Homeopathy is a system of treatment that uses minute amounts of plant, mineral, and animal substances to stimulate the defensive systems of the body in a very subtle way. It is widely used in Europe, but not as well known in the United States. The theoretical and empirical basis of homeopathy is a concept called the Law of Similars, often summarized as "like cures like." Perhaps more than anything else, what distinguishes the practice of homeopathy from other approaches to medicine is that instead of focusing on the specific causes of disease (such as viruses and bacteria), it focuses on the specifics of the symptoms of disease, as they are experienced by the individual patient.
The History of Homeopathy
Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843) of Leipzig, Germany, created the practice of homeopathy. A medical doctor, Hahnemann did in-depth studies and wrote extensively on chemistry, pharmacology, and medicine. His study of arsenic, written in 1796, remains an authoritative text.
In 1790, Dr. Hahnemann began to question the accepted medical theories of the time. Cinchona officinalis, or Peruvian bark, had been the treatment of choice for malaria since 1700. Conventional medical thought attributed its beneficial action to its bitter and astringent properties. Hahnemann rejected this explanation. He observed that other plants and botanicals had even stronger astringency and greater bitterness, yet did nothing to relieve malaria. In an attempt to better understand how cinchona worked, he experimented by taking some himself. After taking the cinchona compound, Hahnemann promptly developed the symptoms of malaria.
This inspired him to further experimentation with many different plants, chemicals, and minerals. Hahnemann experimented first on himself, then on his family and friends. As his work continued, he noted the same remarkable effect again and again: Derivatives of certain extracts produced symptoms in the body similar to those produced by certain diseases. Pressing on with his experimentation, Hahnemann found that minute doses of extract actually produced the opposite effect. Instead of causing the symptoms of a particular disease, the well-diluted extract reversed the course of the disease. This led Hahnemann to his observation that "like cures like"-that is, a substance that causes a certain set of symptoms in a healthy person will, in minute doses, cure a sick person of those same symptoms. He called this phenomenon the Law of Similars.
Many of Hahnemann's colleagues argued against his practice of using himself as a guinea pig, prophesying dire consequences. But the doctor refused to heed their warnings, saying, "He knows with greatest certainty the things he has experienced in his own person." Through his experiments, Hahnemann learned that a minute dose of a substance would cause illness in a healthy person, but paradoxically effect a cure in a sick individual. For example, a remedy that caused fever, chills, and leg cramps in a healthy person would cure a sick person of similar fever, chills, and leg cramps when given in microdoses.
Homeopathy is accepted as an effective form of medicine in many parts of the world today, including Great Britain, France, Germany, Greece, India, and South America. The British royal family has been under the care of homeopathic physicians since the time of Queen Victoria.
Homeopathy is a systematic and precise form of natural medicine that addresses both physical and emotional symptoms. This protocol recognizes that each person is unique and will have an individual disease pattern. The experimentation, documentation, indepth testing, and recording of the effects of homeopathic remedies did not end with Dr. Hahnemann. Diagnosis of a specific disease is not the primary concern when treating your child with homeopathics. Rather, the correct remedy is chosen according to the specific symptoms and emotions your child is experiencing.
Homeopathic remedies stimulate the body's vital force, enhancing its ability to heal itself. The "vital force" described by Hahnemann cannot be precisely identified. Even today's most technologically advanced medical detectives do not really understand the ways in which body and mind work together. A complex interrelationship between immune factors and regenerative biological systems, the essential life force locked within body and mind remains a mystery.
Homeopathic remedies work by, in effect, "turning on a switch" that affects both body and mind. Homeopathic compounds somehow send a healing and normalizing message throughout the body. They spark unbalanced internal systems so that they are better able to perform their functions.
Working with a Homeopathic Physician
Remedies that may be appropriate for a variety of common childhood health problems are recommended in Part Two of this book. However, because the deeper concepts of homeopathy and the intricacies of the remedies can be difficult to master, you may find it helpful to consult a homeopathic physician. Often, a homeopathic physician can determine a constitutional remedy for your child that will help to balance her entire system.
Homeopathy is on the upswing in the United States. Many different types of health care practitioners use homeopathy. You'll find medical doctors, naturopathic physicians, acupuncturists, herbalists, chiropractors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and laypeople who are knowledgeable in the field. Homeopathic pharmacies, even major health food stores, are other resources to explore. They may be able to tell you how to find a practicing homeopath in your area.
There are national organizations throughout the United States that can provide you with a list of homeopaths as welt If you can't readily find a homeopathic physician in your area, you may wish to contact the International Foundation for Homeopathy (2366 Eastlake Avenue E, Suite 301, Seattle, WA 98102-3366; telephone 206-324-8230); the National Center of Homeopathy (1500 Massachusetts Avenue NW, #42, Washington, DC 20005; telephone 202-223-6182); or the Homeopathic Educational Service (2124 Kittredge Street, Berkeley, CA 94704; telephone 415-649-0294).
When choosing a homeopath to care for your child, it is important to select a physician with whom you feel very comfortable. This doctor will question you closely, asking you to reveal very intimate information about your child, and quite possibly about yourself as well. Much of homeopathic diagnosis and treatment depends on your ability to observe and relate specific details, some of which may even seem absurd or irrelevant to you at first.
Your homeopath will want to explore both your and your child's emotional response to her condition, as well as symptomatic details. For example, if your child has a drippy nose or is coughing up phlegm, your homeopath will want to know the color, smell, and consistency of the discharge. You will probably be asked if it is heavier in the morning or evening, after eating, or before eating.
Your homeopath will also consider your child's temperament and the way she responds emotionally to illness. Does your child want hugs and cuddles, or prefer to be left alone? Does your child become whiny and demanding when ill, or quiet and passive? Does she sleep a lot, or become restless and wakeful? Does she want the window open to admit cool, fresh air, or does your child feel chilly even snuggled under a cozy comforter?
How you respond to your sick child is something else your homeopath will ask you to reveal. When a child is ill, some parents become irritated and annoyed, some nervous and anxious. The very fortunate have a deep well of calm and certainty on which to draw. Be truthful when your doctor inquires about this. Emotional responses are not something you necessarily control consciously. Faced with a hectic schedule, many parents have difficulty mustering up as much patience as they would like to comfort and nurture a sick child. All of the physical and emotional factors surrounding your child must be taken into account in determining the appropriate remedy. Because the emotional response of those around an ill child will unavoidably have an impact on her, your homeopathic physician may prescribe a helpful remedy for the primary caregiver as well.
Treating Your Child with Homeopathic Remedies
Of all the remedies commonly used in the various medical protocols, homeopathic remedies are unique in that they are symptom-specific. That is, the correct remedy is determined not by the disease, but by the specific complex of physical and emotional symptoms your child is experiencing. The choice of homeopathic remedies takes into consideration the temperament and emotional response of the patient, as well as the most minute details of her physical condition.
For example, the cold that infects your child and a neighbor's child may be caused by the same virus, but each child will exhibit a unique set of symptoms and emotions. One child may have a headache and a runny nose, feel completely exhausted, and want to eat when not napping. The other may be clogged and congested, feel restless, be unable to sleep, and refuse food. Consequently, these two children, although infected by the same virus, will require entirely different remedies.
Homeopathy respects the complexity and uniqueness of each individual. To identify the correct homeopathic remedy, you must carefully observe your child's unique-even quirky-behaviors and responses. Choosing the appropriate remedy requires a parent or homeopathic physician to match the child's symptoms, both obvious and subtle, with the remedy.
Based on your child's overall physical, emotional, and mental constitution, your homeopathic physician may prescribe a constitutional remedy. An appropriate constitutional remedy can help prevent illness, as well as maintain and support optimal health. For example, if your child is subject to recurrent ear and nose infections, colic, allergies, or digestive disorders, a constitutional homeopathic remedy may be extremely helpful.
The correct constitutional remedy will help strengthen and stimulate the vital life force. Your child's response to the remedy will be at once subtle and profound, on the physical, emotional, and mental levels. Prescribing a constitutional remedy is a complicated art, however. To discover the most helpful constitutional remedy for your child, consult a homeopathic physician.
Common Homeopathic Remedies
Homeopathic remedies are prepared according to the standards of the United States Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia. All remedies are derived from naturally occurring plant, mineral, or chemical substances. Some of the most useful homeopathic remedies and their common indications are described in the table, "Common Homeopathic Remedies" below.
Homeopathic remedies come in different potencies. Of all of the issues in homeopathy, Dr. Hahnemann's concept of potency is probably the one that has evoked the most questions, because it seems somewhat paradoxical at first. In his experiments, Hahnemann noted that symptoms continued to improve with ever-increasing dilution of a substance. In other words, as the concentration of the medicinal substance is reduced by dilution, the remedy becomes increasingly potent. As yet, there is no satisfactory scientific explanation for this phenomenon. However, the astounding effectiveness of homeopathic treatment has been empirically documented around the world.
Commonly available homeopathic remedies come in several forms: the mother tincture, x potencies, and c potencies. Homeopathic tablets are made by mixing diluted remedies with lactose (milk sugar) to make solid pellets. There are also homeopathic creams, ointments, and salves, made by mixing diluted remedies with a cream or gel base.
The mother tincture is an alcohol-based extract of a specific substance, as it comes from the original plant, animal, or mineral. Mother tinctures are generally used topically or in a fashion similar to herbal tinctures.
In homeopathic remedies, the x (derived from the Roman numeral decimal system) represents 10. It indicates that the mother tincture has been diluted to one part in ten. The number preceding the x indicates how many times the remedy has been diluted. Thus, a 6x potency represents six such dilutions, beginning with the mother tincture. Remember that the more diluted a homeopathic remedy is, the more potent it is. So a 6x potency remedy, which has been diluted six times, is more potent than a 3x potency compound, which has been diluted only three times.