I’m a skeptic (believe it or not). I’ve got a degree in biochemistry and molecular biophysics – that is to say, I’m not (as a general rule) satisfied to accept that something works if I can’t explain why it works. So when I got to naturopathic school and I heard that extremely diluted substances (homeopathic medicines) could affect miraculous cures, I promptly placed the idea in my “skeptical box” and forgot about it.
And then I saw it work. Over and over and over again.
I don’t expect you to believe me just because I say that, though – I wouldn’t believe me if I were you. But bear with me for a minute while I describe the philosophy behind it. This isn’t an explanation, it’s just a theory – but it helped me to get over the hurdle of thinking homeopathy was just “magic” to recognizing that a scientific explanation does exist, even if we can’t draw a neat little flow chart to explain how it works quite yet.
According to Newton’s Third Law of Motion, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. As such, every medication will produce two effects: the first, temporary effect, and the secondary, lasting effect (which is always contrary to the first). For example: the secondary, lasting effect of a stimulant is greater exhaustion. Laxative abuse causes chronic constipation. Pain killers cause rebound pain and require increasing doses. The list could go on and on. Living systems always seek homeostasis (or balance), which means they have to adapt to any interference we introduce into them. This phenomenon is pretty well understood for traditional pharmaceuticals.
But instead of treating the primary effect, homeopathy attempts to use the secondary, lasting effect to the body’s advantage. The word homeopathy literally means “same as the disease,” and it is based on the principle of “like cures like” – that is, the remedy given is the one that would produce, in a healthy patient, the same symptoms that the ill patient is currently experiencing. But in order to prevent a severe exacerbation of those symptoms, the remedy given is extremely dilute, usually to the point where there are no actual molecules of the original substance left in the remedy. By the time you put it in your mouth, it’s essentially just lactose pellets, or water, depending on the delivery method. We call that “energetic medicine.”
I know. Ridiculous, right? The question I asked (and that I frequently hear) is, if the remedies are so dilute that there’s essentially nothing in them, then how do they work? There do exist a very few research papers which demonstrate the increased efficacy of diluted and shaken solutions, such as “Thermodynamics of Extremely Diluted Aqueous Solutions” (Elia and Niccoli) and “The Structure of Liquid Water; Novel Insights from Materials Research; Potential Relevance to Homeopathy” (Roy et al). These papers imply that water itself can take on different organizational structures, and perhaps this is the mechanism of energetic imprinting in homeopathy. But the process may very well be quantum mechanical in nature – which (honestly) is an easy way to say, we don’t really know how it works.
Because we’re giving your body a “push” in the same direction it was already headed, three things can happen when you take a homeopathic remedy: you get better, you get worse and then you get better, or nothing happens. If nothing happens, it most likely means the remedy chosen was incorrect (although occasionally it means that either your body isn’t strong enough to mount a response, or there’s an obstacle to cure. Once we either strengthen your body or identify and remove the obstacle to cure, the exact same remedy may work beautifully). If you get worse before you get better, we call that an “aggravation”, which just means that we “pushed” a little too hard. The good news is, aggravations don’t last. Most last only from a few hours to a few days, or occasionally even a few weeks, but patients always return to baseline at minimum. Usually an aggravation is actually a good sign, though – it means we’ve chosen the right remedy, and once you return to baseline you will continue on to improvement after that.
The goal is that required treatments with a homeopathic medicine will be fewer and farther between until your health is restored. In practice, however, this is usually only the case with acute conditions or with children. For adults or more chronic cases, usually each remedy represents only a layer in the clinical picture. We continue treating with a particular remedy as long as you react and react positively to the remedy. Once you no longer react or once symptoms begin to change, it may become necessary to switch remedies.
I tend to use different therapeutic treatments depending on the case – I think of homeopathy most often with mental/emotional conditions because these respond so well and so quickly when the right remedy is selected, as well as physical conditions that clearly have a strong mental/emotional trigger. I also use it frequently for stubborn skin conditions, or bizarre neurological patterns that don’t correspond to any traditional diagnosis. I almost always combine it with a broader naturopathic protocol, but I have to say (rather grudgingly) that some of the fastest and most impressive cures I’ve ever seen have followed a well-chosen homeopathic remedy.
You can think I’m crazy if you want, and I’m okay with that. But I dare you to try it.
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Dr Lauren Deville is board-certified to practice Naturopathic Medicine. To receive her free e-book, “Ten Nutritional Supplements Everyone Should Have,” or to receive her monthly health and wellness newsletter, please sign up at www.drlaurendeville.com.