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Not Your Grandmother's Remedy

Research is currently being published in a peer-reviewed journal demonstrating a measurable physiological effect in response to blinded administration of homeopathic remedies. As if homeopathic remedies are not sufficiently subtle when taken orally, these subjects were tested while “sniffing” the air above a selected homeopathic remedy. The subjects indeed demonstrate a different response to their appropriate personal remedy compared to sniffing a placebo remedy. 

The remedies in the study were prepared by starting with a mineral (Sulphur) or a plant (Pulsatilla) suspended in an alcohol solution and then diluted at a 1 to 100 dilution, 6, 12, or 30 times, the latter two certainly past the likelihood of retaining even one molecule of the original substance. Remedies are either administered in a water/alcohol mixture or on saturated lactose pellets. 

So here’s the thing about homeopathy: at a first exposure, a scientifically or medically trained person will find homeopathy laughably impossible. There is no way a substance, diluted past the point of containing an original molecule of the substance, could maintain properties of that original substance.

But at second exposure, a scientifically trained person has to admit that their own personal molecules are not the same ones they had a year ago. Atoms and molecules from around the globe have exchanged with those of their body, but their nose remains their nose. Our body’s boundaries are not closed and exchanges happen without our awareness and without disturbing our integrity.

At second exposure, a medically trained person might pause to consider research into the efficacy of homeopathy compared to, say, the efficacy of modern SSRI anti-depressants. Each field has decades of research falling on both sides of the fence, validating evidence always available from advocates, and discrediting evidence from opponents. Yet with a little investigation, that medically trained person can find individuals with very convincing favorable responses to either homeopathy or SSRI’s.  

As a homeopath, I have seen eczema disappear within a week with the proper remedy, and – despite my own bias – I have seen depressed patients demonstrate marked improvement with anti-depressant medicines I don’t like to prescribe. 

I understand the difficulty in homeopathic research as only an insider can. Homeopathic remedies can indeed help in a wide variety of problems from minor head bumps to serious thought disturbances and even malignancies. What makes them completely impossible to subject to scientific scrutiny is that for any given condition the appropriate remedy can be any one of more than 3000 remedies, depending on the quality of suffering of the individual. 

Your headache remedy is not my headache remedy, nor your grandmother’s headache remedy. She may have indeed consulted a homeopathic physician and taken a little vial of white pellets for headache relief, but she took Pulsatilla and it helped her, while Sulphur helps you, and Cyclamen helps me. How can we do a randomized, double-blinded, controlled study for homeopathic treatment of headache when each individual requires a personalized remedy for effective treatment? Simple answer, it can’t be done. 

To properly research homeopathic treatment of headaches, we would need to find a statistically significant number of individuals all needing Pulsatilla and then subject them to the (quite expensive) standard medical trial, randomized, placebo controlled, all the bells and whistles. Not to be too cynical, but a remedy typically sells for $5-$10, lasts forever, and is taken rarely: no deep pharmaceutical pockets will fund that research. I am not surprised that the perfect homeopathic research has not yet been done in a clinical setting.

As a physician offering homeopathic treatment in my medical practice, I long for the simplicity of conventional medicine. Once you have your diagnosis in conventional practice, the medications are fairly simple to select. Selection of the proper homeopathic remedy, however, requires consideration of every available remedy, regardless of the nature of complaint. The selection is based on criteria both simple – is the headache relieved by cold or warm compresses? – and difficult – you say it started after a shock: exactly what kind of shock did you experience, and what words do you use to describe that shock? Challenging, to say the least.

Happily, and fortunately, almost every day brings a reminder of homeopathy’s value: the 4-year-old boy crying in his father’s arms with the pain of a sore throat who, not on the first or second remedy, but on taking the third, just a few minutes later, blinked, wiped his tears, laughed, and climbed down to play with the blocks on the floor. Or the call from someone referred by a long-ago patient who only came to see me once (so I never knew the follow-up) but had been cured of their goiter from a single homeopathic remedy. 

A question I ask myself is: what does it mean if a remedy works? Does it mean anything different for the patient whether they are helped by a remedy or an aspirin or an anti-depressant or a change in their diet?

What about you? How do you choose the kind of care you seek and what kind of healing treatments have helped you the most?







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