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 Post subject: Homoeopathic Medicine
PostPosted: Thu Feb 09, 2012 3:40 pm 
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Homoeopathic Medicine - Not for the End of the World

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Herbal remedies and natural medicine have grown popular these days. A mass of consumers are willing to try anything that will keep them free of the big pharmaceutical companies and handful of prescription medications along with their long lists of side-effects. At the same time, while much of alternative medicine is based in cultural and historical treatments for common ills, there are aspects to certain forms of "natural" remedies that fall into the spiritual and quasi-religious categories and have little to do with the actual benefit of the medicines themselves. Consider homeopathy, which has become a billion dollar industry despite the shaky evidence for its benefits.

There are currently homeopathic remedies that claim to treat every manner of illness under the sun. The very word "homeopathy" sounds soothing and healing, as though Grandma's rose hip tea and warm blankets can be found in each bottle. Homeopathy, however, has nothing to do with "home" remedies, but comes from the root words for alike and suffering and works on the principle that "like cures like." It's a philosophy of medicine that goes back more than 200 years to a time before knowledge of bacteria and chromosomes.

Homeopathic Medicine:
In the late 1700s, the German physician Samuel Hahnemann found that the medicines used in his day were just as likely to harm his patients as help them (have times changed?). He therefore began a systematic effort to try remedies of his own design. He developed the hypothesis that people with certain symptoms could be treated by the very items that caused those same symptoms in healthy people. For instance, if a person had burning eyes and a runny nose, one should treat him with an onion – since exposure to a cut up onion causes people’s eyes to burn and noses to drip. Hahnemann’s idea was that "like cures like." Stinging nettles cause burning stinging pain, therefore they should be used to treat illnesses involving burning, stinging pain.

Sometimes it worked; onions helped treat common colds. He encountered a problem with this approach, however, discovering that certain "remedies" that caused negative effects in healthy people turned out to be just plain toxic in ill people as well. Not giving up, Hahnemann would dilute these substances and instead try the dilutions on the ill patients. Claiming success, in 1810 he published his Organon of the Rational Art of Healing, followed by other works. He eventually would dilute the remedies so extensively, none of the original substance would have remained in the dilution water. Yet, Hahnemann believed that the energy left from that diluted substance was all that was necessary to make it work in leading the body back to health.

That was two hundred years ago, nearly 70 years before Robert Koch spied the anthrax bacterium under his microscope lens. Hahnemann lacked knowledge of bacteria and viruses, of genetic mutations, and of the importance of certain cofactors in biochemical pathways. He did not fully understand why certain remedies worked and why others didn’t. He did the best science he knew at the time, but the reasons for his successes may not have been what he thought they were.

Today, we have much less excuse. We know the antibacterial effects of garlic. We recognize that if cayenne helps defeat a fever, it is because it causes an increase in circulation, allowing the body to clean out toxins and helping the immune system to work more efficiently, not necessarily because cayenne is hot and fevers are hot. Cayenne increases the metabolism, is rich in Vitamins A and C, and has the complete B complexes, all of which help the body to function as it should. Yet, if homeopathic practitioners treated people with cayenne or garlic or aloe or olive leaf extract or a hundred other herbs and botanicals in moderation, and if the remedies did people good, it would not ultimately matter why these treatments worked. The questionable aspect of homeopathic remedies is that they've been diluted to the point that there's none of the purported medicinal material left, but only the sugar filler.

The Vital Force:
Hahnemann had the idea that the point of good medicine was not to heal the body, but to kick-start the body's own self-healing. He had a point. The body has an amazing ability to conquer infection and disease. Hahnemann's manner of promoting this self-healing, however, was somewhat unorthodox. He would dilute his remedies repeatedly, shaking vigorously with each dilution, until there was unlikely anything to be left of the original medical element. It was the "vital force" of the medicine that was important – the energy imprint it left on the water in the dilutions – not the actual material itself. Hahnemann believed that health was the result of a well-tuned vital force. The purpose of remedies was merely to get the vital force back in shape. As Hahnemann said in his book Organon, #12,, "It is only the pathologically untuned vital force that causes diseases."

Hahnemann's ideas persist to this day. The result is that sugar tablets are fed to the world's consumers as homeopathic remedies. Consider the math. Homeopathic remedies are derived from plants or minerals that are diluted in pure water or alcohol and shaken. If they cannot be dissolved in either of these, they are ground finely and diluted in powdered milk sugar. They are diluted by millions and trillions of times. Dilutions of 1: 10 are labeled by the Roman numeral X, and every time a 1:10 dilution of a material is made, a number gets tacked to the front of that X. So, a 1:1000 dilution would be designated as 3x, and a 1:1,000,000 would be labeled 6x. Dilutions of 1:100 are labeled by the Roman numeral C, and a dilution of 3C would indicate a 1:1,000,000 – for three consecutive 1:100 dilutions. There are homeopathic items currently on the market labeled as 30C. To have even one molecule of the original substance would require a container holding 1060 molecules of water, which would have to be 30 billion times the size of the Earth.

A popular homeopathic item on the shelves is Boiron's oscillococcinum, sold as an alternative for treating flu-like symptoms. Preposterous as it sounds, 12 doses of oscillococcinum - active ingredient "Anas barbariae hepatis et cordis extractum 200CK" (extract of wild duck liver and heart) - diluted to 200C sells at Target for $19.95. (Ducks are considered a source of the flu, and since homeopathy teaches that "like cures like", duck liver is expected to do the trick to cure the flu.) It has been supposedly diluted 100200 times, but it is not the duck liver itself that gives the oscillococcinum its power to fight the flu, the homeopath explains, it is the memory, the vital force, the energy of the duck liver imprinted on the lactose sugar pill. This sounds a bit like snake-oil dressed in a sugar coat. It makes little sense at all, even if duck liver were the best vital force enhancer in existence.

Spiritual Forces:
Not to say that spiritual forces do not play a role in health. The Bible indicates that they do. Jesus healed the woman with a spirit of infirmity in Luke 13, saying in verse 16, "And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?" In Mark 9:17-29, Jesus heals a young man with a spirit that has made the man deaf and dumb and has tried to destroy him since he was a child. Spiritual forces can certainly have an effect on health. Solomon even notes that one's attitude can affect one's health, saying in Proverbs 17:22 , "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones."

Not all ailments can be cured by "positive thinking", but a cheerful, hopeful outlook does help. This can even be seen in the placebo effect, in which people who receive what they think is medicine improve, even when there's not medicine present. It is suspected that much of the "benefits" of homeopathy have been just this – the placebo effect, along with a combination of appropriate care, like getting plenty of rest, fluids, and good nutrition.

The difficulty with homeopathy is not in determining whether there is an untouchable vital force that these remedies help jump-start. The trick is for the seller of homeopathic products to explain which particular item's memory is doing the jump-starting. Random dust particles made of skin bits and fly feces and mite eggs and mouse hair are able to settle in those super diluted vats at some point (unless homeopathic remedies are made in air-tight rooms by workers wearing hazmat suits), so why should the "vibrational energy" of the no-longer present duck liver molecules have any impact at all? Why does duck liver trump the vibrational energy of microscopic dried snot flakes or airborne bacteria – both often also involved in the flu?

The Studies:
Many studies have been done on homeopathic remedies, making the case that they do work. However, a 1990 article in Review of Epidemiology found 37 out of 40 randomized trials evaluating homeopathic treatment to have been badly designed, and of the three that were set up well, only one gave homeopathy a thumb's up. The article's authors concluded that homeopathic remedies had the same effectiveness as placebos. Again, in December 1996, the Homoeopathic Medicine Research Group (HMRG) finished an evaluation of controlled homeopathic treatment trials. The expert panel concluded that of 184 studies, only 17 were designed well enough to be taken seriously, and of those, none had a large enough sample base to say anything significant about whether homeopathy worked for specific illnesses and conditions.

Confronted with these facts, some believers will continue to promote homeopathic medicines. Certain sufferers swear by them, and they are free to spend their money buying remedies like Boiron's oscillococcinum. However, before jumping into the latest medical fad - or medical philosophies that have survived 200 years - it is always wise to do hard homework (and sometimes to translate the "active ingredients" in pills before swallowing them).
Chuck Missler http://www.khouse.org/

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