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Homeopathy: A Holistic Approach to Healing

A skeptic's look into homeopathy.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been examining various health and healing modalities other than those practiced by your local MD. This week we’ll examine Homeopathy. 

My husband is a total science geek who loves math and physics. He has actually verified from a scientific standpoint things I’ve studied about energy healing, meditation, and chakras. However, homeopathy is the one alternative therapy that he thinks is hogwash. So when I saw that a homeopathic practitioner was going to be speaking at an event at the Lyceum Wellness Center, I was eager to attend. Denise Straiges made a compelling case. 

Basically, like all other forms of alternative or Eastern medicine, the homeopathic practitioner views all maladies as functions of the greater whole--not as isolated pieces which must be separately treated. 

Think of a cell: it has many parts, each with its own job. If you pull back, you’ll see that a set of cells creates a greater whole of an organ or another body part. If you pull back still further, you see that the organs and body parts create the greater whole of the entire body. It's a fractal.

As we’ve examined in previous articles, the body’s systems are not isolated parts--they all work together as a whole. Various areas of science have mapped organs and systems within the body. Neuroscientists have mapped the brain, cardiologists have mapped the heart, vascular surgeons have a map of how veins travel throughout your body.

The western (or allopathic) medicine that we in the United States are most familiar with has made great contributions to our understanding of the body’s parts and has also spearheaded research and the development of pharmaceutical drugs that treat ailments of all kinds. It's imperfect though.

The pharmacological catalogue of Western medicine is made up of substances that tell the body to stop doing this or that--stop the fever, suppress the pain, etc--however, Eastern medicine aims to empower the body to do what it needs to be healthy. That is, it empowers the body to heal itself. 

At the wellness event, Denise Straiges explained, “Allopathic focuses on anti. They focus on stopping the body from doing whatever symptom is bothersome or painful. Homeopathy works with the body at a core level to enhance what the body should be doing--instead of telling the body to stop doing something it's trying to do to heal itself.”

In Eastern medicine, the superficial areas like skin, eyes, face, hands, feet, and tongue are the first places to look for symptoms because they are the weakest link. Body ailments show up superficially first. If the ailment goes untreated or is suppressed with medication, then the manifestation of that ailment will travel deeper and deeper.

Here is a good example: Western medicine has discovered that eczema has a relation to the lungs. We can put a topical cream on the eczema to suppress it, but this cream will increase the likelihood of asthma. Why? Because, if you suppress the symptom, it shows up somewhere else. Skin is the biggest organ in the body and a toxic eliminator. Toxins are constantly being eliminated through our pores. Therefore, if there’s a problem somewhere in the body, it may very well show up as eczema or pimples or other skin issues. 

When Western medicine gives topical cream for the eczema, it is steroid based and asthma develops. Then, an inhaler for the lungs is prescribed. The problem is that the core issue still hasn’t been dealt with. So, your body will try to eliminate the problem through the next deepest organ level--the GI tract. If medications are taken to suppress the issues in the the GI tract, the problem may finally end up in the brain. 

Homeopathy is a tool to aid the body in healing itself, at a core level instead of chasing symptom after symptom with various pharmaceuticals. A homeopath will take into account all symptoms--some of which you might not even realize you have(eczema, a dower mood, a staggered gait, a bloodshot vein in the center of your eye, etc.)--and address the "whole person" through nutrition, exercise, and remedies. But what is a homeopathic remedy?

The concept of a homeopathic remedy reminds me of an immunization shot. For an immunization shot, the doctor puts a very diluted bit of the disease into your body. With this small amount, the body creates antibodies with which to kill the disease. These antibodies multiply and make you stronger to fight the disease if you’re exposed to it again. 

In a sense, this is like a homeopathic remedy in that remedies are massively diluted herbs or diluted substances. But the substance is something healthy instead of an infection. An herbalist may prescribe certain herbs for certain conditions, but when a homeopath uses a remedy with that same herb, it does an even different job because of the way the herb has been extracted and diluted. Sometimes the remedy is organ tissue to enhance the health of that organ in your body, or a pollen solution to help your body not have allergic reactions.

I’ll be honest, I am not qualified to explain the physics behind a homeopathic remedy. However, when Denise explained that the remedies work on a vibrational or energetic level, that made sense to me. Why? Because our bodies are energetic.

Cells use energy, and emit energy, and vibrate. Yes, vibrate like a string on a violin. All matter does. So if a remedy brings a healthy energy into the body’s system where it needs help, its like a master violinist playing the strings of her instrument rather than a fourth grade novice. The strings can vibrate in an irritating manner, a bearable tune, or a beautiful masterpiece. 

I like the approach of homeopathy. Like other alternative approaches, it looks at the whole person to make a diagnosis, instead of chasing after symptoms. I am also a fan of empowering the body to heal itself.  I basically understand the theory, and there are plenty of people who will offer amazing testimonials, so they must be doing something good.  

About a week after hearing Denise speak, I started to sneeze and get an itchy throat. "Oh, oh," I thought, "a cold is coming". So I ran to Wholefoods and checked out the homeopathic remedies. One was for sneezing, colds, and hay fever. I bought it, and administered it to my self (and then my kids whose symptoms showed up the next day). We all averted immanent colds. It's not a miracle story, but it is interesting to note. 

John D May 23, 2011 at 07:20 PM
"I’ll be honest, I am not qualified to explain the physics behind a homeopathic remedy. However, when Denise explained that the remedies work on a vibrational or energetic level, that made sense to me. Why? Because our bodies are energetic." *bangs head on desk* Yes, you are clearly not qualified to talk about the physics. Homeopathy works like this - mix the desired substance with water. Shake it up. Dilute it again. Shake it up. Dilute. Shake. Dilute. Shake. Wash, rinse, repeat. By the time you are done diluting, you will actually have none of the substance left - you have only water left. Somehow the water supposedly remembers the properties of the ingredient through "vibrations"... there's too problems with this. The first is that this is not something water actually does. The second is that if it was, it would have the vibrations of everything else it came into contact with EVER, including undesirable substances like urine or feces. You call this a "skeptic's look into homeopathy", but you Carol are anything but a skeptic - you bought what the snake oil salesman had to say without actually checking what the critics have to say about it. That's not skepticism, that's gullibility. Watch this video, it will show you what homeopathy is actually about - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BWE1tH93G9U
R May 23, 2011 at 08:13 PM
Homeopathy works - the fact it cannot be proven with our current science says more about the state of science than it does about homeopathy. Homeopathy has been around a while and it is not a big money maker for drug companies so they try to discredit it. However I have seen it do the most amazing things just before my eyes. I don't need a scientist to tell me that a bumblebee cannot fly - I see them flying all about the flower garden. I have seen homeopathy cure arthritis and an abscess tooth. I have seen it take a child that was black and blue from falling down the steps to a child who was playing happily without a mark on her - 1 hour later. I have seen it avert shock and heal the grieving. It ends colds and flu in hours not days. I have seen it do thinks conventional medicine can only dream of doing - actually curing the ill.
Louise May 23, 2011 at 11:53 PM
I have seen homeopathy do these things for the past 24 years. Totally agree. Science needs to catch up!
Carol Haslam May 24, 2011 at 03:34 AM
John, you are correct about the title. I did not present the opposition, yet I said I was a skeptic. This was one of the more difficult topics I've chosen to write about in this series on "alternative" medicine. In less than 1,000 words, I knew the article would have its limitations. So although I was mildly skeptical of homeopathy (my husband is/was the true skeptic) I should have titled the article something that would have given the connotations of the article as a presentation or overview of homeopathic theory, not a skeptic's look (thus implying rigorous scientific inquiry). Meanwhile, what is VERY impressive are the continuous stream of testimonials to the healing power of homeopathy. Long before we had scientific explanation for the composition of water, humanity drank it to stay alive, and used it to grow crops. No, I am not a scientist (though I LOVE science, and think mathematics are truly beautiful), but I have seen and heard amazing testimonials that homeopathy works. One of the foundations of scientific research is that one must be able to reproduce the outcomes of an experiment to make it valid. Homeopathy has accomplished this. So if I had a chronic issue that allopathic medicine failed to heal (not just cover up with legal drugs - but heal), then I am now of the mindset that I could seek out a homeopathic practitioner. Thank you (John, R, and Louise) for the comments. Blessings.
dave May 24, 2011 at 11:32 AM
"One of the foundations of scientific research is that one must be able to reproduce the outcomes of an experiment to make it valid. Homeopathy has accomplished this." Except you forgot to say that these experiments have failed to ever show any benefits for homeopathy beyond placebo. What is crucially lacking here is a fundamental misinterpretation by yourself (and your husband) about what science actually is. The plural of anecdote is not data, yet you are implying it is! It's a bit like saying god must exist for no other reason than a lot of people think he does. If your husband likes his maths then he can get out his calculator and play around with Avogado's Number and probabilities and find out for himself that homeopathy contains nothing but water. Homeopaths rarely have any medical training and most don't even understand basic human biology. This is why you find them at 'wellness events' and not in hospitals. It's shocking to think that innocent people entrust these unqualified charlatans with their health (and by default their lives). Homeopathy is in decline in the West as it simply does not stand up to scrutiny and continually fails to show any benefits. Anyone with any kind of science training knows it's fake, and THAT is why it's only peddled by those without a scientific background.
John D May 24, 2011 at 03:14 PM
"Meanwhile, what is VERY impressive are the continuous stream of testimonials to the healing power of homeopathy." Anecdotal evidence does not serve as scientific evidence. If someone says they got over a cold because they took a homeopathic remedy how do you distinguish whether they got better because of the remedy or because of their body taking care of the cold by itself? The answer is you can't, not on an individual level. When you wish to test a new medicine you really only have to do a simple double blind trial. Basically you give one group the remedy, and you give another a placebo. Neither you or they will know who got what until the end of the trial when they report the results. At the end you record the results. If there's a statistically significant difference in the recovery rates of those who took the remedy versus those who took the placebo, you may be on to something. (and then you perform the trial a few more times to make sure it wasn't a fluke) If not, any recovery that was better than the rate of those who receive nothing can be attributed to the placebo effect. In any such trials, homeopathy has failed to show efficacy. "Long before we had scientific explanation for the composition of water, humanity drank it to stay alive, and used it to grow crops." Yes, and it's demonstrably true that crops don't grow without water and that humans die if they don't drink. Homeopathy's validity isn't so immediately obvious.
John D May 24, 2011 at 03:23 PM
"Homeopathy has been around a while and it is not a big money maker for drug companies so they try to discredit it." Wrong. Homeopathy is a multi-billion dollar industry and all they are doing is selling water. You can go to your local CVS or Walgreens and find over the counter homeopathic medicine. Do you think these chains sell them because they don't make money? (I will note that some of the ones that label themselves as such are conventional medicines that are not diluted in the homeopathic fashion, so be cautious if you try the James Randi demonstration using Calms Forte I linked to earlier. They just label themselves as such because the drug companies do realize that people are idiots and will actually buy it because it has an alternative label on it, but at least they are actually selling real medicine)
rohan g May 24, 2011 at 09:19 PM
Homeopathy is a magic water fantasy. Science has no catching up to doin this area, except perhaps in understanding the mind / body interaction we call the placebo effect.
Carol Haslam May 25, 2011 at 05:29 PM
You may take aim at me. However, no where did I talk about my husband as a convert. I mentioned him as the skeptic. I suppose I should have kept him out of the discussion. He can discuss the chemical composition of pharmaceutical drugs as well as any chemist. He reads college textbooks on math, science & engineering like others would read novels. I would like to reiterate that I too, am not a convert. Though, over the years I have heard tremendous testimonials. My aim was not to scientifically validate Homeopathy, or even make a case for it. However, my aim was to present its claims. This is not a medical journal. It's an opinion column on health & fitness matters. Frankly, if you give me a placebo and my allergies go away, I will gladly continue to take it! There is placebo effect in all medicine to some degree. If we are open to medical care it will 'take' much more effectively than if we are resistant. Studies HAVE been done to show that people recover better after surgery who have a positive attitude, or a healthy support network of friends/family. Mental is absolutely connected to the physical, & if any one wants to debate me on THAT then we can debate. As for homeopathy, there ARE thousands ... perhaps millions who are helped by it, or the products could not be so easily accessible. Is it placebo? Is it simply that they feel more taken care of by the holistic approach of the practitioners? I don't know. I didn't conduct a double bind ;-)
dave May 27, 2011 at 03:18 PM
You say you did not intend to make a case for it, yet claim that "there ARE thousands....perhaps millions who are helped by it" and what's your evidence for that? This: "or the products could not be so easily accessible." Good grief! You think something should work because it's widely available? Appeal to Popularity Fallacy anyone? The mark up on a bottle of water is staggeringly high, THAT'S why it's widely available! If you wanted to talk about the placebo effect, that's fine. Except you didn't, you talked about homeopathy in a way that implied it might actually work. Homeopathy is NEVER presented as a placebo. It is mainly presented by medically unqualified amateurs who have no idea what they're doing when they look at you, before selling you a vial of water or sugar pill with a latin name on the side. I'm staggered that you think you can present anecdotes as evidence! This is disingenuous to those who do not know otherwise. As for the pseudo-scientific babble? It's a shame that you (or your husband) haven't studied science beyond the misinterpretation of some text books. If you had, there's not a hope we'd see you come out with a sentence such as "He has actually verified from a scientific standpoint things I’ve studied about energy healing, meditation, and chakras." If he's "verified" that, then he's guaranteed the next Nobel Prize for Physics, I utterly guarantee it.
amazon1954 June 01, 2011 at 12:02 PM
methinks he doth protest too much....
amazon1954 June 01, 2011 at 12:06 PM
same old same old You are absolutely right from your perspective homeopathy, as you understand it, is bunk. However, allow me to let you into the world of homeopathy which is not bunk. You have to be scientific to begin with. this would mean understanding the concept of potentisation of medicinal substances or even substances that in crude are neutral ie gold. You only talk of dilution, homeopaths talk of dilution and succussion or trituration. there is a world of difference. Please research this difference and come back to the table when you know the difference. You can read about it in Hahnamann's Lesser Writings and the Introduction to Chronic Disease. as i said in the beginning same old same old, 200 years ago people had your perspective and he wrote a paper to explain. Good luck and speak soon...... I do agree that it is the unheard of nature of what homeopathy can achieve that makes it seem so unreal, perhaps also to be honest, there are some homeopaths claiming more than they should or even not fully understanding their own field.....but this should not put you off serious research. thank you for all your endeavours, Carol
Trey Junkin June 02, 2011 at 11:09 PM
I'm glad that is helped some people. I use it mostly for the common cold and the duration and severity are cut in half. I recommend that people try it for themselves first and then share their experiences. http://homeopathicmedicines.biz

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