Homeopathy: Like something that cures some things

Jade Eckardt

HALEIWA—As our nation’s leaders continue the healthcare debate, we’ve come to a place where the decisions we make for our health and well-being are influenced not only by the financial burdens we face, but what we’ve become accustomed to as a society. Like the housing and credit crisis, it’s up to us as individuals to educate ourselves on the process to a better future and keep an open mind to the options we have.

When it comes to our personal well-being, there is an affordable and safer option, according to the National Center for Homeopathy, for much of the every-day ailments we face.

Homeopathic treatments, called remedies, are used to treat a wide variety of common ailments from colic, to colds, to the flu using a 200-year old rule called the Law of Similars (LS), which in a nutshell, states that “like cures like.” Basically, LS says that a medicine can cure a sick person if it can cause similar sickness in a healthy person.

First discovered in 400 B.C., it wasn’t until the 1800s when Samuel Hahnemann, a German doctor and chemist, fully stated the ideas of homeopathy after testing small doses of the medicine on himself and exploring LS fully. Derived from the Greek words homeos meaning “similar,” and pathos meaning “disease or suffering,” “homeopathic” means “to treat with a remedy that produces an effect similar to the disease or suffering.”

An example given by NCH says that if you peel an onion, your eyes burn, itch, and water. You might also have a runny nose and begin to sneeze. If you had similar symptoms during a cold or allergy attack, such as a runny nose, watery eyes and sneezing, a homeopathic micro-dose of the remedy Allium cepa (red onion) would help your body heal itself.

Homeopathic practitioners maintain that these non-toxic remedies are prepared from substances found in nature and derived from plants and minerals. The original substance is diluted in liquid repeatedly and then vigorously shaken with each dilution. Unusual as it sounds, these very small amounts of remedies can act very strongly when used properly and are non-toxic, according to NCH. One of the main differences that homeopathic practitioners point to is that while conventional medicine looks at the absence of disease as health, homeopathy looks at a person’s overall emotional, physical, and mental levels.

It’s important to note that homeopathy is not herbal medicine. These two systems of medicine are very different as herbal medicine uses tinctures of botanical substances only.

“I take homeopathic remedies just about any time I get sick,” says Yari Rogers, a self proclaimed fan of natural medicines. “They have them for everything.” She adds: “I don’t want side affects from drugs, artificial dyes, and chemicals in my medicines, so I go for homeopathy.”

In 1900, an estimated 20 percent of doctors in the United States were homeopaths, but because of societal changes, its popularity declined while European interest interest in homeopath remained steady. Recent decades have seen a strong resurgence of homeopathic interest in the United States in particular.

According to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, which included a comprehensive survey of complementary and alternative medicine use by Americans, an estimated 3.9 million U.S. adults and approximately 900,000 children used homeopathy in the previous year.

The Nutrition Business Journal reported that in the U.S. consumer sales of homeopathic treatments reached $870 million in 2009, an increase of 10 percent from the previous year. Hawaii has no shortage of homeopathic doctors and a large array can be found on all of the main islands.

Even today, however, homeopathy faces its fair share of skeptics, mainly professionals who practice traditional medicine. Conventional doctors who do not endorse homeopathy often say that the key concepts behind homeopathy aren’t consistent with established laws of science of chemistry and physics that traditional medicine draws from—and they say homeopathic remedies are nothing more than a placebo.

But homeopathic doctors say that traditional drugs and homeopathic remedies should not be compared in the same way, because they are very different things that treat people in drastically different ways—traditional medicine treats the disease while homeopathy treats the individual.

One example of a successful homeopathic remedy that can be found in many mainstream drug stores, not just health food stores, is a popular flu remedy called Oscillococcinum. Available in 60 countries, Oscillococcinum has an estimated annual retail sales in the United States over $20 million, according to the manufacturer, Boiron. It ranks 49th out of 318 cold and flu brand products that do more than $1 million in sales.

“I know some people who think it doesn’t work, but they won’t even try it,” says North Shore resident Carolyn Reich. “I’ve gone the standard drug route, getting prescriptions from my doctor for flu medicine, but this stuff [Oscillococcinum] knocks it out of me without side affects or anything unhealthy like acetaminophen.”

Acetaminophen is found in common pain relievers and fever reducers, misuse can increase your risk of liver damage.

The active ingredient in Oscillococcinum? Extract of muscovy duck liver and heart.

Homeopaths don’t claim to be able to fix everything with homeopathy. If a patient has a problem that necessitates a surgical intervention or other medical treatment, they will be referred to the appropriate doctor.

Consumers need not fear that the natural remedies are even close to home brewed concoctions. They are prepared according to the guidelines of the Homeopathic Pharmacopeia of the United States (HPUS), which was written into law in the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act in 1938. They are regulated in the same manner as nonprescription, over-the-counter drugs.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that homeopathic remedies meet certain legal standards for strength, purity, and packaging. One requirement is that their labels must include at least one major indication, the medical problem to be treated, a list of ingredients, the dilution, and safety instructions. Also, if a remedy claims to treat a disease like cancer, it needs to be sold by prescription. Only products for self-limiting conditions, which are minor health problems like a colds or headaches that go away on their own, can be sold without a prescription.

As flu season approaches, it can be helpful to remember that we are in a time with more options than ever to treat what ails us. If you’re feel down, or in search of a preventative, do some research and make an educated decision when choosing traditional drugs or an alternative natural medicine.

For more information on homeopathy, visit the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) website here. The following recommendation comes from the NCCAM website.

If You Are Thinking About Using Homeopathy

* Do not use homeopathy as a replacement for proven conventional care or to postpone seeing a doctor about a medical problem.

* Look for published research studies on homeopathy for the health condition you are interested in.

* If you are considering using homeopathy and decide to seek treatment from a homeopath, ask about the training and experience of the practitioner you are considering.

* Women who are pregnant or nursing, or people who are thinking of using homeopathy to treat a child, should consult their health care provider.

* Tell all your health care providers about any complementary and alternative practices you use. Give them a full picture of all you do to manage your health. This will ensure coordinated and safe care. For tips about talking with your health care providers about CAM, see NCCAM’s Time to Talk campaign.