By Are S. Thoresen DVM
Veterinarian acupuncturist homeopath osteopath agronomist
Homeopathic concepts and theories have been the subject of discussion, study and trial in most cultures; Chinese, Indian, Persian, American and European.
Homeopathy is a very much discussed and controversial medical modality. The reason for this is the specialities of the homeopathic remedies. In herb therapy we give different plants or herbs containing pharmacologically active substances. In AP we stimulate certain points or nerves which release certain substances or endorphins. But in homeopathy, from a materialistic viewpoint, we really give nothing that can be measured chemically, except the vehicle that carries the potentised remedy (see page 00). On standard scientific analysis, the lactose pills that carry the diluted and potentised homeopathic remedies contain no detectable compounds except lactose. (For more detail, see the chapter on potentisation page 00).
History of homeopathy
The fundamental principle of homeopathy is found in the sentence "similia similibus curentur" ("Like things by Like things shall be cured", or "Like cures like"). In more precise terms, a homeopathic remedy cures a disease whose symptoms resemble the symptoms evoked in a healthy body, by a toxic dose of the agent itself. This principle has been known since antiquity; philosophers and healers like Hippocrates and Paracelsus also expressed the same ideas. The principle comes, of course, from an ancient holistic concept that the symptoms are manifested by the body itself, in order to help an organ or Process that is failing to perform properly.
However, Christian Frederich Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843), a German physician, assembled all the ideas and theories and developed them systematically into a holistic system of therapy. Hahnemann's pioneering book, "The Organon", is still a key homeopathic reference book today. Hahnemann called this system homeopathy after the Greek words homoios, which means "like” or “equivalent" and pathos, which means suffering or malfunction (homeopathy is written in different European countries as homöopati, homøopati, homöopathie, homopati or homeopati).
Early in his medical career, Hahnemann knew that the symptoms of intoxication from a substance resembled those that the same substance could cure in very low doses. In other words, when specially prepared in minute doses, the pathogenic substance was made into a remedy. He experimented with lower and lower doses (higher and higher dilutions).
During this experimentation with increasing dilutions and his testing of diluted substances, he accidentally discovered the principle of potentisation. This is that the tincture or substance that we want to prepare as a remedy must be diluted and succussed (potentised) serially to such a dilution that its concentration eventually approaches zero. At the higher dilutions, the laws of physics would say that there could not be a single molecule of the original material in the remedy. Paradoxically, however and in total contrast to what one might expect from principles of conventional pharmacology, this process potentises the remedy, i.e. its therapeutic effect becomes clearer, cleaner, more powerful and more exact as the dilution increases.
Two examples of clinical homeopathy
- Late on a Saturday night, a 7-year old boy grabbed a red-hot poker and threw it on the hearth to prevent his granny's carpet from being damaged. In the process, he gave himself a potential third-degree burn, 3 cm long, on his thumb and index finger. The house was many miles from the nearest pharmacy, and the boy's granny had no anti-burn or analgesic remedies of any kind. However, as it was a farmhouse, there were nettles growing within 5 metres of the kitchen door. In first-aid homeopathy, Urtica urens (common stinging nettle) is recommended for burns. For want of something better to do, the boy's father, a vet and complementary therapist who was visiting for the night, made a crude nettle-extract in tap water. He diluted one drop of nettle juice in a cupful of water, succussed it, and serially repeated the dilution 5 more times. He gave the boy a spoonful every 10 minutes for about an hour. The boy stopped screaming within the first 10 seconds after the first spoonful. Within 2-3 days, the lesion had disappeared without a trace. Standard university training would regard this as impossible - that burn should have turned septic and taken 2-3 weeks to heal. But the clinical outcome was as described - unbelievable. One wonders who would buy expensive analgesics, antihistamines or steroids drugs to treat burns, stings, hives, or other skin allergies if all one had to do is find a nettle-leaf in the nearest ditch and make a crude home-made dilution of Urtica urens for oral use. However, Urtica does not always work as dramatically as in that case.
- Many years ago, a worried father brought his little girl to me. The girl had been struggling to live for the previous two years. At age 4, she had drunk concentrated NaOH (sodium hydroxide) and her esophagus was very badly damaged; it was like dry parchment, lifeless and totally functionless. She had been through countless infections and courses of antibiotic during the 2-3 years that had elapsed since the accident and all her food and drink had to be given via an indwelling nasogastric tube. In this case the cause of the trauma or disease was obvious; it was the corrosive action of the NaOH. I then took some NaOH and potentised it (see page 00), which means that I made an isopathic remedy from it. She began to take this remedy, 5 drops twice daily. After just a few days, vitality and function began to return to the esophagus. After 3 weeks, the nasogastric tube was removed. After 2 months she was able to eat normally again and remained cured. Strictly speaking, this case was an example of the clinical use of isopathy, rather than homeopathy.
Isopathy is another modality closely allied to the "similia similibus curentur" paradigm of homeopathy. It can help greatly in treating intoxication with a known toxic agent, detoxifying the body of toxic heavy-metals, and in treating allergies to known allergens. Isopathy differs from homeopathy in one main respect. In isopathy, one gives a potentised dilution of the ingredient(s) that actually precipitated the lesion-symptom complex (iso = same, homeo = similar or like).
An example of clinical isopathy
- A lady suddenly developed severe pruritus all over her body in hot sunny weather. There was no eczema or dermatitis, although there were scratch-marks from her nails visible in some places. She did not know where to scratch most because she was so totally affected. On questioning, it emerged that she had changed her brand of suntan lotion and had applied the new lotion all over herself earlier that day. A crude dilution of the suspect lotion (1 drop of lotion in a cup of water, serially diluted in that way 6 times, with succussion between each subsequent dilution) was prepared. She was advised to take one teaspoonful every 2 minutes. The itch disappeared within 10 minutes. She was advised to avoid that lotion in future. She bought her original brand of suntan lotion next day and used it. The pruritus did not return.
Nosode therapy is another modality closely allied to the "similia similibus curentur" paradigm of homeopathy. In nosode therapy, one gives a potentised dilution of a pathogenic microbial culture (for example Staphylococcus aureus), a bodily tissue, fluid, secretion, or excretion that harbors infectious agents that are involved in the manifestation of the disease. The succussed dilution of the material is called the nosode. For example, one can make a nosode from one drop of infected blood, purulent milk, secretion from the eye, nose, throat, trachea or vagina, a drop of serum from a herpes blister, or a drop of diarrheic feces, to treat infections in the udder, eye, nose, throat, respiratory tract, reproductive tract, herpes-infected tissue, or the gastrointestinal tract, respectively. Some see nosode therapy as a primitive form of "vaccination". Others see it as much more - giving back the total information pattern of the body, including its pathogens. From this information pattern, the body is supposed to recognise and correct its own imbalances.
However, the clinical results from nosode therapy are unreliable. Skilled practitioners, using specific nosodes for specific animals, claim some excellent results. However, when the same nosode is used in a large group of animals, regardless of their individual traits, the results can be poor. For example, in attempts to prevent mastitis in cows in Ireland and England, four independent controlled trials of nosode therapy reached the same conclusion: milk somatic cell count, milk yield, or mastitis incidence between the treated versus control groups did not differ statistically (Phil Rogers, personal communication).
Homeopathic prescribing: To be able then to prescribe the correct homeopathic remedy, one must know the toxic symptoms of many hundreds of different substances, in order to recognise and match these in the total disease history and symptom picture of the patient. Hahnemann's studies convinced him that only multifactorial causes could explain the origin of disease. He came to look at the disease as the end point of the results of three factors, the physical, psychological and inherited weaknesses of the individual. He also looked upon the disease as initiated by External Stressors like Wind, Cold etc. He also found out that the patient's symptomatic picture was the only way to find the right remedy and thus induce the healing. He thought that by studying the Modifications of the symptoms, we could find the correct origin of the disease, even though he did not recognise the physiological cause, merely the "remedy logical" cause. We have discussed this way of thinking under the section on diagnosis, under the Modifications (see page 135).
Hahnemann discovered that if warmth, coldness, wind, humidity or draughts, etc. caused a symptom to vary, this indicated the origin of the symptoms. These precipitating factors are remarkably similar to the External Stressors, as described in TCM (Heat, Damp, Dryness, Cold, Wind, etc.). However, Hahnemann was not so interested to understand where the cause was, anatomically or physiologically. He chose remedies that matched the Modifications of the symptoms and gave that remedy to treat the disease. He failed to understand the Fundamental Processes (the physiological processes) involved, at least in his teachings.
- One of the first remedies that Hahnemann studied was Cinchona bark (from the China tree). At the time, the bark (or an extract, quinine) was used to treat malaria. Hahnemann ingested the bark in normal doses and he began to experience symptoms of intoxication after some days; he was very sensitive. Symptoms included shivering due to cold, palpitations, strong pulse, fatigue and a recurrent fever. All these symptoms are like those of malaria itself. A patient with malaria manifested similar symptoms to a patient with toxicity symptoms induced by the China tree.
After this Hahnemann tried more and more remedies on himself, his family, his friends and his employees. He found similarities between the intoxication symptoms and the indications for use in curing disease and he became more and more convinced that a substance that induces specific signs and symptoms of intoxication in a healthy individual cures those manifestations in a diseased patient that has similar syndrome.
The homeopathic method
Throughout the years that Hahnemann worked, and during the years after his death, all of the homeopathic remedies are thoroughly studied on several people regarding to which symptoms they give. These symptoms are written down in a big book called the homeopathic Materia Medica. If we then want to use homeopathic remedies, we must know the symptoms written down in that book. When we are introduced to a patient, we then can recognise the symptom picture and can prescribe the correct remedy.
To make this process easier, and so that we do not need to remember all the minute details, we can use another book, The Homeopathic Repertory. Here most of the symptoms are indexed alphabetically. Here we may look under the right column to find which remedies can evoke the symptom(s) in question. If we for example have five symptoms to work with and China is labelled under all five, then we look up in the Materia Medica to see if China fits with the general symptomatic picture. The repertory is in this way a helper to find the right remedy but we must confirm the totality of symptoms in the Materia Medica. Today, one can buy computer software that has the complete homeopathic repertory in a user-friendly format. One can enter all the lesion-symptom complexes and modifications and the software returns the "best match" to suit all the data entered.
Conventional medicine is gradually accepting the therapeutic value of AP. Unfortunately; this is not the case with homeopathy. The reasons for this are multiple but one of the main reasons is that the remedies, at the usual dilutions, do not contain one single molecule of the initial substance. Another reason is that the clinical effect of homeopathy often seems to disappear in double-blind studies. We will consider this in more detail later.
Homeopaths describe what is left in the remedy as the "information structure of the substance", some kind of "resonance" or hidden information. Of course, scientifically-minded doctors or researchers find this difficult to grasp or acknowledge. That the vehicle, be it water, alcohol solution or lactose, can carry the information of a plant or metal, without one single molecule present, is in itself incredible. That this "information" can communicate with the body and induce the body to heal its diseases, such as psoriasis, depression or rheumatoid arthritis, is totally absurd to materialistic "scientific doctors". And this intellectual riddle does not get any easier when we consider the great amount of time and energy spent on trying to explain how the diluent (aqueous or alcoholic vehicle, or the lactose base) can carry this "information pattern". It is especially difficult to understand when we consider that some manufacturing methods of homeopathic pills involve the evaporation of the liquid vehicle when the pills are made. (It is interesting, however, that many atomic physicists do not find the phenomenon impossible to believe).
Homeopaths and scientists agree that continuous serial dilution of a substance eventually reduces its physical or chemical concentration to zero. But homeopathic experts claim that succussion (vigorous shaking and striking of the container) between each dilution induces thousands of small bubbles in the vehicle and preserves the "information pattern", that induces the therapeutic effect of the remedy. They suggest that succussion induces a structural change in the water molecules in the surface tension layer between water and bubbles. In this way, the remedy-free vehicle preserves the information structure or therapeutic signal of the remedy that induces its clinical effect. According to Avogadro's Law the number of molecules in 1 g of any substance is 6x1023. When we dilute any substance 24 times at 1:10 each time (i.e. D24), the concentration is 1x10-24. Theoretically there are no molecules left in the solution at that dilution. In practice it is not possible to detect the substance even at dilutions like D7-D8. Conventional medicine classes homeopathic remedies above D6 as having no possible toxic effect. At least it cannot reject homeopathic remedies on grounds of toxicity or lack of safety!
Studies of the biological effects of homeopathic remedies
Many studies have tried to investigate and explain the actions of the potentised substances. Such studies have focused mainly on biological systems. Many showed some effect on the growth of yeast cells, detoxification in animals and some other processes. However, it is interesting to note that when critical and scientifically minded people repeated such studies, they could not reproduce the results. It seems that investigators must have a positive and believing mental state, if such studies are to produce positive results. This indicates that the investigator's mental state is important; similar phenomena apply in research into quantum physics. Also here the investigator seems to influence the results. The investigator's, or clinical therapist's, intention and focused will are important as regards to the outcome. This may also explain why homeopathy seems to function more in the clinic than in critical double-blind studies.
If we carefully read Hahnemann´s (The founder of homeopathy, see page 00) last edition of his writings [the 6. edition of “Organon der Heilkunst”, finished in 1842 (the year before Hahnemann died) and published in 1921], we may find strong indications that also he was aware of the importance of the therapists will and intention.
In § 288 he thus writes: “through the strong will of a person with positive intentions, when such a person touch the patient, yes he even don’t have to touch the patient, then a sort of healing power flows over from that person to the diseased one. This kind of healing is one of the most powerful there is”.
Also in § 265 we find a very interesting observation made by Dr. Samuel Hahnemann. Here he writes: “It is very important that the sick patient gets the right remedy, and it is also equal important that the therapist gives the remedy to the patient from his own hands, and also that the therapist has made the remedy himself”. He also adds: “to be able to follow this important and fundamental principle in my teachings, I have, since I discovered it, had to suffer or endure much persecution”.
What Hahnemann here describes, resembles very much my description of healing under “Antroposophical medicine”, page 00. As Hahnemann did not conduct double-blinded trials, and as he did not let machines make or give his remedies, he surely could not observe that this described “power” was one of the most important factors in all healing (as Rudolf Steiner described in 1920, see page 00).
Also, the diagnostic part of homeopathy, i.e. how and which remedy to choose, is highly individual; it depends on finding an exact match for the precise symptom picture of the patient. (The same applies in AP; two people with a common cold do not get the same treatment because one may have clear mucus and the other may have purulent yellow mucus and these differences alter the selection of the remedy). Therefore, it is very difficult to design large clinical studies to test the therapeutic effects of homeopathy. Few studies have been published that show beyond doubt that homeopathy works.
Apart from the difficulties in their design and implementation, the scarcity of clinical homeopathic studies is due mainly to lack of research funding. The remedy-costs of homeopathic treatment are only a tiny fraction of the costs of medical and veterinary pharmaceuticals. This generates very small profits within the industry. The multibillion-dollar international pharmaceutical industry simply does not want to show that homeopathy has wide clinical benefits; that result would erode their lucrative market heavily. Therefore, the industry is most unlikely to finance expert independent homeopathic studies.
The first published reports of homeopathic treatment of animals were not from veterinarians but from physicians. Hahnemann treated animals homeopathically. Spanning a period of more than 100 years, dozens of manuscripts on veterinary homeopathy are archived in the library of the University of Leipzig. Dr. Lux (1773-1849), a German veterinarian, was official founder of veterinary homeopathy. In 1833 he published the first treatise on the subject. More veterinarians followed in his footsteps, especially in Germany.
Today, veterinary homeopathy has its greatest use in Germany and France, where it is common for veterinarians to use it routinely in their practices. Studies have shown that 25% of all treatments performed in these countries have used homeopathy as a greater or lesser part of the treatment. It is taught in several German veterinary schools and in at least two schools in France (Nantes and Paris). In other European countries and also in the USA, South America and India homeopathy is used more and more, both in humans and in animals.
In summary, homeopathy in medical and veterinary practice lacks "scientifically acceptable proof" of its efficacy. However, it is a system that, correctly used in the opinion of its practitioners, is more effective in clinical practice than most other systems. This is a paradox; like many other aspects of life, it seems to contradict itself. Can the multitude of homeopathic users be wrong? Should the proponents of EBM be allowed to ban homeopathy, or tie it up with so much legalistic red-tape that manufacturers of homeopathic remedies will cease their production, because of the heavy costs involved in registering each remedy? Only time will tell. Unfortunately, because nobody knows what is happening when homeopathic remedies are given, the proponents of EBM are winning the first battles to ban homeopathy. The European Union (EU) has decided to ban its use in food animals since 1995. (A better proof for the effect of homeopathy can not be found!). Finland banned the use of homeopathy in food animals since 1997.