Letting like be cured by like
Homeopathy is one of the most popular, and yet most baffling of the complementary healthcare models. A startling array of followers, past and present, includes Yeats, Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir, Florence Nightingale, Mother Theresa, The British Royal Family, Sir Paul McCartney, David Beckham, Jennifer Aniston, Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. In fact over 30 million people across Europe use homeopathic medicine.
The baffling part of it is that the tiny pills used by homeopaths contain such diluted amounts of the original healing ingredient that virtually none of it remains. And often none of it remains whatsoever. This is as far from mainstream medical theory as it gets, but homeopathy is what's known as an 'energy medicine'. Practitioners believe that the 'energy' or essence of the original ingredient is locked into the pill, as a kind of memory.
The word homeopathy comes from the Greek for 'similar suffering', interpretable as treating like with like. As far back as the sixteenth century, Paracelsus taught that the key to a cure lay in the disease, and this idea was taken up again in the late eighteenth century by homeopathy's founder, doctor and chemist Samuel Hahnemann. He believed that 'we should imitate nature, which sometimes cures a chronic disease by another', and that the whole person should be treated, rather than just the symptom.
I asked Sarah Leather, a well-established and well-qualified homeopath, to put it in her own words: 'A substance that can produce symptoms in a healthy person can treat those symptoms in a sick person,' she said. 'Homeopathy is a safe, gentle but highly effective system of medicine using naturally occurring substances in the form of remedies to stimulate the body's own healing power. The results can be very powerful and long lasting, and it's suitable for everyone from pregnancy through to childhood, adulthood through to older age.'
As far-fetched as it sounds, there's no denying that in many cases homeopathy works. On one side, we have those who say that this is merely a placebo effect - that something makes us feel better because we believe it will - that mind over matter thing which is indisputably potent when it comes to our physical and mental health. On the other, there is evidence that both infants and animals respond well to homeopathic treatment - creatures that are innocent of any expectations of treatment. Sarah points to 'lots of scientific evidence to support its use - nearly two hundred years of clinical experience of convinced doctors and satisfied patients.
Homeopathic remedies are believed to be effective in treating a wide range of acute illnesses, and chronic conditions such as allergies, migraines and PMS. Conventional medicine hasn't had much success in these areas.'
She goes on, 'Several clinical studies exist that have employed double blind techniques, accepted by scientists. Recent trials have suggested that homeopathic medicines have a positive effect on allergic rhinitis, asthma, skin complaints, fibrositis, influenza and migraine.' To take just one example, in 1991 the British Medical Journal published an analysis of 107 clinical studies involving a range of disorders, and in 81 of them homeopathic treatment was found to be effective.
Sarah herself came to the therapy over twenty years ago, when she was working as a nurse. She recalls that she 'developed severe hayfever as a teenage and really suffered with it, hating the medication. I saw an advertisement for a homeopathic remedy for hayfever just before I was getting married, and was so surprised that something so natural worked. We travelled back to Australia and I started my four-year course, which I loved. I saw a homeopath once a month and was amazed that not only did my hayfever go altogether, but other symptoms too. I realised then how holistic the method is.'
And Sarah's practice has been growing ever since she graduated in 1993. She went on to lecture in nutrition and supervise homeopathy students for three years, and now runs busy clinics, teaches Homeopathic First Aid courses, holds post-graduate qualifications in Natural Fertility Management, Counselling and Life Coaching, and regularly features in the media. She also offers a Healthy Weight Loss programme. Many clients have been healthcare professionals, and she gets referrals from several GPs.
'Most complaints clear up quickly,' Sarah says. 'Long-standing conditions may take a while to improve, though a sense of change should be felt from the beginning. Homeopaths generally charge between €60 and €80 for the first visit (60 to 90 minutes) and €50 to €60 for repeat visits (usually an hour). Rebates from most health insurers are available for registered homeopaths. Consultations are carried out in the strictest confidence, and telephone or email support is offered between visits.'
Note: Always see your GP if health problems are persistent or worrying.
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