Great Britain's Royal Family, Mahatma Gandhi, John D. Rockefeller, Sr., Tina Turner, and Yehudi Menuhin don't have much in common, except for the fact that they all have been strong supporters of homeopathic medicine. (1) There is one simple reason that these and other respected individuals the world over have supported homeopathic medicine: it works.
The science and art of homeopathy embody what many people envision as a 21st century medicine. Homeopathy is a medical approach that respects the wisdom of the body. It is an approach that utilizes medicines that stimulate the body's own immune and defense system to initiate the healing process. It is an approach that individualizes medicines according to the totality of the person's physical, emotional, and mental symptoms. It is an approach that is widely recognized to be safe. And it is an approach that can be potentially very effective in treating the new types of diseases that are afflicting us now and will affect us in the 21st century.
To understand this science and art, it is necessary first of all to define some important assumptions that homeopathy has about healing.
Symptoms as Defenses
Too often physicians and patients alike assume that a person's symptoms are the disease and that simply treating these symptoms is the best way to cure. Such treatment is on a parwith trying to unplug a car's emergency oil light because it is flashing. Although unplugging the bulb is effective in stopping that irritating flashing light, it does nothing to change the reason it is giving its warning.
The word "symptom" comes from a Greek root and refers to "something that falls together with something else." Symptoms then are a sign or signal of something else, and treating them doesn't necessarily change that "something else."
In 1942 Walter B. Cannon, a medical doctor, wrote The Wisdom of the Body. This book, which is a classic in medicine, detailed the impressive and sophisticated efforts that the body deploys to defend and heal itself. (2)
A growing number of physiologists, including Dr. Hans Selye, who is considered to be the father of stress theory, have taken Cannon's work further, recognizing that symptoms are actually efforts of the organism to deal with stress or infection. Rather than viewing symptoms simply as signs of the body's breakdown, these medical doctors see symptoms as defenses of the body that attempt to protect and heal itself. (3)
Concepts in new physics offer further support for the notionthat living and non-living systems have inherent self-regulating, self-organizing, and self-healing capacities. This ongoing effort to maintain homeostasis (balance) and to develop higher and higher levels of order and stability have been described in detail by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Ilya Prigogine in Order Out of Chaos (4), Fritjof Capra in The Turning Point (5), and Erich Jantsch in The Self-Organizing Universe. (6)
Recent research has shown that fevers represent an effort of the organism to try to heal itself. Fever usually accompaniesbacterial or viral infection. Physiologist Matthew Kluger and his associates at the University of Michigan Medical School have shown that the body prepares itself to resist infection by creating a fever; it is then more able to produce interferon (an antiviral substance). Fever also increases white blood cell mobility and activity, instrumental factors in fighting infection. (7)
If fevers are now becoming recognized as adaptive defenses of the body, it is understandable why suppressing them with aspirin is gradually being discouraged.* Using this drug on children with flu or chicken pox is particularly counterproductive since it also puts them at risk of contracting Reyes Syndrome (a potentially fatal neurological condition).
[* There are, of course, times when a fever gets so high that it can cause serious, long-term damage to a person's health. The majority of homeopathy's practitioners are trained physicians, and they too recognize the importance of heroic medical treatment in select cases. Homeopaths, however, tend to be conservative in treatment and rely on suppressive drugs only when it is medically necessary or when a patient's suffering is extreme.]
Modern medical science is recognizing more and more symptoms as adaptive responses of the body. Standard texts of pathology define the process of inflammation as the manner in which the body seeks to wall off, heat up, and burn out infective agents or foreign matter. (8) The cough has long been known as a protective mechanism for clearing breathing passages. Diarrhea has been shown to be a defensive effort of the body to remove pathogens or irritants more quickly from the colon. (9) Discharges are understood as the body's way of ridding itself of mucus, dead bacteria, viruses, and cells.
The implications of recognizing that symptoms are efforts of the body to defend itself are significant. Many conventional drugs are specifically prescribed to control or suppress symptoms. As the result of this action, these drugs may well inhibit the body's defense and immune processes. Such drugs should be avoided, except in special circumstances.
Homeopathy's Basic Principle: The Law of Similars
It is accepted knowledge that every plant, mineral, and chemical can cause in overdose its own unique set of physical, emotional, and mental symptoms. It also is readily acknowledged that individuals, when ill, have their own idiosyncratic physical, emotional, and mental symptom patterns, even when people have the same disease. Homeopathic medicine is a natural pharmaceutical science in which a practitioner seeks to find a substance which would cause in overdose similar symptoms to those a sick person is experiencing. When the match is made, that substance then is given in very small, safe doses, often with dramatic effects.
Homeopaths define the underlying principle for this matching process as the "law of similars." The "law" is not unknown to conventional medicine. Immunizations are based on the principle of similars. No less a person as Dr. Emil Adolph Von Behring, the "father of immunology," directly pointed to the origins of immunizations when he asserted, "(B)y what technical term could we more appropriately speak of this influence than by Hahnemann's word "homoeopathy." (10)* Modern allergy treatment, likewise, utilizes the homeopathic approach by the use of small doses of allergens in order to create an antibody response.
[* Homeopathy was originally spelled "homoeopathy," though a growing number of people have simplified its spelling.]
Conventional medicine also uses homeopathic-like therapy in choosing radiation to treat people with cancer (radiation causes cancer), digitalis for heart conditions (digitalis creates heart conditions), and ritalin for hyperactive children (ritalin is an amphetamine-like drug which normally causes hyperactivity). Other examples are the use of nitroglycerine for heart conditions*, gold salts for arthritic conditions, and colchicine for gout.
[*Few people know that nitroglycerine was first utilized as a medicine by Constantine Hering, a homeopathic physician. For a more detailed history of the use of nitroglycerine in medicine, see W.B. Fye, "Nitroglycerine: A Homeopathic Remedy," Circulation, January, 1986, 73,1, 21-29. Also, for a historical discussion of various homeopathic drugs which have been incorporated into conventional medicine, see Harris Coulter's Homoeopathic Influences in Nineteenth Century Allopathic Therapeutics (St. Louis: Formur, 1973).]
It should be remembered that although these conventional medical treatments utilize the homeopathic law of similars, they do not follow other fundamental principles of homeopathy. They are not individually prescribed to the degree of selectivity common in homeopathy, and they are not prescribed in a similar safe, extremely small dose. The law of similars also is a basic principle of physics, one which many of us might have learned in elementary school. My first grade teacher showed us magnets and how opposite poles attract while similar poles repel. She also showed how to recharge a weakened magnet: place similar poles next to each other, eventually the magnet will be recharged and will again repel itself from the other. As in homeopathy, like recharges/regenerates/heals like.
Besides being used in conventional medicine and science, the law of similars has a global and historical basis in healing. (11) In the 4th century B.C., Hippocrates was known to have said, "Through the like, disease is produced, and through the application of the like it is cured." (12) The Delphic Oracle proclaimed the value of the law of similars, stating, "that which make sick shall heal." Another story from Greek mythology which gave an example of the similars principle in action, though in a magical rather than medicinal way, was when Telephus, a Trojan hero who was speared, needed to obtain the original spear for his healing.
Paracelsus, a well-known 15th century physician and alchemist, used the law of similars extensively in practice and referred to it in writings. His formulation of the "Doctrine of Signatures" spoke directly of the value in using similars in healing. He affirmed, "You there bring together the same anatomy of the herbs and the same anatomy of the illness into one order. This simile gives you understanding of the way in which you shall heal." (13)
Even Shakespeare recognized the value of similars when he wrote in Romeo and Juliet:
The law of similars is not simply a philosophical construct but is a practical guide to prescribing a medicine which will heal. For example, Andrea, a 14 year old girl, woke up one morning with a sore throat. She said that she felt a lot of swelling and that there was a burning and stinging pain in her throat. Upon further questioning, it was discovered that warm food or drink aggravated the pain, while cold food or drink was soothing. Although she was drinking a bit, she wasn't at all thirsty. She was tearful and even whiny. If one had access to any of the common homeopathic books, one would readily match her symptoms to that of bee venom (Apis mellifica). As it is widely known, bee venom causes swelling with burning, stinging pain. Further investigation of the toxicological properties of bee venom reveals all of Andrea's other symptoms.