Homeopathy - The Magic of the Minimum Dose

The rather strange and clumsy word “homoeopathy” is derived from the Greek words ‘homoios’ meaning ‘like’ and ‘pathos’ meaning suffering”; so translated means “like suffering”, and homoeopathy then is the medical practice of treating like with like. This is the basic or fundamental law of homoeopathy that was expressed by Samuel Hahnemann, the great German physician, (1755-1843) as ‘similia similibus curentur’-likes may be cured by likes. This principle was well known to the physicians of ancient times, Hippocrates and Paracelsus, but was revised and built upon by Hahnemann in the early part of the nineteenth century.  He confirmed the remarkable fact that a substance could cure the ailment that it could cause. This principle has found its way into modern usage in the phrase “the hair of the dog that bit you”. Numerous examples can be quoted to demonstrate this principle to be effective. If quinine is given to a healthy person in fairly large quantities, most of the symptoms of the disease malaria will arise, i.e. violent headache, buzzing in the ears, aching of the limbs, etc. Yet quinine in small doses is a recognised remedy for malaria and modern treatments for malaria have been developed from this basic plant material. In a similar way white arsenic produces intense abdominal pain, diarrhoea and vomiting, and Arsenicum Album in homoeopathic potency is often the treatment of choice for this condition. A clear example of the homoeopathic principle in modern medicine, probably not recognized by those who use it is the use of radium and X-ray therapy in the treatment of cancer, where the therapists themselves take great care to avoid over-exposure to radiation, as over-exposure can lead to the development of cancerous growths. Another example of the principle of like curing like is found in the use of Coffea (coffee) which is often given for sleeplessness by the homoeopath whereas it is well known that drinking too much coffee before bedtime will keep a person awake.

Hahnemann was so appalled by the medical practices of his day which often involved violent purging and blood letting so severe that on occasions the patient died as a result of it, that he determined to seek a gentler form of approach. He, his students and his family set out to investigate the herbs and drugs which were later to form the basis of the homoeopathic Materia Medica of today - the list of remedies that are used to treat disease. These investigations were carried out by Hahnemann and his followers, who took small quantities of known drugs and minerals for a period of time, often quite a long period of time, and noted the symptoms that arose as a result of taking those drugs. Patients who suffered from similar symptoms to those that had been produced in the experimenter were then treated with tiny quantities of these substances and it was found that in many cases a complete cure of their illnesses resulted. These experiments were called “provings” and are still carried out today on a somewhat limited scale by groups of homoeopaths all over the world who are still prepared to subject themselves to uncomfortable experiences in order to find new and valuable remedies for the treatment of their patients. It is the principle of “like cures like” that is the foundation of homoeopathy.

Much has been made of the fact that homoeopaths use tiny, even infinitesimal doses, of the remedy that they have chosen. Hahnemann’s earlier experiments involved giving small but material doses of the remedies involved, but he discovered that often the therapeutic value of the remedies was enhanced as even smaller amounts were given; an additional benefit of the very small quantities of course was that the likelihood of side effects appearing was reduced. Hahnemann then experimented with ways of carrying out this dilution and the method called “succussion” or “potentisation” was eventually developed and is still used to this day. This process consists of dilution of mineral or drug solutions again and again with vigorous shaking, the diluent usually used being a solution of pure alcohol. Whilst it was found that the highly diluted solution of the correct remedy was very effective in use, if the wrong remedy was chosen in error it had no effect whatsoever, so the patient was safe and protected from side -effects, It is this astonishing effect of the minute dose that has lead to the strongest criticisms of homoeopathy, criticisms that the homoeopaths have found most difficult to answer. The cry has so often been, “there is no scientific proof”, and the accusation is often made that cures are due to the placebo effect, that the patient gets better because he believes he will. In all systems of medicine this is a factor that cannot be ignored, and the bedside manner has always been important in the establishment of trust between physician and patient. However, this criticism of homoeopathy falls down when one considers its use with animals and infants where the patient does not even know that what is being administered is a medicine. In recent times some double blind trials, so beloved of the drug companies, have been carried out on homoeopathic remedies and these trials have proved those remedies to be effective beyond question. The proof of the pudding however is in the eating and homoeopaths are usually too busy helping people to get well to be interested in denying them treatment for the benefit of scientific research so for this reason much of homoeopathic reporting is anecdotal.

The homoeopaths are concerned with assessing the person as a whole rather than the disease as a set of symptoms, which they see as the body’s reaction to the illness, and will be extremely interested in the person’s mental as well as physical make-up, whether their colouring is dark or fair, whether they are better for movement or quiet, better in the morning or the evening, better in cold or hot weather; all these things are pointers to the correct remedy in addition to a knowledge of the patient’s past medical history, particularly of past infectious illness. When the remedy is chosen and administered its effect is to stimulate the body’s own in-built healing ablity to overcome the disease in order that symptoms are no longer created and physical and mental harmony are restored.

Fortunately for our purpose there are two groups of homoeopathic remedies that are referred to as the “Polycrests” and the “Organ remedies” which are given in the same tiny doses as before but which can be chosen very simply by using the muscle test without the long and complicated case-taking that the trained homoeopath applies. It is these remedies, together with the “Nosodes”, a type of homoeopathic immunisaton, that form the basis of much homoeopathic treatment.

©  D.M.Harrison 2005

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