“The highest ideal of cure is rapid, gentle and permanent restoration of the health, or removal and annihilation of the disease in its whole extent, in the shortest, most reliable, and most harmless way, on easily comprehensible principles.”
-- Samuel Hahnemann
What is holistic medicine?
A holistic approach to medicine means that we treat the entirety of the person and that all aspects of a being are interlinked and interdependent. It also means that an organism is self-maintaining, that it has the ability to self-regulate and self-correct. We can heal from a state of imbalance to balance by encouraging this innate tendency toward homeostasis. While most medical treatments work to remove or manage a broken part, homeopathic medicines stimulate the vital force to heal itself.
What exactly is homeopathy?
There are three basic principles of classical homeopathy. The first is the law of similars, or “like cures like.” In 1790, when Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician, ingested the bark of a cinchona tree which contains quinine, he developed all the symptoms of malaria. When he stopped taking the bark, the symptoms went away. It occurred to him that if a substance can create an illness in a healthy person, it could also stimulate cure of those very symptoms in an ill person. This concept of “like cures like” goes back to Paracelsus (1491-1541) who stated, "a poison in the body would be cured by a similar poison." Earlier yet, Hippocrates observed "that which may poison, may also heal."
Hahnemann knew that many natural substances can cause pathological effects in their crude form. For example, the plant datura stramonium, also called jimsonweed or locoweed, produces terrifying mania and is used homeopathically to treat similar mental conditions. Aluminum, which may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease, is also a remedy and commonly used for states of mental confusion. The remedy rhus toxicendron, made from poison ivy, can also stimulate cure of the same skin symptoms the plant produces.
Remedies are not crude substances, however, but are serially succussed (shaken) and diluted many, many times. Hahnemann, long disillusioned by the common medical practices of his day, was constantly experimenting with potency in his effort to cure without harmful side effects. He found that the more a substance is diluted and shaken, the more it is activated and thus considered higher in potency. Because there is little or no crude substance remaining after the dilutions, side effects do not occur when used properly. Unlike herbs, remedies are standardized by the Homeopathic Pharmacopeia in the US and abroad, insuring that each remedy is prepared in exactly the same way.
The second principle is the use of a single medicine to treat all of a patient’s symptoms -- mental, emotional and physical. As all our parts are interconnected, only the totality represents the entire person. According to Hahnemann, disease stems from a disturbance in the vital force and to heal, we must perceive and treat this disturbance and all its manifestations. A person with bouts of depression, eczema and chronic back pain needs a remedy that covers all of these symptoms. The pace and energy of the substance must also match that of the patient. For example, someone who silently and stoically bears his pain will not need the same remedy as one with the same physical symptoms, but who rages and becomes violent. By choosing the correct single remedy, the entire organism is stimulated to correct itself.
Homeopathy is often practiced as, and confused with, naturopathy, which uses natural substances to heal. A common example is the use of the remedy arnica for bruises, or apis, made from a bee, to treat painful stings and swellings. There’s a place for this type of ‘first aid’ treatment, but it is not classical homeopathy and does not have the same effect as deep constitutional prescribing with a single medicine.
The third principle is the use of the minimum dose. The goal is to stimulate the body’s own healing mechanism and the remedy serves as a type of ‘map’ toward this goal. Less is more in homeopathy and by giving the smallest dose in the appropriate potency, the vital force can respond gently and efficiently to repair itself. Since everyone is completely different, the amount of remedy and repetition can vary from person to person. Some people need daily repetition while others need a dose every six months or so.
This individualized approach, considering every aspect of a person’s physical, mental and emotional state, is the very reason why clinical trials based on diagnoses cannot prove homeopathy’s effectiveness. Since it is the entire person that is treated and not the disease, it’s impossible to measure success against traditional medical models. A patient with arthritis may be worse for cold and damp, better with movement, restless and irritable. The remedy that helps this person’s joint symptoms will also help mental irritability. But it won’t help another person with the same diagnosis but different modalities. This specificity is a crucial aspect of homeopathic treatment.
How do we heal?
Constantine Hering, a German medical student in the early 1800’s, was assigned to disprove homeopathy and he eagerly accepted the post, studying all of Hahnemann’s work to do so. When he wounded himself during a dissection, his teachers were unable to stem the infection and amputation of his hand was advised. A friend suggested a homeopathic remedy and Hering was cured completely. With that experience, he reversed his position and subsequently brought homeopathy to America.
Among his accomplishments, he made certain observations regarding the healing process, known as “Hering’s Law.” He noted that the body will try and push disease outward, from more important organs to less vital organs, from above downwards and in the reverse order of disease development. During the disappearance of disease, a patient might have a brief return of former symptoms or a retracing of the process. If, however, these symptoms are suppressed artificially, the disease is again driven inward. An example would be the link that has been noted between eczema and asthma. From the homeopathic point of view, suppression of the skin eruptions with cortisone creams may lead to the more serious lung condition. With the proper remedy, the asthma would improve first, followed by a brief reappearance and then disappearance of the eczema.
Why homeopathy works
As stated, a remedy is chosen by its similarity to the total symptom picture of the patient. The reason it has the capacity to eradicate illness is because two similar diseases cannot co-exist in the same body. The stronger disease will always annihilate the weaker disease. A homeopathic remedy is a mirror of a disease picture, but it is essentially artificial. By giving a remedy in the correct potency, the true disease must fall away in the face of its stronger counterpart. When symptoms disappear, the remedy no longer needs to act.
Unlike over-the-counter and prescription drugs, remedies do not attack or mask symptoms. They correct mistunements in the vital force so that there is no need to produce these symptoms. This may not happen instantly! A drug like Imitrex will dampen the pain of a migraine, but it will not eliminate the body’s tendency or need to produce the headache. With a properly chosen remedy, the migraines will lessen in intensity and frequency until the susceptibility is eliminated. By working closely together, we assess progress regularly and adjust dosages on an individual basis. Each person has a different degree of sensitivity, a different history and a different pace of healing.
Over time, not only do physical problems abate, but harmful mental and emotional issues heal as well. Patience and attentiveness can bring remarkable results with this gentle and effective treatment. Once free of the disturbance that created symptoms, a sense of well-being and freedom is established, the essence of health.
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