Introduction to Homeopathy
Dr Jeni Worden
MB ChB MRCGP MFHom
What is Homeopathy?
Homeopathy is a method of treating an illness in both people and animals on the basis of the simile principle. The word 'homeopathy' is derived from the Greek words homios, meaning like, or similar, and pathos, meaning suffering.
Similia similibus curentur
Let like be treated by like'
So what does this really mean?
Since the earliest times, it has been known that certain plants, or extracts, could help in the curing and healing of illnesses, but it was also recognised that these 'cures', if given in a concentrated form could be harmful or even deadly. However, experience showed that if administered in a diluted form, these could help to alleviate, or indeed prevent illness from occurring and this has been the reality almost down to present day.
The understanding that certain naturally occurring products, mostly plant,
if taken in a diluted form could be beneficial to health, is the starting point for homeopathy. Over two hundred years ago, an eminent German physician, Dr Samuel Hahnemann observed this fact and made a detailed and comprehensive study of the effects of very dilute plant extracts and poisons and used his own family, close friends and colleagues to test his theories.
For example, the symptoms and signs of acute arsenic poisoning are a sensation of burning but at the same time feeling chilly and these are mirrored in certain cases of gastroenteritis, or sickness and diarrhoea. Therefore, Hahnemann concluded that arsenic, given in very dilute form, should be very beneficial and help effect a cure which indeed is the case and is why Arsenicum is used today for these conditions.
Homeopathic is a term that is used when referring to a very dilute medication and the way that this is prescribed, and because the remedy is used in very low concentrations makes it safe for people of all ages, pregnant women and during breast feeding. The mechanism by which a homeopathic remedy works is not completely understood and it is this fact that raises controversy at times from the general medical profession. However, what are not in doubt are the benefits that most patients derive from homeopathic remedies which are underscored by the fact that an increasing number of people look to homeopathy for help.
What does Homeopathy offer?
As a GP, I first became interested in homeopathy and acupuncture about ten years ago as an addition to conventional medication to aid patient health and well-being. In the case of acupuncture, because of its accepted use in pain relief, and homeopathy as a way of helping people whom for various reasons did not respond to conventional medication. Homeopathy cannot cure terminal or chronic illnesses but may be used to alleviate the symptoms of these and in a general way, help the patients' well-being. Also, for more common ailments, e.g. colds, coughs, sore throats, etc, homeopathic remedies undoubtedly give benefits. At this time of year, I see as many patients for homeopathic remedies in my private practice as I do as a GP for conventional medication for these types of conditions.
Usually, I would recommend a person considering a homeopathic remedy for the first time not to buy a preparation over the counter from a health shop or a pharmacy until they have consulted a homeopathic pharmacist or a medically qualified homeopath. Ideally, in this instance, the practitioner should be registered with the Faculty of Homeopathy. I say this, because it is important that the correct remedy is given for the symptoms and usually a qualified medical homeopath or pharmacist is the one who is best able to determine this. In the case of common colds or flu, we all know these can take different forms. A runny nose, a blocked nose, a sore throat, a lumpy throat, all are slight variations on a general overall condition. As these symptoms can vary, so can the homeopathic remedy used to treat them and this is a subject I recently discussed on my website www.homeopathicquestions.org.
Medications are available either on NHS prescription issued by a suitably qualified GP or directly from a specialist homeopathic pharmacy, a list of whom is available from the Faculty of Homeopathy.
I would now like give an example of a specific case where I have used homeopathic medication with graphic success which was to treat a lady who had suffered for over two years with menopausal 'hot flushes'. This patient had been experiencing night sweats, poor concentration, hot flushes and memory loss. Also her pattern of sleep was disturbed and she woke up most mornings feeling clammy and debilitated. For these problems and to treat her general well-being, I prescribed Nat mur but for the hot flushes, Causticum and Graphites. The treatment, which began in May 2006, proved very successful and within one month, the patient reported that she felt considerably better and that the symptoms had dramatically subsided. I saw this patient again last month and she was obviously much improved with the symptoms almost eradicated.
In recent years, homeopathy has gained wide acceptance but at the same time has gathered its critics. The number of people seeking help through homeopathy is increasing all the time and there are five NHS hospitals to where a patient can be referred by their GP or Consultant, two of which are Bristol and Liverpool. Whilst the use of homeopathy has grown, as I mentioned so have the number of critics, essentially from people in the medical profession or who have an interest in conventional medication and in many ways these dissenters are aided in their views by some of the more elaborate claims made by homeopathy such as a cure for bird flu, which cannot in any way be substantiated.
Homeopathy, I accept as a GP with over twenty years experience, is in some ways a leap of faith. Scientifically, it cannot be indisputably proven to work exactly how the theory says it should. Nevertheless, millions of people world wide obtain relief from a wide range of illnesses, ailments and chronic conditions by using homeopathic remedies. The one continuous thread that I have always found as a homeopath is that whatever the science, people feel better and that, for me as a GP and homeopath, is the most important thing of all.