Author: Lee Jean
Institution: Integrative Biology
Date: September 2005
The hallmark of Western medicine appears in its astounding technology, scientific applications, medical tools, and emergency procedures. Nevertheless, the wonderful miracles rendered through western medicine - the artificial hearts, the iron lungs, the surgeries, and so forth - still cannot hide its drawbacks.
For example, Western medicine is very drug-oriented; large, continual doses of medicines are prescribed, accompanied by the numerous side effects they cause. It is said another weakness of Western medicine is that it dehumanizes people by treating the human body as a machine. If the machinery is broken, the problem must be identified and pinpointed to an area that must be "fixed."
It is obvious by cursory examination that humans are not identical "machines" with a prescribed disease as the common denominator. This is one idea explicitly acknowledged by an alternative medicinal practice known as homeopathy. As compared with Western medical practices, the uniqueness of homeopathic medicine is evident in at least three distinctive characteristics.
Characteristics of homeopathy
First, homeopathic medicine considers the singular philosophy that "like can cure like." Second, homeopathic practices can be closely identified with nano-pharmacology, the use of extremely small doses of herbs, minerals, or even toxins in order to carry out a specific effect or desired treatment. Finally, homeopathy encompasses a preventative and holistic method of treating patients, with the full expectation that a patient needs to participate in his or her own well being and recovery. In other words, the integrity of the human body - that is, its ability to heal itself better than any outside influence - is held in the highest regard by homeopathic practitioners. This ability for the body to heal itself is referred to as the vital force.
The homeopathic belief that "like can cure like" is traceable as far back as the 5th century B.C. during the time of Hippocrates, known as the "Father of Medicine." Hippocrates treated cholera with Veratrum album (white hellebore), which in large doses causes emesis and dehydration, the symptoms of cholera. The symptoms of the disease, whether chronic or acute, must mimic the remedy in order to fit the homeopathic rule. The intricacies of this philosophy result in rather fascinating associations in use as remedies today. Examples of this, outlined in the Complete Guide to Homeopathy, are honeybees being used to treat insect stings and coffee beans being used to treat insomnia.
Named and founded by the German doctor Samuel Christian Hahnemann in 1755, homeopathy in fact means "similar suffering" and "treatment by the same." After administering himself quinine from cinchona bark, used to treat malaria, Hahnemann found that he developed symptoms very similar to malaria, but did not have the disease itself.
After extensive testing of a variety of herbs, and even toxins, drawn from plants and minerals, Hahnemann first published his work on the homeopathic system in 1796. In 1831 the cholera outbreak in central Europe proved the use of homeopathy; the death rates at homeopathic hospitals in London showed a nearly 30% reduction compared to elsewhere in Europe. Homeopathy reached the United States in the 1820s through doctors Constantine Hering and James Tyler Kent and persists today.
Small, diluted doses
Homeopathic remedies are extremely small in dose and highly diluted. The more dilute the remedy, the stronger it is considered in potency. Prepared remedies can be so dilute that by chemical conventions there is statistically no dosage at all but just the solvent (some alcohol and mostly water). Critics attest that homeopathic water is no different from untreated water. However, Klaus et al., in the June 2001 issue of the International Journal of Epidemiology showed that the so-called "just water" in a homeopathic remedy shows more thermodynamic activity (that is, chemical heat energy) than actual "just water." Moreover, water used in a remedy is double distilled, ensuring that any substance put into the water will be completely associated and present.
Homeopaths prefer to call this process potentization. The micro-, indeed nano-, dosage involved would not work unless the patient "matches" the remedy. Homeopaths need to spend significant amounts of time for diagnosis, in order to see if the patient will be hypersensitive to the remedy or not. This hypersensitivity is crucial for curing the symptoms.
The homeopathic attitude to patient care is intensive and the medicinal goals of homeopathic medicine are comprehensive; the patient's emotional, spiritual, and mental states are treated in addition to disease or disability. People are fundamentally different because of genetic variation, age and gender.
People react differently
Homeopathic doctors recognize that these differences cause people to react in varying manners when remedies are introduced as well when afflictions occur. Not only are patients' physical constitutions and symptoms considered, but their tastes, habits, emotions, and even life stories are also considered in the diagnosis and treatment. Does this person "feel a shadow"? Does this person sigh a lot during the diagnosis? Does this person feel oppressed by his/her spouse or job? Has the patient experienced other illnesses in the past? Based upon analysis of answers to these questions and other data, people can be grouped into 15 general homeopathic "constitution" categories.
The homeopathic constitution of a patient can include anything from personal hygiene or habits to food preferences, complexion, and body shape. For example, the Natrum muriadicum type of person has a pear-shaped body with darker skin tones, a tendency for constipation, and reclusive nature. Natrum-type people also like salty foods.
Homeopaths acknowledge that any given patient can constitute a combination of multiple categories. Potencies vary based on these categories and diagnoses, but the most important mandate of homeopathy is that the body expresses itself when it is ill; this illness manifests itself varyingly in each type of person and involves the whole person's life. Illness signifies an imbalance, either chronic or acute, that causes the body to attempt to readjust, and homeopaths see this as a vital part of their art - to "help" the body readjust.
Despite the historical support of homeopathy and the recent increase in practice and interest of homeopathic medicine, there still exists a cloud of skepticism and doubt surrounding its validity. The controversy of homeopathy lies in its apparent ability to work in spite of the fact that is has little or poorly accepted scientific explanation for its action.
More and more clinical trials, such as double-blind placebo studies, are being conducted on the dynamics of homeopathic remedies. Complementary usage, such as in surgery, has also proved useful and safe. The successes achieved by homeopaths in treating cholera in the 19th century, mustard gas burns during World War II, and current laboratory trials help demonstrate real effects.
In the future, this benevolent yet effective system of healing will hopefully survive and continue to develop. Whether Western or no, the integration and dialogue between existing medicinal systems contribute a vast and precious understanding of each system to the practice of human medicine.
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