Originally Published in Wise Traditions, Fall 2011. Reprinted courtesy Joette Calabrese: http://joettecalabrese.com/
My family and I live on fifteen acres in the Boston Hills of New York where eighteen years ago we built our house and pond. We laid out our land with an aim to keep chickens, ducks and bees while we raised our family. When we embarked on this project we knew there was a good deal at stake if we uprooted a stand of apple trees or buried a spring, so we were cautious and learned as much as we could before permitting the powerful bulldozer to rearrange our land. So it is with our health and the use of antibiotics. Just as we knew that our decisions in 1994 would have repercussions on the terrain we inhabit today, likewise we must consider what the use of an antibiotic can leave in its wake, decades, or even a lifetime later. No matter the arrangement, after a visit from the bulldozer, the topography will never be the same. Once the bulldozer leaves, what is left behind must be faced on a daily basis.
OVER-RELIANCE ON ANTIBIOTICS
Along with vaccines, antibiotic therapy is one of the cornerstones of modern medicine. And yet, even research published in mainstream medical journals consistently cautions against their excessive use. There is escalating evidence that the use of antibiotics, no matter how many decades previous, often plays a leading role in the development of conditions such as colitis, food intolerances, behavioral problems, and joint conditions such as ankylosing spondolitis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Imagine, for example, Sammy, a normal two-year-old. Sammy is not feeling well because he has an ear infection. His parents take him to the doctor who prescribes antibiotics. This isn’t new to Sammy’s family since the same symptoms were met with the same prescription the previous fall. After administering the antibiotic, the ear pain abates by the following night and Sammy is well again. Or is he? Six weeks later, Sammy cries out in the night with ear pain and a fever. His parents believe this latest bout is yet another isolated incident, and return to the doctor for the next antibiotic. Again peace ensues. At least for a while. Within three months Sammy is revisited with an ear infection again. Now he is prescribed a more powerful drug with a daily dose for six months. His parents are relieved that this will at last be the end of the ear pain and fever because they believe the stronger antibiotic can’t allow an infection to survive. Instead, the now sallow Sammy begins to have sharp stomach pains and obstinate constipation accompanied by mild rectal bleeding. Again he visits the doctor, with a subsequent stay in the hospital for invasive and scary tests. Nothing more is revealed than what the parents already suspect—that the antibiotics are causing a new illness. A stool softener and analgesic are prescribed, along with a muscle relaxant and a prescription laxative. Sammy remains on the antibiotic.
Sammy is now on five medications, each packing considerable side effects. His ear infections are likely not resolved since a large percentage of childhood ear infections return repeatedly under this sort of treatment. Also, in direct proportion to the amount of antibiotics, Sammy is no longer able to have a normal bowel movement without the aid of medications. In fact, there is inflammation in the descending bowel that has caused bleeding. This is an ideal site for an infection, which is exactly what happens to Sammy. He develops a rectal fissure that subsequently becomes abscessed.
But how could this happen? Isn’t he on a daily antibiotic? The doctor explains that within short order antibiotics become nearly useless and stronger variants are required to keep the infection from mounting. Sammy’s life becomes a series of demoralizing medical appointments, frightening invasive tests, pain and anxiety. There is little joy for Sammy and his parents.
THE HOMEOPATHIC ALTERNATIVE
In another household, twelve-year-old Constance is in her bed when she’s awakened by fever and stabbing pain in her right ear accompanied by alarming dreams. Her mother comes to her bedside with the family homeopathic remedy kit, bolstered by years of study that have helped her discern signs and symptoms in order to choose the correct remedy. While her father comforts her, Constance’s mother decides, with the aid of their well worn homeopathy guide, that Belladonna is the best choice for her. This homeopathy-savvy mom administers the remedy twice in two hours and Constance drops into peaceful sleep. In the morning, our spirited youngster is back to her packed social life, with no sign of illness. That afternoon, their healthy family heads for a trip to the shore. Constance has parents with discerning taste, who have chosen homeopathy over drugs of commerce in order to live with autonomy.
HOMEOPATHY ANTIDOTES ANTIBIOTIC POISONING
Even before the recognition that microorganisms play a role in infectious disease, Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, known as the Father of Homeopathy, made a simple but insightful observation. Hahnemann noted that to suppress a symptom is a misguided medical strategy, since the real target for treatment of disease has been ignored. The word “symptom” means “sign,” and by using a drug to eliminate the outward expression of an illness, the illness is merely managed, not cured. Worse yet, by eliminating the signs of the disease, the drug drives the illness to a deeper state in the body. That’s why one ear infection morphs into a second and third, followed by gastrointestinal pain, food intolerances, constipation, rectal bleeding, and finally a fissure and abscess, as in Sammy’s case.
This is but one aphorism of health published in Dr. Hahnemann’s scholarly treatise The Organon of Healing. In it, he states that infectious illness must be displaced by treating the person, not removing symptoms, or killing organisms. This is accomplished by using the precise remedy, or simillimum, which awakens the body’s natural ability to resolve the illness. Thus, the remedy becomes the stimulus, while the organism does the actual healing. The body has the ability to heal itself when given the correct incentive in the shape of the well chosen homeopathic remedy.
FINDING THE CORRECT REMEDY
Homeopaths work with unique tools. Not only must they pay close attention to the details of the ill person, but there’s a duty to use the highly detailed information revealed by the presenting symptoms. The foundational reference books upon which a homeopath depends are called The Repertory of the Materia Medica. These repertories are a compendium of remedy provings as well as clinical contributions by homeopathic doctors, clinicians, hospitals and researchers worldwide. An example of one of the most frequented repertories is the Homeopathic Clinical Repertory, by Robin Murphy, ND. In it there is a handy rubric (symptom entry) entitled “Toxicity, Antibiotics; poisoning from.” The remedies found to address this condition include: Apis, Arsenicum album, Calendula, China, Chin-ar, Chin-s, Floric acidum, Gelsemium, Lycopodium, Penicillinum, Podophylum, Mercurius viv, Natrum phosphoricum, Nitricum acidum, Nux vomica, Sulphuric acidum, Sulfa and Thuja occidentalis.
This formidable list may appear daunting, but it is in the details that the homeopath selects the appropriate remedies. Each of these medicines has been used to unearth the damage caused by antibiotics, yet each one represents only one element of the picture. To undo the pathology every symptom the person reports must be considered. This methodology allows for the most important information (presented in symptoms) to be synthesized in the decision. To Sammy’s parents, for example, the rectal bleeding and abscess are of ultimate concern. However, Sammy’s history of repeated ear infections is very significant. Hence, the next rubric that the homeopath would seek is “Ear; Otitis media, recurrent.” In this case, we find Calcarea carbonicum, Hepar sulphuris, Kali sulphuricum, Lycopodium, Psorinum and Sulphur.
So far, with the above two rubrics to consider, Lycopodium is the only remedy common to both. Once we also look up “Rectum; abscess,” and “Constipation; recalcitrant,” as we must, then and only then, will the correct remedy emerge. That remedy represents the entirety of all the symptoms, and thus the full representation of the sufferer. This careful process maintains that the symptoms, as indicators, reign supreme. The same practice must be considered for Constance. The fact that she is a rather plucky preteen tells us there is already a distinction between her illness and Sammy’s, no matter whether the microorganism is bacterial or viral in origin. Moreover, in Constance’s case the most undeniable feature is that she has only an occasional acute illness, while Sammy presently suffers from chronic illness. Although it might be tempting to administer one or all of the remedies listed under the first rubric for Sammy’s antibiotic poisoning, this would be a mistake. As demonstrated, this list is but one piece of the investigation that allows us to nail the remedy for someone who is ill, even if only in part, due to antibiotic toxicity. The information is foundational. Does it matter if the ear pain is bacterial in origin? Or that there is candida, strep or MRSA? Fundamentally, these distinctions are irrelevant. As I teach my clients and students, just give me the relevant symptoms, and I’ll show you the remedy that will address the totality of them all.