Section 3: Homeopathy Basics and Model of Disease
Homeopathy is based on Five Main Principles, and our understanding of homeopathic medicines is derived through detailed scientific analysis of provings. If a medicinal action of a medicine has not been understood through analysis of a proving on a healthy individual, then the information about that medicine is unreliable.
The Five Main Principles of Homeopathy include:
Provings are done by giving a healthy person a particular substance to see what symptoms are produced. It was important that the “prover” be healthy to ensure that changes they were experiencing in their bodies were a result of the remedy. This is how Hahnemann maintained scientifically accurate information. Hahnemann was the first person to do homeopathic provings. As described in the History section, Hahnemann’s first proving was taking high doses of the herb called Cinchona. While doing this, he took very detailed notes on all of the symptoms he developed. Provings have been done on thousands of remedies since the inception of homeopathy, and they are the guides that allow us to know how to use each remedy correctly (the materia medica). Of note, some substances had a long history of causing poisonings in many people – these records are not only helpful in adding to our understanding of the symptoms and diseases they can cure, they were the early, unintentional form of provings!
Case: Two Colds in One House
Timothy was happy-go-lucky as his mom sent him off to school that cold winter morning. As the after school bell rang and class let out, excited about the newly fallen snow, Timothy forgot to wear his hat and gloves and he ran outside with his friends to play. By the time he got home, he felt miserable and wanted to be wrapped up warmly. He said the he couldn’t get warm, no matter how many sweaters he put on. While his mother tried to bundle him into warmer clothes, he wiggled around restlessly and picked at the sheets on his bed. He also complained of a sore throat, saying “It burns! It burns!” Cathy, an attentive mother, was concerned about her son, and tended to him by his bedside throughout the afternoon and evening, bringing him warm drinks that he would sip slowly, the only thing that seemed to bring him any relief. Finally Timothy drifted off to sleep and Cathy took herself to bed. It had been a tiring day.
When they woke up, Timothy still felt the symptoms he was experiencing the night before, and now Cathy was feeling sick too. This surprised her because she had felt fine when going to sleep. Cathy felt feverish and wanted to uncover herself, and her throat seemed to hurt more on the left side, and was worsened when she touched it. Thinking that she had gotten whatever bug Timothy had brought home the day before, and remembering that he felt better when drinking hot tea she decided to make some for herself. Much to her disappointment, this made her throat feel much worse. She found that instead, the opposite was true for her, and she felt relief only when drinking cold things. Timothy still felt chilly and stayed wrapped up the whole day, while Cathy felt quite warm, and spent most of the day in shorts and a loose-fitting t-shirt.
Cathy decided to reach out to her naturopathic doctor for help, but before we tell what happened, lets take a look at this case from a homeopathic perspective, utilizing the five main principles.
A) The Law of Similars or “Like Cures Like”
The law of similars, or “Like Cures Like,” explains that each plant, mineral, or chemical, when given in a high enough dose, creates its own unique set of physical, mental, and emotional symptoms. The first “like” refers to the symptoms of the drug disease, for example the symptoms experienced by persons in the provings upon taking high doses of natural substances. The second “like” refers to the symptoms of the patient’s disease, for example the symptoms one may experience when they get the flu.
With homeopathic treatment it is crucial to recognize that every person, when ill, has their own unique presentation. It is rare that two people, even living in the same house and afflicted with the same “bug” will have the same symptoms.
In the case above, Timothy and his mother both came down with a flu, most likely from the same virus, and both had a main complaint of a sore throat, but the details of their symptoms varied greatly. The medicine that will ultimately help Timothy will be different than that which will help Cathy because their symptoms are not the same, the correct remedy will match the unique symptoms Timothy and Cathy present with.
B) Vis medicatrix naturae or “the healing power of nature”
Vis medicatrix nature is Latin for the healing power of nature. This refers to the understanding that all of life has the inherent power to heal itself. For example, if you get a cut on your hand, your body jumps into action to heal the cut. It activates the clotting cascade to stop bleeding, your immune system is stimulated to prevent infection or stop infection from spreading beyond the injury, and after a time, the body heals the cut. Homeopathic medicines do not actually heal you, but rather they stimulate the “healing power of nature” by giving your body information, empowering it to heal more effectively and quickly.
Going back to our case….
Taking a look again at Timothy and Cathy, it is important to recognize that the symptoms they are experiencing are signs of what is called “untunement of the vital force” (which will be described in greater detail in Section 4). Whenever the “vital force” is in “tune” the being is healthy, but when it is “untuned” the person is susceptible to disease or illness, and develop symptoms. This is a very natural response, and the symptoms produced are wise. For example, fatigue forces the body to rest so that it can expend its resources on fighting off the virus. Fevers work to activate the immune response, as well as make the body a less hospitable environment for a virus, which can only survive at normal body temperatures. What this means to us, is that the human body will always work to fight off acute illnesses, and in most cases, will recover on its own without treatment. What homeopathy does is help speed that process up by stimulating the body to do what it already does naturally.
The law of individualization refers to the fact that diseases express themselves differently in different individuals. This law ties in closely to the law of similars, as it is the basis for recognizing the appropriate medicine for the individual.
Going back to our case of Cathy and Timothy, as already discussed above, because Timothy has different symptoms than his mom Cathy, he will need a different medicine than she does. The substance that Timothy’s medicine was made from, when given to a healthy person, will cause chills, restlessness, and burning sore throats made better with warm drinks. Looking again at the “law of similars,” we can ask: Would that same medicine used for Timothy work for Cathy- who is hot and whose throat hurts worse when she drinks hot tea, just because she also has a sore throat? Not likely. This exemplifies the importance of individualization in how diseases may present differently between people.
D) The Law of Potentization or “Use The Minimum Effective Dose”
Potentization refers to the process of preparing homeopathic medicines through serial dilution and succussion. Serial dilution is a process in which the original substance is methodically reduced in concentration. Succussion refers to the vigorous shaking of a diluted substance. With each subsequent dilution and succussion, the amount of the original substance decreases, and the medicine actually becomes more “potent.” Potency is not to be confused with toxicity, as full strength substances are completely different than homeopathic preparations. In fact, homeopathic preparations contain less than 0.000000000001 mg of the original solution and therefore contain none of the original toxins. Despite this, they have been found to be an extremely effective medicine if properly prescribed.
When reflecting on the effectiveness of potentized homeopathic medicines, Homeopathic physician James Tyler Kent (1849–1916) writes in Kent’s Lectures: “The homeopath observes wonderful changes resulting from potentized medicine and being compelled to reflect he sees that crude drugs cannot heal the sick and that what changes they do effect are not real but only apparent.” Kent is essentially observing the impressive effect potentized homeopathic medicine has on healing a sick patient, and calls into question the application of high dose medicines, as they are not only generally ineffective, but also potentially toxic and harmful for the already sick patient. (Refer to Kent’s Lectures)
Preparation-As mentioned, homeopathic remedies are potentized via serial dilution and succussion. They are typically available in the following forms: 12X, 30X, 6C, 30C, 200C, 1M, 10M, 50M, CM, and MM. The less potentized being 12X and the more potentized being MM. The X refers to a 1:10 dilution, which means you have 1 part substance and 10 parts water. The C refers to a 1:100 dilution, which means 1 part substance and 100 parts water. A 30C for example is a 1:100 serial dilution done 30 times. The M refers to 1000C, and 10M refers to 10,000C. At about 12C you are far beyond Avogadro’s number, which refers to the number of constituent particles- often atoms or molecules- in one mole of a given substance which is about 6.02×1023. This means that by the time you have potentized the medicine to 12C, for all practical purposes, the chance of finding a single molecule of the initial substance in the final product is zero.
Not to give too much away, but the remedies that Cathy and Timothy are going to need are both from toxic medicines. Both of the remedies that are going to be needed to cure the cases with Timothy and Cathy are toxins when given in material doses. The potenization and dilution is important because it allows us to safely use substances that in material doses would cause harmful effects but, when homeopathically prepared, are powerful medicines.
How Does Homeopathy Work?
The natural question that follows is: How can this possibly have any effect on the body? The short answer is that nobody knows for sure. There have been a multitude of attempts to explain homeopathy, as well as disprove homeopathy.
Some postulate that homeopathy is “energy medicine,” or that water contains memory of water-bond angles caused by the preparation of a homeopathic remedy. Others say homeopathy works through quantum mechanics/physics by amplifying vibrational frequency. Though none of these theories can be disproven, none can be proven either. What seems to be the best explanation is “Information Theory” which states that the homeopathic remedy gives the body information on what it looks like when it is in a state of “untunement” or “illness” or “disease” and then as a result of this, the body reacts and the process of healing takes place. The best text that I’ve come across on this topic is the book: The Emerging Science of Homeopathy: Complexity, Biodynamics, and Nanopharmacology by Paolo Bellavite and Andrea Signorini.
Hahnemann’s explanation, of how homeopathy works is found in Aphorism 269 of the Organon of Medicine, where he writes:
“For its own special purpose and by its own special procedure, never tried before my time, homeopathy develops the inner, spirit-like medicinal powers of crude substance to a degree hitherto unheard of and makes all of them exceedingly, even immeasurably, penetrating, active, and effective, even those that in the crude state do not have the slightest medicinal effect on the human organism.
This remarkable transformation of the properties of natural bodies through the mechanical action of titration and succussion on their tiniest particles (while these particles are diffused in an inert dry or liquid substance) develops the latent dynamic powers previously imperceptible and as it were lying hidden asleep in them.
These powers electively affect the vital principle of animal life. This process is called dynamization or potentization (development of medicinal power), and it creates what we call dynamizations or potencies of different degrees.”
Basically Hahnemann is saying that homeopathic preparations of crude substances transform properties of particles, making them active and effective by bringing out their inherent powers of stimulating the vital force.
Of all the theories and explanations that exist, we can very generally agree on one thing: Homeopathy stimulates the body to heal itself by re-tuning the vital force (I like to call this “vital resiliency”).
When one is fortunate enough to have the experience of seeing the re-tuning the vital force, and the respective healing of the body, we see something amazing take place. Hahnemann describes this Aphorism 9 of the Organon of Medicine, he writes: “In the state of health the spirit-like vital force animating the material human organism reigns in supreme sovereignty. It maintains the sensations and activities of all the parts of the living organism in a harmony that obliges wonderment. The reasoning spirit who inhabits the organism can thus freely use this healthy living instrument to reach the lofty goal of human existence.”
Hahnemann then concludes in Aphorism 6 with “The observer realizes the futility of metaphysical speculations that cannot be verified by experiment, and no matter how clever he is, he sees in any given case of disease only the disturbances of the body and soul…” Therefore, regardless of all of the theories and postulations on the mechanisms on how homeopathy works, the more appropriate action is to focus our attention on accurately prescribing based on symptoms the patient has, and upon observing Aphorism 9, celebrating that homeopathy does in fact work!
E) Single Remedy
All of the provings were done using a single natural substance in a healthy person. Therefore our understanding of homeopathic medicines is based on the symptoms caused by that particular substance. There are a number of combination products available in the market, however, it is impossible to truly and accurately discern their appropriateness in clinical situations as we do not have any scientific evidence showing what kinds of unique symptoms would be produced in a person taking multiple substances concurrently.
Additionally, when a person develops a disease, there is only “one disease” occurring, or only one imbalance in their vital force causing all of their symptoms. Therefore we only need one remedy to correct this.
It is very important to understand that homeopathic medicines give the body information, and with that information the body reacts. Think of driving a car, when it is time to turn left, you move the steering wheel to the left, this gives the car the information that makes the wheels turn on their axle and the car responds by turning left. If you told the car to turn left and then gave it more information telling it to simultaneously turn right, the multiple pieces of information will interfere with each other. It is the same with homeopathic medicines.
If we go back to the cases of Cathy and Timothy, let’s look at Timothy: He had a sore throat with burning pain that was better drinking warm drinks. So let’s say we give him the appropriate remedy; the body will receive the information and then start to respond by healing itself. But then let’s say Timothy’s mother also gives him her homeopathic remedy “for good measure.” Though Timothy’s mom had good intentions, what this will do is give the body different information, and interfere with his reaction to the remedy most indicated for his individual symptoms. This interference will likely stop him from reacting to his appropriate remedy and therefore inhibit him from getting better quickly.
Besides the medicinal implications of taking multiple remedies, there are logistic reasons to give only one remedy at a time. The main one is that it makes it much easier for decision-making. So let’s say that you took Cathy’s case, and she had a fever, sore throat, better with cold drinks and worse with touch. But you were not sure which remedy was the correct one, and you gave her a combination remedy. If she reacts to the combination product and gets better, but then stops reacting and needs a change in the potency or preparation of the remedy, you will not know which remedy in the combination product she needs and was reacting to. Homeopathy is empiric in nature…the only way to know if a remedy is working is to see improvement in symptoms.
Section 3 Summary:
So let’s recap. We have talked about the importance of “like cures like,” where high doses of a crude substance will produce symptoms in a healthy person that a homeopathic preparation of that same substance may cure in a sick person with those same symptoms. We discussed the “healing power of nature,” describing how when a person becomes ill, that the body has an inherent healing ability, and how homeopathy can promote, support and expedite this process. In the case of Cathy and Timothy, we learned about how different people can have varying symptoms when sick with the same disease. We also talked about the power of the “minimum effective dose,” which explains that medicines are not only safer in homeopathic doses, but also more medicinally therapeutic.
With the case of Timothy and Cathy, there were two flues in one house, each person having very different symptoms. Cathy and Timothy went to see their naturopathic doctor who looked at each of their cases individually, searching for symptoms that are unique, individualizing, and characteristic.
In Timothy’s case, the most characteristic symptoms were that he had burning pain in his throat that was better by sipping warm drinks. He was also restless, and extremely chilly. For those who have some background in homeopathy, what homeopathic remedy does this sound like? If you guessed Arsenicum, you are correct! Timothy was given Arsenicum album, which is a homeopathic medicine made from the toxic substance arsenic. When given in crude doses, Arsenic produces symptoms that can look just like the ones Timothy presented with, and upon taking the homeopathic remedy, Arsenicum, Timothy very quickly reported feeling considerably better.
Cathy on the other hand, presented with a different set of unique symptoms despite having caught the same virus that Timothy had. Cathy reported throat pain that was worse on the left, worse with touch, and better with cold drinks. She wanted to wear loose fitting clothing, and was overall much warmer. By looking at Cathy’s individualizing and unique symptoms, what homeopathic remedy do you think she needed? If you guessed Lachesis, you are correct! Cathy was given Lachesis, which is a homeopathic medicine made from Lachesis muta, which is venom of the Bushmaster snake. In high doses, Lachesis muta medicine can produce symptoms exactly like what Cathy was presenting with. Just like with Timothy’s case, upon taking her homeopathic remedy, Cathy noticed that by the end of the day that her sore throat was much improved, and her fever was gone.
Next Blog Entry- Section 4: What is Illness and What is Healing? The Pied Piper of the Vital Force.
About the Author: Dr. Nicole Cain is a classically trained homeopathic physician with expertise in the treatment of bipolar disorder and other mental health conditions. Her passion is to raise the standards of homeopathic prescription and to educate students and doctors about the science and therapeutics of homeopathic prescribing and treatment. You can learn more about Dr. Cain by going to www.DrNicoleCain.com