One of the earliest inspirations that prompted me to go into medicine was a book called The Science of Homeopathy by George Vithoulkas. Of all the many modalities of mainstream and alternative medicine, few are as widely used – or criticized – as homeopathy.
Most other medical systems are heteropathic or allopathic in their approach. Hetero means other or different, allo means opposite, and pathy means suffering or disease. So, both terms mean producing a condition that is incompatible with or antagonistic to the disease process. Today many people use the term “allopathic” in a negative sense to describe mainstream medicine, but if you take an anti-inflammatory herb such as turmeric for inflammation, or an antibacterial such as garlic for an infection, this is allopathic medicine.
Homeopathy is based on the idea that if a particular substance produces a certain reaction (e.g., ipecacuanha causes nausea and vomiting), minuscule quantities of that substance can treat that condition (e.g., homeopathic ipecacuanha alleviates nausea and vomiting). Homeo means like, so homeopathy means “like the disease” and it’s based on the principle that “like treats like.” Some other examples are the use of homeopathic coffee (Coffea cruda) to treat insomnia and agitation, homeopathic onion (Allium cepa) for red and watery eyes and nose, and homeopathic bee venom (Apis) for stings, swellings, and inflammation.
For what it’s worth, not all remedies work this way. In many cases, homeopathic preparations do the same thing the original substance does. The remedy Chamomilla, for instance, is homeopathic chamomile, and like the herb, it is used for digestive and emotional upset. Sometimes homeopathic versions are safer, gentler, more potent, or have a broader range of application. In the case of Chamomilla, it’s also used for teething, ear pain, and menstrual discomfort.
Homeopathic remedies are created through numerous successive dilutions of herbs, minerals, animal parts and occasionally other substances. When the original substance is diluted in ten parts of a solvent (water or alcohol), this is called an X dilution (X being the Roman numeral for ten). When the substance is diluted in one hundred parts of a solvent, this is a C dilution (C being the Roman numeral for hundred). Each time a dilution is made it is shaken in a specific way to transfer the substance to the solvent, and each successive dilution, though chemically weaker, is considered energetically more potent. I made this chart to explain the process:
Many homeopathic remedies are made from highly toxic substances, like arsenic or deadly nightshade. In these cases, the original substance is so highly diluted that the amount of toxin in a resulting pill or tincture is infinitesimal. Often, it’s unlikely that there is even a single molecule of the original substance in the resulting medicine. This is precisely why opponents of homeopathy argue that it’s worthless and call it pseudoscience.
As a scientist, I completely understand this stance, but in my opinion, what occurs in the preparation of a homeopathic remedy is something we don’t yet have the science to explain. I believe the substance leaves some kind of energetic imprint on the solvent it is diluted in. We know from Masaru Emoto’s research on water that various substances and even human intention are capable of leaving a lasting mark on water molecules that’s evidenced in the different forms of ice crystals it forms when frozen. I believe a similar process occurs through diluting and shaking a substance in water, even when the substance is eventually removed.
I must admit, my own experience with homeopathy has been hit-or-miss. I’ve taken numerous remedies that did nothing perceptible. As to whether I chose the wrong remedy or it wasn’t medicinally effective, I’ll never know. But I have also had cases in which homeopathics were remarkably effective.
This has been especially true with babies and animals, and these are cases we could assume are relatively free from the influence of the placebo effect since the recipients are presumably unaware that they’re getting medicine. In particular, I have repeatedly had the experience of giving homeopathic teething tablets to babies that were inconsolable, and within minutes they were peaceful and sleepy. As a parent, I don’t care what the mechanism is as long as it’s safe and it works.
The safety factor is significant, particularly for children, pregnant women, and elderly or frail people. Not only are homeopathics virtually free of side effects, they also tend to have zero “load” on the system. That is, they don’t make you feel like you’re on a drug. Sometimes this may come at the expense of strength (e.g., homeopathic Chamomilla doesn’t approach the potency of Xanax), but there are cases when the top priority is a clean experience. I find this to be especially true in anxiety, when making someone feel drugged can occasionally intensify the anxiety.
Have you tried homeopathy? What did you think? Share with us in the comments section. I would love to hear about your experience.
Dr. Peter Borten