If you have allergies, you probably try to avoid the things that make you sneeze and itch. However, exposure to small doses of your allergic triggers may actually improve your symptoms, according to the principles of homeopathy, a form of alternative medicine.
Research hasn’t fully identified why homeopathic remedies seem to work, but there is evidence that homeopathy helps treat select conditions.
Homeopathy: One Woman’s Story
Kailee Jacobs, 29, a resident of Montreal, turned to homeopathy when conventional medicine failed to control her eczema and painful, irregular periods.
Jacobs saw a homeopathic physician for two years, during which time she experienced some relief of her symptoms, although she acknowledges that eczema continues to be a problem.
“I was able to get rebalanced hormonally: more regular periods, less clotting, no cramping, and that stayed that way,” notes Jacobs. “My physician also found out what would boost my immune system so I fight infection better than I used to. And she managed to improve my liver function, which had been damaged by the cortisone I was taking before.”
Jacobs explains that while some homeopathic remedies are quick fixes, such as for cuts and scrapes, if you decide to see a homeopath for a chronic problem, expect a long-term treatment plan.
Homeopathy: The Theory
Although homeopathy was developed in Germany in the 1700s, the word has a Greek origin, coming from “homo,” meaning “same,” and “path,” meaning “illness.” The basic idea behind homeopathy is the principle that “like cures like.” Small amounts, or remedies, of substances from animal, mineral, or plant sources are used to treat the very symptoms that they might cause if given in larger doses. Since symptoms often reflect the body’s response to an underlying illness, homeopathic theory is based on the idea that remedies can promote the body’s self-healing mechanisms.
Homeopathic remedies are given in dilution form, meaning that a small amount of a substance is typically added to water and then mixed. According to homeopathy, the process of diluting and mixing actually enhances the effects of the substance by distilling it to its true essence.
“It’s a sequential dilution process,” explains Stephen King, a homeopath in private practice in Seattle. “You take one part of the substance and add either nine or 99 parts of either alcohol or water. Then after you make that, you shake it or vibrate it for a while in a certain prescribed way. Then you take one drop of that, and continue with the dilution process.”
Homeopathic treatment regimens are customized based on:
- Nutritional intake
- Mental and emotional wellbeing
“Each person is a unique universe, so homeopathy makes the attempt to take into account that wholeness,” says Dr. King.
Does Homeopathy Work?
Research into the use of homeopathic treatments is ongoing, but this type of alternative medicine has been studied in a variety of health conditions. Results from these investigations have shown that:
- Homeopathic nasal spray may help to control hay fever.
- Children with mouth sores due to chemotherapy may experience relief with topical homeopathic creams.
- Homeopathic remedies might be useful in managing diarrhea in children.
- People with HIV may experience a boost in immune system function when homeopathic remedies are used in addition to standard HIV medications.
- Homeopathic treatments can help to minimize vertigo symptoms.
- Oscillococcinum, an oral homeopathic remedy, may help reduce flu symptoms, although it cannot prevent the initial flu infection.
King, who has been practicing homeopathy for 26 years, says: “There’s a lot of research that has evolved very slowly and somewhat chaotically over the years. It’s pretty clear clinically that it works.”
But not everyone holds this opinion. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the highly diluted substances used in homeopathy are difficult to measure or duplicate, which may cast doubt on many of the research studies done to date. Some theorize that homeopathy works because of the placebo effect — that is, if you think it will help you, it just may.
Homeopathy: Patient Satisfaction
A study of more than 3,000 adults who had used either conventional medicine or homeopathic treatments showed that those receiving homeopathic treatments reported fewer side effects and were more satisfied with their overall treatment experience. Patient satisfaction with homeopathy was high even though those who underwent the homeopathic treatments were just as likely to have persistent symptoms as those in the conventional medicine group.
“There is something mysterious about it, but when it works, you know there is something there,” says Jacobs.
Homeopathy: Finding a Doctor
Homeopathy is practiced by people referred to as homeopaths, although homeopathy is often incorporated into the practice of other health professionals, such as:
“It’s important to choose a practitioner you can have a trust bond with because you will be discussing some very intimate things,” says Jacobs, who adds that if you don’t experience any improvement after three visits, you should find another provider.
Few side effects have been linked to the use of homeopathic remedies. Even so, homeopathic remedies should only be taken under the supervision of a trained health professional. If you are thinking about beginning homeopathic treatments, be sure to talk with your primary care doctor before doing so. As with all medical therapies, women who are pregnant or nursing should also carefully review the possible side effects and risks of homeopathic remedies with their primary care doctor before using them.