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Homeopathy - what is it? How does it work?
Homeopathy is an outstanding therapeutic tool, helping not only patients, but also health practitioners, by opening up new dimensions of satisfaction in their clinical practice. Practitioners wishing to understand their patients and their problems at a deeper level and from a new perspective will find the CAHM's HPTG courses particularly relevant.
How does homeopathy work?
A correctly chosen homeopathic prescription acts as an holistic stimulus to the body's ability to heal itself. In other words it stimulates the body to repair itself - if this is possible in any given case.
How does a homeopath choose a remedy for a patient?
Homeopathic remedies are chosen on the premise of 'like treating like'.
Remedies capable of causing certain symptoms in people are used to treat patients presenting with similar sets of symptoms. The exact action of the remedies is not fully understood although several theories for their action have been postulated.
How does increasing dilution increase potency?
The highly diluted form of potentised homeopathic remedies is one of the most controversial aspects of Homeopathy. While the reason for their effectiveness is not entirely understood, research indicates that water may retain an imprint of the substance. The 'information medicine' hypothesis which could explain how potentisation works, proposes that a remedy stores information in a way similar to a floppy disc. It can then transmit this information into a pre-sensitised (sick) bio-system. Physicists are much less phased by this hypothesis than physicians.
Some fascinating research papers have been written on the effects of high dilutions of arsenic on arsenic excretion in rats; using dilute antiserum on human basophil degranulation; of silica on mouse peritoneal macrophages; of thyroxine on metamorphosis of highland frogs; of plumbum on the excretion kinetics of lead in rats; of serial agitated dilutions in experimental toxicology; and on the growth of wheat coleoptyles.
Are there any side effects of treatment?
Side effects are unusual, particularly when homeopathic medicines are prescribed by a properly trained homeopath. Bear in mind that 99% of these medicines are prescribed in a 6c potency (a dilution of 1 in a million million) or higher potency (still more dilute) - so a true pharmacological effect is not present.
The side effects we see fall in to a two distinct categories:
Proving symptoms - symptoms characteristic of the medicine that may be produced 1) in a particularly sensitive individual or 2) if the medicine is taken persistently for a much longer periods of time than is usually prescribed. In reality this is a very infrequent occurrence, symptoms are usually mild and disappear within days or weeks when the medicine is discontinued.
Homeopathic aggravation - this is when some of the symptoms that the patient is familiar with become worse, usually within a day or two of taking the medicine. The intensity and duration of aggravation varies but is usually mild and lasts only a few days. The fact that an aggravation happens indicates that there is a close similarity between the medicine and the pathology / symptom picture - which, by definition, is the aim of homeopathy. In general, aggravations are relatively infrequent, usually mild, almost invariably are of a non-serious nature and brief. What is more the homeopath tries to avoid inducing aggravations - no patient is grateful for them! When the aggravation is curative, it rapidly settles and is followed by a great and persistent improvement in the patients symptoms, health and sense of well being. A non-curative aggravation can sometimes leave the patient with symptoms worse than they were before, however this information is of great help to the homeopath as the more prominent symptoms enable him to prescribe more accurately.
What is the evidence base for the efficacy of homeopathy?
Recent reviews of research into homeopathy - all conducted by non-homeopaths with a distinctly sceptical view - have concluded that homeopathy does have a clinical effect beyond that of placebo.
The three main analyses included only those trials in which a proportion of the subjects were randomised to a control group. One of the best-known papers is by Kleijnen. The researchers were conventional epidemiologists and clearly sceptical about homeopathy. In an earlier paper they had described GPs' beliefs in complementary medicine as irrational. They were meticulous in seeking out and evaluating studies, using a predetermined list of quality criteria.
They found that of 107 trials with interpretable results, 77 were positive. They then looked at a sub-group of the most rigourous trials and discovered that 15 out of 22 found homeopathy to be superior to placebo. One of Kleijnen's conclusions was that the evidence found: 'would probably be sufficient for establishing homeopathy as a regular treatment for certain conditions'.
All NHS homeopathy clinics routinely audit their results.
Extract from an information pack for doctors, "Introducing Homeopathy into the NHS", available from the Faculty of Homeopathy, 15 Clerkenwell Close, London EC1R 0AA. Tel: 020 7566 7810, Email: email@example.com
How does homeopathic practice sit with conventional medicine?
Homeopathic medicine can be integrated with conventional treatments on many levels. It is often patients who don't have clearly indicated conventional treatments, or who fail to tolerate conventional treatment, that can do best with homeopathic approaches.
Many doctors find that patients that are difficult to clearly understand and treat conventionally fit within the holistic homeopathic model much better. It is also quite possible to combine homeopathic and conventional treatments at the same time. Another interesting area of use for homeopathic medicines is in the treatment of adverse effects of conventional treatments. Our experience has been that many doctors find the availability of homeopathic treatment for their patients gives an opportunity for managing otherwise time-consuming and difficult patients very positively, and if they themselves choose to study homeopathic medicine it often re-invigorates their enthusiasm about medicine generally.
How are patients assessed?
Patients are assessed and examined much as in orthodox consultations, (including any diagnostic work up which blood tests and appropriate technology can provide), but with the added interest in the patient's mental, emotional and general symptoms and his personality, temperament and any genetic markers (e.g. physical build, hair colour) - vital information often considered irrelevant and disregarded by conventional doctors. Disturbance of the vital force (which holds mind and body in harmony) is at the beginning of every disease. By noting the totality of the patient's symptoms the doctor comes to perceive that first disturbance, and will then choose the most effective homeopathic remedy to match the physical, mental and emotional symptoms, and general sensitivities of the person concerned, to bring about cure.
How is homeopathic medicine regulated?
The Faculty of Homeopathy, established by Act of Parliament, regulates the training and professional standards of doctors (and other qualified healthcare practitioners) in homeopathy, although under common law members of the public may practise as homeopaths (and other therapists) without necessarily having any regulation voluntarily or statutorily. At CAHM's HPTG we train doctors to take the MEMBERSHIP and primary care examinations of the Faculty of Homeopathy.
Further details can be obtained from:
The Faculty of Homeopathy
British Society of Allergy, Environmental & Nutritional Medicine (BSAENM)
The Homeopathic Conversation: The Art of Taking the Case by Dr Brian Kaplan
Pub: Natural Medicine Press
Homeopathy in Primary Care by Dr Bob Leckridge
Pub: Churchill Livingstone
Introduction to Homeopathic Medicine by Dr Hamish Boyd
Pub: Beaconsfield Publishers Ltd.