The debate rages on homeopathy...

Chitra Ramaswamy

Double-blind studies of homeopathic medicines are not ideally possible.

April 10 is celebrated as World Homeopathy Day in memory of Dr C.F. Samuel Hahnemann, considered the Father of homeopathy, who was born on this day in 1755. In existence for over 200 years and spread across nearly 50 countries, this system of medicine is today facing scepticism in the medical world.

Homeopathic remedies are believed to be no better than a placebo, according to several articles in medicals journals and publications. In fact, the

Lancet

, which in 1997 extolled the virtues of homeopathy, has published a piece to the contrary in an August 2005 issue, although based on a small study.

Critics say that the system based on the principle of

Similia Similibus Currentur

, meaning `like is cured by like', does not convincingly explain how the medicines work. Further, there have been no modern scientific testing or double blind studies to prove the efficacy of the drugs; only "provings" since Hahnemann's time which, the critics say, do not really hold water.

Sceptics also question the rationale of "constitutional remedies" which entail labelling an individual as belonging to a specific constitution type corresponding to a certain drug, as for instance an Ignatia, Pulsatilla, Nux Vomica, etc which, in turn, are related to the temperament of the individual. Non-believers also scoff at the potency of the drugs vis-à-vis the Avogadro's number. According to this law of chemistry, there is a limit to which a substance can be diluted while retaining its original properties. However, most homeopathic drugs are used in dilutions beyond this limit, making it "substance-less".

So, how do homeopathy practitioners respond to such criticism? According to Dr Kumaresan and Dr Kanakaraj of Sugam Homeopathy Clinic in Chennai, any material can be converted into energy form by potentisation or dynamisation a method unique to homeopathy. This energy remains stable only in alcohol or sugar base and the medicines thus stored in the form of energy do not have an expiry date. The potency of various drugs is obtained by dilution, which involves vigorous shaking if the medicine is in liquid form, through a process called succussion, or by finely grinding or pulverising if the drug is insoluble.

Dr Britto Wilbert Das of Roch Homeo Clinic concurs, saying that it is quality and not quantity that is important in homeopathy where a spark of energy is all that is needed to trigger the body's immune system to act and effect a cure. The greater the succussion, the better the drug quality its purity and power being enhanced. And any toxicity it may contain is simultaneously removed.

While conceding that double-blind studies of homeo drugs were under way in some places, Dr Das and Dr B. Anantaraman of Arudhra Homeo Clinic, Chennai, however say that such a study is ideally not possible.

Allopathic cure is based on objective symptoms unlike homeopathy, which uses both objective and subjective symptoms as felt by the patient. While allopathy has a specific drug for a specific disease condition, a single homeo drug may be used for varying conditions and also several drugs may be used for a single condition.

Individualisation is the cornerstone of homeopathy treatment. No two people with the same or similar conditions need be given identical drugs or in identical potency. In fact they may require entirely different sets of drugs based on the totality of symptoms. Hence, a double-blind study may not be possible to prove the efficacy of homeo drugs.

However, the efficacy of homeo drugs have been verified using investigative procedures followed in allopathy, they say.

On the issue of constitutional remedies, Dr Das says not all diseases are treated thus. However, he says, it is possible to classify people as belonging to a specific constitution-type based on dominant features and match them with the constitutional drugs. It is the evolution of a particular characteristic trait in an individual that is important in selecting remedies, he says. He cites extensive work done by Dr George Vithoulkas of USA, Dr Catherine Couloter, Dr Praful Vijaykumar, Dr P. Shankaran and others, which have proved the efficacy of constitutional remedies.

More often than not, patients approach homeopathy when all other systems have failed, when their bodies have been treated to a host of drugs, thus masking their true, original condition. This compounds the task for homeopathic doctors, necessitating them to "tear down and rebuild from a state of chaos". Needless to say, the system is often faulted for being slow or even ineffective!

According to Dr Das, though there are thousands of homeo drugs, about 70 of these alone can do wonders in almost all kinds of ailments, provided patients seek the right kind of help at the right time and from the right source!

Dr Kumaresan and Dr Kanakaraj cite some of their successes in treating difficult conditions. One of their patients, 80-year-old M. Swamy was a diabetic and afflicted with Coronary Artery Disease (CAD).

With over 90 per cent multiple blocks in the blood vessels of his heart he was advised by-pass surgery, which he could not undergo owing to low blood pressure. Doctors gave him a few days of life; that's when he decided to take the plunge anyway and try homeopathy. Thanks to the treatment, he says, he is much better and living well.

Parvati conceived thrice and had miscarriages each time. The reason for repeated miscarriages was loss of foetal fluid. She also tried artificial insemination, in vain. With four months of homeo treatment, Parvathi conceived and delivered a healthy baby girl in 2005.

The two doctors vouch for the curative and palliative effects of homeo drugs. If diagnosed early, homeopathy can cure even cardiac conditions, where by-pass surgery can be avoided and blocks removed. In diabetes, kidney disorders and hypertension, individuals can be cured to the extent of 30-40 per cent and at less expense. In HIV/AIDS, the intensity and degree of disease can be palliated and quality of life made better. Even in cases of cancer, a 10-20 per cent cure is possible. In 40 per cent of cases, life expectancy can be comfortably stretched by about 15 years and in the rest, it will be a peaceful termination within two years, they point out.

According to the practitioners, homeopathy does wonders in paediatric cases, especially those with asthma and related problems, for women in the menopausal stage, psoriasis, vitiligo (leucoderma) and other skin disorders, cardiac ailments, rheumatoid arthritis and many other diseases where allopathy has barely made its impact felt.

At the same time, homeopaths do not deny the efficacy or necessity of conventional allopathic treatment, especially for emergencies, accidents and fractures.

PICTURES BY THE AUTHOR

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated April 7, 2006)
XThese are links to The Hindu Business Line suggested by Outbrain, which may or may not be relevant to the other content on this page. You can read Outbrain's privacy and cookie policy here.