Worth Learning About
by Liz Koch
First published in 2005
Plagues and epidemics bring a chilling fear to the imagination. Worse case and what if scenarios can definitely shake up even the most steadfast person. How then do we personally and communally think about and prepare for the unthinkable? Educating ourselves may be one of our most powerful resources. Rather than having a knee jerk reaction, becoming informed helps us recognize our choices and options.
From past experience Homeopathy stands out as a worthwhile possibility even when pondering the horror of epidemics and plagues. Homeopathy proved not only valuable during the smallpox epidemic but was recognized as a potent antidote for malaria. With its official start being the effective treatment and prevention of scarlet fever during the epidemic of 1801, Homeopathy has an impressive 200-year-old track record.
Currently categorized as alternative medicine at best and hocus-pocus at worst, Homeopathy was brought to the United States in 1885 by medical doctors educated in Europe. By the mid-1800 a medical organization was established that developed into several medical colleges. Among them was The New England Female Medical College, the first medical school in the U.S. to admit women. By the turn of the century there were 22 homeopathic medical colleges, and one out of five doctors used homeopathy.
The first homeopath in California was Dr. Benjamin Ober who arrived in San Francisco in 1849. The first hospital in the East Bay was The Oakland Homeopathic Hospital and Dispensary and in 1884 the first homeopathic medical college in California was founded at the corner of Stockton and Geary. Two of its profes sors were Dr. Samuel Lilienthal (the father of the famous Lilienthal family of San Francisco) and Dr. James Ward (who served as commissioner of the San Francisco Health Department during the 1906 earthquake). Florence Ward, MD, the first woman physician admitted into the American College of Surgeons was a well-known and respected homeopathic physician who owned her own hospital and sanitarium. Specializing in obstetrics her hospital utilized homeopathic medicines regularly as well as the most up-to-date medical technologies. Homeopath Dr. C.W. Breyfogle was San Jose city’s mayor and Homeopathic physician Dr. Albert Abrams was a professor of pathology and the dean of clinical medicine at Stanford.
But with the thrust of the industrial revolution the move toward the mechanical model of the body and of disease resulted in all but eliminating homeopathy in the United States. By 1910 only 15 colleges remained and by 1940’s no homeopathic hospitals existed. Only the American Foundation for Homeopathy, which began to teach homeopathy as a post-graduate course for doctors in 1922 and is still to this day run by the National Center for Homeopaths.
Homeopathy in Europe however maintained its respected place within medicine. It’s said that the Royal Family has been under homeopathic care since the 1830s. In Britain, France and the Netherlands homeopathic education is still a vital part of many medical schools.
Homeopathy is used worldwide explains author of the History of Homeopathy Dana Ullman It is even more popular in Asia, especially India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Homeopathy spread in India, in part, because of the support it received from Mahatma Gandhi who was reported to have said that it “cures a greater number of people than any other method of treatment,” but also because it has been effective in treating many of the acute infectious conditions and the chronic maladies on the subcontinent. The World Health Organization’s journal World Health Forum noted, “Homeopathic treatment seems well suited for use in rural areas where the infrastructure, equipment, and drugs needed for conventional medicine cannot be provided. Today there are over 120 homeopathic medical schools in India.
The Father of Homeopathy Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, M.D was a German physician. Hahnemann first coined the word “homeopathy” (“homoios” which in Greek means similar, “pathos” means suffering) to refer to the pharmacological principle, the law of similars. The idea of the law of similar (like cures like) goes back through ancient civilizations. Hippocrates and Paracelsus spoke of it as did many cultures, including the Mayans, Chinese, Greeks, Native American Indians, and Asian Indians but it was Hahnemann Ullman writes, who codified the law of similars into a systematic medical science.
The story goes that when Hahnemann entered Medical school he had a professor that challenged his student to devise an experiment to disprove the current theory of Similars. Dr. Hahnemann devised what is now a famous experiment where he ingested the shavings of the Bark of the Cinchona Tree and developed all the full-blown symptoms of a malaria patient. He then used a diluted form of the same substance to reverse his symptoms. Eventually Hahnemann used the same substance as a remedy to treat actual Malaria patients. Coining the word Homeopathy in 1797, he went on to write his textbooks The Organon of Medicine and The Materia Medica.
Dana Ullman one of America’s leading advocates for homeopathy and the author of six books, including Everybody’s Guide to Homeopathic Medicines co-authored with Stephen Cummings MD., believes that Homeopathy is re-experiencing a renaissance in the United States. Serving on advisory boards of alternative medicine institutes at Harvard and Columbia schools of medicine he observes that in the early 1970s there were only 50-100 physicians who specialized in homeopathy, and yet by the mid-1980s, it can be estimated that there are approximately 1,000 physicians who specialize in homeopathy.
The F.D.A. Consumer magazine has recently reported a 1000% increase in sales of homeopathic medicines from the late 1970s to the early 1980s. Ullman says that contrary to some critics who think that people try homeopathy only because they are uneducated, research published in the Western Journal of Medicine showed that homeopathic patients tend to be considered even better educated than the average American.
Regulated by the Food and Drug Administration the manufacture and sale of homeopathic medicines is legal. The Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States was written into federal law in 1938 under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Most homeopathic remedies are available without a prescription. Although states regulate the practice of homeopathy, the use of homeopathic medicines for self care of acute ailments is available to all, and those who keep a homeopathic kit in their house for domestic emergencies, are free, under the laws of most states, to use them in such situations. To learn more about the history and appropriateness of homeopathy readers can read Dana Ullmans book Discovering Homeopathy: Medicine for the 21st Century or visit the National Center of Homeopathy’s web site at www.homeopathic.org