Homeopathy, Skeptics & Chinese Food: A Placebo Effect Cul De Sac, Featuring Tina Fey & Her New Book, Bossypants

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When I am not busy trying to make the world safe for homeopathy, I am often busy reading books and reviewing them for the New York Journal of Books—and, in doing so, I am busy trying to make the world safe for readers as well.

In the book I am now reading for my next review, Bossypants by Tina Fey, I came upon a short chapter that resonated with me.  Called “I Don’t Care If You Like It,” the chapter had to do with the concept of whether it is right or wrong for women to be comedians.  But there was something in the universality of people having the right to do or think as they like that hit close to home with me.  So I thought I’d share it with you.

First a few chapters from Bossypants:

“Amy Poehler was new to SNL and we were all crowded into the seventeenth-floor writers’ room, waiting for the Wednesday read-through to start.  There were always a lot of noisy ‘comedy bits’ going on in that room.  Any was in the middle of some such nonsense with Seth Meyers across the table, and she did something vulgar as a joke.  I can’t remember what it was exactly, except it was dirty and loud and ‘unladylike.’

“Jimmy Fallon, who was arguably the star of the show at the time, turned to her and in a faux-squeamish voice said, ‘Stop that!  It’s not cute!  I don’t like it.’

“Amy dropped what she was doing, went black in the eyes for a second, and wheeled around on him.  ‘I don’t fucking care if you like it.’  Jimmy was visibly startled.  Amy went right back to enjoying her ridiculous bit.  (I should make it clear that Jimmy and Amy are very good friends and there was never any real beef between them.  Insert penis joke here.)

“With that exchange, a cosmic shift took place.  Amy made it clear that she wasn’t there to be cute.  She wasn’t there to play wives and girlfriends in the boys’ scenes.  She was there because she wanted to do what she wanted to do and she did not fucking care if you like it.

“I was so happy.  Weirdly, I remember thinking, ‘My friend is here!  My friend is here!’ Even though things had been going great for me on the show, with Amy there, I felt less alone.

“I  think of this whenever someone says to me, ‘Jerry Lewis says women aren’t funny,’ or ‘Christopher Hitchens says women aren’t funny,’ or ‘Rick Felderman says women aren’t funny…Do you have anything to say to that?’

“Yes.  We don’t fucking care if you like it.

“I don’t say it out loud, of course, because Jerry Lewis is a great philanthropist, Hitchens is very sick, and the third guy I made up.

“Unless one of these men is my boss, which none of them is, it’s irrelevant.  My hat goes off to them.  It is an impressively arrogant move to conclude that just because you don’t like something, it is empirically not good.  I don’t like Chinese food, but I don’t write articles trying to prove it doesn’t exist.”

Which all goes to show that cosmic shifts can happen anywhere, any time.  They can happen while reading the next book that you are to review.

So thanks Tina Fey for setting me straight, for letting me see just how arrogant it is of the Skeptics to not only decide that homeopathy is not for them, but to also take the next step and, like Chinese food, start writing articles and making videos announcing that it does not exist.

If I have had not just one but multiple healings through the use of homeopathy, then, say the Skeptics, either it was all a coincidence and my symptoms were going to go away anyway, or I am just too much of an idiot to know that I have been tricked and fooled, again and again.  Because I am ssssoooooooooo easily lead that I can believe that I have been healing just because someone waves a wand at me and says that I have been healed.  (Funny how that never seems to work with allopathic drugs, no matter how many wands are waved and now matter how much I believe in them as well.  But placebo effect is a wacky old thing, it just comes and goes, comes and goes…)

So let me say this to the Skeptics (and, by the word Skeptic, let me note that I am not addressing those who are generically skeptical, those who are actually asking questions with the intent of getting answers, no I am addressing those who have more formally named themselves Skeptics and who have made it their business to be more or less the medicine police for a world that neither needs not wants such a service), in Tina Fey’s vernacular, when it comes to homeopathy, those of us who have spent our lives studying it, practicing it and/or being treated by it “don’t fucking care if you like it.”

You can take it or leave it.  As can I.  And I choose to keep it.  I choose to continue being treated by it, and writing about it, and studying it and seeing to it that it remains a legal form of medical treatment in my own country and in countries around the world.

Because this is where you really make me mad, Skeptics, when you don’t just satisfy yourself stamping your feet and shouting.  When you take it upon yourself to try and see to it that the laws change and that I no longer have the right to have the medical treatment of my preference.  And that is where you are making your mistake, Skeptics.  You should have stuck with your phony “Oh, look I overdosed by taking homeopathic remedies incorrectly in a way that would never actually cause an overdose for a homeopathic remedy, although, were it an allopathic drug, it likely would have killed me!” videos.  Because when you seek to take away my legal rights, you get me mad.  And millions of others just like me.

You see, people don’t like being told what to do, especially by an arrogant group of loudmouths.  You may get some media attention just for the novelty of it all, but I think that you will find that, in trying to drive homeopathy into the ocean, you actually get many people who have no intention of actually taking homeopathy themselves, upset enough to see to it that your measures don’t work.

Why?

Because just like Tina Fey, millions of people agree that “just because you Skeptics don’t like something, does not mean that it is empirically not good.”

And we don’t have to convince you of anything.  We don’t have to prove a damned thing to you.  And we have the right to choose when it comes to our own medical care–not you, never you.  Honestly, and we mean this from our holistic little hearts, we just don’t fucking care if you don’t like it.

Homeopathy exists.  And homeopathy is loved by millions.  Just like Chinese food.

Medicine, Healing & The “Placebo Effect,” Part One

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I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about the “placebo effect.”

I warn you up front, this is likely to be long, likely published in pieces as I find the time.  But I can’t help it.  I find this whole topic to be damned interesting.

Mostly because I have noticed that the Skeptics—that crazy-quilt of organizations in the English speaking world who are making such a noise on the internet when it comes to something near and dear to my heart, homeopathy—tend to use the term “placebo effect” as those being cross-examined in court use the Fifth Amendment, as way of putting an end go conversation and a means by which they can always claim “victory,” even if it is of the Pyrrhic sort.

I think we are all aware of the idea of what a placebo is and what the placebo effect must therefore be, but, when you stop and think about the manipulation of reality that the blanket term “placebo” covers, you have to reconsider both what the term means and what the implication of its existence—and no one doubts its existence, apparently, not even the Skeptics themselves (and they doubt everything it is possible to doubt, as we shall see)—means.

First, though, a note on the Skeptics.

If you haven’t had the pleasure, you should look into the activities of the various groups that comprise the movement, sort of a Tea Party of the medication, philosophical and metaphysical realm.

I have recently become quite enamored by one of the Grand Old Men of the Skeptic’s movement, one Robert T. Carroll, PhD, who hosts the site The Skeptic’s Dictionary, on which he gives his viewpoint—and, more important, the reasons for his viewpoint—on topics ranging from, as he puts it, “Abracadabra to Zombies.”

Carroll’s academic background serves him well in his Skully-ish search for the “Truth.”  He was, until his retirement four years ago, a professor in the philosophy department of Sacramento City College—a position he held for thirty years.  Somewhere along the way—he is kind of cagey about his personal evolution as “skeptic”—he got downright skeptical and, as a result has built a very interesting website.

Because the purpose of that website is skepticism—it is called The Skeptic’s Dictionary, after all—he has quite a lot to say about religion, science and, of course, “alternative” medicine.

Now, regular readers of my blog and of my books all know how I hate the term “alternative” medicine, it that the term itself establishes allopathy as the thing that homeopathy, et al, are alternative to—in other words, allopathy is medicine, and everything else is an alternative.  My belief is that either it is medicine or it is not.  Hippocrates spoke of both homeopathy and allopathy (not by name, of course, but by philosophy) two millennia ago, either establishing both as systems of medical treatment, or setting himself up as a target for the Skeptics to go running after…

But the hated “alternative” term aside, Carroll has much to say about the topic at hand, “placebo effect,” in his Skeptic’s Dictionary.

Here’s a taste:

“A person’s beliefs and hopes about a treatment, combined with their suggestibility, may have a significant biochemical effect, however. Sensory experience and thoughts can affect neurochemistry. The body’s neurochemical system affects and is affected by other biochemical systems, including the hormonal and immune systems. Thus, it is consistent with current knowledge that a person’s hopeful attitude and beliefs may be very important to their physical well-being and recovery from injury or illness.

“The psychological explanation seems to be the one most commonly believed. Perhaps this is why many people are dismayed when they are told that the effective drug they are taking is a placebo. This makes them think that their problem is “all in their mind” and that there is really nothing wrong with them. Yet, there are too many studies that have found objective improvements in health from placebos to support the notion that the placebo effect is entirely psychological.

“Doctors in one study successfully eliminated warts by painting them with a brightly colored, inert dye and promising patients the warts would be gone when the color wore off. In a study of asthmatics, researchers found that they could produce dilation of the airways by simply telling people they were inhaling a bronchodilator, even when they weren’t. Patients suffering pain after wisdom-tooth extraction got just as much relief from a fake application of ultrasound as from a real one, so long as both patient and therapist thought the machine was on. Fifty-two percent of the colitis patients treated with placebo in 11 different trials reported feeling better — and 50 percent of the inflamed intestines actually looked better when assessed with a sigmoidoscope (“The Placebo Prescription” by Margaret Talbot, New York Times Magazine, January 9, 2000).

It is unlikely that such effects are purely psychological.”

First, let me encourage everyone to read the whole of Carroll’s long consideration of the placebo effect at his website.  I cannot include the entire article here due to its length, but I do think it is one of the better articles on his site.  (Some, like his article on Naturopathy are both factually incorrect and academically weak due to Carroll’s biased stance.  Like most of the Skeptics, he proves himself far from being actually skeptical about anything other than the specific topics that define their group focus.  About allopathy, for instance, he shows no skepticism at all, no matter how toxic various forms of allopathic treatments have been clinically shown to be.)

I want to borrow one more bit from Carroll’s article on placebo effect before sharing my thoughts on the matter.  Consider H. K. Beecher, who brought the concept of placebo into the modern age.  Indeed, he is credited with coining the term “Placebo effect” in his 1955 paper entitled “The Powerful Placebo.” Mid-twentieth century, he was intrigued by the fact that more than half of patients with certain conditions—common complaints like heart trouble and digestive disorders—could be significantly helped by doing nothing other than suggesting that they had been helped.  To explore the idea, he set up a number of studies.  Carroll comments on what happened next:

“Beecher started a wave of studies aimed at understanding how something (improvement in health) could be produced by nothing (the inactive placebo). Unfortunately, many of the studies have not been of particularly high quality. In fact, it has been argued by Kienle and Kiene (1997) that, contrary to what Beecher claimed, a reanalysis of his data found “no evidence of any placebo effect in any of the studies cited by him.” The reported improvements in heath were real but were due to other things that produced “false impressions of placebo effects.” The reanalysis of Beecher’s data claims that the improvements were due to:

“Spontaneous improvement, fluctuation of symptoms, regression to the mean, additional treatment, conditional switching of placebo treatment, scaling bias, irrelevant response variables, answers of politeness, experimental subordination, conditioned answers, neurotic or psychotic misjudgment, psychosomatic phenomena, misquotation, etc.”

(Now, it should also be noted that Beecher (1904-1976), who was born Henry Unangst in Peck, Kansas, took the name “Beecher” as a young man in order to align himself with the New England Beechers, perhaps with famed preacher Henry Ward Beecher (not the similarity of the names), although he had not actual relation to them.  And it should be noted that Beecher is known to conspiracy theorists internet-wide because of his alleged involvement with the CIA in human drug tests, most notoriously on post-WW II German prisoners.  Apparently no placebos were used in these tests.)

Moving forward, let’s try to find some meaning in this mess.

Let’s start from the place of agreement:  the placebo effect exists.  There may be some disagreement as to exactly what it is, how it works and how effective it is (what it’s limits are in terms of health and healing), but all sides agree that there is some validity connected with the idea of the placebo effect.

Now to get some sort of working definition.  My computer’s built-in dictionary defines the term as:  “a beneficial effect, produced by a placebo drug or treatment, that cannot be attributed to the properties of the placebo itself, and must therefore be due to the patient’s belief in that.”  Not the greatest definition, but what do you expect from the dictionary that comes built in on your computer for free?  Much as dislike definitions that use the term itself or any aspect thereof in defining the term, let’s use this, at least for now.

The key word, for me, in that definition is “belief.”

Which brings to mind something that Carroll wrote in this consideration of the topic:  “Patients suffering pain after wisdom-tooth extraction got just as much relief from a fake application of ultrasound as from a real one, so long as both patient and therapist thought the machine was on.”  While we are not given full information here and do not know the differential between those therapists who did not think the machine was one and those who did, the point is made.  For the pain to be relieved, both patient and therapist had to believe the machine was one. Again, belief seems to be the key.

This summons a scripture from some lobe or other.  Matthew 18:20.  “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.”  There’s a great deal of power to be had in the gathering of twos and threes, especially when they gather in a state of belief.

I know that the Skeptics would be choking on their Saltines if they were reading where this is going, because I have noted how often the path of skepticism leads to atheism and have seen how many of the groups of Skeptics are connected with groups of atheists.  And I know the issue that many Skeptics have with medicine that will not stay in the box labeled medicine that they have constructed for it, but instead expands to include the idea of healing, even to the point of placing it over the concept of curing, a simple change that leads to huge consequences.  Especially as one looks again at medicine from the viewpoint of healing and not curing.  (More on that another day.)

Nearly two thousand words in and all we have so far is that we are all agreeing to one degree or another that the placebo effect exists, even if the scientific proof of its existence seems scanty at best (making your wonder why the Skeptics are so quick to grab hold of the phenomenon as the blanket explanation for why homeopathic and other “alternative” therapies work).  And the only other thing we have established so far is my own addition that, in the center of the concept of the placebo effect is the idea of belief.  But what the definition of “belief” is and the revelation as to exactly what that belief is based on and targeted to, well, that will have to wait until another day.

For now, I’ll stop here.  But I await hearing from some of you, to know what you think so far and what your beliefs are where the placebo effect is concerned.

Where Is Carlos Castaneda When You Need Him?

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Is it all right to admit to a certain sense of ennui when I hear that the old Flying Monkeys themselves, this time all dressed up as dragons, are back and stamping their assembled feet (some 400 strong, apparently, and so a total of 800 feet all told), all for the sake of maligning homeopathy?  Is it all right to feel a little irritated as well, as the Monkeys are apparently no better read, no more intelligent or honest or truthful in their work than they were a few months ago when the flew in the window here, kicked the furniture around a bit then then flew back out again with very little ventured and most assuredly nothing gained?  And is it just plain wrong of me to wish that the group would at least attempt to design better logos, posters and such, or is the homemade look all part and parcel with their “just plain folks attitude?”

 

I mean, as logos go, come on:

 

 

Flying Monkey in Dragon Drag

 

 

 

Ah, well, we must go back a bit in order to move forward.

 

Seems a while back a small group of irate folks in Great Britain decided that, because they themselves do not particularly like homeopathy–not that any of them have ever actually used it, studied it, gone to see a homeopathy or even read a book on the subject–that it should not be a legal alternative medicine in the UK.  They demanded that it be removed from the national health care.  When this project failed, the groups spend a little while meeting in its various cells–most of whom meet in pubs, apparently, and one met a while back in a member’s home, where he prepared a nice dinner for them of margaritas and fajitas (for which he kindly posted his recipe online).

 

You almost can’t help but like these guys.  I picture them as a gaggle of guys with the cliched pocket protectors and horn-rimmed glasses.  They seem overtly polite (except for the few who email threats of death to those who write kindly of homeopathy), and infinitely dedicated to homeopathy, unless, one assumes, the meeting is called for the same night as the next Dr. Who special is set to air.

 

So when I heard of their new and thrilling adventure, one in which all four hundred of them, scattered around the globe, would purposely overdose on homeopathic drugs in order to prove that, as far as drugs go, homeopathic drugs are nothing, nada and should, I guess, therefore be thrown in the sea, stomped into the ground, etc, etc.  Click here in order to get a look at the blog posting put up by the irrepressible Rhys Morgan advertising the event a few weeks back.

 

So the event came and went this week.  I had forgotten about it, until a friend on Facebook posted an article from NPR.  (Good to know that NPR is putting all its McDonald’s money to good use.)  To get a look at that, click here.

 

Note:  It’s fun to see the Amazing Randi again (or at least the Amazing Randi muppet that they seem to be using in place of the real thing these days).  Life would be a little sadder and duller a place without the Amazing Quackbuster Randi in it.  And don’t we all feel a bit safer knowing that he is out there busting quacks for our sake?

 

What the Monkeys have proven is that they have the ability, in the age of the internet, to manipulate the media and put their cause before the public.  For that they are to be congratulated.  But not for their experiment itself.  That was a faulty and as wrapped up in Bad Science as the Skeptics themselves usually denounce.  As the Skeptics are all about Good Science and insist that they are as upset about Bad Medicine (of the sort that I have been writing about recently) as I am, then it seems to me that, if they are going to test the perimeters of homeopathic medicine and its efficacy by setting out to willfully overdose, then the should actually set out to overdose and not to just pretend.  If we are all about Good Science, guys, then it seems to me that you should not substitute stunts for science.  If you respect science as much as you say you do, then your scientific experiments should be structured like actual scientific experiments.  At least if you want anyone to actually take you seriously.  Besides the Amusing Randi, of course…

 

Click here for a video from the NPR site that was put online as part of the 10:23 Campaign’s Day of Overdose.  Take a minute to watch the video.  It’s important.

 

Now first thing that you will see is that the Skeptic is most jovial.  A really nice guy, the kind of guy you’d like to have margaritas and fajitas with.  But, when it comes to testing homeopathy by creating an overdose, he has proven nothing except that he has not a clue as to what homeopathy is or how you overdose on it.  Here’s why:

 

First, he has selected a mixed remedy. As anyone who has attended the most basic homeopathic class or read the simplest book on homeopathy can tell you, Samuel Hahnemann, the Father of Homeopathy, railed against one practice more than any other:  polypharmacy.

 

 

"S. Hahnemann"

Samuel Hahnemann, The father of Homeopathy, author of the Organon

 

 

And in his Organon of the Medical Art, Hahnemann says again and again that polypharmacy is wrong, it is ineffective and it is dangerous–both in homeopathic and allopathic medicine.  Second of Hahnemann’s Three Laws of Cure is the principle that says One Remedy at a Time.  So when Mr. Skeptic in the dragon hat selected a substance that had more than one homeopathic remedy it in, he selected something that was NOT a homeopathic remedy at all.  I don’t care where he bought it or how much he paid for it, or what the label says, if it has more than one homeopathically prepared remedy in it, it is NOT homeopathic.  Not now, not ever.  So, before he even sprayed the spray in his mouth, he voided his own experiment because of his complete ignorance of the very thing that he was testing.

 

Now, you can’t blame him.  The concept of homeopathy has been so bastardized these days that some people confuse the word homeopathy for “herbal.”  Others use it interchangeably for “holistic” or even “natural.”  And yet, I assure you that the word homeopathy means something specific.  And that the practice of homeopathy is something quite specific, working from a well thought out philosophy and more than two hundred years of clinical practice.  Indeed, the principles of homeopathy date back far more than two hundred years.  Hippocrates, for instance, wrote about the homeopathic method of working more than two thousand years ago.  So you can’t blame the poor Skeptic for being confused.  What you can blame him for, however, is the fact that he was so ill prepared for his “experiment” that he set it up in such as way as to negate the findings.

 

Now, second, there is another glaring issue with this Skeptic’s “experiment.”  It has to do again with his ignorance of homeopathy.  He bought a bottle of some sleep potion.  I will not judge it one way or another, except to the degree that I already have (if it has more than one homeopathic remedy in it then it is bastardized homeopathy and not homeopathic in any real sense–therefore, I cannot speak for its efficacy).  What I will speak to is the method in which he “overdosed.”  If the bottle of a given homeopathic remedy says to take one pellet or one spray and you double it, you are not doubling the dosage.  The dosage stays the same.  You can drink the whole of the bottle in one sitting and it is still one dose.  What creates an overdose is a repetition of the dose.  Say he took it every half hour.  One spray.  Each new dose would work with the old and the remedy would begin to assert itself.  It is in the repetition and not in increasing the amount of the single dose that you create a “proving” or an overdose of a homeopathic remedy.  (And, let me restate that, as this was not a homeopathic remedy, but some combination of remedies put out by some company, I can’t be sure, not knowing what’s in it, what potency or remedies, whether you could EVER overdose on it or not, however much or however often it is taken.)

 

But what I can say is that, should the Skeptics ever really want to explore the nature of homeopathy and see for themselves whether or not it really works, then they need to go about it another way.  They need to take it as seriously as they would any other experiment.  They need to set it up correctly and to have it overseen and recorded correctly.  If, at that point, they want someone to tell them how they can really overdose on a remedy, they can ask me.  I will tell them, just as soon as they sign the “hold harmless” documents that will protect me if they are harmed in any way while conducting the experiment.

 

Now, for the real skeptics out there or for people who might actually be interested in learning more about homeopathy, I want to give you a link to my newest book.  It is available only as a Kindle download right now, but it will be available throughout the free world–including, however slightly, the UK at present–sometime this spring.  I’ll have to let you know the publishing date.  But here’s a link to the book, called What Is Homeopathy? Those wanting to really know the answer to that question (hint, it’s not “herbal”, “holistic”, “natural” or “quackery”) might want to take a look.

 

Do-It-Yourself: Homeopathic Remedies for the Treatment of Cough

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My friend Rhonda, whose first cold of the season inspired me to write about the most commonly used homeopathic remedies for those who suffer from colds and flu, writes:

“I have a request. I loved your blog post about the colds and sore throats. I think I have a better understanding, although still extremely shallow, of how the homeopathic remedies work. The Allium Cepa was amazing. Then, as my cold morphed into other symptoms, I just wasn’t ready fast enough to respond. By the time I had identified where I was, and what I should take, I had moved to the next stage. Could you write another column that talks about what to do when the cold reaches the chest? Varieties of cough, and spasm cough, and so on. If I had both columns to use as a reference, I think next time I could be ready. I’ve never been more aware of the stages and changes in a cold as I have been this time, and that is a homeopathy inspired awareness. Before, a cold was a cold, but I didn’t really pay attention to what was going on other than I felt awful.

“Thank you so much for sharing this knowledge. It is quite exciting to find there are viable options out there that are not in the pharmaceutical companies’ pockets.”

Who am I to disagree with Rhonda?  So I happily share with you the names and descriptions of the most commonly-used homeopathic remedies for coughs that accompany colds.  This list will help all those whose colds move down into their chests.

There are just a few basic cough remedies, although getting to be able to tell the difference among them just by the sound of a cough takes a lot of practice.  So try to use the cough as just one of several symptoms and consider the totality of what is happening with the patient aside from the cough and you’ll have a much higher success rate.

The Three most common remedies for those with a cough are:

DROSERA:  This is the remedy for dry, spasmodic and croupy coughs.  Use this remedy when the coughing patient sounds like a barking dog.  Listen for the ringing sound to the cough.  There is almost an echo to the cough, it is a rounded sound as well as an explosive sound.  The patient’s larynx will look red, inflamed and irritated.  Like SPONGIA, there is a constriction in the throat.  The patient commonly will complain of a tickling in the throat..  The cough may be shallow in the throat, or deeper in the chest, making it a croupy cough.  Sometimes the patient may insist that the cough is coming from the abdomen.  Patients needing this remedy often suffer form spasms of coughing that they cannot control. Spasms of coughing most often suddenly appear after midnight and may be so severe and long-lasting to cause vomiting.  Look for the patient to have to support his or her chest and/or stomach from the coughing fit.

SPONGIA TOSTA:  This is by far the easiest remedy to tell by sound alone.  Listen for a harsh cough that sound like a saw cutting through wood.   The cough is sudden, loud and frightening, for patient and caregiver alike.  While ACONITE and HEPAR SULPH will both also have croupy coughs, neither will have the jarring surprise quality of SPONGIA.  Listen carefully: the SPONGIA cough has a rasp to it.  SPONGIA patients will be awakened by the sound of their own cough, usually soon after going to bed, in the period of time before midnight.  Like the LACHESIS, the SPONGIA patient will feel a constriction and suffocation in the throat.  They are worse from talking, from cold drinks and from over-excitement.  Indeed, the SPONGIA patient may have difficulty speaking at all because of their cough.  Along with it, they will experience shooting pains in the chest or a fixed sensation of a heavy weight in their chest.

RUMEX CRISPUS:  Made from yellow dock, RUMEX heals patients whose coughs are dry and shallow.  These coughs are set off by a tickle in the throat or in the pit of the throat just above the breastbone.  The keynote symptom is that the patient will keep the covers up over his or her mouth as he or she breathes in order to warm the air before breathing it in, as cool air triggers a coughing fit. (No other remedy for those with coughs will have the sensitivity to cold air that Rumex has—this is a very helpful symptom to use in the selection of this remedy.)  Another keynote symptom of RUMEX is that the patient feels that it is taking all their strength of body and mind to keep from coughing.  So the patient will breathe as shallowly as possible and as slowly as possible.  The patient does not want to talk, because it will make them cough.  Doesn’t even want to be spoken to.  The cough is worse before midnight and when lying down.  Touching the throat will bring on a coughing fit.  NOTE:  RUMEX is commonly used to treat coughs that come on in the autumn, when days are warm and nights are cold.  RUMEX is the general remedy for all upper respiratory conditions that come on during this time of year.

The Go-To remedy for Colds that move into the Chest:

PHOSPHORUS:  PHOSPHORUS is the first remedy to think about for colds that begin in the head and throat but quickly moved down into the patient’s chest.  This is particularly important if the patient is a child.  Also if the illness involves the patient’s ears as well, with either earache or ear infection.  (Constitutionally, this is the first remedy to consider for young patients who are prone to ear infections and/or upper respiratory weakness.)  The PHOSPHORUS patient is among our most pleasant.  This is a needy patient, one who wants company, but not a demanding or angry patient.  The PHOSPHORUS will seek attention and will feel better when he or she gets it.  They love to talk and to laugh, although both may trigger a coughing fit.  The PHOSPHORUS cough starts as a simple, dry cough.  It then becomes loose and the patient may cough up a good deal of mucus.  The mucus may be blood-streaked.  (This is a clear indication of the need for this remedy.)  The patient will experience heat in his or her chest.  The patient will crave cold water and cold foods, which will soothe the throat but make the cough worse.  Look for the patient’s breathing to be shallow and rapid and for the patient to experience a sensation of tightness all across the chest.  Typically, with the onset of illness, the PHOSPHORUS patient’s ears will turn bright red and very hot.  This is a keynote sign of this remedy.  NOTE:  all the PHOSPHORUS patient’s pains will be burning in nature, this, too is a sign of the need for this remedy.

Other Remedies for patients with coughs:

ACONITUM NAPELLUS:  Think of this remedy for coughs that accompany the onset of the cold.  That do not develop over time, but burst suddenly forth, after the patient has been exposed to cold, dry wind.  For coughs that suddenly come on, usually accompanied by a sudden, high fever, after a child has been out playing in the cold weather.  These are coughs that are common in autumn and winter.  Sudden coughs in excited, flushed patients who do not want to rest, but want to run about.  Excited patients who may be fearful or exhilarated.  ACONITE is also an important remedy for children who have sudden croupy coughs.  The ACONITE cough is typically hoarse, loud and dry.  The patient will complain of a sensation of tingling in the chest that comes on after fits of coughing.  For the sudden cough that is accompanied by fever in an excited patient, always think of ACONITE.

LACHESIS:  If the patient coughs in his or her sleep without waking or coughs when awake without being aware of it, strongly consider a dose of LACHESIS.  This is the remedy for simple dry coughs that come on in suffocative fits.  If the patient feels as if he cannot breathe when coughing and rushes to the window and it relieved by breathing in cold, fresh air, the remedy of choice is LACHESIS.  The LACHESIS patient is very sensitive to touch, particularly in the area of the throat.  If the patient refuses to allow you to examine his throat or to touch him on his throat, or if he responds to having this throat touched by feeling suffocated, the remedy of choice is LACHESIS.  The patient may complain of the sensation of a plug in his or her throat.  They may also complain of a tickling in their throat that is the cause of their cough.

HEPAR SULPHURICUM:  The need for this remedy is a sign that the illness is becoming more serious and that perhaps an infection is present.  The patient will complain of the sensation of a plug, or, more commonly, a stick caught in their throat.  The patient’s throat feel raw and ragged.  This the remedy when the patient’s cough is very loose, and he or she is coughing up a great deal of mucus.  The mucus is yellow and thick.  It may be bloody at times.  The HEPAR patient coughs when he is cold, when any part of his body is uncovered.  This is a patient who wants to be warm, wants to rest.  Look for the HEPAR patient to typically have to sit up in order to breathe and to bend his head back while sitting.  This is the only way he feels he can get enough air.  Listen and you will hear the the HEPAR cough has an unusual croaking sound to it.

IPECAC:  This is a remedy to consider for a cough that is moving toward bronchitis.   The illness that responds to IPECAC comes on swiftly, moving from a simple head cold down into the chest in just a day or two.  The cough is damp and very deep.  Listen for a rattling sound in the chest when the patient coughs.  There will be a great deal of mucus in the chest.  The IPECAC patient will commonly experience choking and a sense of suffocation when they cough.  The patient may have a hard time breathing.  The patient’s fits of coughing are commonly accompanied by nausea, which is keynote to this remedy, and can be accompanied by vomiting as well. When the coughing fits end in vomiting, this is the remedy of choice.  The IPECAC patient is worse in a warm room.  Concomitant symptoms include a stuffy nose and nose bleeds.  The IPECAC patient is needy, but often doesn’t  know just what he or she needs.  The IPECAC patient flails in his or her illness and wants attention, wants to be cared for.

ANTIMONIUM TARTARICUM:  Historically, this remedy is known as the “drowning man’s remedy,” for reasons that will become clear.  This is the remedy to keep in mind for a really deep cough, one that is moving or has moved into bronchitis.  Listen for rattling in the chest and a chest full of mucus.  The patient seems to be drowning from within, and has difficulty breathing. The symptoms come on very slowly, and the cold, which may have been mild enough in the beginning, has moved deeper and become a more serious situation.  The patient will cough and cough and will be unable to bring up any mucus.  The cough sounds wet, and will become more and more painful for the patient as he or she becomes weaker and weaker.  The patient may ultimately be too weak to expectorate the mucus.  In general, the patient is short of breath but lacks the strength to sit up in order to breathe more easily.  Note that with symptoms this serious, a trip to the doctor or the emergency room may be called for.

With this short list of remedies, you have more or less the full picture remedies for patients with coughs that accompany colds and flu.  As the season progresses, I will add to this group of lists, with a list specific to fevers and another for flu.  For a more detailed account of these remedies and many others and their home use, take a look at my book Practical Homeopathy.

 

Do-It-Yourself Medicine: Does Homeopathy Offer the ONLY form of Effective, Safe and Affordable Medicine?

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A hundred or more years ago now–roughly the time between the Civil War through the whole of the Great Depression, it is said that every home in New England had a homeopathic kit under the bed.  And that the woman of the house knew how to use it.  During that same time period, between one third and one half of all the doctors in the United States used homeopathic remedies to one degree or another.  “Eclectic physicians” roamed the land–practitioners who today we would call naturopaths, who exclusively used natural therapies to strength the immune system and to combat disease.

Then things began to change.  We moved into a period in which antibiotics and steroids seemingly replaced the need for natural medicine, specifically for homeopathy.  During these years–the period of time in which I was born and grew to adulthood, always partaking freely of all that allopathic medicine had to offer–homeopathy came to be seen as old-fashioned. Then it was seen as something silly.  And then, with the best efforts of the quackbusters, as the worst form of medical fraud.

In this environment and during this period of time, only those who, like me, experienced a total failure of allopathic medicine in our own lives were ultimately desperate enough to give homeopathy a try.  Personally, when I attended my first lecture on the subject in the summer of 1980 (having moved to the state of Connecticut, which, unbeknownst to me, was a hotbed of homeopathy), I made so much fun of the subject matter and of the speaker–an unfortunate little gentleman with a bow tie and a passionate dedication to what I thought was the stupidest excuse for “Medical treatment” that I had ever heard of–that I not only was personally unmoved by his lecture, but managed to undermine his message for everyone in the room, thanks to the series of bon mots that I delivered in not too much of a sotto voce from the back row.  I sat with my arms folded, staring at my red Converse All-Stars, waiting for the lecture to end.  Peggy, my friend who had brought me, was red-faced.  She jabbed me in the side with her elbow, but I was enjoying the moment too much to stop.  And, besides, it was all just too easy:  Microdoses?  Come on.  Like Cures Like?  On what planet?

It was voodoo to me.

It was still voodoo when I ultimately went to see my first homeopath. By then, I was producing TV for PBS stations in New England and co-hosting my own show as well.  The job was good, but stressful.  I developed colitis which morphed into Crohn’s Disease and, after I got a prognosis of a strong likelihood of colon cancer at some point in the future, I decided what so many others have decided:  that I had nothing to lose by giving homeopathy a try.

Where allopathy couldn’t cure me–despite the fact workers had good health insurance in those days and I lived in a state with some of the best medical professionals in the nation–homeopathy did.  It’s just that simple.  It wasn’t overnight.  But I improved seemingly overnight.  Within days of my first visit, and within hours of taking my first remedy, Sulphur, I improved dramatically.  And I haven’t had a bout of colitis in over twenty years.  It’s gone.  I am healed of it.

That’s my story in a nutshell.  It was a common enough story in the ’70s and ’80s and ’90s.  But things are different now.  Not that we have found a better form of medicine, something that works better than homeopathy.  No, what has changed is the sheer number of people who are now desperate as I was desperate.  In this time of great economic strife, with millions unemployed and many, many millions uninsured or underinsured when it comes to health care–and, worst of all, in a time in which our politicians are using health reform as a means of getting votes and not as an issue that needs to be tackled head on and solved (Are you listening Congressman Boehner, you of the orange face and the shriveled heart?)–the crisis and the desperation is not being caused by any one illness, but, instead, by the fact that so many of us have no means of getting any form of healthcare.  We have no access to it.  We can’t afford it.  I have been denied health insurance for years now–not because I can’t afford it, but because I inherited labile hypertension from my father and therefore can’t find an insurer who will cover me.  (Are you listening, Mr. President–when you push for coverage of pre-existing conditions, could you also push for a cap on how much the insurers can charge me before you force me by law to buy health insurance?  Just a thought…)

With so many of us uninsured, unemployed, underinsured and underemployed, we need to take a tip from the New England housewives of old:  we need to all have a homeopathic remedy kit under our beds, and we need to learn how to use it.

I’ve spent thirty years of my life studying, teaching and writing about homeopathy and I have learned the following:  it is a safe form of self-treatment, it is a form of self-treatment that the average lay person can learn to use effectively and appropriately for typical household emergencies, it is a surprisingly cheap form of medical treatment, and it is, above all else, a wonderfully effective form of medical treatment.

This is not to say that there are not some other great forms of holistic healthcare available today.  Acupuncture is a magnificent form of treatment, as is chiropractic medicine.  But the difference is this:  of all the forms of safe and effective holistic treatments, only homeopathy can be learned and practiced in the home.  I, for one, could not imagine learning how to stick needles into my own arm or the arm of someone dear to me who is suffering.  In the same way, I can’t imagine doing a chiropractic adjustment on myself, my family members or my dog.  I can and do, however, know what remedy to use when I have a cold or a flu, or when someone in my family has a toothache or experiences a physical injury.  In more severe emergencies, I know what to do until the ambulance arrives.  But taking charge myself, but learning what I need to learn, I am able to cut my medical expenses (you should excuse the pun) to the bone, while enjoying a form of medicine that is safe, effective and inexpensive.

I say that it is time for millions of Americans to realize that our circumstances have shifted. That there will be no quick solution to the economic troubles that we are in.  Hillary Clinton once famously noted that “it takes a village” to raise a child.  Nowadays, it takes a village to keep a village afloat.  If we are to wait until the politicians solve the almost overwhelming array of issues in front of us, we shall surely die.  If we wait until healthcare reform actually takes place in this country, I fear that our deaths will be from old age.

Better to let this circumstances that are now driving so many of our thoughts and actions lead us to a better way.  In these days of desperation, isn’t it time we all gave homeopathy a try?

Do we really have anything, at this point, to lose?