Classical Homeopathy versus the Combination Approach
Homeopathy is a medical system that attracts some skepticism in the United States, and for many people it is surrounded by an aura of mystery and borders on hocus pocus. Yet homeopathy is widely used and valued by millions of people around the world, especially in Europe, as an effective mode of treatment.
Not all homeopathy is the same
What many people may not realize is that there are two types of homeopathy, and while they are both rooted in the same principle of "like cures like" (explained below) and the concept of treating the entire person and not just a symptom (i.e., holistic approach), they differ significantly in the way remedies are selected and dispensed. Understanding the differences between the two different homeopathic approaches may change how people view--dare I say even accept--homeopathy.
Another thing about homeopathic remedies many people may not know is that they are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as drugs, although the FDA does not evaluate the remedies for effectiveness or safety. However, the FDA does require that the active ingredients in homeopathic remedies be listed in the Homeopathic Pharmacopeia of the United States (HPUS). Makers of homeopathic remedies also must follow specific policies, which are described in the FDA's guide, "Conditions Under Which Homeopathic Drugs May Be Marketed."
For consumers, one of the basic understandings is knowing the difference between classical homeopathy, which involves choosing a single-ingredient remedy for an individual based on a wide range of criteria unique to the person; and a form of homeopathy that utilizes remedies containing a combination of ingredients selected to take a multi-targeted treatment approach.
Classical homeopathy is the child of Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician who developed the principles of homeopathy in 1755. One principle is the Law of Similars (like cures like), which says that if a substance can cause symptoms of an illness in a healthy individual, then giving that same substance to a sick person with similar symptoms will cure him or her.
Let's say you are allergic to ragweed and experience a runny nose and watery eyes. You could take an allopathic (conventional) medicine such as an antihistamine. However, a classical homeopathic doctor (after interviewing you) might prescribe allium cepa, which is red onion. Anyone who has cut up red onions has likely experienced a runny nose and watery eyes, therefore allium cepa is one homeopathic remedy recommended for allergy with these symptoms.
However, in classical homeopathy, there is no such thing as a standard or off-the-shelf remedy for, say, allergies or headache. Just because you might be prescribed allium cepa for your allergy does not mean your sister, best friend, or coworker with allergies would be prescribed the same remedy.
In classical homeopathy, a homeopathic doctor identifies which remedy is uniquely suited for a person's constitution. For example, a person who suffers with headache may be asked where the pain is located, what makes the pain worse, what makes the headache feel better, her state of mind, what other symptoms she has experienced along with the headache, what seems to trigger the headache, and so on. Depending on the answers to these and more questions, the homeopathic physician will prescribe a single-ingredient remedy.
Combination ingredient homeopathic remedies
Another German physician, Hans-Heinrich Reckeweg, MD (1905-1985) became interested in homeopathy and studied it extensively after a homeopath cured his father of a serious kidney ailment. As this conventionally trained MD began prescribing homeopathic remedies for his patients, he made two major observations: patients often needed another remedy after being prescribed the first, and many diseases seemed to be caused by exposure to external and/or internal toxins.
Eventually these observations led Reckeweg to formulate his own combination homeopathic remedies, and he got good results. The next step was to make the combination homeopathic remedies available to the world, so he started a company called Heel (an acronym of four Latin words: herba est ex luce, or "Plants come from light.").
Today there are a number of companies that offer combination homeopathic remedies. The ingredients in these remedies are chosen based on the Materia Medica, the reference volume for homeopathy that lists hundreds of remedies and information such as the symptoms people might show who could benefit from the remedy and clinical uses for the remedy.
While classical homeopathy involves settling on just one remedy from the Materia Medica and HPUS based on information gathered about a patient, the combination approach chooses a number of remedies, also from the Materia Medica, and mixing them together.
For example, a combination homeopathic remedy for cold made by Heel Inc. contains pulsatilla and sulphur. Some of the indications for pulsatilla (and these are simplified) include itchy eyes, discharge from the nose, stuffed up ears, chills, and cough. For sulphur, indications are head congestion, headache, watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing, and cough.
Combination homeopathic remedies often contain more than two ingredients. A homeopathic remedy for minor pain and inflammation called Traumeel® by Heel, for example, contains 14 different homeopathic ingredients, all of which address pain and/or inflammation-related symptoms.
Future articles will explore other aspects of homeopathic remedies, especially those that contain a combination of ingredients. For now, consumers should take away the message that not all homeopathic remedies are alike, and that the "other" homeopathic approach, which utilizes a combination of ingredients in its remedies, is an alternative to classical homeopathy and a form whose benefits are currently being explored using scientific methods.
Food and Drug Administration
Image: Author/Heel Inc.