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Homeopathy – The Way to Rapid, Gentle, Permanent Cure

Years ago, around the turn of the last century, the town doctor made house calls in his rig, riding out with horse and buggy. Traditionally, he carried a little black bag from which, as the story goes, he dispensed sugar pills to his ailing patients.

Now we are entering a New Age and some things from the good old days are coming with us. Among them are the sugar pills….

Through those decades of change, there has always been a small group of perservering and conscientious practitioners who have continued to bring health to their patients and clients by dispensing sugar pills. Of course, no one has ever gotten well eating sugar so you’re absolutely right if you’re expecting to learn more.

Although they can work like magic, these “sugar pills” are not magic, they are the milk sugar carriers of homeopathic remedies, the medicine of homeopathy. You will be surprised to learn that homeopathy (hõ-m&etilde;-äp-[upside-down e]-th&etilde;) is a formal branch of medicine recognized under federal law. Homeopathic remedies are FDA approved and available without prescription through health food stores and homeopathic pharmacies.

As a system of healing, homeopathy has been used in the U.S. for about 150 years. It is based on what is known as the law of similars: “Similia Similibus Curenter.” This means that like cures like symptoms; in other words, in order to produce a cure, you must treat the problem with something that will produce the same unhealthy symptoms in a healthy person. For ‘example, many of us have experienced the kind of cold that causes the eyes to water and the nose to run with a seemingly unstoppable flow of clear, thin mucus. This is the same symptomatology that we may have either observed or experienced when peeling raw onions. This type of cold would be treated using homeopathically prepared onion (Allium cepa). The actual word homeopathy is derived from the Greek words homoios (“similar”) and pathos (“suffering”).

The concept of like curing like symptoms can be traced back two thousand years to Greece and the origins of the saying “the wounder heals” which is attributed to the Delphic Oracle. Aspects of the philosophy can also be found in the writings of Hippocrates (C.400 B.C.) and Paracelsus, a Swiss physician who practiced in the 16th century.

However, as a system of healing, homeopathy came into its own with the work of Samuel Hahnemann. In 1790, Dr. Hahnemann was a well-known and highly respected German physician and medical author. About that time, he writes, “…I renounced the practice of medicine, that I might no longer incur the risk of doing injury.” Although he rejected the bleeding and purging practices of his day, he remained interested in the medical field. He began his own investigations into concepts of healing after reading an essay by a colleague on the healing mechanisms of quinine in the treatment of malaria.

Refuting the idea that quinine healed because of its bitterness, Dr. Hahnemann began to self-administer the herb cinchona (quinine), and soon found himself to be manifesting the same symptoms as those of malaria patients. Since Dr. Hahnemann was himself a scholar, he was knowledgeable about the precedents of both Hippocrates and Paracelsus. Working by himself and with other professionals who became interested in his idea, Dr. Hahnemann developed the homeopathicsystem of healing.

In 1810, after twenty years of intense work, Dr. Hahnemann published the Organon of Medicine, presenting the tenets of homeopathy, declaring that “the physician’s highest and only calling is to restore health to the sick,” and stating that “the highest ideal of cure is rapid, gentle, and permanent….” This book introduced a new and entirely different system of medicine, one that was totally opposed to medicine as it was being practiced in Dr. Hahnemann’s time. Of course, the European medical community was in uproar over it. However, because of its dramatic results, homeopathy was soon in widespread use throughout Europe and in other parts of the globe.

Homeopathy began to be used in American in 1832. Although it was considered as “unscientific” by part of the medical establishment, it was widely practiced here by the mid-1800s. The American Institute of Homeopathy was established in 1844, two years before the AMA, and by 1910 there were 22 homeopathic medical schools, 100 homeopathic hospitals, 1,000 pharmacies, and 14,000 homeopathic physicians (compared to 100,000 allopathic doctors). Unfortunately, homeopathy did not continue to flourish and by the end of World War I, it had largely been replaced by allopathic medicine.

During these last 65 years, homeopathy has not been a dormant science but has continued to grow all over the world. India, Great Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Greece, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, and South Africa all sustain numerous homeopathic practices. Homeopathy is widely embraced by the British where a homeopathic physician has traditionally been appointed to serve the royal family. The British carried homeopathy to India and today, there are some 40 homeopathic colleges located throughout the country.

Due to the impetus of the holistic health care revolution, homeopathy is definitely on the move again in America. At this point, it is not recognized by mainstream medicine’ however, Jonathan Harger, editor for the American Center for Homeopathy, states that as many as 5,000 allopaths and osteopaths practice homeopathy “to varying degrees.” (Medical Self-Care, Winter, 1983)

According to American Homeopathy, there are now 18 companies selling homeopathic products in this country. In 1979, there were only 10. They further report that in 1982, the annual sales for homeopathic remedies reached $20 million. Though noting that this is but a fraction of the $15 billion spent on other non-prescription medicines, it represents an increase of more than 300 percent over the previous four years.

Homeopathic remedies come in three physical forms: liquid drops, little lactose granules or balls (these look like cake decorations and work as carriers for the liquid remedies), and special lactose tablets. These include individual remedies (only available through homeopathic pharmacies), cell salts[1], and combination tinctures and tablets. The cell salts and combinations are available at health food stores as well as through homeopathic pharmacies.

It is the remedies that are the real phenomenon of homeopathy. When Dr. Hahnemann first began to experiment with the concept of homeopathy, he used the symptom causing drugs and poisons in their crude form. Although he was able to cure his patients, these crude substances were very hard on them, causing intense aggravation of their symptoms before health returned. Dr. Hahnemann began to dilute the remedies with the inert substances which are still in use today: distilled water, alcohol, and lactose (milk sugar). The problem he encountered was that as the remedies became weak enough that they no longer distressed his patients, they also became too weak to cure them.

Then something remarkable happened…one of those coincidences of consciousness which have no reasonable explanation. Hahnemann discovered that if the dilute solution was shaken (succussed), the new substance not only retained its healing property, but actually increased its power (potency) and had no side effects. Thus the homeopathic remedy came to be.

Each remedy is prepared by a controlled process of successive dilutions called “potentizing.” The substances are diluted one part remedy to 99 parts inert substance, and then they are succussed or ground with lactose (triturated). The first time this process is completed the remedy is 1x potency and is called a tincture. The number beside the x tells you how many times the original substance has been successivley diluted and potentized. Potencies commonly used by the lay person are 3x, 6x, 12x, and occassionally 30x. The number also indicates the amount of original material remaining in ratio to the amount of inert substance: 3x is 1/1000th part remedy, while 6x is 1/1,000,000th part. The higher the potency or power, the smaller the actual amount of the basic remedy, and the greater the possible therapeutic effect.

The amazing thing about this phenomena is that past 24 dilutions there is no longer any trace of the molecular structure of the original substance, yet the remedy still cures. At this point, dear reader, you will begin to understand why many of those involved with orthodox medical practice find homeopathy so confounding. It is also at this point that the real fascination with the healing power of homeopathy begins.

There are several explanations for the healing phenomenon of the homeopathic remedies. One author gave this explanation, “…the remedies carry a message, or drug picture, to the brain. The drug picture for a remedy with a low potency will be less specific than the drug picture for a remedy with a higher potency.” (Natural Foods Merchandiser, May, 1983) It logically follows that the body’s defenses are then stimulated to react against the offender. However, the question arises as to how the brain will be stimulated by something which isn’t there? Or at least, it is not there in any form which we are capable of measuring.

Dr. Hahnemann himself understood the body to have a “vital force.” That vital force is the difference between life and death. Within the philosophy of homeopathy, disease is considred to be a dynamic state existing within the dynamics of the body. Since the potentized remedies are also dynamic, they work to remove the diseased state. According to George Vithoulkas, world-famous homeopath, “Dr. Hahnemann had discovered that there lies hidden in every substance in nature some inner life, and that we can mobilize and use this force if we know how to process the substance.”

We are speaking here about energy, like gravity, electricity, and magnetism. And it is the energy, or vital force, of the substance which is transported by the remedy which stimulates, the healing energy, vital force, of the body. In these times of acupuncture, biofeedback, and Rupert Sheldrake’s M-fields theory, we can not only appreciate the machinations of energy levels, we can use them to our benefit even if they can’t be explained in terms that all of us find satisfying.

The homeopathic practitioner understands disease as an energy imbalance, a disturbance of the vital force. Just as with any natural healer, the practitioner also sees symptoms as an attempt by the body to heal itself and to signal distress. The homeopath doesn’t work with pathology (diseased states) as the allopath does. S/he believes that the organisms which accompany certain diseases invade after the development of a morbid physical environment. In other words, it is not these organisms which cause disease. They thrive in the diseased condition. The homeopathic remedy stimulates the body to return to a healthy condition, healing not by removing illness but by increasing health.

Two conditions are necessary for this healing reaction to take place. In the first place, the afflicted person must be using the right remedy. Secondly, that person’s vital force must be strong enough to produce a reaction.

The basic law of homeopathy is like-cures-like, not kind-of-like-cures-like. At best, the wrong remedy will cause temporary alleviation of symptoms, not cure. At worst, it will have no effect at all. You will again see the importance of the symptoms to the designation of a remedy. The correct remedy demands a complete diagnosis of physical, mental, and emotional factors. Since homeopathy recognizes no diseases as such, but only diseased, individuals, six people with colds might each be using a different remedy to regain health. (We mentioned colds with clear fluid runny noses; there are also remedies for colds when you’re stuffed up and can’t blow your nose; colds with fevers; colds that were caught when out in the rain…lots of different kinds of colds, each with a different remedy.)

Regarding the second condition, strength of the vital force, it is possible for the vital force to be so weak that the remedy will not be able to evoke a response. This can be the case with chronic disease when the person has been using powerful drugs or medications for relief. Longterm cancer or arthritis patients might fit this category. On the other hand, a remedy for an acute case can be overpowered by the immediate use of an over-the-counter drug or a strong or spicy food (like garlic). For example, you wouldn’t combine a homeopathic combination remedy for colds with the use of an OTC anti-histamine.

This individualized treatment requires extensive examination and observation on the part of the practitioner. A good homeopath could spend an hour or more interviewing you on the first visit. This might include questions about your attitudes toward life, do you prefer hot or cold, what kind of things cause you to feel irritated, what position do you take when you sleep? S/he will want detailed information about your health problems. No symptom is treated as inconsequential because each is considered as a part of the imbalanced state.

The right homeopathic remedy restores health on all levels, Although the homeopath doesn’t treat for disease, Susan Ellis reports, “There have been case histories of homeopaths treating and curing patients with chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, eczema, and nephritis.” She also mentions colitis, bronchial conditions, dysmenorrhea, migraine, allergies, fatigue, and grief. The ability of the remedies to alleviate mental symptoms such as grief, anxiety, and depression is truly remarkable. (Health Express, December, 1983)

Symptoms will typically subside within a few days, often faster, and sometimes you will experience immediate relief (as with arnica in the treatment of certain kinds of pain). If the remedy is right, you can expect symptoms to heal in the following order: From the top down, from the inside out, from a more important organ to a less important one, and in the reverse order of their appearance.

The most commonly used homeopathic remedies right now are the combination remedies found in health food stores. The classical homeopath avoids using more than one remedy at a time. (This would make it impossible to determine which one had been effective.) However, these remedies represent a combination of those single remedies which have most often been helpful for that particular state. If the combination includes the right remedy, the person gets relief. If not, there will be no effect at all.

These combinations are often in liquid form and you administer them by the drop according to the instructions. Some combinations are in tablet form. These will also have label instructions. The labels on both these types of combination remedies will also carry a prominent listing of the symptoms (also called indications). The drops are placed under the tongue, while the tablets are allowed to dissolve in the mouth. They are absorbed without the aid of digestive juices. Sometimes you will experience an aggravation of symptoms before you get relief. This will be hardly noticeable in acute disorders but can be an actual healing crisis in chronic disorders.

The homeopathic concept was recently given an interesting application. The Winter, 1984 issue of the Journal of Humanistic Psychology offered an article entitled “A Homeopathic Model of Psychotherapy.” This interesting point of view was presented by Linda Riebel who suggested that a more effective way of dealing with feelings was to go with them (homeopathic) instead of against them (allopathic). She noted, “People commonly offer ‘assistance’ to friends in turmoil, exhorting them, ‘Don’t cry,’ ‘Think of how lucky you are,’ etc. (By attempting to assuage the feelings by banishing it)…. The underlying message is, ‘This feeling is not pleasant, so stop feeling it.'” Ms. Riebel advances the hypothesis that by asking the client to continue to have, repeat, or intensify the very experience he or she wishes to eliminate, a homeopathic approach is being applied, and through the experience the client can be healed, not left with residues of his/her mental distress.

If you are interested in learning more about homeopathy and how to use it, you might like some of the following books.

  • Homeopathy: Medicine of the New Man, George Vithoulkas
  • The ABCs of Homeopathy for Home Use, Evelyn Purser
  • A Doctor’s Guide to Helping Yourself with Homeopathic Remedies, James H. Stephenson, M.D.
  • Homeopathic Medicine at Home, Maesimund Panos and Jane Heimlich
  • If you would like to consult a homeopathic practitioner, they are now listed in the yellow pages in some states or you can write:
  • The International Foundation for Homeopathy, 1141 N.W. Market St., Seattle, WA 98107, $1.00
  • The National Center for Homeopathy, 1500 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Suite 41, Washington, D.C. 20005, $3.00

The information in this article is not intended as medical advice, but only as a guide when working with your health practitioner.

Energy Medicine

Over a century ago, the town doctor made house calls in his rig, riding out with horse and buggy. Traditionally, he carried a little black bag from which, as the story goes, he dispensed sugar pills to his ailing patients. Now, in the dawn of the 21st century as untold technology evolves, some things from the “good old days” are coming with us. The sugar pills are among them.

Through many decades of change, there has always been a small group of persevering and conscientious practitioners who have continued to bring health to their patients and clients by dispensing sugar pills. Of course, people don’t get well eating sugar. What’s the secret?

Although these “sugar pills” work like magic, they are not magic. They are the lactose (milk sugar) carriers of homeopathic remedies, Remedies are the medicine of homeopathy. You may be surprised to learn that homeopathy is a formal branch of medicine, recognized under federal law as a system of healing. It has been used in the US for over 150 years. Homeopathic remedies are FDA approved and are available without prescription through health food stores and homeopathicpharmacies.

Homeopathy is derived from the Greek words homoios meaning similar and pathos, suffering, Called the law of similars, the basic principle of homeopathy is Similia Similibus Curenter, This translates to “like cures like.” In other words, in order top effect a cure, the person’s symptoms are treated with a substance that, if given to a healthy person, would produce similar symptoms. For example, many of us have experienced the kind of cold that causes the eyes to water and the nose to “drip like a faucet” with clear, watery mucus. This symptom “picture” is similar to the one created during the peeling of raw onions. A cold with these symptoms is treated with homeopathically prepared raw onion. (The remedy is Allium cepa. All the remedies are known by their Latin names.)

The concept can be traced back 2000 years from today’s “hair of the dog” to an ancient Greek adage, “the wounder heals” (attributed to the Oracle at Delphi). However, it was a German physician who developed homeopathy as a system of healing. In 1790, Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, a well-known and highly respected doctor and medical scholar, retired from the allopathic medical profession. He wrote, “…I renounced the practice of medicine, that I might no longer incur the risk of doing injury.”

Although he rejected the bleeding and purging treatments of his day, Dr. Hahnemann remained interested in medicine. After reading a popular hypothesis describing the healing mechanism of quinine as bitterness (quinine, or cinchona, is still used to treat malaria), he initiated his own investigation by taking quinine. Surprisingly, he found that he was manifesting the symptoms of malaria. This was the first breakthrough in the law of similars. In 1810, after twenty years of arduous work and having established the basic principles of homeopathy, he published his Organon of Medicine. (Not only have these principles stood the test of time, the book itself remains in print.) The Organon introduced a new and entirely different system of healing, one that was totally opposed to medicine as it was being practiced at the time. The established medical community was in an uproar. However, because dramatic results were frequently achieved, homeopathy was soon in widespread use throughout Europe and in other parts of the globe.

Homeopathy reached the United States around 1830, and was widely practiced here by the mid-1880s. The American Institute of Homeopathy was established in 1844 (two years before the AMA). By 1910, about 25 percent of all physicians were homeopaths. There were homeopathic medical schools, hospitals, and pharmacies. Unfortunately, homeopathy did not continue to flourish in the US. By the end of World War I, it had largely been replaced by allopathic medicine, (It did thrive in the rest of the world where it continues to be practiced.)

Today in the US, homeopathy is once again on the move. This dynamism is reflected in the number of American companies manufacturing homeopathic products, in 1978, there were 10. In 1984 (the year of the first Nutrition News homeopathy issue), there were 18. Currently, there are over 40.

The Remedies: Healing Magic

The remedies are the real phenomenon of homeopathy. Made of all kinds of substances: animal, vegetable, mineral, and even allopathic medicines, many are derived from poisons or other materials which are unhealthy in large doses. Considering the homeopathic law of similars, this makes sense: If the substance can’t initiate symptoms, then, it can’t cure.

When Dr. Hahnemann first began to experiment with the concept of homeopathy, he used the symptom-causing drugs and poisons in their crude form. Although he was able to induce healing, the substances (called causatives) were very hard on his patients, causing intense aggravation of their symptoms before health returned. He began to dilute the causatives with inert substances: water, alcohol, and lactose. (These carriers continue to be used today.) Unfortunately, as the causatives became weak enough not to distress his patients, they also became too weak to effect healing.

Then something remarkable happened…one of those historically significant serendipitous events. Dr. Hahnemann discovered that if the dilute causative solution was violently shaken (succussed), the new substance not only retained its healing properties, it actually healed more rapidly. This increase in power is called potency. Further, the ensuing remedies seldom caused any aggravation of existing symptoms. Dr. Hahnemann had achieved his goal of “rapid, gentle, permanent cure,” using homeopathic remedies.

Today, remedies continue to be prepared by a controlled process of successive, succussed dilutions called potentizing. Although some causatives require special handling, in general, they are prepared in the following way. Equal amounts of the causative materials (e.g., raw onion) and alcohol are put together for varied amounts of time. This pulls the characteristic properties from the material into the medium and preserves them. The liquid is strained off and is called a mother tincture. (A tincture is indicated by a zero with a slash through it, Ø).

The potentizing begins when one part of mother tincture is diluted by 99 parts of an inert substance (usually doubly distilled water but sometimes lactose). Liquid mixtures are succussed while lactose mixtures are ground, a process called trituration. This results in a remedy of 1x. The number beside the x indicates how many times the original tincture has been successively diluted and potentized.

Typical potencies are 3x, 6x, and 30x. A labeling method using c rather than x is also common. This indicates a different but similar and equally effective way of potentizing. These numbers (6c, 9c, 12c, etc.) are about twice the potency of the xs (e.g., 3c = 6x). At 6x (or 3c), the causative substance has become 1/one millionth part of the remedy. To further the paradox, the more times the remedies are diluted and succussed (or triturated), and the less actual causative remains, the more potent they become. To add to this phenomenon, past 23 dilutions, there is no longer any trace of the molecular structure of the original substance, yet the remedy still cures. Wonderful, isn’t it?

How Does It Work?

Symptoms of illness and disease are signs of an activated immune system. Generally speaking, allopathic medicine works by suppressing these symptoms until the condition subsides. Homeopathytriggers the body to fight the illness. The real question is, “How?”

Scientists have yet to identify the exact mechanisms; however, there are several theories. The most widely accepted theory among homeopaths is that the remedies retain an imprint of the causative (think hologram) which signals the brain to a specific immune response. The higher the potency, the more profound the response. The lower potencies work on physical conditions while the higher ones can also improve mental states.

For example, a lower potency of kali carb (potassium carbonate, well-known to cell salt fans) is the remedy for colds accompanied by thick yellow mucus. Very high potencies like 1M (the Roman numeral M denotes 1000x) are used for constitutional remedies. (These treatments relate to patterns of illness and personality structure.) High potencies of kali carb correspond to an underlying rigidity in the personality.

Perhaps you have wondered how the rapidly spinning particles within the atoms, which are the basic material of all materiality, can take on the appearance of solidity. Dr. Hahnemann discovered how to loose this “vital force” from its solid form while still retaining its nature. We are speaking here of energy, like gravity, electricity, and magnetism. Homeopathy is energy medicine. Illness is an energy imbalance, a disturbance of the vital force.

Two conditions must be met for a homeopathic remedy to stimulate healing. First, the correct remedy must be used. In other words, the vital force of the remedy must match the vital force disturbance in the patient. (Karl carb won’t cure your cold if you have a runny nose that calls for Allium cepa.) Second, the person’s vital force must be strong enough to produce a reaction.

Homeopathy recognizes no diseases as such, only diseased individuals. Selection of the correct remedy is all important. Although only the physical symptoms may be necessary for a simple problem in its early stages, many times the correct remedy demands a complete diagnosis including physical, mental, and emotional factors. Remember, the basic law of homeopathy is like-cures-like, not kind-of-like-cures-like. At best, the wrong remedy will cause temporary relief of symptoms. At worst, it will have no effect at all.

Secondly, it is possible for the vital force to be so weak that the remedy cannot evoke a response. This can be the case with chronic disease when powerful drugs or medications have been used for relief. Long term cancer or arthritis patients might fit into this category. In acute cases, a remedy can be overpowered by the immediate use of an over-the-counter drug or a strong or spicy food. For example, one wouldn’t combine a homeopathic remedy for colds with the use of an OTC antihistamine nor take a remedy immediately before or after eating garlic.

Difficult problems require the attention of an experienced homeopathic practitioner. Simple problems which you might normally address with OTC remedies or by putting off seeing the doctor can frequently be healed with a single remedy or combination remedy from the health food store or homeopathic pharmacy.

Visiting a Homeopath

Individualized treatment requires extensive examination and observation on the part of the practitioner. A good homeopath may spend an hour or more with you during the initial interview. The interview includes detailed information about your health history. In addition, there are unexpected questions. These might include inquiries about your attitudes, whether you prefer hot or cold, what kinds of things cause you to feel irritated, what position you take when you sleep. No symptom is treated as inconsequential because each provides clues to the selection of the correct remedy.

The correct remedy can restore health on all levels. It can be used to address an immediate health problem like hay fever, a chronic problem like menstrual cramps, or a pattern indicating a propensity to certain afflictions.

(This is the constitutional remedy, the most complex of the homeopathic cures.) Although the homeopath doesn’t treat for disease, there are case histories of patients recovering from problems such as asthma, diabetes, eczema, bronchial conditions, sinus problems, migraine, fatigue, and even prolonged grief. (The ability of the remedies to alleviate mental symptoms is remarkable.) Typically, symptoms will subside within a few days, often sooner, and sometimes relief is immediate. This is especially true with children.

Health from the Shelf

There are a number of individual remedies, as well as combination remedies, available at the health food store. Although the classical homeopath avoids using more than one remedy at a time, combinations are often helpful for acute or simple conditions. The combinations are a mingling of the single remedies which are commonly helpful for a particular problem. If the combination includes the remedy the person needs, relief follows. If not, there is no effect at all.

Since homeopathy is recognized by the FDA, labels can list the conditions for which the remedies are useful. Single and combination remedies are most commonly found in liquid (small bottles with droppers), pellets, and small lactose tablets, all of which are sublingual. Instructions for their use are on the label. Cold and flu remedies are very popular in the winter months while hay fever and allergy remedies dominate spring and fall. Many other kinds of remedies are available. These include remedies for pain and swelling from sports injuries and arthritis, teething discomfort, earache, digestive disorders, nervousness, morning sickness, menstrual irregularities, and menopause.

In addition, single and combination homeopathic remedies are found in suppository, topical, and spray form. Suppositories are useful for small children. Also homeopathic suppositories for hemorrhoids are reported to be particularly effective. Topical products are available in ointments, creams, gels, lotions, and liniments. Two of the most popular single remedy topicals are arnica (Arnica montana) and calendula (Calendula officinalis). Arnica is used to treat minor injuries, especially sprains and bruises while calendula is used to relieve minor cuts, burns, and skin conditions. (I have these in both ointment and cream.) They are also available in witch hazel and in oil. My personal favorite is a healing cream. It is a combination formula that contains many remedies, including arnica and belladonna (another popular remedy used for sudden onset of symptoms). Nasal sprays are mainly used for sinus conditions and have the advantage of not being addictive nor carrying the risk of overdose.

Cell salts are homeopathic remedies and flower remedies are prepared in a homeopathic manner. You can learn more about these in Nutrition News “The Cell Salts” and “The Bach Flower Remedies.” In addition, “Nature’s Medicine Cabinet” recommends several dozen natural healing substances to keep in your home for burns, scrapes, headaches, and other minor emergencies. Many of them are homeopathic.

When to Believe the Unbelievable

That was the title of the Nature editorial accompanying what may be the most controversial study ever published in the prestigious British journal.[1] The “unbelievable” was accomplished by five teams of medical researchers on three continents. The findings were so extraordinary that Nature held the study for two years and four revisions before braving publication.

Jacques Benveniste, respected French scientist, and his teams ran experiments using a strain of antibodies that react predictably with white blood cells. They used ever more dilute solutions of the antibodies to trigger a reaction. To their amazement, they found that solutions so highly diluted that no molecule of the original antibody could be present still reacted with the white blood cells. In an interview, Dr. Benveniste expressed his astonishment, “My initial reaction was, ‘I can’t believe it. It can’t be true.'”

According to the principles of chemistry, the dilution process should have completely eliminated all the molecules of the antibody after 23 dilutions. At 23 dilutions, there are a hundred trillion billion molecules of water to every molecule of antibody. Although the scientists were using solutions five times more dilute than that, 40-60 percent of the white blood cells reacted as though the original antibodies were present.

A series of 70 experiments were independently and concurrently conducted over five years in laboratories in France, Italy, Israel (two), and Canada. All teams experienced the same thing: A phenomenon which occurred only when the extreme dilutions were violently shaken. If there was no shaking, if the water was heated, cooled, subjected to ultrasound, or if it had never been in contact with the antibody, no reaction was produced.

In 1988, when this article appeared, some people anticipated that Jacques Benveniste would receive a Nobel Prize. However, because the number of controlled studies using homeopathy remains small, its effectiveness remains suspect (except to those of us who use it). When The Prize does come, it will be for bringing the healing mechanism of homeopathy out of the realm of theory. It seems that we are not able to do that within our current level of understanding. In fact, the editors of Nature commented, “There is no physical basis for such an activity.” A more accurate statement would have been, “There is no known physical basis for such an activity.”

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