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Many have questioned its effectiveness, but homeopathy continues to find a place in homes, medical offices—and spas.
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Dating back to Hippocrates in 400 BC, homeopathy is a medical system that is still not very well understood. Simply put, its governing principle is that “like cures like.” Applied to modern medicine, we see its use in vaccines against disease. A vaccination is made of a compound that resembles the very disease it seeks to combat. By allowing the disease into the bloodstream, the body develops immunity to it and consequently wards off future exposure. Homeopathy takes a similar approach to every illness and malady. Practiced throughout the world, the system may be of great benefit to your clients.
Though homeopathy is centuries-old, it was popularized in the late 1700s and early 1800s by German physician Dr. Samuel Hahnemann. The practitioner was dissatisfied with the toxic and dangerous medical treatments of the day, which included bloodletting, the use of poisons such as arsenic, and complex drug formulas made from as many as 400 ingredients. According to the Creighton University School of Medicine in Omaha, Nebraska, Hahnemann had read about a tree bark that was being used to treat malaria and decided to ingest the bark himself. When he developed malaria-like symptoms, it occurred to him that effective drugs to combat a disease produce the actual disease symptoms in healthy patients. He went on to discover that, in patients with the disease, small amounts of the drug cured them.
Hahnemann’s disciples carried homeopathy around the world. By the late 1800s, it was widely practiced in the U.S. In fact, the definitive book on remedies is the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States. But its popularity in the U.S. dwindled, partially squelched by the modern scientific approach that measures a drug’s effectiveness by how it applies to a majority of people (as opposed to homeopathy, in which each individual is treated differently). Now with the growing interest in complementary and alternative medicine, homeopathy is widely considered part of the holistic-care umbrella and is rediscovering acceptance in an integrated approach to health and wellness.
Levels of Care
Homeopathy in the U.S. has settled into two basic categories: allopathic and classical. The Food and Drug Administration categorizes homeopathic remedies as allopathic medicine, meaning treatments that seek to suppress symptoms. Homeopathic remedies are regarded much like over-the-counter medications, sold without a prescription and including dosage instructions. Mainly sold as pellets placed under the tongue, these items can be found in health food and drug stores alongside vitamins. They are often promoted as treatments for conditions such as allergies, stomach upset and even anxiety.
While there’s nothing wrong with treating symptoms (homeopathic arnica has been used for centuries to soothe aches and wounds), classical homeopathy seeks to actually cure. And for that, a trained practitioner is required. Currently, only the states of Arizona, Connecticut and Nevada issue a license titled Homeopathic Physician. More typically, homeopathy is within the scope of naturopathic physicians.
Chiropractors, osteopathic doctors and acupuncturists also often study the system. Practitioners train and obtain designation from professional certification organizations. “We take rigorous tests, we send in cases,” says Corey Weinstein, M.D. and C.C.H. (certified classical homeopath) in San Francisco. There are several classifications of practitioners, and they vary from state to state. “What you don’t want is someone who simply says they studied with so and so…” says Weinstein.
These practitioners learn how to diagnose the underlying cause of an individual’s illness. In a homeopathic exam, a complete medical history, family history and total symptom picture is obtained. “With an acute problem such as a sore throat, I’ll want to know things like if it hurts on one side more than the other, does it burn, what makes it worse and what soothes it,” says Weinstein. “That will help me select a remedy. If I see five people with sore throats, there will be five different conditions that require five different remedies.” Finding the single correct remedy is the most important task, and one that can rarely be accomplished in the vitamin aisle of a health-food store.
Another of homeopathy’s tenets is that the minimum dose of a remedy will produce the maximum result. The higher the level of dilution, the better the medicine. Because there are only a few homeopathic pharmacies in the U.S., Weinstein knows them to be trustworthy. “They are standardized to the pharmacopoeia so I know what I’m getting,” he says. “There’s a manufacturing board to oversee them. I carry hundreds of remedies from several pharmacies.” Remedies are generally very safe; however, people taking medications or experiencing medical conditions should consult their primary care provider before beginning a homeopathic regimen.
A Fit for Wellness Spas
While spa owners might want to retail a few basic remedies, it might be better still to bring in a homeopathic practitioner to join forces with bodywork therapists and Chinese medicine specialists. Together, they can help clients with issues such as sleep problems and fatigue, and also maybe even boost their immune systems. “You only want someone to practice at the level they’re capable of,” says Weinstein,
“It’s great for almost anyone, for children, for the elderly. I take my dog to a homeopathic vet,” says Linda-Anne Kahn, founder of Beauty Kliniek in San Diego. “For skincare clients, it’s really beneficial for any kind of skin disorder—eczema, psoriasis, rosacea—because it brings balance.”
Kahn also recommends homeopathy for deeper wellness concerns. “We find it seems to especially help when there’s an emotional component to someone’s problem, perhaps post-traumatic stress or a divorce,” she says. “We can peel the onion, work first with certain issues and then get deeper and deeper.”
Kahn emphasizes the importance of an individual remedy, gleaned from an intake so specific that it considers specific factors, such as how someone looks and the sound of their voice.
A Science or an Art?
Homeopathic principles have found a home in other areas of medicine, in addition to the aforementioned vaccines. Parents of newborns commonly reach for homeopathic remedies to treat colic and stomach upsets. Remedies to treat vertigo are prescribed by even the most conventional physicians. Homeopathic principles are also widely used to treat allergies; allergen immunotherapy, commonly known as “allergy shots,” provides injections of the very substances to which a patient is allergic. This desensitizes them to the allergen, and can sometimes provide lasting immunity.
However, scientific research in the U.S. has not supported homeopathy. It is a challenge to study, according to the National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Highly diluted substances are not easily measured, which makes it difficult to replicate in required clinical tests. Also, with treatment that is individualized, there are no uniform prescribing standards (for example, homeopathy recognizes 5,000 different types of headaches).
Critics argue that miniscule amounts of an ingredient simply cannot have a biological effect. The most outspoken naysayers claim that ongoing study is not even worthwhile. Yet positive research findings continue to pour out of Europe, with testing on every health condition from AIDS to rheumatoid arthritis to depression. “Homeopathy is part of the Swiss national health care system,” reports Weinstein. “Pediatricians in France routinely use it. The Queen of England has her own homeopath.
“Americans are being denied access to this system that the rest of the world uses,” continues Weinstein. “It’s sad that the United States can’t celebrate the deep and important history we’ve had with homeopathy.”
“It’s like acupuncture,” Kahn points out. “That wasn’t accepted for the longest time, but now it is.”
As integrative health care continues to take hold in the U.S., however, Weinstein believes that some of the mystery and confusion around homeopathy will diminish. “Those who scream the loudest are heard,” Weinstein says of critics. “Homeopathic doctors are not screamers. We have our heads down, quietly helping people.”
Andrea Renskoff is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.
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