When I was a young mom with four children I was always looking for ways to soothe them when they were sick. I wasn’t interested in suppressing their minor illnesses because I know illness has value and that fighting it off helps to mature a child’s immune system. Instead, I was looking for drug-free soothers and immune boosters.
Herbal teas and tinctures helped. Echinacea was an early favorite. The scents of essential oils were comforting, especially lavender, though I like the citrus scents of grapefruit and lemon for the freshness they bring to a sick room. Bach Flower Remedies are so subtle that they are perfect for children, especially as they address the emotional discord that often precedes illness.
In the early eighties, I interviewed a popular Albuquerque doctor, Karl Robinson, for a feature in Mothering magazine and learned about homeopathy for the first time. I immediately appreciated the complex observations of the sick person that go into identifying an appropriate homeopathic remedy. I was drawn to homeopathy because it taught me so much about illness and gave me new tools of observation with which to help my children.
Allopathic medicine looks at symptoms, usually one or two symptoms like a cough or a cold and suggests a generalized medicine for these symptoms. Homeopathic medicine looks at the entire condition of the particular afflicted person and suggests a medicine that matches most of these symptoms. For example, before homeopathy, I thought a cough was just a cough. Now, I know that there are many different types of coughs. Some are dry and hacking and sound like a seal barking. Some are croupy. Some are loose and create a lot of discharge. The person who is coughing may be red or pale; listless or active; hungry or uninterested in food. Each of these symptoms and others are looked at together to determine what remedy to give and how best to help.
HOMEOPATHY AT HOME
There was a small homeopathic pharmacy in Albuquerque where I picked up the book Homeopathic Medicine at Home and started buying remedies for simple colds and coughs. Two I liked right away were Aconite and Belladona. Aconite is for the very beginning of an illness, when the first symptoms appear. Belladona is for illness that comes on suddenly, even violently, when the child is flushed red and has dilated pupils.
These were conditions I already recognized from observing my children and I found that when I gave the right homeopathic remedy they would have an almost immediate, but brief, intensification of their symptoms and then begin to improve. It seemed to me in observing my children that the homeopathic remedy stimulated their immune systems to move on to the next phase of the illness.
HOMEOPATHY ON THE INCREASE
Homeopathy is growing in popularity. Between 1995 and 2005, the sales of homeopathic medicines in Europe grew by 60%. The market for homeopathic and herbal products grew 17% from 2005 to 2007 to reach $5.9 billion. US homeopathic sales reached $870 million in 2009, up 10% from the previous year. The popular homeopathic medicine, Oscillococcinum, is the top selling natural remedy for cold and flu. Sold in 60 countries, 2009 retails sales in the US alone are $20 million. This impressive growth of homeopathy in the last few years clearly poses a significant threat to conventional or allopathic medicine.
HOMEOPATHY, CONSUMERS AND THE FDA
Since testifying at the FDA hearing, “Homeopathic Product Regulation: Evaluating the Food and Drug Administration’s Regulatory Framework after a Quarter-Century” in April, I have read articles that seek to discredit homeopathy as unscientific, ineffective, or just a placebo. This disparagement flies in the face of the success of a medical modality that is centuries old and used by millions of people worldwide. For example:
- 50% of French consumers use homeopathic medicines.
- 70% of French physicians consider homeopathy to be effective.
- The British Royal Family has used homeopathy for 200 years.
- There are five homeopathic hospitals in England.
- 100 million Europeans use homeopathic medicines.
- 100 million Indians rely solely on homeopathy for their medical care.
Homeopathy appeals to educated people. Consumers, especially women, are concerned about the safety of traditional over the counter (OTC) drugs, particularly for long-term use. They are looking for OTC products that are pure and healthy and expect to find homeopathic products sold next to their conventional OTC counterparts.
Currently homeopathic medicines are not subject to double-blind studies because over the counter drugs have a different FDA regulatory process, one with which homeopathic medicines comply. According to the FDA, “
“OTC drugs are sometimes approved under applications like new prescription drugs, but more often they are legally marketed without an application by following a regulation called an OTC drug monograph.
An OTC drug monograph tells what kind of ingredients may be used to treat certain diseases or conditions without a prescription, and the appropriate dose and instructions for use. OTC products that meet a monograph’s requirements may be marketed without FDA review.”
Because homeopathy is prescribed based on the overall symptoms of an individual rather than on one or two generalized symptoms, it has been difficult to study clinically and evidence on its effectiveness has been inconclusive. Nonetheless, homeopathy has proved effective for four generations of my family. My mother used it for sleeplessness; I use it for arthritis pain; my children used it for coughs and colds, and my grandchildren use it for teething discomfort. The experience of hundreds of millions of homeopathic users worldwide attests to its safety and effectiveness and far outweighs the criticism of homeopathy from those unfamiliar with it, or who may fear its competition.
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Peggy O’Mara is the editor and publisher of peggyomara.com. She was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine from 1980 to 2011 and founded Mothering.com in 1995. The author of Having a Baby Naturally; Natural Family Living; The Way Back Home; and A Quiet Place, Peggy has conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League, and Bioneers. She is the mother of four and grandmother of three.