I was reminded vividly last night why I believe that homeopathy works. As a practitioner who is always obsessing about the cases I have not yet solved, I can get down. I start to think maybe homeopathy is not that great. Maybe a tylenol would be better. Or maybe I’m just not very good at it.
Not long ago, a National Public Radio blogger had posted a story about a publicity stunt by a vociferous group of medical fundamentalists who set out to prove that homeopathy was ineffective by “overdosing” on a patent sleep aide that uses homeopathic ingredients (see at the bottom why this is a silly idea).
The story had been overwhelmed with comments from the detractors, who can’t get past the “it’s unscientific” argument. I added my own comment pointing out that science is really just observation. If 200 years of clinical and laboratory observation don’t match your theory of reality, maybe your theory needs work.
As soon as I posted my comment, I regretted it. I guess I knew the folks lurking around the comments board weren’t really interested in what I thought. Certainly, their responses confirmed it. I had not increased their peace. I definitely had not increased my own. I just didn’t know what to say to make them feel better. I wanted to say, “God bless you: May your minds be expansive and your lives full of wonder.” Then I thought that would piss them off, too.
This morning, however, at 4 a.m., I was reminded of exactly what I should say in such circumstances (just not on internet comment boards).
For my birthday last night, we had several tasty Indian curries topped off with an unusual rice pudding. We looked at each other a little funny on the first taste of the rice pudding. Then we just figured it was one of the spices. Well, I woke at 4:15 this morning to the sound of my younger son retching in the bathroom. Then my older son got up, saying his stomach was not happy and that he needed to eliminate in the other direction.
My own belly felt like it contained a brick, so, thinking of the rice pudding, I pulled out our foremost remedy for food poisoning, Arsenicum album. I gave the younger one a dose of 30C Arsenicum. He immediately began vomiting again. Ten minutes later, he was writhing on the floor holding his stomach, markedly worse than he had been before.
So I gave him a dose of Nux vomica 30C, which matched the painful stomach. Within 30 seconds, he had stopped writhing. His posture relaxed. No more vomiting. Within a few minutes he looked as if he would fall asleep on the floor. He went to the sofa and slept soundly until mid-morning, when he woke completely recovered.
My older son also developed vomiting with the diarrhea he already had, but he was very calm about it. His stomach did not hurt. He threw up twice over the course of a couple of hours and felt better each time. He went back to sleep after each episode. He really didn’t need a remedy, as his body was doing exactly what it was supposed to do under the circumstances, and he wasn’t particularly uncomfortable.
This is why I believe in homeopathy. Because I have seen it work. I have seen it NOT work when not applied correctly. I have seen the wrong remedy make things worse, and then I have seen the right remedy clear up everything in one dose.
To counter the placebo-effect claims of the critics, I have seen it work on a sleeping child with asthma, I have seen it work on an injured dog after a fight and I have seen it work on a dog profoundly sick with vestibular syndrome.
Of course, the fundamentalists love to call these stories “anecdotal,” which they are. But the word “anecdotal” refers to the quality of evidence. It does not mean “false,” nor does it indicate “meaningless.” Quite to the contrary, these sorts of experiences are meaningful not just personally for a parent taking care of his kids, but when they happen over and over, they become profoundly meaningful for professional homeopaths in their clinics.
If anyone is interested in why the skeptics’ stunt is silly, unscientific and proves nothing, it is because they are applying the rules of toxicology to a homeopathic dose. You cannot “overdose” on a remedy that has a nano-dose of the original material left in it. Duh. That’s what makes homeopathy so amazing! It is able to heal you, but it is not able to kill you.
Proving they have not read the homeopathic literature, the critics think if they swallow a vial of pellets and don’t get sick they have disproved homeopathy. Leaving aside completely the questionable science of gathering detractors of any hypothesis to test that hypothesis, what the demonstrators don’t understand is what happens when people do take too much of the wrong remedy.
Normally, a remedy has to be matched to you and your symptoms in order to have much effect on you. But it is possible to get symptoms from taking a remedy that does not match you. We call this a “proving,” and it is the way we test remedies before we use them on sick people.
A proving is conducted not by taking one huge dose of pellets but by repeating a normal dose over and over until symptoms appear. This may take hours, or it may take days, depending on how susceptible you are to that particular substance. (Some provers usually turn out not to be susceptible and get few or no symptoms at all.)
Furthermore, the first symptoms of a homeopathic proving are often quite pleasant. People report that all their usual symptoms go away for a while. On the first night of a proving I did three years ago, I curled up in a ball at the foot of my bed while my wife read to the children. It was wonderful, like a cat curling up with the family.
Symptoms usually begin in earnest the next day, or even several days later. And unless the proving has been pursued strongly (lots of doses continuing after symptoms begin), symptoms are usually pretty mild, though they can be quite mentally distressing.
So, if you gather a bunch of people who very vociferously don’t believe in homeopathy, and you give them a vial of sweet pellets to chew on, and they feel great for a day or two before they get a strange anxiety and an unusual headache, do you think they’re going to go back to their friends, to the media, and say, “Oh I was wrong, something did happen! It was very subtle, but I don’t feel quite myself”? I imagine that would get quite a laugh from their fellow “protesters.”