Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy, recognized the importance of infectious agents in causing disease thirty years before Koch’s Postulates and the Germ Theory of disease were defined (1828 vs 1860s). Hahnemann was troubled by homeopathy’s poor success rate in healing chronic non-venereal diseases compared to the highly successful treatment of syphilis and gonorrhea. After 10 years of study Hahnemann came to the conclusion that the non-venereal chronic states were due to parasitic microorganisms that produced a life sentence of suffering for the individual unless cured by homeopathy.1 During and since Hahnemann’s time homeopathy has been used to successfully treat infections both at the acute stage as well as the chronic stage. But not all bacteria are bad. We happily co-exist with a host of different species of bacteria on our skin and in our gut that are necessary for our survival; the good bacteria. But living alongside the good bacteria in smaller numbers are pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria that are kept in check by the good bacteria. If something happens to disrupt this balance we feel symptoms from either a decrease in the number of good bacteria available to provide their needed services of digestion, gut health, and immune modulation, or the unguarded bad bacteria begin to grow and we experience the ill effects from their increased number. Evidence is mounting that imbalances in our natural bacterial flora can produce dis-ease as efficiently as an invading infectious agent. Such disparate effects as skin disorders, learning disabilities, depression and obesity have been linked to changes in our resident microflora of bacteria.2,3 An imbalance between the good and bad bacteria living on and within all of us may be of even greater importance in causing chronic illnesses than we have realized. Hahnemann is still correct that microorganisms can produce suffering, but not all the suffering is necessarily coming from ‘parasitic’ microorganisms; some may be coming from those we count on for our very survival.
It has been estimated that there are 10 times more bacteria on and within the human body than there are human cells.3 Over half of these resident bacteria live in the gut where they line the walls of the digestive tract blocking access to pathogens and adjusting the pH to make life inhospitable to any who may sneak through the physical barrier. Besides protection and support the gut bacteria are critical for a well-functioning immune system. It is estimated that 80% of our immune system is located in our gut. Keeping the gut healthy is critical to keeping us healthy. Proteins in the outer cell wall of certain gut bacteria activate the synthesis of lymphocytes, specialized cells of the immune system. Without the proper balance of good to bad bacteria in the gut lymphocytes stop producing IgA to protect mucus membranes. Without the proper balance of good to bad bacteria in the gut, neutrophils and macrophages, other specialized cells of the immune system, are unable to perform their functions of destroying and consuming invading pathogens. Good bacteria of the gut aid in the synthesis of interferons, cytokines and other immune chemicals needed to fight infections. The good bacteria further help us by extracting nutrients from our food us and neutralizing toxic substances before they reach our bloodstream. The integrity of our digestive tract and our immune system is dependent on the bacterial flora of the gut. The National Institute of Health is currently funding a five year initiative to identify the natural flora of bacteria, the microbiota, that live on and within us. The mission of the Human Microbiome Project is to characterize the resident bacterial flora at five body sites (skin, oral, nasal, gastrointestinal and female urogenital) and analyze their role in human health and disease.4 One area where the composition of the natural microbiota may be playing a key role in human health is with obesity and the related condition of metabolic syndrome. Obesity is one component of metabolic syndrome which also includes low grade inflammation in the gut, high concentrations of fats in the blood, high blood pressure, and resistance to the action of insulin. Obesity is a global epidemic with associated increased risks from such health problems as coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, osteoarthritis and some forms of cancer.5 Even the military is now concerned that our national security may be at risk because 20% of males and 40% of females of recruiting age are too fat to fight.6
In 2006 an article was published in Nature describing the differences in relative amounts of good to bad bacteria in obese mice and their thin litter mates as well as between obese and thin humans. When the researchers transferred bacteria taken from the distal gut of obese mice into thin germ-free mice containing no gut bacteria, the thin mice became obese. But when bacteria from thin mice were inoculated into the gut of thin germ-free mice they remained thin.7 Was it possible that an imbalance in the kinds of bacteria naturally living in the gut was a factor in obesity? In 2010 another study came out looking at the possible role of gut bacteria in obesity but this time they targeted the gut immune response.8 If the theory that obesity is sometimes the result of either bacterial or viral infection, would disruption of the gut immune system alter the balance of gut bacteria and lead to obesity and metabolic syndrome? The answer is yes and no. Yes, altering the gut immune response did alter the balance of bacteria in the gut and did lead to obesity and metabolic syndrome. But no, it wasn’t the altered immune cells that caused the obesity and metabolic syndrome. If bacteria from the obese mice were inoculated into germ-free mice with a normal immune system they still became obese. It wasn’t the altered immune cells triggering obesity and metabolic syndrome but rather the gut bacteria themselves causing the obesity and metabolic syndrome.
Homeopathy has been used to successfully treat irritable bowel syndrome whether the cause is from parasites, emotional upset, or antibiotics.9 The presenting pathology is treated homeopathically first, followed by treatment of a ‘never been well since’ state if present, and finally the person’s constitutional state is addressed. In this way the gut environment is returned to balance, removing the person’s susceptibility to relapse. The healthy gut then becomes inhospitable to outside infection as well as to overgrowth by resident bad bacteria. Could a similar protocol be used to homeopathically treat obesity? Colonization of the gut with bacteria is passed from mother to child. A possible candidate for homeopathic treatment of obesity by re-balancing the gut bacteria is a person who has always been heavy, even as a child, and whose mother and grandmother have also been obese all their lives. In this case the etiology of obesity may be from an imbalance in the gut bacteria and re-balancing it homeopathically may lead to a reduction in weight and its associated health risks.
Infectious pathogens are known to cause acute disease and chronic health effects, but the causes of our discomfort may not always be from bacteria invading us from without. The cause may be an imbalance in the normal flora of the bacteria naturally living in us. Just as homeopathy has removed the suffering from parasitic organisms from without, it may also have a use in relieving the suffering from within from an internal imbalance of our resident bacteria.
The Chronic Diseases, Samuel Hahnemann, Vol 1, 1835.
Gut and Psychology Syndrome, Natasha Campbell-McBride, Medinform Publishing, 2004.
How do Microbial Communities Affect Human Health? Science Daily, American Society for Microbiology, June 5, 2008 www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2008/06/080603085914.htm
Human Microbiome Project Overview,
Obesity Takes its Toll on the Military, Associated Press, 2010.
An Obesity-Associated Gut Microbiome with Increased Capacity for Energy Harvest, PJ Turnbaugh, RE Ley, MA Mahowald, V Magrini, ER Mardis, JI Gordon, Nature 444:1027-1031, Dec 21, 2006.
Metabolic Syndrome and Altered Gut Microbiota in Mice Lacking Toll-Like Receptor 5, M Vijay-Kumar, JD Aitken, FA Carvalho, TC Cullender, S Mwangi, S Srinivasan, SV Sitaraman, R Knight, RE Ley, AT Getwirtz, Science 328:228-231, April 9, 2010.
Mastering Homeopathy 2: The Treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Jon Gamble, Karuna Publishing, 2006.