Homeopathy…What, Why & Where




by Dana Ullman, M.P.H.

Homeopathy is gaining increasing international attention, and this attention is in part the result of a growing body of research supporting the positive results that people commonly experience. Yet homeopathy is still widely misunderstood. In this article I hope to clear up some of the more common misconceptions about homeopathy.

Many people believe, for example, that because homeopathic doses are so small they couldn’t possibly work. Actually, there are many examples from nature of extremely small doses having powerful effects. Pheromones, for example, are hormones that are emitted from the bodies of many animals —including human beings — and that let them seek out and tell others of their own species that they wish to mate. Certain species of moths can smell another of their own species even if they are two miles away. Further, there are innumerable examples of various animals’ ability to smell or sense extremely low concentrations of certain things necessary for their survival.  Sharks, for instance, can smell blood in the ocean, which helps them to find food, even at great distances. When one considers the volume of water in the ocean, it seems obvious that the sharks are sensing extremely small amounts of blood.

There are also numerous examples involving human beings. Some people who are allergic to cats, for instance, can develop strong symptoms even if only one cat walked through a room several hours or days earlier.


Clinical Evidence

The results of some very good scientific research have been published in medical journals and other scientific publications. The Lancet published a review of eighty-nine double-blind or randomized placebo-controlled clinical trials (Linde et al. 1997) in which the authors conclude that the clinical effects of homeopathic medicines are unlikely to be simply the results of a placebo effect. In fact, they found that homeopathic medicines had a 2.45 times greater effect than placebos did. The lead author of this review of homeopathic research, Klaus Linde, M.D., was the same German professor who reviewed the research on St. John’s wort that received international attention.

Another survey of research published in the British Medical Journal indicated that 81 out of 107 controlled clinical trials showed that homeopathic medicines had beneficial results (Kleijnen et al. 1991). For more details about many of these studies, see my book The Consumer’s Guide to Homeopathy or The Emerging Science of Homeopathy (Bellavite and Signorini 2002).


Homeopathic Microdoses Do Work

The advantage of most good laboratory studies on homeopathy is that even skeptics cannot propose that the effects are placebo effects. This type of research does not try to verify clinical efficacy; instead, it simply seeks to verify if the small doses used in homeopathy cause any type of biological effect. In fact, there are dozens of such studies. This book simply highlights a few.

One recent study that was replicated by four research institutes in Europe found that homeopathic doses of histamine had a dramatic effect on one type of white blood cell (Belon et al. 1999). In particular, the researchers found that the 15C to 19C potencies of histamine had significant effects. 

A French hematologist has repeatedly found that homeopathic doses of aspirin have significant effects on reducing bleeding time and on platelet aggregation and coagulation (Belougne-Malfatti et al. 1998). Because aspirin in normal or high doses increases bleeding time, it was predicted that homeopathic doses would reduce it, and this study verified this prediction.

A highly respected German professor and a group of researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 105 studies in which researchers used homeopathic doses of various heavy metals or other toxic substances as a way to prevent disease or death in animals that were exposed to overdoses of these same toxic substances (Linde, Jonas, Melchart et al. 1994). When reviewing just the well-done studies, the researchers found a consistent pattern of efficacy from the homeopathic doses, which, on average, helped the animal excrete approximately 20 percent more of the toxic substance through its urine, stools, or sweat.

One of the researchers in this mostly German team was Wayne Jonas, an American medical doctor who was also a lieutenant colonel in the United States Army. He and other researchers at the Walter Reed Army Institute investigated the protective effects of homeopathic doses of glutamate on different types of rat cells. Glutamate is an amino acid that is an important nutrient in small doses but is toxic in highly concentrated doses (Jonas, Lin, and Tortella 2001). The researchers found significant protective effects of homeopathic doses of glutamate, including at doses that conventional scientific wisdom suggests are so small that there should be no remaining molecules of glutamate in the medicinal solution.


More Evidence

Homeopathy became popular in this country and in Europe during the 1800s because of its success in treating the many infectious diseases that raged then, including yellow fever, scarlet fever, and cholera. The death rate in homeopathic hospitals was between one-half to one-eighth of that in conventional medical hospitals. It is hard to imagine that these significant results in treating serious infectious disease were due to a placebo effect. 

Homeopathic medicines also have been shown to work on infants and on various animals (including dogs, cats, horses, and cows), creatures seemingly incapable of experiencing the placebo effect. Homeopaths also find that people who are being treated with homeopathic medicine for a chronic disease sometimes experience a temporary exacerbation in their symptoms as the body’s defenses are being stimulated. Homeopaths have found that a “healing crisis” is sometimes necessary to achieve healing. It is highly unlikely that this temporary worsening of symptoms is the result of a placebo response.

Remember that the small doses used by homeopaths only have an effect when the person taking the remedy has a hypersensitivity to the small doses given. If the wrong medicine is given to a person, nothing happens. If the correct medicine is given, it acts as a catalyst to the person’s defenses.  In any case, homeopathic medicines do not have side effects.


How Homeopathic Medicines Work

Despite the vast amount of research conducted on conventional drugs today sponsored by large drug companies or by the federal government, there are many commonly used drugs that we still don’t understand. Likewise, we do not know precisely how homeopathic medicines work.

Research has found that the water in which homeopathic medicines are made emits more heat, which might contribute to the medicines’ effect. A former professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology has found that once a double-distilled purified water is sequentially diluted and shaken with a medicinal substance inside it, an ice crystal that doesn’t melt in room-temperature water and that maintains an electrical field is created (Lo and Bonavida 1997; Gray 2000). Dr. Lo has even taken electron microscope photos of these crystals. How these crystals work on the body, however, remains a mystery.

There are various other theories about how homeopathic medicines work, some of which are highly technical (see Bellavite and Signorini 2002). Some people assume that the highly potentized homeopathic medicines are “energy medicines” that act on the chi, or “life energy” of the person. It is then assumed that the more potentized the medicine, the more energetic it is, and the deeper it acts on the person’s energy.

It should also be noted that submarines communicate with other submarines and with ships using very low radio frequencies, because higher frequencies cannot pene-trate the water. Because the human being is 75 to 80 percent water, very low doses of medicines, such as those used in homeopathic medicine, may be a more effective means of delivering drugs than the high doses commonly used in conventional medicine.

One of the hottest subjects in science today is “nanotechnologies.” Nano is a prefix referring to the study and use of hyperminiaturized technologies that can carry more and more bodies of information in smaller and smaller chips. In this spirit, it may be appropriate to refer to homeopathy as a “nanopharmacology.”

How to Find a Homeopath

The National Center for Homeopathy publishes a directory of homeopaths in the United States and Canada. It is available from them as well as from Homeopathic Educational Services of Berkeley (addresses for these organizations can be found in the resources at the back of this book). In addition to listing homeopathic practitioners, it also lists several hundred homeopathic study groups. These groups of laypeople meet once or twice a month to learn homeopathy together. Homeopathic study groups are usually the best resource for learning about homeopathy and for getting recommendations for the best practitioners in the area.

This directory is not complete, because every practitioner listed must be a member of the National Center for Homeopathy and must pay a small fee for the listing, and many good practitioners do not need or want additional publicity. The directory is free to members of the National Center for Homeopathy. A free listing of homeopaths in your state is also available from Homeopathic Educational Services with any book order (www.homeopathic.com). For further recommendations of practitioners, consider checking out the following:

·       Your friends. Asking your friends for recommendations is a tried-and-true way to find a homeopath. It is amazing how many people assume that their friends aren’t into “this homeopathic stuff,” but once the subject is broached discover that they and their family have been using these medicines for a long time and that they may be aware of a good homeopath in the area.

·       Health food stores. Go to your local health food stores and ask people who work in the homeopathic section for their recommendations. Some people are more knowledgeable than others, so you may have to check out a few stores.

·       Homeopathic pharmacies. Some pharmacies have begun to specialize in homeopathy. Such pharmacies are a great source for finding a homeopath.

·       Conventional pharmacies that sell homeopathic medicines. A growing number of conventional pharmacies sell a small number of homeopathic medicines.  However, only a small percentage of these pharmacists will be adequately familiar with local homeopaths.

·       Homeopathic study groups. There are now several hundred homeopathic study groups throughout the United States. These are groups of people (mostly women) with a special interest in homeopathy. Because of this special interest, they are usually knowledgeable about the best homeopaths in their area. Contact the National Center for Homeopathy or Homeopathic Educational Services for a name and number of a homeopathic study group closest to you.

·       Health and medical professionals. Health and medical professionals, especially those who use some natural therapies themselves, are sometimes familiar with local homeopaths.

·       Alternative newspapers and magazines. Newspapers and magazines that cover natural health and healing often have listings and advertisements for homeopaths.

·       The Yellow Pages. You may be able to find homeo-paths by simply looking in your Yellow Pages. However, because many homeopaths do not know that they can use this listing, the number of homeopaths in the book is usually limited.

·       The Internet. There are now various alternative medicine forums on the Web with people discussing homeopathic and natural medicine. The Internet is a great place to find what you need.


From Essential Homeopathy by Dana Ullman, M.P.H. Copyright © 2002 by Dana Ullman. Excerpted by arrangement with New World Library. $10.95. Available in local bookstores or call 800-972-6657 ext. 52 or click here.