Homeopathy is one of the less widely recognized alternative health care options. It caught my attention back when I was working at Philipps University in Germany. My colleagues found a French paper that described a spectroscopic study of a homeopathic medicine solution. The authors reported changes in the structure of the solvent produced by the homeopathic medicine in extreme dilution. When I returned home, I read a contemporary book on homeopathy, and then checked out Samuel Hahnemann's original text, “Organon of Medicine”, first published around 1800.
Like most people, I have my own biases about homeopathy. I was fascinated by Hahnemann's reasoning, given the information available in 1800. The main part of his theory is the idea that we now use for vaccinations: if large quantities of a substance causes disease symptoms, then a small amount of the same substance will stimulate the body's natural defenses against that disease. This principle is well established if the substance is a virus. Dr. Hahnemann believed minerals, plant products, and other chemicals can work the same way. Homeopathic researchers perform “drug provings” by feeding proposed medications to healthy volunteers and observing the effects.
Another part of homeopathic theory is that medication should be highly individualized, chosen by a practitioner to match the totality of symptoms for an individual. I googled “homeopathic doctors Austin” and found a list readily available.
Immunotherapy for allergies looks much like homeopathy, but is based on a different philosophy. Standard allergists test patients to identify the offending allergens, then administer very small quantities of these allergens either orally or by injection. The dose is gradually increased to retrain the immune system to tolerate the substances without allergic reactions.
Homeopathic allergy treatment uses much smaller doses, and is not limited to the allergens that cause the reaction. Other homeopathic medications that produce similar symptoms are used in an effort to correct the underlying mechanism of the disease.
When homeopathy was first introduced to the United States in the early 19th century, the “regular” doctors were practicing massive bloodletting and using dangerous quantities of the mercury salt calomel. The homeopathic physicians got much better results, as we would expect. Historian Martin Kaufman credits the early homeopaths with a major change in medical philosophy: the regular doctors were attacking disease, while the homeopaths were supporting the patient.
As a scientist, I remain skeptical of homeopathic treatments because the doses are so tiny. However, I am very impressed with the safety considerations. Reference 1 reports positive results in a number of clinical trials of homeopathic therapy for respiratory allergies. Since conventional medicine does not have a cure, I think the alternatives deserve consideration.
1. Ullman D et al, “A review of homeopathic research in the treatment of respiratory allergies”, Alternative Medicine Review 2010; 15(1): 48-58.
2. Martin Kaufman, “Homeopathy in America: The Rise and Fall of a Medical Heresy”, University of California Press, 1971.
Linda Fugate is a scientist and writer in Austin, Texas. She has a Ph.D. in Physics and an M.S. in Macromolecular Science and Engineering. Her background includes academic and industrial research in materials science. She currently writes song lyrics and health articles.