical homeopathic practitioner, they work collaboratively to identify the patient?s unique physical, emotional, mental, and behavioral symptom profile. The homeopath then selects the remedy that best matches this profile.
One of the profound beauties of the Law of Similars is that it can be applied to any disease?even a new disease that has never been seen before. Somewhere within the homeopathic medicine chest is usually a remedy whose symptoms match those of the disease. This makes homeopathy even more valuable today, when new viruses appear each year. The cause of a disease need not be found?only the remedy that best matches its symptoms. Indeed, the former director of the Office of Alternative Medicine at NIH, Wayne Jonas, MD, testified before Congress in November 2001 that homeopathy should be seriously considered for the after effects of bio-terrorism for this very reason.
Long Term Health?Not Short Term Fixes
Homeopathy?s underlying philosophy of disease and cure also provides clues as to why we are experiencing a worldwide increase in chronic disease. Through careful long-term observation of their patients, homeopaths discovered that when symptoms are repeatedly suppressed, the underlying dysfunction causing those symptoms is ultimately forced to express itself in a more serious way.
For example, even back in the 1800s, homeopaths noticed that repeated suppression of skin conditions like eczema could lead to the development of deeper chronic problems like asthma. Thus, rather than pollution, it could be our perpetual use of cortisone creams, antihistamines, and other suppressive drugs that has led to the dramatic rise in asthma rates today. You might think of suppressive allopathic treatments as ?patches.? Sometimes they are necessary, but they are only skindeep. Patch after patch ultimately leads to a downward spiral toward deeper disease. Indeed, homeopaths understand that the side effects quickly murmured on TV drug ads are actually the result of symptom suppression.
Happily, Hahnemann discovered that treatment based on the Law of Similars does not suppress, and in fact, can cause previously suppressed symptoms to reappear so that they can be treated properly. For example, if an asthma patient comes to a homeopath, successful homeopathic treatment cannot only clear the asthma, but can also reveal previously suppressed eczema or allergies. These can then be treated homeopathically, without the risk of suppression. You might think of the homeopathic treatment process as an unwinding of the spiral of disease in the reverse direction.
My own family has experienced the wonders of homeopathic treatment many times. In fact, our first experience was the most miraculous of all?when my son Max was cured of a chronic ?incurable? condition?autism. This experience ultimately led me to give up my career as a computer scientist, write a book about homeopathy, and devote myself to educating people about it.
The next time you or a family member gets sick, remember that there might be another option available to you. If it is your decision to do so, seek out an alternative practitioner. Get a referral from a friend, go a local health food store for advice, or check the yellow pages or Internet. Join a local study group or buy an introductory book about homeopathy or another alternative health modality you are interested in. Empower yourself. And remember: each one of us should have the fundamental right to health freedom?the ability to choose the type of health care we want to use.
By Amy L. Lansky, PhD
National Center for Homeopathy
The NCH is the leading open membership organization supporting and promoting homeopathy in North America. Membership benefits include a quarterly magazine, Homeopathy Today, weekly eNewsletters, online seminars with experts, and extensive online resources including homeopathic materia medicas. The website provides many free resources for the public, including practitioner referral lists, pharmacy and other resource information, and flu treatment information.
Impossible Cure is a best-selling general introduction to homeopathy that includes history, philosophy, how to prepare for appointments, what to expect from treatment, scientific studies, and dozens of first-person cure stories from around the world. The website includes an autism help page, Cure Stories database, helpful links, book ordering information, and a free archive of Lansky?s radio show on AutismOne ?There?s Hope with Homeopathy.