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Rising Tide Natural Medicine
Liam McClintock, ND, MAcOM, DHANP
Naturopathic Doctor, Master Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine,
Board Certified in Homeopathy & Acupuncture

Rising Tide

Homeopathy Survives the Test of Time

by Liam McClintock, ND, MAcOM

Homeopathic Medicine has been effectively prescribed since its foundations in the late 1700’s. At that time, conventional medicine consisted of what would today be considered barbaric practices – the use of toxic doses of arsenic for various skin conditions, the use of mercury to treat syphilis, and the letting of blood from people to within inches of their lives. For example, our first President of the United States was effectively bled to death to “cure” him of an illness. Fortunately at that time some physicians became disillusioned with the convention of the day, one of the most outspoken of which was Samuel Hahnemann, a Medical Doctor and chemist by training. Doctor Hahnemann sought a method by which to make medicines of his day less toxic and therefore better tolerated and more likely to help his patients. By methods of experimentation he and his colleagues developed a system of successively diluting natural substances to the point at which they were no longer toxic, but still had a perceptible physiologic action to improve the health of his patients. His revolutionary practice was widely praised by his patients and vehemently opposed by his conventional colleagues. Though homeopathy is much more widely practiced in the world today, the convictions are often not far from the original days of homeopathy.

In many ways it is ironic that homeopathy has been so condemned by modern scientific medicine. After all, homeopathic experiments, called “provings” were the first placebo-controlled blinded studies to be conducted, and this method of experimentation is now held as the “gold standard” of modern day clinical trials. In developing an armamentarium against infectious disease, conventional medicine has also made use of the process of dilution and attenuation of organism in the development of vaccinations. Furthermore, the origins of the theory of the placebo effect can be traced back to a study in which women with nausea of pregnancy were given a diluted form of ipecac (a substance which causes nausea and in homeopathic form can also treat some presentations of nausea) and the improvement in approximately 30% of the subjects was attributed to the placebo effect. More likely, these patients happened to match the clinical symptoms for which homeopathic Ipecac is an effective treatment. Subsequent meta-analyses of homeopathic studies have confirmed that the effect of homeopathy is unlikely to be due to placebo (Lancet, Sept. 20, 1997, pp.834-43).

A further irony is that homeopathy is most effective at treating people with conditions with which conventional medicine struggles – namely chronic and recurrent illness. One would logically think that conventional systems of medicine would gladly embrace a system that effectively treats people with conditions that the current dominant system of medicine merely manages to keep on a slow and steady decline. Though most conventional doctors admit that homeopathic medicines have little chance of causing any harm, in many cases, homeopathy is seen as a method of last resort. A clear example of this is when I worked with a Pain Management Team in a hospital in central New Hampshire and only the patients who did not respond favorably to narcotics, nerve blocks, and psychoactive drugs were then referred for homeopathy, acupuncture, or other holistic therapies.

So why is it that homeopathy has been so widely unacceptable to conventional scientific medicine? A large portion of the answer lies mainly in the area of belief rather than critical observation. Physical chemistry has long believed that, when a substance is dissolved in a solvent, the molecules spread out widely. If there were no other forces between the molecules of the solvent and those being diluted, this model might be accurate. However in a polar solvent like water or alcohol (which homeopaths have long known must be used for a homeopathic medicine to be potent) there are forces of attraction and repulsion between various sides of the solvent molecules. Similar to the way a magnet aligns iron filings, the solvent actually aligns or “clumps together” the substance dissolved in it. So rather than spreading out a substance so that it is imperceptible, studies have observed that dilutions of substances in polar solvents actually maintain distinct characteristics of the substance that was diluted. Only recently, electron micrographs have observed this phenomenon to occur (Chemical Communications, 2001, p. 2224) and experiments using thermoluminescence have further confirmed the phenomenon (New Scientist, June 11, 2003) As an analogy, think of what many immigrants do when they move to a new country, to be diluted to an extent in the new culture. Immigrants rarely spread out within the new country until their identity is imperceptible, and instead they frequently live in close proximity and maintain a cultural identity. The process is roughly similar on the molecular level to substances dissolved in a polar solvent.

Modern medicine has also created a schism between treating conditions of the brain and the body. The term “doctor” which originally came from the Latin verb docere, which means “to teach”, has been abandoned for the preferable term “physician” which connotes that only physical ailments are addressed. Although particularly bizarre or troublesome conditions might be attributed to being “all in a person’s head”, this is really meant to infer that the illness was not real. What a doctor does has long been called the “practice of medicine”. A person who “practices” must be willing to recognize and admit mistakes in order to improve, but some conventional doctors choose to call themselves scientists while simultaneously stating that they do not “believe in” their patient’s illness or other methods of treatment, even when their chronic patient insists that they are in fact ill or, in the other case, have become better as a result of unconventional treatment. It is as if some physicians’ definitions of science have actually become their faith and anything that questions that faith is heresy. Is this really the intent of the scientific process – to make “scientists” less accepting of things they observe unless they can first be explained? Homeopathy, on the other hand, has long understood the complex interaction of mind and body, symptoms and emotions, psyche and physique. The homeopathic doctor understands that mental conditions are inextricably connected with physical conditions as they interact in a dynamic manner. Experienced homeopaths understand the progression of a chronic illness and the process that must be undergone to reverse it.

With all these irrational obstacles hindering the practice of homeopathy, why has it survived for over 200 years? Primarily because homeopathy has maintained fundamental principles of observation that require a homeopathic practitioner to constantly assess outcomes with individuals. Rather than patients who present with extraordinary symptoms being considered a nuisance, the homeopath sees these people as someone unique, a challenge, or an opportunity to learn from the interaction. Homeopathic doctors strive to give care to and understand individuals more than statistics, and hence a homeopathic client is likely to feel understood and cared for. The real power of homeopathy that has allowed it to survive and grow over the centuries is the satisfaction that millions of individuals have gained from its service, despite the inability of science to directly explain its action. Perhaps the cultural environment is not so different from the days of Samuel Hahnemann, except that now homeopathy spans the globe.


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