Homeopathy: Frequently Asked Questions

What is homeopathy?

In a nutshell, Homeopathy is the “therapy of similars.”

That is, a homeopath uses tiny doses of something that might cause your illness (in a healthy person) to stimulate your body to fight back and resolve that illness. That’s the whole thing!

In any given disease, the substance that produces symptoms most closely matching ALL of the symptoms of that disease is therefore homeopathic to that disease. If the organism has the ability to heal that disease, the homeopathic medicine will facilitate healing.

What is homeopathy?
Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy, is the only medical doctor with a memorial in the United States

In all medical practice, doctors aspire to give only the amount of medicine required to affect a cure. After centuries of experimentation, homeopaths have found that microdoses yield more effective healing while at the same time causing fewer side effects than large doses.

So, we homeopaths prescribe most frequently in microdoses. But the size of the dose does not make a given medicine a homeopathic remedy or homeopathic to a condition.

What does it treat?

Homeopathy is the closest thing to comprehensive healthcare. It has been used to treat extremely serious acute infectious diseases (cholera and typhoid fever are two of the earliest epidemics treated successfully with homeopathy; leptospirosis, or swamp fever, is a more recent epidemic treated with homeopathy). Hospitals across the world use homeopathy as an adjunct to trauma medicine and surgery, to treat infectious disease and to treat serious degenerative disease.

Any chronic medical condition can have different causes in different people. Because each person responds to disease in a slightly different way, homeopaths do not base remedy selection solely on medical diagnoses, syndromes or other broad categories of disease. Instead, the homeopath seeks to match a remedy more specifically to what is most characteristic about your disease, to the particular ways in which your system has been affected by ill health.

Homeopathic treatment aims to make you stronger so that your body can heal itself. What we observe is that as people begin to feel better in themselves, their physical complaints begin to improve as well. This holistic approach makes homeopathy useful any time your health is less than optimal.

Certainly, it would be helpful to be able to list for your information all the medical conditions that we have seen improve under homeopathic care. But because homeopathy is an unlicensed practice in North Carolina, it would be illegal for us to suggest that a certain medical condition has been cured with homeopathic remedies.

What is classical homeopathy?

“Classical homeopathy” refers to homeopathy the way it was originally practiced by its founder, Dr. Samuel Hahnemann. For a homeopathic prescription to be “classical,” the symptoms of the illness should match the symptoms elicited during a the drug trial of that medicine. The substance should be given in the minimum possible dose to cause a response in the organism. Only one remedy should be given at a time, and that remedy should be given sufficient time to act in the organism before it is changed or another prescription made.

This provision for giving only one remedy and allowing it time to act makes approaches like Heilkunst, or serial tautopathy (“clearing”), non-classical approaches. Likewise, in a classical prescription, remedy substances should not be mixed together into one prescription.

A recent study by the American College of Homeopathy found that patients responded better to classical homeopathic prescriptions than to approaches like serial tautopathy (serial clearing) or polypharmacy (mixing remedies).

Is the practitioner an MD?

No. Hart Matthews is not a medical doctor or physician. He is not a licensed health practitioner. By state law, he cannot diagnose or treat disease or claim to have treated or cured any medical condition or patient. Homeopathy is not a substitute for licensed medical care. As a certified professional and classical homeopath, Hart Matthews works with patients who are already under the care of licensed physicians.

There are licensed MDs who also practice homeopathy, although they’re pretty rare. The most well-known in the region is Dr. George Guess, originally from Durham, who now practices in Charlottesville, Va.

Aconitum napellus, homeopathy for high fever
The remedy, Aconitum napellus, is made from monkshood and is used for sudden-onset illnesses like croup and high fevers. “Aconitum napellus” by Schobby – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Do you use herbs?

Generally speaking, a homeopath will not tell you to drink an herbal tea or mix up a preparation using powdered roots. That is the province of the herbalist or naturopath.

Homeopaths prescribe remedies that may have been made from herbs or minerals or animal products, but they have usually been homeopathically prepared. That is, they have been ground, diluted and succussed so that what you see is not a root powder but a small white pill or a liquid solution.

The homeopathic preparation makes what might be a very toxic substance like monkshood safe for use as medicine.

Sometimes, we might use a mild substance like Calendula officinalis or Plantago majus or Hypericum perfoliatum in herbal tincture to heal an external injury like avulsion (Calendula), abrasion (Plantago) or a painful burn (Hypericum).

What makes something homeopathic?

Homeopaths use such a wide variety of mineral, plant and animal substances to make remedies. And we use those remedies in all sorts of preparations, liquid, pellet and salve. So, people often wonder what it is exactly that makes these things “homeopathic.”

It is not the naturalness of the substance. (It will come as news to no one that many “natural” substances are quite toxic!) And it is not the way the substance is prepared.

When the symptoms a substance can cause in a healthy person match the symptoms being treated, that’s what makes a substance “homeopathic to the illness.” Put another way, the homeopathic remedy given to a healthy person would cause all those symptoms we’re trying to remove from the sick person. The sick person’s body reacts to the homeopathic medicine by opposing its influence, so the body works itself toward better health.

We call this the homeopathic law of similars, which states that “like cures like.” The homeopath chooses a remedial substance that produces symptoms most “similar” to your own.

The remedy that most closely matches your symptoms will also be a substance you are fairly sensitive to, so the homeopathic remedy should be given in a small enough dose to be safe.

How do you make a “potency”?

To create potentized remedies, we prepare the substance by grinding extensively and progressively for three hours, then diluting repeatedly in small increments, each time applying pressure to the solution (succussing) before diluting it again.

When the pharmacy has finished making this potency, the remedy solution is sprayed onto sucrose pellets and dried for storage, creating the little white pellets people associate with homeopathic remedies.

Is this practice holistic?

Yes. Although it is a Western discipline, homeopathy has a lot in common with Eastern holistic medical practices like traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda. In the holistic viewpoint, we understand that disease affects the entire organism, not just the part where we see symptoms. Every facet of a person’s ill health determines the proper treatment.

Your homeopath will be more interested in how you experience your symptoms than in the name of your diagnosis. Say you have a rash. What your homeopath wants to know is where that rash appeared first, where it went later, what it looks and feels like. How does it feel to the touch? How does it feel when you scratch it? (Does it itch less or more; does it burn or sting or ache; does the itching move around when scratched?)

Just as important are any changes you have experienced from your normally healthy state. Your homeopath will ask questions about seemingly unrelated matters, such as whether you prefer hot or cold temperatures or what sort of foods you crave or can’t stand.

Some categorize homeopathy as “Complementary and Alternative Medicine” (CAM), although many holistic practitioners take issue with this phrase. Since holistic medicine improves the lives of people even before they get sick by conventional standards, many holistic practitioners think the surgical and drastic chemical techniques of conventional medicine should be considered “complementary” to those holistic disciplines that can treat a much wider variety of ill health.

Is homeopathy expensive?

Because one’s first visit to the homeopath often takes two hours and requires a fair bit of office time after the appointment, this first visit is reasonably expensive. This situation is complicated by the fact that homeopathy is generally not covered by insurance.

Currently, our new-patient fee is $350. Follow up appointments are more affordable ($94) and happen about every 3-5 weeks. Families that have more than one person in long-term care get a discount on all follow up appointments. As people improve with homeopathic treatment, they need less frequent appointments and fewer remedies (as well as fewer conventional interventions).

At Dynamis Homeopathic, we include a remedy in your appointment costs. The remedies tend to last anywhere from five weeks to many months. The vast majority of patients need only one remedy at a time, so this is a huge money-saver over conventional treatment.

Most importantly, successful homeopathic care can free the patient from future expense. When a remedy has been successful, the patient no longer needs to take the remedy or keep regular appointments with the homeopath.

The American Medical College of Homeopathy’s 2007 National Homeopathic Patient Survey found that the average homeopathic patient spent roughly 40 percent less per year on health care than those who use conventional medicine.

Is homeopathy safe?

Homeopathic remedies are safe, gentle and nontoxic. Although the remedies originate from some of the most powerful substances on earth, even the lowest potencies have been processed to one part in a million, or even one in a trillion. It may sound paradoxical, but the higher potencies actually exert a more powerful influence on the body.

The remedy that most closely matches you is a substance to which you are sensitive, so sometimes there are aggravations of existing symptoms when you first start a remedy. Aggravations are usually mild and transient. Your homeopath manages aggravations by adjusting the way the remedy is taken.

Because the homeopathic dose is so small, potentized remedies are completely nontoxic. They never overwhelm the body’s defenses with chemicals, and they do not strain on the organs responsible for filtering foreign substances from the body.

By and large, professional pharmacies produce homeopathic remedies today. These facilities meet FDA safety standards, and the remedial substances themselves are listed in the FDA’s Homeopathic Pharmacopeia of the United States.

One of the biggest criticisms aimed at alternative forms of health care is that patients may forego important conventional approaches to their disease. We work with patients and their regular physicians to make sure they get thorough and effective care. We do not work with life-threatening disease unless the patient is also under a physician’s care.

Does medical insurance cover homeopathic treatment?

Short answer: No

Although many national health services abroad do cover homeopathic care (Canada, England, France, Germany, Switzerland, to name few), most U.S. insurance companies do not. We are not aware of any North Carolina insurance companies that cover homeopathic treatment.

If you have a medical savings account, check with the company. Some medical savings plans will allow you to withdraw funds for the cost of homeopathic care. It’s still your money, but at least it’s tax-free.

Is homeopathy effective?

Numerous studies authored over the last hundred years and more have concluded that homeopathy works. Dana Ullman of Homeopathic Educational Services has a nice set of articles examining the issue. And here is a web page with literally thousands of studies that found homeopathy effective.

If you wish to read the dissenting literature, there is plenty of it online, much of it funded directly or indirectly by a certain industry. The detractors are so prolific that one wonders where they find the time to write so much about something they have no intention of ever trying for themselves.

Is homeopathy scientific?

In the opinion of this non-scientist, Homeopathy is the most scientific of the healing arts. That is because it has (1) a theory of health and healing (the Law of Similars) and (2) a standard for drug trials that has the potential to be the most scientific in the field.

We call homeopathic drug trials prufung. These trials start with healthy subjects who take a substance until they feel symptoms. The subjects and their supervisors record all symptoms as they occur. The trial administrator compiles the symptoms and submits them to the homeopathic community for use in matching the characteristic effects of that substance to the symptoms of individuals under homeopathic care.

Despite a lot of modern prufung that are anything but scientific (some are, some aren’t), when it is done right, this kind of testing yields high quality data that can be applied directly to the treatment of patients.

The strength of this model lies in the use of healthy subjects who have not been vetted by diagnostic categories. The holistic nature of the drug trials match the holistic prescribing of homeopathy, utilizing both objective and subjective symptoms.

As suggested by a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine, the common practice of culling trial subjects based on diagnostic criteria (standard practice in conventional drug studies) has the potential to introduce large biases into drug trials.

Will it work with my meds?

Short answer: Yes

Homeopathic remedies do not contain enough of the original remedy substance to interfere with the biochemical action of conventional medications. So the answer is generally “yes.” This is also because a homeopathic remedy, even when it still contains trace amounts of the original substance, works on a different level of the organism than crude chemical drugs do.

Long experience shows that homeopathy works even alongside some pretty intense drugs. However, there are certain drug types that suppress the immune system so powerfully that they may prevent the body responding well to a remedy. The homeopath manages such a situation by giving a low potency remedy in frequent repetition and during times of the day when the effects of the pharmaceutical drug are not as strong.

Can I treat myself with over-the-counter remedies?

Absolutely. Most health food stores carry at least some of the single homeopathic remedies. A lay person can choose an effective remedy for short-term complaints by researching her symptoms on a website like Homeopathic HouseCall. However, the longer you have had symptoms, the more complex it will be to manage your case, so we always recommend that people consult a professional for long-term care.

I am speaking here of homeopathic remedies made from single substances. These are usually sold in racks, and they will have the name of a single remedy prominently displayed.

There are also mixes of homeopathic remedies that will often claim to be for a condition, like sinus infections or colds or pink eye. These are more of a shot in the dark. They may help a lot; they may help a little; they may help for a long time or only for a couple of weeks.

So, if a homeopathic mix doesn’t help, you might try consulting a homeopath for a more targeted single remedy.