Like many of the Complimentary and Alternative Medicines, homeopathy is a system of medicine that is often confused and mistakenly interchanged with other types of integrative medicines. In reality, homeopathy is its own system of medicine with shown efficacy and potentially powerful results. With the proper understanding, you can become an effective consumer of over-the-counter homeopathics for complaints ranging from injuries to colds and flus to hang-overs and jet-lag, or you might realize the potential benefit to a visit to a physician that prescribes homeopathy for your overall wellness.
The Basics : “Like cures Like”
Homeopathy is a system of medicine based on the principle of “like cures like.” Each homeopathic medicine, or remedy, is a substance that in very large amounts produces a specific picture of symptoms. It is believed that the same substance in a very small amount, can decrease or eliminate those same symptoms. Remedies are highly diluted so that they are in reality a very tiny amount of something (usually a plant, mineral, or nutrient but it can be virtually any natural substance). In fact, the substance is so diluted that the amount left is not measurable (for those of you who are science-buffs, the amount is actually less than avogadro’s number: the smallest unit of measure). The more diluted a remedy, the higher the potency. When you, as a patient, present to the homeopath’s office, information is gathered to find your symptom picture. Once it is established, a remedy is chosen that matches your symptoms (likecures like). Remedies can be given for acute presentations, or can be based on your over-all constitution (your mental, physical, and emotional symptoms and personality). This type of “constitutional homeopathy” can be especially effective for emotional states as well as interesting and otherwise inexplicable symptoms.
Because homeopathic remedies are chosen based on your individual symptoms, a remedy that is effective for one person can be completely ineffective for another person, even if they have the same illness. For example, if you have a cold that is primarily presenting as a raspy cough, and your spouse has a similar cold but is mostly describing a scratchy throat, it is likely that you would need different remedies. Your doctor would then ask more questions of description in order to find the correct remedy. This individualization is part of the reason for a lack of good clinical trials for homeopathy. Many researchers mistakenly give the same remedy to everyone that has the cold, and the results are predictable in that only a small percentage reacts to that particular remedy. Homeopathy is most effective used in high potency and prescribed by a practicing physicianBut many over-the-counter (OTC) consumers also reap the benefits of homeopathy, by taking the most common remedy for a complaint or by using a combination remedy. In these medicines, several of the most common remedies for an ailment are combined, so that it is more likely to contain the one remedy that you actually need. You can find many of these combinations over-the-counter. They show varied results in study, but are a safe alternative to try for many common complaints.
Many different types of physicians practice homeopathy. Most naturopathic physicians, like myself, are trained in homeopathy, and some medical doctors have pursued additional training in homeopathy. Both are good options to have your constitutional remedy determined or to have your acute symptoms addressed.
Perhaps you’ve noticed that I have thus far left out perhaps the most obvious question. . .’How does it work?” Unfortunately, the answer is much more ambiguous than the question. Frankly, we really don’t know how homeopathy works. What we do know is that remedies seem to have an electromagnetic frequency (suspected because reaction to the remedies changes after they have been exposed to microwaves, light, magnetic fields, etc.). How this frequency effects change in the body is not understood. Many will argue because of its extreme dilution (and in fact, lack of apparent substance) along with its inexplicable action, that homeopathic remedies are in fact nothing more than the placebo effect. There have been many studies on homeopathy, and to be honest, some show efficacy and some don’t. Homeopaths argue that the negative studies are flawed due to the difficulty in studying homeopathy mentioned above and that we should rely on the clinical and anecdotal proof found in scores of homeopathic publications.
If you have ever heard me speak or if you are an avid reader of this article, then you likely know that I usually side on the side of science, but I always try to mix a healthy dose of skepticism with an appreciation for the fact that we just don’t know all of the answers, and at the end of the day, if a treatment is safe and effective, does it really matter how it worked? Historically, we have used many treatments before knowing their exact mechanisms of action, including aspirin. So, why not try a few of the common over-the-counter remedies to see if you get results, and if you believe that a constitutional remedy that considers your mental, emotional, and physical state might benefit you, seek a homeopathic consult. . .it just might lead to potentially powerful results for you.
Popular OTC remedies:
Arnica: bruising, inflammation, and injury
Oscillococcinum: symptoms of the flu
Nux Vomica: symptoms of hang-over
Zicam: symptoms of a common cold