Home Go to Homeopathy
Less Medicine is Best Medicine:
How Alternatives from the Past Can Help Us Today
by Amy Lansky, PhD
As originally published in Alternative Medicine Magazine, May/June 2012
Editor´s Note: This is a fascinating read about Homeopathy's place in the historical context of American medicine. Homeopathy has an incredible track record in both acute epidemic and chronic disease, as Amy explains. As a result, Homeopathy was hugely popular in the nineteenth century, until the commercial interests of Big Pharma and the conventional medical establishment forced it out of favor.
These days, when illness strikes, many of us feel like we’re on our own. Perhaps our health care coverage is inadequate. Or perhaps we avoid using the coverage we have, for fear of establishing “pre-existing conditions.” Indeed, many of us are becoming disenchanted with conventional medical care and try to find more gentle and natural ways of dealing with illness. We also work harder to prevent disease in the first place, by taking better care of ourselves, eating healthy foods, and exercising. Whenever possible, we may use alternative forms of healing like naturopathy, homeopathy, osteopathy, acupuncture, or chiropractic.
Whether or not we try to avoid conventional “allopathic” care, there are actually good reasons to be wary of it. Allopathic treatments are the third leading cause of death in the United States [Starfield], and according to some, may now be the leading cause [Null]. A 2009 investigative report published in The New Yorker found that areas of the United States that utilize more conventional medicines and treatments tend to have worse health outcomes. In contrast, nearby areas with similar demographics but lesser use of medical procedures and drugs tend to experience better health [Gawande].
Of course, there are times when allopathic care is life-saving and an absolute must—for instance, in emergencies or life-threatening situations. But one need only look at the daily headlines to become hesitant about incorporating yet another drug into your daily regimen. It is now commonplace to hear about medical studies tainted by financial self-interest (e.g., see [Howard]) or recalls of once-touted “safe” wonder drugs. In fact, a 2002 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that 20% of newly approved drugs are ultimately recalled as unsafe [Lasser].
Nevertheless, most of us tend to go for quick fixes for our health problems. Life has become so fast-paced and demanding that we resort to popping another pill rather than dealing with ailments on a deeper, more fundamental level. But the next thing we know, we are using pill organizers to keep all our meds straight. Sadly, many of our children need to use pill organizers now too.
Eventually, of course, there are consequences to this pill popping. Just as you can’t keep covering up financial problems with more loans, you can’t keep patching another ailment with another pill—because the net effect will likely be something much worse. In fact, a fundamental tenet of many alternative therapies—including my own favorite, homeopathy—is that repeated suppression of disease symptoms eventually forces the energy of a disease to deepen and become more chronic. Just like the global economic meltdown, the net effect of more and more suppressive medicines might be a global health breakdown. In fact, studies indicate that Americans have become more chronically ill than they were in the past.
In 2002, an article in JAMA reported that 80% of adults in the U.S. take some form of medication every week, with 50% taking a prescription drug [Kaufman]. The numbers have gone up since then and pertain to children as well. In 2007, a survey found that 51 percent of all Americans take one or more prescription medicines for a chronic problem. That included two thirds of all women age 20 and older, one in four children and teenagers, 52 percent of adult men, and three quarters of people over age 65 [MSNBC]. More recently, a February 2010 article published in JAMA reported that chronic health problems among children in the US have risen from 12.8 percent of children in 1994 to 26.6 percent in 2006 [Van Cleave]. Most parents today are all too aware that their children have become prone to chronic diseases like asthma, diabetes, learning disorders, hyperactivity, severe allergies, and autism. Schools and summer camps must now be informed of complex drugging regimes, their walls adorned with epipens just in case of unexpected anaphylaxis from allergens. This was not the case forty years ago. What happened?
For one thing, our food supply and eating habits have become compromised and new toxins have been introduced into our environment. But it may be our increasing use of suppressive medicines that is even more to blame. The next time you see an ad on TV about a new drug for allergies, acne, or the “blues,” try paying a bit less attention to the happy visuals and a bit more attention to the serious potential side effects that quickly rattle by. Rather than adding one more pill to your weekly pill-organizer, think twice. There could be another way—an approach to health that helps you decrease, not increase, your use of medical interventions.
An Answer from the Past
How can we find better health for our families? One answer might be found if we revisit some forms of medicine from our past. Now I know what many of you are thinking: people in the past used to die at much younger ages than we do now. That is true. But this higher mortality was due to acute infectious diseases and infant mortality, not the chronic diseases we are experiencing now. Indeed, most of the improvements in mortality were due to improved sanitation, not medicines. While drugs like antibiotics can sometimes be lifesavers, it is also true that more of a good thing isn’t necessarily better. The overuse of antibiotics has led to deadly resistant superbugs like MRSA and immune systems that are weaker, not stronger. And if the tenets of alternative medical systems like homeopathy are correct, the overuse of drugs has also led to more widespread chronic disease.
So how did people survive before the days of modern pharmaceutical drugs? They relied on natural home remedies and treatments—most of them herbal, but increasingly after the mid-1800s, many of them homeopathic. In fact, the very first American domestic manual (a home medical reference) was published in 1835 by the father of American homeopathy, Constantine Hering, M.D.
Hering came to the United States from Germany in 1833, and like many German immigrants of the time, settled in Pennsylvania, where he founded America’s first homeopathic medical school, as well as America’s first medical society of any kind, the American Institute of Homeopathy. Because of Hering’s efforts, Pennsylvania became the state where homeopathy first took root in America. I fondly remember how, during a 2004 family road trip to Hershey, we paid a visit to a quilt museum in Lititz, PA. Tucked away in the back of the museum was a display of home remedy kits and manuals from the 1800s—all describing the use of homeopathic remedies for a wide variety of common ailments. I pointed this out to the museum curator and she was surprised; she had no idea what those little vials of pills were all about!
The institutions that Hering established in the mid 1800s ultimately led to a golden era for homeopathy in the United States—one that spanned nearly a hundred years. During that time, homeopathy became a widespread and trusted form of medicine that was favored for home care and by the American elite. Many members of the Republican party that swept into power with President Lincoln were aficionados of homeopathy. Feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton was an accomplished lay homeopath, and Susan B. Anthony’s personal physician was homeopath Julia Smith, MD of Chicago. In fact, the very first women’s medical school was homeopathic (New England Female Medical College, founded in 1848), and most of the women physicians of that period were homeopaths. In 1900, President McKinley dedicated a monument in Washington, D.C. to Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy (still standing today at the corner of Massachusetts Ave. and 16th Street), and in 1922, President Harding (whose father was a homeopathic physician) held a convention of homeopaths at the White House. There were even homeopathic medical corps during World War I [Winston].
So if homeopathy is merely quackery or placebo, why were all of these people so enthusiastic about it? The answer is simple: homeopathy works. Homeopathy’s growing popularity during the 1800s was fueled by its immense success in treating epidemic diseases, including cholera, typhoid, flu, and scarlet fever. In the early 1900s, homeopathic practitioners were so successful in treating and preventing smallpox outbreaks that the state of Iowa ruled homeopathic treatment to be a legal substitute for conventional vaccination [Eaton]. And during the 1918 flu epidemic, homeopathic practitioners had a death rate of only 1%, whereas conventional physicians had a death rate of 30%. The charity hospital on Wards Island had the lowest percentage of deaths in New York City during the epidemic, and was overseen by the city’s health commissioner (and later U.S. Senator) Royal Copeland, MD, who used homeopathic treatment in all cases [Winston].
Homeopathy was also successful in treating chronic disease. In fact, many tried and true homeopathic medicines of those times, such as nitroglycerine and digitalis for heart disease, are still used by conventional doctors today [Fye]. And as the pioneers made their way across the vast expanses of the American West, it was homeopathic medical kits that helped them get there. As actress Jane Seymour has pointed out, it is very likely that her TV character Dr. Quinn was a homeopath. She should know—her sister is a homeopath in the U.K.
Interestingly, most homeopaths of the 1800s were medical doctors, many of whom had abandoned allopathy for homeopathy. This trend became so alarming that the American Medical Association (AMA) was formed in 1847 in response; its charter forbade members to associate with homeopaths or to use homeopathic medicines. Soon, further attempts to disenfranchise homeopaths were put into place; homeopathic doctors were barred from state medical societies and forbidden to publish in medical journals.
However, it was the rise of the large pharmaceutical companies in the early 1900s, with their growing financial clout and power, that finally undermined homeopathy and many other forms of alternative medicine. Gradually, licensing opportunities for alternative practitioners were removed and their institutions became weakened. Many of the great American homeopathic medical schools, including the famed Hahnemann Medical School in Philadelphia, were slowly converted to allopathy. By World War II, allopathic medicine had won a complete monopoly over American health care.
But nothing lasts forever. In the 1970s, various forms of alternative therapies began to grow from the dormant seeds lying patiently in the soil of America’s healing history. Chiropractic, naturopathy, traditional osteopathy, and homeopathy began to blossom and spread once again, as the limits of conventional medicine became increasingly apparent. As America and the rest of the world now struggles to cope with rising health care costs, it is both fitting and ironic that the alternative healing modalities that “big pharma” squashed in the early 1900s provide a solution. Our current health care crisis might be an opportunity for medicines like homeopathy to shine once again—if they are given a fighting chance to do so.
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About the Author
Amy Lansky, PhD was a NASA researcher in artificial intelligence when her life was transformed by the miraculous homeopathic cure of her son's autism. In 2003, she published Impossible Cure: The Promise of Homeopathy, now one of the best-selling introductory books on homeopathy worldwide. Since then, Lansky has broadened her investigations to include ancient and modern teachings about consciousness, meditation, and our collective power to evolve and transform our world. The result is her newest book, Active Consciousness: Awakening the Power Within, published in 2011.
[Eaton] Eaton, Charles Woodhull. “The Facts About Variolinum,” in Transactions of the American Institute of Homeopathy, pp. 547-567 (1907).
[Fye] Fye, W.B. “Nitroglycerine: A Homeopathic Remedy,” Circulation: A Journal of the American Heart Association, 73, pp. 21-29 (1986).
[Gawande] Gawande, Atul. “The Cost Conundrum: What a Texas Town Can Teach Us About Health Care,” The New Yorker (June 1, 2009).
[Howard] Howard, Lee. “Former Pfizer Representative Charged with Health Care Fraud,” TheDay.com, January 15, 2010. (See: http://www.theday.com/article/20100115/NWS01/100119833/1047 or http://www.naturalnews.com/028194_Scott_Reuben_research_fraud.html.)
[Kaufman] Kaufman, D.W., et al. “Recent Patterns of Medication Use in the Ambulatory Adult Population of the United States,” JAMA, Volume 287, Number 3, pp. 337-344 (January 16, 2002).
[Lasser] Lasser, Karen E., et al. “Timing of New Black Box Warnings and Withdrawals for Prescription Medications,” JAMA, 287 (17), pp. 2215-2220 (May 2002).
[MSNBC] Associated Press, “More Than Half of Americans on Chronic Meds,” May 14, 2008. (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24603120/)
[Null] Null, Gary, et al. “Death By Medicine,” Mercola Newsletter (November 26, 2003). (http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2003/11/26/death-by-medicine-part-one.aspx)
[Starfield] Starfield, Barbara, “Is U.S. Health Really the Best in the World?” JAMA, 284(4), pp. 483-485 (July 2000).
[Van Cleave] Van Cleave, Jeanne, et al. “Dynamics of Obesity and Chronic Health Conditions Among Children and Youth,” JAMA, 303(7), pp. 623-630 (2010).
[Winston] Winston, Julian, The Faces of Homeopathy, Great Auk Publishing, Tawa, New Zealand (1999).