Friday, 25 November 2011

Homeopathy review

About a decade ago I became interested in natural alternatives to mainstream medicine. I had some minor but long-term health issues that were not clearing up despite the amount and combination of drugs I was being prescribed, and I got really frustrated with it all. Dr. Google arrived on the scene, and I was able to research into the options not being mentioned by my GP. The final straw was when I was booked in for surgery because a benign ovarian cyst had not cleared up, and the surgeon was so dismissive of my questions and queries about other options, while telling me she would remove a healthy ovary if she felt it was necessary, and had no guarantees either way, so I cancelled the day before.
This really spurred me on to look after my health, and since then I've lived by the maxim "prevention is better than cure". I'm really interested in how diet plays such a huge part in overall health, both physically and mentally. This is something I only discovered in my early 20s, so I'm still learning. For example there is a serious condition in my family that my aunt has been taking prescription drugs for 20 years to keep it at bay, it's incurable and degenerative. I have had early warning signs of it for the last 5 years or so, and have kept them in check by reading up on it and increasing certain minerals and oils in my diet when it flares up. This has worked for now, and I hope it will continue to do so.
My grandad suffered with alzheimers before his death, which is such a tragic condition, and was especially difficult for the family caring for him. Recent research shows that brain function can be impaired by ongoing vitamin and mineral deficiency over a lifetime. Simple vitamin B Complex tablets are the first step to helping older patients with memory loss. All too often doctors wait until a condition has been established, then prescribe the heavy-duty drugs to minimise the damage and repair where necessary. What a pity that we get to this stage. Previously in Chinese cultures for example, the doctors were responsible for maintaining health, not curing illnesses.
(I know I'm not citing any references for these "facts", sorry, I'm lazy! You can google any of them, or contact me and I'll refer you to my sources! I wanted this to be an opinion post, not a reference article!)

I can't remember how or when I discovered Homeopathy. I know I used it regularly for morning sickness in my first pregnancy 4 years ago, and it worked on my constant nausea, only needing a remedy every 2-3 days. Homeopathy comes usually in pill/granule/ powder form (sometimes cream i.e. arnica/calendula). There are different strengths (potencies) and thousands of remedies (chamomilla/pulsatilla/arnica...) that are originally derived from plants/minerals but now contain NOT ONE ATOM of the original solution (this is the bit my scientific mind has a problem with). Like flower essences (Rescue Remedy et al) it works on the premise of containing the essence or life force of the healing plant. It supposedly restores balance in your mind and body, enabling the body to heal intself and your symptoms to disappear. Hmm. (see list below for more on my scepticism)
I was given it during both my labours (home births) for pain relief, and it was the only thing I used. It worked like a charm on my 14.5 hour first labour with my 9lb 4oz (4+kg) son, and the second, more intense 4 hour labour with my second son. More difficult than the physical sensations was my fear and panic in labour, and the midwife managed that really well with homeopathy. There would be a tricky contraction, the midwife would give me a sip of one remedy dissolved in water, it would/would not work, she'd give a different remedy if needed, and it would work, and labour progressed well.

In my experience when a remedy does not work, ie, it's the wrong remedy for that symptom, there is no physical change. However when I get the remedy right, it's like a cleansing feeling throughout the body, starting in the mouth the second I take the pill. I've been reading up on it, and buying remedies for my minor complaints and I've built up a good collection. They are great for whenever my babies get a bug, and deal with teething and fevers well too. I also discovered amber teething necklaces when my first son started teething, and he cut all his teeth without drugs, just wearing the necklace night and day.

I'm still on the fence regarding it's efficacy though, despite using it regularly for me and my babies. I'm of a scientific bent, I don't believe anything exists unless you can prove it to me.

Reasons I think it works:
It got me through two labours
It helped manage (not cure though) my morning sickness
It works on my babies and they just know it as the "shake-y sweets", I don't tell them that they're sick, nor that they're being given medicine.
"Teetha" teething powder is accepted for mainstream teething pain relief
Arnica cream is accepted as a mainstream bruise healing cream
I honestly feel it working when it's worked.
I've had bad moods disappear instantly on taking the right remedy. Like magic. Before I could be in a funk for a whole day until I'd slept it off.
I have had problems disappear and not reappear for months, when before I'd get them days/weeks later

Reasons I think it's bunkum:
There is no scientific proof it works, only anecdotal
You cannot trace any medicinal quality in the pills, they could be just sugar
If the original element is so diluted, how can it have any effect?
It's too wishy-washy
You can't overdose on it. Therefore there's nothing in it
It's probably placebo effect

I've never seen a homeopath. I've been self-prescribing. Which I don't see a problem with as you can't get it wrong. If you take the wrong remedy all that happens is you don't get better. It's foolproof. It's cheap (about 6-8 euros for a remedy in a health shop). I turn to it in the scary nights when my child is running a fever and I'm considering calling a doctor, and it helps them and me. My children have never seen a GP, never had to take mainstream medication. A lot to do with that is the breastfeeding, but I think homeopathy has had a part to play in it too. My baby has calmed down from unexplained evening crying (colic?) with chamomilla. My son's viral fevers were managed with belladonna. They were unaware of the process, but it seemed to work. That's good enough for me.

I don't think it can or should replace conventional medicine, but for minor ailments it seems to work. It is truly a complementary medicine, and can be taken alongside conventional medicine to promote healing. It works for mental and physical problems too. I like that the mental state is taken into account with the physical state when prescribing. I really believe body and mind are linked, and if homeopathy is nothing more than a placebo, it's one that works for me, and that alone keeps me turning to it.

My next area of research will be ayurveda, I think it works along the same principles, restoring a balance in the body, but using herbs and spices to do so. Turmeric (in the form of curcumin) is used in many prescription antifungal creams, and I've used neat turmeric to cure some skin problems, applied topically. There is scientific reasearch into turmeric as a cure for alzheimer's, cancer and arthritis. I'm fascinated by these discoveries, and love googling natural remedies for minor ailments, then going to my kitchen cupboard and using these fantastic substances that we take for granted. Please share any knowledge or natural remedies in the comments!


  1. Hi Niamh-Regarding your blog on homeopathy-as you know I come from a nursing background where everything is evidence based.I have read up on homeopathy and I really don't have an understanding for how it works.However I feel I don't need to know how it works-it's enough to know that it does work and it doesn't have side effects.I have used it,under the guidance of a homeopath,on a child with very bad constipation,a toddler with earache and fever and on myself while in labour.I do not believe it was a placebo effect as my children were not aware they were taking any meds at the time.We are learning about our world all the time and we have so much more to learn.One of the homeopaths I attended is also a G.P.If one man is capable of using Western mainstream medicine and homeopathy why are others not?It is a fact we use far too many antibiotics and are now open to antibiotic resistant bacteria.The various fields of medicine-mainstream and so called 'alternative' need to work together for the good of mankind.This may mean leaving less cash at the feet of the pharmaceutical giants,if so,so be it.

  2. Thanks Mairead, it's great to hear a balanced perspective, from someone who knows both sides of the argument. I do agree "alternative" treatments are too easily dismissed by the mainstream, much to our detriment. My few queries about homeopathy are outweighed by my own experience and success in using it, and I will continue to use it for my family. You can't doubt it's effects on children, and animals too I've heard!

  3. Just came accross your blog and love it for its simple, strightforward, honest, considered perspective. Our bodies are battered and bruised from everyday living and we are all searching for something to help. If homeopathy helps in any way whatsoever, go with it! Since you mention Amber for teething in this article, I wanted to let you and your followers know that they can find amber for healing for adults and for babies on my website Amber is an adaptogen, that is it helps boost the immune system to help the body help itself. Like homeopathy, amber throws up as many questions as it answers but as Mairead above says "it's enough to know it does work"

  4. I totally agree Niamh - it is sad but GP's are not healing us but only the symptoms, and we need to do a lot of research to get ourselves 'back on track'. For me it's shocking, even more when we think they take 50eu for a visit ;)

    On homeopathy - I also think it cannot be a placebo effect (children) and I would have no doubts about its effectiveness with your labour experience plus all those 'healing sensations' you had and the bottomline is as you said - can't do any harm (or at least not greater than mainstream meds)

    On my bottles it says that homeopathy is curing 'same with same' i.e. the medicines in the granules would cause the runny nose/pain/cough if taken in large doses but taken small they are encouraging the body to heal - it sound good for me :)

    about the diet - I was such an ignorant about the influence of food on our bodies...I still can't believe I was sooo stupid about it because it is so simple (hmm come to think about it: all simple things are hard to understand, aren't they?) Now I'm trying to eat good but old habits die hard....(and I think a sweet tooth never dies!)
    Have you read Dr Gerson's book about healing cancer with foods only? OLD theraphy with huge success but not very profitable (for groceries only) so yhe mainstream is not that interested...
    Fingers crossed for your 'you vs your long-term health issue' fight!


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