In defence of homeopathy

2009-06-19 00:00

ALTHOUGH his columns are entertainingly acerbic, William Saunderson-Meyer relies on derision rather than fact to convince us of the inefficacy of homeopathy (Weekend Witness, June 6 and June 13). Below are a few facts to take into account.

Most homeopaths I know would consider themselves to be practising as complementary practitioners, not in opposition to conventional medicine. Just as any responsible GP would do, we refer our patients to specialists for their opinions or to a GP for antibiotic therapy when necessary. Through the five years full-time study we undertake, we are trained to diagnose medically and use the same diagnostic techniques as any medical practitioner, conducting physical examinations, sending for blood tests, X-rays, etc. to confirm a suspected diagnosis.

Our approach to healing though is often different, as we strive to stimulate each individual’s healing processes by the use of ­homeopathic medicines that most closely correspond to the specific way the patient is responding to the illness he or she is experiencing. It is misapplication of this principle of homeopathy that has given rise to the studies that Saunderson-Meyer reports have shown homeopathy to be no more effective than placebo. I will consider one of the examples he uses — acute diarrhoea. Patients who have diarrhoea often have a range of differing symptoms and signs — the colour and consistency of the stool will vary; associated symptoms will vary, such as fever, nausea, pain, dizziness, clammy perspiration, headache, thirst or lack thereof, etc. The homeopath will take each of these into account to select the remedy that will most stimulate the person’s unique response to the pathogen associated with the diarrhoea. Consequently, 20 different patients with diarrhoea could be given 20 different homeopathic medicines to treat the specific reaction their body produces. When medical researchers ­attempt to assess the clinical efficacy of homeopathy, it is usually subjected to the conventional medical model, where one or two homeopathic medicines are given to dozens, or hundreds of patients with the same diagnosis, with no consideration of the different manifestations of the disease process in each individual. This is not homeopathy, and is akin to giving an antibiotic to every patient with viral influenza and then concluding that conventional medicine failed because the ­patients did not recover.

The fact is that many studies have been conducted, some of them by research students at South Africa’s own two homeopathic training institutes, the Durban University of Technology (DUT) and the University of Johannesburg, that have proven the efficacy of homeopathy when applied ­correctly. A few of these studies are detailed below.

A study by Linde et al (1997) published in the highly regarded medical journal, The Lancet, analysed 189 studies and concluded that the clinical effects of homeopathy could not simply be ascribed to placebo, and called for further research on homeopathy. Another, more recent study was that conducted by Klopp et al (2006), as reported in the journal Microvascular Research. They investigated the microcirculatory effects of a homeopathic preparation in patients with vertigo, using vital microscopy techniques. After 12 weeks of treatment, patients receiving the homoeopathic preparation exhibited improvement in all four parameters measured (including an increased blood flow in the site selected for evaluation), None of these changes were observed in the placebo group and the differences between groups were statistically significant. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study recently completed at DUT by Dr Ashnie Maharaj showed a statistically significant improvement in insomnia in patients treated by individually selected homeopathic medicines, as opposed to those treated with placebo.

While this may not be HIV, TB or malaria; these studies have proven homeopathy’s ­efficacy to be greater than that of placebo treatment. If the system of homeopathy works for these ailments, it can’t be concluded that it won’t work for other conditions.

In my practice, I have witnessed the ­incredible benefits of ARV medications on patients with Aids and don’t hesitate to recommend them to patients whose CD4 counts indicate that they would benefit from them. However, I also have seen many patients kept well for long periods after a diagnosis of HIV, by using homeopathy and other natural therapies to support their immune function. If a patient has TB or malaria, I will refer them for appropriate conventional therapy and don’t know any homeopath who would not do that.

Our profession is regulated by the Allied Health Professions Council and this body serves to protect the public from any unscrupulous practises. If anyone feels that a homeopath has treated them unprofessionally or has been guilty of malpractice, they have recourse to this council. I would encourage anyone to follow this route if they feel they have been taken for a ride by a charlatan.


• Rouen Bruni is a Pietermaritzburg ­homeopath.

What is homeopathy?

HOMEOPATHY is a system of medicine which is based on treating the individual with highly diluted substances given in mainly tablet form, which triggers the body’s natural system of healing. Based on their experience of symptoms, a homeopath will match the most appropriate medicine to the patient.

It works on the principle of “like cures like” — that is, a substance that would cause symptoms in a healthy person is used to cure those same symptoms in illness. For example, one remedy which might be used in a person suffering from insomnia is coffea, a remedy made from coffee. —


What is complementary medicine?

COMPLEMENTARY medicine refers to a group of therapeutic and diagnostic ­disciplines that exist largely outside the institutions where conventional health care is taught and provided.

In the seventies and eighties these disciplines were mainly provided as an alternative to conventional health care and hence became known collectively as “alternative medicine”. The name “complementary medicine” developed as the two systems began to be used alongside (to “complement”) each other.


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