HomeopathyRunning head: HOMEOPATHY
Theory of Homeopathy
A large portion of the United States population believes that alternative approaches to health care are less evasive and more effective than so-called Western medicine. This report looks at the efficacy of homeopathy. As this therapy moves into the mainstream there is a need for doctors and nurses to understand its benefits and possible adverse effects.
Theory of Homeopathy
Homeopathy is a type of medical treatment that is based on the theory of treating certain diseases with very small doses of drugs that, in a healthy person and in large doses, would produce symptoms like those of the disease (Webster, 1982). From the transcripts of ?Talk of the Nation? (National Public Radio), the question of,What is Homeopathy? was asked to Dr. Judith Reichenberg-Ullman. She is naturopathic physician, board certified in homeopathic medicine, president of the International Foundation for Homeopathy, and author of, ?Homeopathic Self-Care?. Her reply was:
It’s an approach that treats the whole person, and it uses the law of similars, which means that we use the same substance which would cause symptoms in a person in a healthy person to treat those same symptoms in a person who has them.
Homeopathy is one of the fastest growing areas of alternative medicine. Homeopathic remedies are sold in pharmacies over the counter although some homeopathic drugs can be obtained by prescription only. Since homeopathy is attracting more interest and therefore an ever-increasing number of patients, it is also appealing to a large and quickly growing number of practitioners as well. Some of these are medical doctors who are frustrated by what they view as the limitations of conventional medicine. These professionals, who are utilizing homeopathy as an alternative medical treatment to offer their clients, are seeking methods that emphasize treating the entire patient as opposed to focusing on just the illness, as conventional medicine tends to do. Homeopathy closes the distance between healer and patient. A gap that some argue mainstream medicine not only created but continues to widen with it’s tendency towards coldness and indifference to it’s patients.
Homeopathic is effective for a wide range of ailments such as colds, flu, arthritis, allergies, and sprains to name just a few of the maladies for which there are homeopathic treatments for. But even homeopathy’s most devoted supporters can not explain why it works, only that it does work. Critics of the homeopathic methods argue that the fundamental ideas behind homeopathy defy the laws of chemistry and physics and that it’s theory makes no sense in the scientific world. (Langman, 1997). They also claim that homeopathic ‘cures’ are due to the so-called placebo effect; that the patients and professionals of homeopathy believe so strongly in their treatment that their belief system is actually the cure, not the homeopathic method used. (Langman, 1997). Homeopathy’s newfound success also dismays many physicians, scientists and consumer advocates who regard the homeopathic formulas as ineffective, at best, and dangerous, at worst. They’re especially concerned that by attempting to cure their ills with the homeopathic method, patients will not seek assistance from established treatments for very serious, perhaps life threatening ailments.
Whether the treatment is mainstream or alternative medicine, as is the homeopathic method, there will always be critics as well of converts. Regardless of the criticism, as alternative medicine becomes more prevalent in western society there is a need to further educate nurses and other healthcare providers as to the advantages and possible disadvantages of homeopathy.
Homeopathy is an alternative system of medicine that was founded in the early nineteenth century by a German physician, Dr. Hahnemann. It had its greatest popularity in the late nineteenth century in the United States. During that time as many as fifteen percent of the doctors in this country were homeopathic practitioners. However, with the advent of modern medicine, homeopathy began to appear out dated and primitive. Modern medicine seemed more advanced and probably more ‘civilized’ as well. The popularity of homeopathy greatly diminished. (World Book Encyclopedia, 1998).
Homeopathy has seen a resurgence of interest in the United States and other areas in Europe in just the last fifteen to twenty years as patients have began questioning the effectiveness of modern medicine. Homeopathic books can be found in many bookstores and homeopathic physicians in most towns and cities.(World Book Encyclopedia,1998). As the practice of homeopathy become more prevalent in these modern times, it seems apparent that patients are seeking more than the current practices of medicine have been providing; treatment that is safer, less evasive, and which treat the disease and the patient simultaneously.
Classical homeopathy rests on three principles: the law of similars, the single medicine, and the minimum dose. As mentioned earlier, the law of similars states that a disease is cured by a medicine that creates symptoms similar to those the patient is experiencing in a healthy person. Therefore an important part of the prescription of a homeopathic medicine is a lengthy interview to determine all the symptoms the patient is experiencing. The homeopathic physician then determines which medicine that best matches the symptoms that the patient is experiencing and prescribes it to the patient.
The principle of the single remedy states that a single medicine should cover all the symptoms the patient is experiencing mentally, emotionally, and physically. For example, a classical homeopath would not prescribe one medicine for a headache and another for an upset stomach if a patient were in his office with complaining of both. He or she would find a single medicine that covered both symptoms and prescribe it. (Encarta, 1998).
The principle of the minimum dose has two parts. In the first part, the homeopathic physician only prescribes a small number of doses of the homeopathic medicine and waits to see what effect the medicine has. Second, the medicine is given in an infinitesimal dose. Homeopaths have discovered that the effect of homeopathic medicines is strengthened upon successive dilutions as long as the medicine is violently shaken between each dilution. Medicines are typically used in very high dilutions. (Encarta, 1998).
It is the use of infinitesimal doses that is the most controversial aspect of homeopathy and the reason why most conventional doctors claim it functions only as a placebo. However, a number of controlled studies have been performed which show the effectiveness of homeopathic medicine in treating a number of diseases. One summary of this research is a study published in the British Medical Journal. The authors of this study are not homeopaths but medical school professors who were asked by the Dutch government to review the existing research. The results reported neither positive nor negative effects of the use of homeopathic remedies. Instead the outcome suggested that homeopathy should continue to be researched as a possible, useful alternative to conventional therapy. (Kleijnen,1991). This information was a huge success in the eyes of naturopaths and others that use alternative medicine as a source of care.
People who practice homeopathy as a form of medical treatment need to be prepared to deal with the potential consequences of that practice. There should be an understanding of anatomy and pharmacology, with a good formal grounding in homeopathy and clinical training. The best place to get the first part of the training is in medical, nursing or physician assistant programs. Good training in homeopathy, with clinical rotations, is not that easy to find. As in conventional medicine, there are times in homeopathic practice where non-physician practitioners can prescribe safely. Although these practitioners should always have a physician backing them up.
There are many case scenarios or clinical situations that recognize homeopathy as a valid treatment for certain ailments and not just the result of a placebo effect. For example, in 1980 the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology reported a study involving arthritic patients treated with an anti-inflammatory drug. Half of the group received a homeopathic remedy while a control group received placebos. The double-blind study concluded that there was a statistically significant improvement in pain, stiffness and grip strength among patients who received homeopathic treatment. (Gibson,1980).
A more recent study published in the Lancet compared the effects of a homeopathic preparation of mixed grass pollen with placebo in 144 patients with active hay fever. Patients treated with homeopathic remedies showed a significant reduction in both patient and doctor assessed symptom scores. There was no evidence that placebo effect could fully explain the reduction in symptoms. ( Reilly,1986). As mentioned previously, a review of 107 clinical trials of homeopathic medications published in the British Medical Journal, showed positive results of homeopathy in 81 trials. (Kleijnen,1991)
Although there has been research to validate the methodology and the effectiveness of homeopathy, the concern for some of the population to rely solely on homeopathic treatment leads to the ethical issues concerning health care. Using homeopathic medicines as a first mode of treatment in nonemergency primary care would lead to its application in a wide, perhaps even a very wide assortment of acute care. At the most extreme extent, someone could say that homeopathic medicines can and should be considered whenever some type of heroic medical treatment is not necessary. At the other end, one could say that homeopathic medicines can and should be considered only when there is no evidence that the benefits of a conventional medical treatment outweigh its potential side effects.
One might think that a middle position is the best way to go, however, finding that middle position is not always easy. For instance, one might ask the seemingly important question: what evidence is there that either homeopathic or conventional medicine is more effective? There are very few studies that provide such a comparison, and even when it has been done, it is an unsound comparison. For instance, while it may be true that a painkiller will decrease the pain in patients more effectively than a homeopathic medicine, it does so with various side effects. And while a person taking a homeopathic medicine may initially have more pain than a person taking a painkiller, the long-term health of the person may be a more appropriate measure of a treatment’s successes. Conventional physicians insist that a person’s new complaint is not related with the previous one. In opposition, homeopathic practitioners assert that nothing comes from nowhere and that disease is often built from previous illnesses.
With all the research, claims, and opinions on homeopathy versus conventional therapy, rarely was it mentioned for both therapies to be utilized in combination to better diagnose and treat patients. More of an integrative approach in which homeopathy and conventional medicines are used together, instead of in apposition. One example is, while the use of homeopathic medicines can sometimes prevent the need for surgery, homeopaths generally acknowledge that surgery is sometimes necessary. When surgery is medically indicated, using homeopathic medicines before, during, and after the procedure can help the patient recover more rapidly.
Another strong example of the successful integration of conventional and homeopathic treatment was demonstrated in the study on Nicaraguan children suffering from diarrhea. (Jennifer 1994). The children were given oral rehydration therapy, a special salt solution that keeps children from dying by helping them retain water, but does not cure the underlying infection of which the diarrhea is a symptom. The study showed that the administration of individually chosen homeopathic medicines sped up the underlying healing process
Another integrative approach is exemplified in the treatment of asthma. A study published in the Lancet showed that conventional allergy testing was useful in selecting a homeopathic medicine that provided benefit (Khuda-Bukhsh, 1991). Researchers used conventional allergy testing to determine what substance people with asthma were most allergic to. They then gave this substance in homeopathic doses to the subjects, and these subjects had significantly fewer symptoms of asthma than those subjects given a placebo. The researchers called this approach homeopathic immunotherapy.
An integrative approach may sometimes mean that homeopathic medicines are used first, and then, only if they were ineffective, would conventional therapies be used. The reverse approach is also possible and is presently more common; most people have already used many conventional treatments without adequate success and are now seeking homeopathic care for their conditions. As people become increasingly familiar with homeopathy, it is likely that they will use these natural and safer medicines prior to the more risky therapeutic interventions offered by conventional physicians.
Part of the trick to making either homeopathic or conventional treatments work is to seek the care of well-trained professionals and to give their treatments reasonable time to act. Sometimes a person is in severe pain, and while it may be possible to find the correct homeopathic remedy, he or she wants a higher degree of certainty that relief will be rapid. In such instances, it makes sense to use conventional medicines at least temporarily, while homeopathic medicines are recommended after the acute crisis is diminished or over.
Homeopathists utilize highly diluted forms of a substance which causes particular symptoms in healthy people, can be given to someone ill with those symptoms. Once stimulated by the substance, the body goes on to heal. There are over 2000 homeopathic remedies, made from plant, mineral and animal sources. They are prescribed on the basis of health history, body type, and physical and emotional symptoms. (World Book Encyclopedia,1998). The focus is to treat people who are unwell rather than the diseases. The first visit is likely to be an hour or so long, and involve lots of questions and answers as the homeopath gets your background. Ten people with headaches may each get a different remedy. These patients tend to be skeptical of the so-called homeopathic remedies found in health shops and chemists, where one bottle containing a combination of remedies supposedly treats the same condition in everyone.
The theory of homeopathy has no known scientific basis. It is true that small amounts of a substance may stimulate the body to fight against larger doses of that substance since this is how many vaccinations work. But in homeopathy, the amounts used are so diluted, the remedy may not contain even a single molecule of the original substance. Science says it therefore it cannot be effective. One response by homeopaths is to suggest that the diluting liquid must contain a memory of the original substance. Some published trials have found no support for homeopathy, but others suggest it has an effect on problems as diverse as diarrhea and mosquito bites. Medical conditions that patients most utilize homeopathic methods for:
General malaise 15%
Advantages most commonly quoted
Harmless, no side effects
The disadvantage most commonly quoted regarding homeopathy is that the treatments, particularly the drugs can be expensive and the time for the treatments to work can sometimes be long. (Consumer Online).
Although the concept of integrative medicine makes sense, one should not have a narrow viewpoint about the subject. It is not always easy, therapeutically effective or cost efficient to use homeopathic and conventional therapies concurrently or even in sequence. Sometimes a patient, with the advice of his or her physician, must decide to use one approach or the other. As is the case with all medical treatments the patient should be properly informed and educated about the illness they suffer as well alternatives in therapies.
Ultimately it is the role of the clinician to inform patients of the risks and benefits of the various prospective treatments available. Unfortunately, while there may be a body of research to show that certain conventional medical treatments are effective in treating a specific disease, symptom, or laboratory reading, this does not necessarily mean that this treatment actually improves the overall health of people. The same limitation can be said about homeopathic research to date. There is presently inadequate research regarding true ‘cures’ that isn’t easily disputable. It is indeed difficult for clinicians to provide patients with concrete evidence and obvious data to ease the decision making process. Clinicians must therefore be humble, and they should remember the words of Hypocrites who insisted that physicians should: First, do no harm.