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Homeopathy Basics for Beginners & Skeptics

"What is homeopathy, really?"... We integrative physicians get this question a LOT! 

Homeopathy is commonly confused with naturopathic or herbal medicine. It is not a synonym, but rather a specific modality used within the broad scope of natural medicine. It emerged through observation of the phenomena that “like cures like” in the 18th century. 

Homeopathic remedies are dilute preparations of natural substances sourced from plants, minerals, and even metals or animals. The medicines are typically so dilute that there is not a detectible whole particle of the original substance left (it is mainly water). Homeopathic medicines work through using a specific noxious but minute stimulus to encourage the body's natural ability to heal. This means it is fairly gentle and low-risk.

Sounds great, but how do I know that homeopathy really works?

Since the way homeopathy works seems a little, well, "woo", it rightfully attracts a healthy amount of skepticism. I myself had to be convinced that homeopathy was effective through using it as a patient, as a doctor, and by staying informed about well-designed research studies. 

My personal experience

This is what really got me hooked on homeopathy. As an ND student at Bastyr University, I seemed to have a knack for homeopathic prescribing. I figured I should also try it as a patient because I was a little skeptical about its effectiveness. I had some chronic health conditions and had already tried just about everything to minimize my need for pharmaceutical medications with negative effects. My diet was healthy and clean, I exercised, and I took many herbs and supplements. However, there was something deeper that none of those medicines truly touched. I was left with some very pesky health challenges. Some of the remedies my homeopath had prescribed resolved aspects of my illnesses permanently, quickly and obviously. Other times, healing was more gradual, but sticking with it as part of my regular health care has been priceless. 

As a doctor, I find great joy seeing people who have also tried so many things finally get relief with the right homeopathic remedy. It also works well for those new to naturopathic medicine or with limited resources.

Research in homeopathy 

For folks who also enjoy research, here are brief highlights from a few of my favorite published studies:

A case study that one of my teachers spearheaded showed the successful treatment of chronic Hepatitis C using homeopathy. As Hepatitis C progresses, it causes liver fibrosis that is considered irreversible. Remarkably, in one of the cases, a liver biopsy confirmed that after homeopathic treatment, the patient’s liver fibrosis had reversed (1).

A very well-designed randomized, double-blind clinical trial showed individualized homeopathy to be a safe and effective treatment for depression and menopausal symptoms when compared with both placebo and a standard, well-researched antidepressant, Fluoxetine (Prozac). Side effects were minimal. Both homeopathy and fluoxetine were found to be effective antidepressants for improving depression in climacteric women after a 6-week treatment; additionally, homeopathy, but not fluoxetine, was found to improve menopausal symptoms (2).

"I've tried homeopathy that I picked up over-the-counter, but I am not sure it helped."

I have heard this many times. I almost wish that it was not available over the counter, because that is not how it was intended to be used.

Classical, or constitutional, homeopathic medicine is highly individualized with over 3,000 remedies your practitioner can choose from to match to your specific symptoms. There are remedies that are commonly used and fairly simple to prescribe, ie Arnica for muscle injuries. However, I recommend seeing an experienced homeopath in most cases, since they have the skill set to prescribe remedies that are more likely to work well.

A 2012 NHIS survey found that “homeopathy users who saw a practitioner were significantly more likely to feel that homeopathy was ‘very important in maintaining health and well-being’ and that it helped their health condition ‘a great deal’ than were homeopathy users who did not see a practitioner” (3).

When to consider homeopathy as part of your medical care

Most of my experience and training is in using classical homeopathy to treat mental health and neuropsychiatric disorders. For example, I have seen improve conditions in OCD, ADHD, autism, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, as well as PANS and PANDAS, which are pediatric neuropsychiatric conditions associated with infections. However, it can be used in many other types of conditions, and I have used it for other complaints such as heart palpitations, chronic vaginal pain and/or bacterial infections, chronic sinusitis or digestive complaints.

If you are curious about homeopathic medicine, we offer 15 minute complimentary meet-and-greet visits, at which time we can determine if homeopathy may be a good fit for you and your health needs.

Resources:

  1. Sarter, B., Banerji, P., & Banerji, P. (2012). successful treatment of Chronic Viral Hepatitis With High-dilution Medicine. Global advances in health and medicine, 1(1), 26-29.
  2. Del Carmen Macías-Cortés, E., Llanes-González, L., Aguilar-Faisal, L., & Asbun-Bojalil, J. (2015). Individualized homeopathic treatment and fluoxetine for moderate to severe depression in peri-and postmenopausal women (HOMDEP-MENOP study): a randomized, double-dummy, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. PLoS One, 10(3), e0118440.
  3. Dossett, M. L., Davis, R. B., Kaptchuk, T. J., & Yeh, G. Y. (2016). Homeopathy use by US adults: results of a national survey. American journal of public health, 106(4), 743-745.

Natural sources of vitamin B9

Folate on the Brain: A Natural Approach to Treating Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism is more a constellation of symptoms than a disease with a single cause. In fact, there is often more than one causative factor involved in autism and similar diagnoses. One basic tenet of naturopathic medicine is to treat the cause. In autism spectrum disorders (ASD), many cases have a genetic component that is “hard-wired”, so to speak, and therefore not theoretically treatable. However, some genetic changes have associated treatments. And if these and other contributing causes are also successfully identified and treated, this can result in significant improvements.

One area of focus is identifying and treating issues with how the body utilizes folate, an essential nutrient also known as vitamin B9. Folate is required in multiple metabolic processes required for healthy brain function. Some of these processes ultimately make DNA and RNA as well as keep harmful chemicals that may cause neuro-inflammation at bay.

Rich sources of folate include dark leafy greens, asparagus, beats, chickpeas and liver. Folate is generally absorbed in the small intestine. After absorption, it requires a specific protein transporter called folate receptor alpha (FRα) to make its way to the brain.

MTHFR and beyond:

The methyltetrahydrofolate (MTHFR) gene has been a hot topic in research for many chronic health conditions - from ASD to autoimmune conditions and cardiovascular disease. This gene produces the MTHFR enzyme, which helps convert circulating folate, which is in the form of tetrahydrofolate (THF), to its usable form, 5-methyl-tetrahydofolate. Mutations in the MTHFR gene have been found to be somewhat more prevalent in ASD(1). These mutations are fairly common, and supplementation of methyl folate can be helpful in mitigating its effects. That being said, MTHFR is only one small piece to a larger picture—think of an engine that has several gears required for it to work properly. If one gear breaks, others get overloaded and dysfunction ensues. There are other mutations, or polymorphisms, that can affect the pathways that MTHFR is connected to; these have also been shown often to be present in ASD(1). Generally speaking, these polymorphisms lead to trouble in detoxification pathways, DNA and RNA repair, changes in neurotransmitter levels, and increased oxidative stress, all of which can affect the brain. In ASD, these polymorphisms have associations with decreased cellular uptake of folate as well as depleted sources of SAMe, cysteine and glutathione. It is important to note that there is variability across the spectrum, depending on the particular genetic profile of the person(2). This is why testing for these polymorphisms should be an essential diagnostic tool. With testing, nutrient supplementation can be optimized to meet the specific needs of the individual.

-The folate cycle & related pathways-

-The folate cycle & related pathways-

Arguably more important than MTHFR or related polymorphisms, recent research shows that many people with ASD may have trouble getting folate to the brain. This may be attributed to the presence of antibodies to FRα, a specific transporter that is required to allow circulating folate into the fluid surrounding the brain.  A study of 93 children with ASD showed that 75.3% of them had antibodies that either bound to or blocked FRα, thereby inhibiting the uptake of folate into the brain.  In study participants that had antibodies to FRα, high doses of leucovorin, which contains a metabolically active form of folate called folinic acid, significantly improved language and communication as well as attention and stereotypical behavior.  This means that in individuals who test positive for FRα antibodies, high doses of folinic acid may yield a dramatic improvement.  

Beyond supplementation, a low-allergenic diet can lower the body’s immune response in general. Specific food allergies or sensitivities can be tested for via skin prick or serum testing. Adhering to such a diet can result in fewer FRα antibodies and improved folate uptake.  

Please consult with your or your child’s physician to discuss an optimized diagnostic and treatment regimen, for what could quite possibly result in dramatic improvements!

Sources:

  1. James, S. J., Melnyk, S., Jernigan, S., Cleves, M. A., Halsted, C. H., Wong, D. H., Gaylor, W. (2006). Metabolic endophenotype and related genotypes are associated with oxidative stress in children with autism. American Journal of Medical Genetics. Part B, Neuropsychiatric Genetics: The Official Publication of the International Society of Psychiatric Genetics, 141B(8), 947–956. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajmg.b.30366
  2. James, S. J., Cutler, P., Melnyk, S., Jernigan, S., Janak, L., Gaylor, D. W., & Neubrander, J. A. (2004). Metabolic biomarkers of increased oxidative stress and impaired methylation capacity in children with autism. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 80(6), 1611–1617.