By Clifford Sawhney
Homeopathy, arguably the safest alternative medicine is making a strong global comeback, despite having lost the first round to allopathy
AVOGADRO’S NUMBER AND PLACEBO CUREHomeopathic substances (if liquid) are diluted in alcohol and/or water and shaken vigorously. If solid, the formulation is finely ground and mixed with powdered lactose. This diluted formulation is then further diluted. The process continues till the required dilution is reached. By which time not even a single molecule of the original substance may remain.
Dilutions of such a high degree militate against a principle called Avogadro’s number. Chemicals consist of molecules and atoms. Since there are far too many molecules to count individually, and they are too small, the moles are counted instead. One mole = Avogadro’s number of an object, which is 6.022 x 1023. This means one mole of a substance contains 6.022 x 1023 atoms. When a substance is repeatedly diluted, even the mole of the original substance no longer exists.
Now, scientists muse, how can the original substance cure when it no longer exists?
In 1988, French scientist Jacques Benveniste claimed that although the original substance might not be present in a remedy, its ‘memory’ exists in the water where it was first dissolved and this ‘memory’ effects the cure. Benveniste’s findings were published in Nature magazine.
Most scientists are still not convinced.
A study, published in the Lancet, examined over 100 randomized, placebo controlled trials and found an odds ratio of 2.45 in favor of homeopathy. The authors concluded that ”the results of our meta-analysis are not compatible with the hypothesis that the clinical effects of homeopathy are completely due to placebo.” Clinical trials in Europe have suggested a positive effect on conditions like allergic rhinitis (Reilly et al., 1986), fibrositis (Fisher et al., 1989), and influenza (Ferley et al., 1989).
‘It is certainly not a placebo. I will give two instances for the critics to ponder.
(1) How can a remedy produce a placebo effect in a one-month-old child with diarrhea?
(2) How does homeopathy work in veterinary practice?’ asserts DR A.U. Ramakrishnan from Chennai, India.
DR Mukesh Batra too pooh-poohs the placebo cure theory, mentions Jacques Benveniste’s findings and adds: ‘I could give you a hundred cases of diabetics whose reports show that their blood sugar levels decreased after taking homeopathic treatment. If you say that’s automatic regression due to lifestyle changes, yes, it’s possible. But the fact remains that I’ve been pumping them with sugar and in spite of that their sugar comes down! There’s got to be something medicinal to get those results. Moreover, scores of double-blind trials have been conducted that conclusively prove the efficacy of homeopathic medicines.’
Jacques Benveniste’s case may hold a conclusive answer. In the 1990s, some scientific journals ran stories debunking Benveniste’s research. French scientists Charpak and Jacob and American magician James Randi claimed Benveniste was a “fraud”. When the French monthly, Science et Vie, splashed the allegations, Benveniste sued.
In September 1998 a Paris court convicted the French publisher for libeling DR Benveniste, ruling that Science et Vie produced no evidence to corroborate its charge. James Randi subsequently denied making any allegation of fraud.
Therein lies a tale in itself.
Within a century and a half of its development, homeopathy spawned Bach flower remedies and Biochemic tissue salts.
Biochemic Tissue Salts
The Biochemic system owes its origins to DR Wilhelm Heinrich Schuessler, a German doctor of medicine who was also a biochemist, physicist and homeopath. Between 1872 and 1898, he discovered that inorganic matter essential to health comprised 12 mineral tissue salts: Calc Fluor, Calc Phos, Calc Sulph, Ferr Phos, Kali Mur, Kali Phos, Kali Sulph, Mag Phos, Nat Mur, Nat Phos, Nat Sulph and Silica. A deficiency in any of these led to weakened cell structure and ill health. When the deficiency was corrected, the cells again functioned normally and health was restored.
Biochemic tissue salts—also called cell salts—are minerals in an energy form. The first signs of tissue salt deficiencies are visible in the face, much before physical symptoms occur. By reading the face signs and supplementing with the appropriate tissue salts, one can achieve a balanced correction at the cellular level, which enables the body to heal itself.
Thanks to DR Schuessler’s findings, tissue salts are today used to treat acute and chronic conditions of viral, bacterial or fungal origin as they boost the body’s own defence mechanism to counteract an infection and heal itself. Except for very rare cases of lactose intolerance, these salts are safe and gentle remedies that have no toxic or side effects. They can be safely used to treat young and old alike, including pets and plants.
DR Schuessler’s therapy finds confirmation through the statement of Noble Prize winner DR Linus Pauling: ‘You can trace every sickness, every disease and every ailment to a mineral deficiency.’
Bach Flower Remedies
The system was founded by DR Edward Bach, a London consultant, bacteriologist and homeopath. DR Bach gave up a lucrative practice in 1930 to find remedies in the plant world that would restore vitality to the sick so that they could overcome negative states of mind and heal themselves. The remedies treat mental disorders in a natural way by flooding out negative feelings and emotions. The system uses essences made from flowers.
DR Bach discovered 38 flowers that between them cure all known negative states of mind that afflict mankind. He listed these under seven headings:
• Anxiety and apprehension
• Uncertainty and indecision
• Insufficient interest in present circumstances
• Over-sensitiveness to ideas and influences
• Despondency and despair
• Over-care for the welfare of others.
Dispensed in liquid and preserved in brandy, these remedies are benign in action, making them suitable for anyone. They attack problems at the root not by tackling physical complaints, but by changing negative states of the mind, which cause sickness and hinder recovery. A worried fearful mind saps an individuals vitality and makes the body lose its natural resistance. If peace, harmony and contentment return, the body begins its own natural healing process.
Life had gone into a tizzy the day 32-year-old Michael S. (name changed to protect identity) joined Burson-Marsteller Roger Pereira—one of India’s top PR agencies—as a copywriter. With deadlines piling up faster than one could spell the word, there were days when staffers didn’t know whether they were coming or going. Every night as he headed home, Mike felt totally zonked.
Three years into the job and, in 1993, Mike developed vitiligo—a form of leucoderma that turns the skin white in patches. The cumulative stress had taken its toll. Frantic, Mike visited a skin specialist. There was an even chance of a cure, the doctor assured him. But the cost for the full course of therapy was prohibitive.
Dejection, however, gave way to hope when Mike met a renowned Mumbai homeopath who was treating him for a sinus problem. The homeopath rated his chances of a cure at 60 per cent. Besides, the treatment would cost him nothing extra, as Mike had joined the clinic’s one-year package earlier.
THE ROOTSBy May 1996, the white patch below his right deltoid had faded and the white strands of hair had turned black. Homeopathy had saved Michael from a colorless future—at a fraction of what allopathy against alternative medicine would have cost.
Semantically, homeopathy traces its origins to two Greek words, Homois meaning similar and pathos for suffering. Historically, the story begins with the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates—the founder of western medicine—who first mooted the idea of curing ‘like with like’ over 2,500 years ago. Aristotle is also said to have practiced this system and Paracelsus described it in the Middle Ages. The Chinese, Indians, Greeks, Mayans and Native American Indians also used the law of similars.
Today the king of alternative remedies worldwide, it was only in the 19th century that homeopathy developed scientifically. The credit for this goes to the German physician, Dr Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843), a practitioner of conventional medicine.
In the 18th century, medicines contained toxic amounts of arsenic, lead and mercury. Prevailing medical practices included purging, blistering and bloodletting—even the use of leeches—to drain the body of poisons that supposedly caused disease. Hahnemann believed that these practices did more harm than good.
Distressed, he gave up medical practice and kept the home fires burning by translating medical, scientific and botanical treatises.
While translating William Cullen’s Materia Medica in 1790, he stumbled upon the law of similars. Intrigued, he experimented by testing certain potions on himself (referred to as provings). To begin with, he took cinchona bark—which contains quinine and is used to treat malaria—and discovered that it produced exactly the same symptoms as malaria. From these observations, he concluded that minuscule doses of a medicinal substance cured symptoms similar to those that they produced. Besides, every substance not only affected the body, but also the mind and emotions.
Hahnemann re-tested his theory by giving malaria sufferers concoctions of cinchona bark. They improved dramatically! He spent the next six years experimenting on himself, his family and a group of followers. He and his colleagues catalogued over 200 medicines or remedies, primarily of plant, mineral and animal origin. Each remedy was proved, that is, taken by healthy volunteers who kept detailed records of their physical, mental and emotional reactions. The most frequently reported symptoms were compiled in a Materia Medica that provided detailed information about the working of the remedies.
These ‘provings’ later crystallized into homeopathy—a term coined by Hahnemann in 1826. He subsequently began treating patients following the principle of Simila Similibus Curentur—let likes be treated by likes. How does the principle of similars work? For instance, to induce vomiting in a healthy individual a large dose of Ipecac is given. Yet, a person suffering from nausea and vomiting improves with a homeopathic dose of Ipecac.
Or take Allium cepa derived from onions. Contact with raw onions causes lacrimation, stinging and irritation around the eyes and nose. Allium cepa is therefore prescribed to patients with hay fever.
Around this time, Edward Jenner discovered the technique of injecting small doses of cowpox into healthy people to immunize them against smallpox. Although Jenner’s treatment—also based on the law of similars—was accepted by orthodox medicine, Hahnemann’s work wasn’t!
Thanks to the then barbaric methods of allopathy, homeopathy caught on like wildfire in Europe and America. Besides royal patronage in European countries, it had renowned proponents like Dickens, Disraeli, Yeats, Thackeray, Goethe and Pope Pius X.
The discipline received a tremendous boost in the 1830s when a cholera epidemic swept Europe. While conventional doctors had a death rate of 50 per cent, homeopaths cured 80 per cent of their patients. Homeopaths also enjoyed tremendous success in treating cases of yellow fever, typhoid and scarlet fever.
The new system began taking rapid strides in the New World after Hans Gram, a Dutch homeopath, emigrated to the USA in 1825. In 1844, the American Institute of Homeopathy was formed, America’s first national medical society.
Alarmed, conventional doctors formed the American Medical Association (AMA) in 1846. Their primary agenda seemed to halt homeopathy in its tracks.
Yet, by 1900, 22 homeopathic colleges, a hundred hospitals, over 1,000 homeopathic pharmacies and 29 different journals devoted to homeopathy had sprung up in the USA. And nearly 20 per cent of doctors were practicing homeopaths. Between 1829 to 1869, the number of homeopaths in New York doubled every five years.
Besides effectively treating infectious diseases, homeopaths provided care for many acute and chronic diseases. Since patients under homeopathic care lived longer, some life insurance companies even offered a 10 per cent discount to homeopathic patients!
Mark Twain was all praise for the alternative remedy in an 1890 issue of Harpers magazine: ‘The introduction of homeopathy forced the old school doctor to stir around and learn something of a rational nature about his business.’ The other advocates included William James, H.W. Longfellow, Nathanial Hawthorne and Daniel Webster.
MODERN MEDICINE HITS BACK
Before long, conventional doctors began a concerted campaign through the AMA, deriding homeopathy as ‘quackery’, ‘unscientific’ and ‘cultish’, since nobody was sure how exactly the system worked. Pharmaceutical companies also joined the fray to pre-empt erosion in their market shares. Worse, they targeted homeopaths through medical journals. A line from the Journal of the American Medical Association says it all: ‘The medical press is profoundly under the influence of proprietary interests (drug companies).’
There were other pinpricks too that grounded the rising star of homeopathy. In 1910, the Carnegie Foundation issued the infamous Flexner Report—an evaluation of American medical schools chaired by Abraham Flexner, in cooperation with key members of the AMA—sanctioning allopathic medical schools, while simultaneously condemning homeopathic ones. Fate dealt another cruel blow when John D. Rockefeller—a strong supporter of homeopathy who called it ‘a progressive and aggressive step in medicine’—instructed Frederick Gates, his financial advisor, to issue major grants to homeopathic institutions. An advocate of conventional medicine, Gates ignored his boss’s orders and $350 million in donations went to orthodox medicine and hospitals.
The discipline gradually buckled under the pressure. In 1923, there were just two homeopathic colleges left. By 1950, none. And perhaps just a hundred practicing homeopaths still survived, most over 50 years old.
There were other causes for the premature decline in America and elsewhere. Homeopathic practice requires individualization of each treatment, demanding more time than allopathy. This meant that there was more money to be made through allopathy—another blow in the solar plexus for the complementary remedy.
Moreover, apothecaries disliked Hahnemann because he recommended the use of only one medicine at a time—in limited doses! Which also meant that pharmacists couldn’t charge much for them. Besides, each medicine required careful preparation, something that apothecaries did not always do. Hahnemann soon began dispensing his own medicines.
THE INDIAN SCENE
Homeopathy first entered India in 1810 when German missionaries began distributing the medicines. It received a fillip in 1839 when Dr John Hoenigberger was called to treat Maharaja Ranjit Singh for paralysis of vocal cords and edema. Hoenigberger later shifted to Kolkata, India, and practiced for quite some time.
Official recognition began with the passing of the first resolution by the government in 1937, followed by another in 1948. But it was only in 1952 that homeopathy began gaining recognition in the states. In 1973, a Central Act was passed, recognizing this system of medicine. Since its constitution in 1973, the Central Council of Homoeopathy has set minimum standards of education related to graduate and postgraduate courses and only approved colleges can provide education in homeopathy. Correspondence courses are not recognized and any practice on this basis is illegal. Today, it is part of the national network of health services, provided through hospitals, dispensaries and private practitioners.
‘In 1991, there were just 84 colleges. Today there are 162 degree colleges. India has the largest pool of homeopaths in the world-2,40,000 doctors, of which 50 per cent are non-practicing lady doctors,’ reveals Dr Satinder Bakshi, President of the Central Council of Homoeopathy.
Among the country’s prestigious institutions is the Nehru Homoeopathic Medical College and Hospital. It became operational in 1967 when its founder-director Dr Jugal Kishore was at the helm of affairs. One of Delhi’s senior homeopaths, he reminisces about the early years: ‘I began practice in June 1945 at a time when there were very few homeopaths, many of them lay ones who learnt from books. During this period, an outbreak of typhoid took place and there was no proper treatment for it. I made my name by successfully treating these patients.’
‘The Governments of India and the states are doing a lot to promote homeopathy,’ asserts 53-year-old Dr Vipin Khanna, principal of the Nehru Homoeopathic Medical College. ‘Even today, we charge students annual fees of Rs 300 only. The facilities are free for patients. Admission for students is strictly on merit and there is no question of donations. The treatment to patients is free.’
With nearly 1,50,000 practitioners, India has the world’s largest pool of homeopaths. Commenting on the success story in India, an article in the WHO’s journal, World Health Forum, says: ‘Homeopathic treatment seems well suited for use in rural areas where the infrastructure, equipment and drugs needed for conventional medicine cannot be provided. In the Indian subcontinent the legal position of the practitioners of homeopathy has been elevated to a professional level similar to that of a medical practitioner.’
Three basic principles summarized Hahnemann’s experiences:
• A remedy in large doses that causes the symptoms of a disease will, in small doses, cure that disease.
• Extreme dilution enhances a remedy’s therapeutic properties while eliminating toxic side effects.
• Homeopathic remedies are prescribed only after a proper study of an individual.
Homeopathy essentially is a natural therapy that stimulates the body’s own immune system to fight illness and allow the symptoms of a disease to dissipate. Unlike an invasive system like allopathy—a word coined by Hahnemann—which cures by killing invading organisms, replacing hormones or interfering with a disease process. All homeopathic formulations are of plant, animal or mineral origin. Some common homeopathic medicines are derived from plants such as belladonna, arnica, and chamomile; minerals such as mercury and sulfur; animal products like sepia (squid ink) and lachesis (snake venom); and, rarely, biochemical substances such as histamine or human growth factor.
‘Almost 90 per cent of homeopathic medicines are derived from the vegetable kingdom, minerals and salts. All the medicines use rectified spirit as a base, since it is the best natural preservative,’ says Dr Satinder (Sunny) Bakshi from Delhi, who specializes in allergies.
Homeopathic remedies are administered in a single, simple, unadulterated form. The substances used for dilutions are very pure: 70 per cent alcohol and distilled water for liquids and lactose for tablets. The formulations are prepared in a special way called drug dynamization or potentization. Drug dynamization involves trituration (grinding) for solids and succussion (vigorous shaking) for liquids. Drugs prepared in this way retain maximum medicinal power without producing any toxic effects and the more the dilutions and succussion, the greater the potency or effectiveness of the remedy.
TWO PRESCRIPTIVE SCHOOLS
Strangely, homeopathy’s USP is that it does not treat disease per se. A homeopath does not concentrate his therapy on, say arthritis, bronchitis or cancer. Rather, all mental, emotional and physical aspects of the patient are considered. Each patient is regarded as a unique individual—six persons with hepatitis might each get a different remedy aimed at the person’s totality of symptoms rather than the liver alone. The physician is concerned with not only alleviating the patient’s present symptoms but also in his long-term well being.
‘Homeopathic remedies are not based on an individual, but on the constitution of a person. For instance, a person may have a headache. But headaches have hundred different causes. So the cure for each individual may differ. That’s why homeopathy has a repertory, used by every homeopath, which lists everything disease-wise and alphabetically. Each disease is called a rubric. And every rubric has a list of remedies,’ elaborates Kuldeep Jain, director of B. Jain and Company—the world’s largest publishers of homeopathic books. ‘Materia Medica has a list of drugs with remedies based on the constitution of a patient. New homeopaths have to do a thorough study of the Materia Medica, unlike allopaths. That’s why when homeopaths meet a new patient, they ask so many questions.’
During the first consultation that could last up to an hour, a homeopath may enquire about a person’s lifestyle, state of mind, likes and dislikes, eating habits, medical history—including the family’s medical history—and then look for symptoms. The primary purpose of the history sheet is to build up a ‘symptom picture’ of the patient, which is then compared with a ‘drug picture’ in the Materia Medica. Based on this, one or more remedies are prescribed, usually in pill form. Sometimes, treatment begins with one or two doses only. Usually, a regular daily dose is in order.
There are two schools of thought in prescription. The first is ‘classical homeopathy’, where practitioners identify a single medicine that suits a patient’s individual constitution—a complex process that incorporates current illness, medical history, personality, behavior and hereditary ailments.
The second is ‘complex homeopathy’, where the doctors prescribe a combination of medicines or prescribe purely on the basis of conventional diagnosis.
Whichever approach is used, two patients with identical ailments may receive different medications with varying potencies.
Homeopathic remedies are mostly administered in the form of pills with a generous topping of advice on diet and lifestyle. Pills are usually kept under the tongue and sucked till they dissipate. The other forms of medication are tablets, powders, tinctures, creams, ointments or solutions. Some homeopaths no longer prescribe do’s and don’ts in diet, except to stipulate that no food or liquid (except water) be consumed half an hour before or after ingesting the medicine. A few recommend you avoid strong-smelling substances, tea and coffee. Qualified homeopaths, however, do not recommend a patient discontinue prescribed allopathic medication.
THE CURE PALETTE
Homeopaths treat a veritable array of problems. These include allergies, anorectal disorders, asthma, arthritis, back pain and neuralgia, colic, coughs and colds, cystitis, depression, eczema, gynecological problems, hair loss, heartburn, hyperpigmentation, insect bites, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, leg cramp, menopausal problems, migraines, morning sickness, nausea, obesity, phobias, pre-menstrual syndrome, sexual disorders, stress, teething pains, tumors and warts.
Most homeopaths regularly treat chronic or recurrent conditions such as eczema, rheumatoid arthritis, fatigue disorders, asthma, migraine, dysmenorrhoea, irritable bowel syndrome, recurrent upper respiratory or urinary tract infections and mood disorders. Patients with ill-defined illness that defy conventional diagnosis are also treated. Significantly, homeopaths treat children more often than other complementary practitioners.
Experienced homeopaths aver that few conditions are truly outside their ambit. Case histories include treatment of complaints as diverse as tuberous sclerosis, infertility, myasthenia gravis, fear of flying and cystic fibrosis.
Even incurable diseases like cancer and AIDS are purportedly handled by homeopaths. In the words of Dr Issac Mathai, who runs the Indian Holistic Medical Centre in Bangalore: ‘Homeopathy can be very effective in the initial stages of cancer. And it is a good supportive therapy at a later stage. Homeopathy also offers relief without the side effects of chemotherapy and radium therapy. AIDS cases are also being treated by homeopathy. One of my first cases of AIDS—a 15-year-old—is doing well without developing any symptoms. The reason is that homeopathy looks at the symptoms at large rather than the diagnosis and, also, it has a great role in building up natural immunity in patients.’
Homeopathic physician since 1994 to the President of India, K.R. Narayanan, Dr A.U. Ramakrishnan from Chennai says: ‘I have had very encouraging results in cancer and, after a decade of research, published a book on cancer—A Homoeopathic Approach to Cancer—in Boston, USA which has been well received. In stages 1 and 2 (pre-cancerous), the success rate is as much as 80 per cent. In stages 3 and 4 (cancer), the goal is prolonging life, with good quality of life.’ An allopath-turned-homeopath, Dr Ramakrishnan has clinics in New York, Boston, San Francisco, Toronto, London, Dublin, Singapore and Chennai, India.
Two homeopaths from Kolkata, India, DR Pradip Banerji and his father, DR Prasanta Banerji, are said to have treated over 1,200 cancer patients with a success rate of 43 per cent. The duo claim that tumors—of the lung, brain, esophagus, stomach, liver and breast—can be treated by homeopathic remedies instead of surgery. ‘We do much better than the (conventional doctors) because our remedies have no side effects. My medicine can’t kill you; theirs can,’ DR Pradip Banerji told a foreign medical website.
Banerji says that he and his father have devised specific homeopathic remedies for certain cancers. For example, lung tumors are treated with potassium carbonate and iron phosphate. ‘What we have done basically is just use simple homeopathic drugs purchased from anywhere in the world,’ claimed Banerji.
SANS SIDE EFFECTS?
In many instances, although remedies may lead to a brief flare-up of the disease, serious, unexpected adverse effects are rare. ‘Aggravation reactions’, where symptoms become acutely but transiently worse after starting homeopathic treatment, do occur and are considered a good prognostic factor. They may cause concern, however, if patients are not adequately forewarned.
‘Homeopathic medicines are prepared in a very diluted potentized form. So there are no side effects. But in rare instances if the prescription is exact there can be mild aggravation of symptoms which is considered positive as it is the body’s way of letting the response cure the condition,’ says Dr. Mathai.
‘Homeopathy works when there is similarity of energy between the medicine and the person. When it is dissimilar, it won’t act. Hence there is no room for side effects,’ opines Dr. Ramakrishnan.
Significantly, Dr. Mukesh Batra, head of the Positive Health Clinic, refutes the no-side-effects view; ‘It is a myth. I would rephrase that. Homeopathy is no toxic because it doesn’t deal with chemicals and, therefore, doesn’t cause toxic reactions unlike other chemical medicines. For instance, you don’t get kidney failure due to the medicines. Even in ayurveda,you sometimes take heavy metals that can lead to kidney failure.
‘Yet, one must realize that homeopathic medicines act in totality, on the mind and body. There are two kinds of medicines: an acute kind which is short acting and the other, a chronic, constitutional medicine, which is deep acting, the effects of which can stay for months, even years. Certain deep-acting drugs can actually alter human constitution. These drugs, if used wrongly or by an untrained person, can cause some side effects. There can be severe skin reactions that are difficult to control even by us. For instance, you could develop eczema that spreads all over the body.
‘The second point is that being a holistic treatment there are certain reactions which even the patient might not attribute to the medicine. If any allopathic drug is taken, one knows the reactions. With homeopathy, one does not know how it might act on a particular person. Take
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