There is an on-going debate as to whether or not there can be such a thing as the use of homeopathic medicines for disease prevention, and whether such an approach can be used in place of conventional medical disease prevention or vaccination. Much ink and ill will has been spilled on this topic.
There is no debate as to whether disease prevention is preferable to disease treatment. Prevention is the “royal road” of medicine, as Dr. Hahnemann pointed out, and is reflected in such traditional sayings as, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” or “A stitch in time saves nine.” So, determining whether prevention through medicine can be done or not in Dr. Hahnemann’s medical system is of critical importance.
What is needed is a rational debate grounded in the medical system established by Dr. Hahnemnann. We first need to frame the issue correctly, then to discuss the issue using precise terminology.
Issue: Is it possible to prevent disease within the context of Dr. Hahnemann’s medical system using medicine, that is, to immunize, in effect, a person against a given disease?
Terminology: For a proper discussion of the issue we need a clear understanding of various key terms and concepts. Part of the challenge of addressing this issue will be to use rational terminology, most of which will, unfortunately, be new to the readers due to centuries of ignorance and poor translations, while not at the same time overburdening the topic and losing sight of the issue. A classic case of trying to ride two horses at the same time while trying not to get one’s self torn in half!
Much of the terminology will be found in the already published installments in this magazine of a proposed glossary of terms.
The term immunization is defined by the Oxford University Press World of the Body as, “The process of conferring increased resistance (or decreased susceptibility) to infection.”
There are essentially two ways to prevent disease, or to carry out a rational prophylaxis: one direct, and the other indirect, depending on whether one is operating from one or the other of the two laws of nature in health, the law of similars or the law of opposites.
Indirect: The use of the law of opposites, through good diet, nutrition, hygiene and lifestyle, what we can term therapeutic regimen, which serves to remove, internally, imbalances in the sustentive power of the Dynamis or Living Power (Lebenskraft) and thereby strengthen the ability to resist disease agents, as well as to provide, in the outer environment, a less auspicious terrain for the growth of disease agents. This is what most independent studies give credit to for the decline of the classic infectious diseases of the 19th century, such as cholera and most of the childhood diseases.
Direct: The use of the law of similars, through the similar medicine, which involves the generative side of the Dynamis, or Living Power.
We are dealing here only with the direct form of disease prevention or prophylaxis, though the indirect means cannot be ignored in any rational system of medicine.
The debate, then, is whether homeopathy can be used to prevent as well as cure disease. The debate has essentially been divided along two major axes:
On the one axis, there are those who argue the historical and statistical record, citing studies as to the efficacy, or lack thereof, of the use of so-called homeopathic medicines in preventing various disease epidemics or incidences of modern infectious diseases.
On the other axis, there are those who argue whether or not homeopathy can be used to prevent a disease on grounds of principle. This article is directed at the latter issue. Since much of Dr. Hahnemann’s medical system is based on principle, we need first to clarify and establish in principle whether there can be such a thing as disease prevention and if so, how this would work within our understanding of Dr. Hahnemann’s system of medicine.
The Greek philosophers identified three essential components to the knowledge of a thing: the historical, didactic and polemical. The starting point for all three has to be Dr. Hahnemann’s own writings on the matter.
What Dr. Hahnemann Said/Did
Dr. Hahnemann first mentioned the use of medicinal agents for the prevention of disease in, “Cure and Prevention of Scarlet Fever” (1801), an article that he explicitly referenced in his later more formal work, Organon der Heilkunst. In this article, he not only provides the historical evidence of the efficacy of a medicine as prevention, but also the principle on which its operation is based, after setting the stage with the “infinite advantages” of prevention over cure:
Who can deny that the perfect prevention of the infection from this devastating scourge, and the discovery of a means whereby this divine aim may be surely attained, would offer infinite advantages over any other mode of treatment, be it of the most incomparable kind so ever?
The remedy capable of maintaining the healthy uninfectable by the miasm of scarlatina, I was so fortunate as to discover. (original italics) (Lesser Writings, p. 377)
He likens this elsewhere in the Organon to the practice of vaccination (that is, the use of cowpox to prevent smallpox).
Aphorism 46 explains the principle behind the cure, by nature, of an existing disease by a similar disease, such as cowpox and smallpox.
46.9. …due to their great similarity, the ensuing outbreak of smallpox is at least greatly diminished (homeopathically) and made more benign a] by the cowpox which has already neared its maturity…
Dr. Hahnemann reinforces this principle in his article on the prevention and treatment of rabies (hydrophobia):
In like manner there cannot be any prophylactic of hydrophobia that does not prove itself to be at the same time a really efficacious remedy for the fully developed hydrophobia. (Lesser Writings, pp. 390)
What we have then is a fundamental principle bequeathed by Dr. Hahnemann: what will cure a disease according to the law of similars will also prevent that same disease. This conclusion is consistent with the title he gave his initial paper on the matter, The Cure and Prevention of Scarlet Fever.
This principle, so stated, also means that prevention extends beyond acute infectious diseases. We can look to folk medicine to learn that settlers used a tea made from the young leaves of the poison ivy plant to prevent a reaction to poison ivy later on when clearing the land. We learn in history of an emperor who took minute doses of arsenic in order to protect himself against the threat of arsenic poisoning from rivals. Coca leaves have been chewed for centuries by natives in the Andes to prevent high altitude sickness.
Boenninghausen, Kent, Burnett, Tyler, Blackie, Boger and others felt no compunction in using remedies preventively, mainly in epidemic diseases. Kent also recognized the value of prevention and the use of remedies that are not based on the individual symptom picture of the patient (which he saw as producing the highest simillimum), but effective nonetheless:
Now you will find that for prophylaxis there is required a less degree of similitude than is necessary for curing [that is, less tailored to the particular variable, individual disease in a patient]. A remedy will not have to be so similar to prevent disease as to cure it, and these remedies in daily use will enable you to prevent a large number of people from becoming sick. (Kent, quoted from Zizia homeopathic software, emphasis added)
Nonetheless, despite these views, most homeopaths have taken a contrary view regarding the prevention of disease. Why is that?
One view has been that no remedy can be given except on the basis of disease symptoms. “No symptoms, no remedy,” would seem to be the motto of this group.
Another has been that homeopathy is about the giving of the constitutional remedy, which is focused on the patient, not on disease. Any prevention can only be through the general strengthening of the patient’s immune system. The motto of this group could be said to be “Treat the patient, not the disease.”
In both cases, these positions are based on a particular view of homeopathy. To the extent that homeopathy is, as Dr. Hahnemann intended it to be, the prescribing of a medicine on the law of similars using the symptoms of the disease in the patient, then the first position is correct: homeopathy cannot be used to both cure and prevent a disease. In this case, the government bureaucrats have understood the logic of the situation very well. The following is an excerpt of an official FDA correspondence to HPCUS in May 1997:
This letter is sent regarding our recent conversation concerning products claiming to be homeopathic… that are intended to prevent various diseases through vaccination, including childhood diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, pertussis, diphtheria, polio, tetanus, etc.
It appears to us that such products cannot be defined as homeopathic when intended to prevent disease through vaccination. This position is based on the fact that such substances, again when used for preventing disease through vaccination, are not being administered for healing the sick, as the definition of homeopathy requires. The individual being treated is not sick at the time the drug is administered. Further, they are not in keeping with the basic tenet of homeopathy, that is ‘similia similibus curentur,’ since they are not being offered to ‘cure a like’ but to prevent a disease.
The same medicine on the other hand can, as Dr. Hahnemann discovered, be used to both cure and prevent disease. In its curative use it is homeopathic, but in its prophylactic use it is something other than homeopathic. Thus, it is not correct to talk of homeopathic medicines, but only of medicines that are used homeopathically, that is, applied on the basis of a similar match between the disease symptoms and the proving symptoms of the medicinal substance as set out in the Materia Medica.
I will not deal here with the second position as it is not supportable in anything that Dr. Hahnemann wrote or did.
The conclusion is clear: Dr. Hahnemann supported the principle of disease prevention, and the use of medicine to immunize a person is an integral part of his medical system, Heilkunst, but the use of medicine as immunization is not homeopathy.
So then, what is it?
Dr. Hahnemann taught that there are two kinds of disease: those of primary, constant nature and those of a secondary, variable nature. The secondary, variable nature diseases are produced by the constant nature diseases, and the curative remedy can only be determined by means of the symptom manifestations, or the use of homeopathic case analysis and prescribing.
The constant diseases are primary in nature, pure in form and always arising from the same cause. They have only one constant curative medicine based on the law of similars. The determination of the curative medicine is not a matter of matching symptom manifestation but of the matching of the disease cause or agent with the curative medicine based on principle. The curative agent is usually derived from the disease agent, such as the various nosodes and isodes.
Prescribing for the variable or secondary diseases is, properly speaking, homeopathic (similar suffering), as the symptoms represent historically, the pathology (before this term was reduced to material tissue or chemical change in the organism). Prescribing for the constant, or primary, diseases based on knowledge of cause, is not homeopathic. So then what is it?
When Dr. Hahnemann speaks of the constant nature diseases, he uses terms with the root stimm in them, which means tone, such as in muscle tone, skin tone, etc. He also uses a different term to identify the level of similarity involved in these case, homo. (see for example, his term homogenic in the introduction to the Organon). This term is a degree of similitude, not an identity, which he stated was idem. Thus, we could term the cure of the constant nature diseases homotonic prescribing.
Now, to take these concepts and return to the issue of disease prevention, we have two possibilities:
First, the use of medicine that is known to cure one patient of a given disease – chosen based on the symptom picture – to prevent the disease in another patient that might be at risk. This we could term homeoprophylaxis. This would generally only be practical and effective in epidemic diseases of unknown origin where there is a genus epidemicus, such as in Dr. Hahnemann’s experience with an outbreak of scarlet fever, or cholera, or influenza as documented in the literature.
Second, the use of medicine that is known to cure a given constant nature disease based on principle (and possibly past experience, though this is not critical), such as Morbillinum for measles, which is then used to prevent the disease in another patient. This we could term homoprophylaxis, and it would be particularly effective in known disease threats, but also because of the use of nosodes and isodes, in new disease outbreaks, such as Ebola.
Many have argued that the use of isodes and nosodes based on etiology is the use not of similia but identity or idem, but Hahnemann made clear that the dynamization of any material substance renders it no longer idem but a simillimum. See, for example, the following quote from the Chronic Diseases, second edition, wherein we also learn that Hahnemann used the nosode for psora:
380.1 Thus potentized and modified, the itch substance (Psorin) when taken is also no more an idem (same) with the crude original itch substance, but only a simillimum (thing most similar). For between IDEM and SIMILLIMUM there is no intermediate [stage] for any one that can think; or in other words between idem and simile only simillimum can be intermediate. Isopathic and Ã¦quale are equivocal expressions, which if they should signify anything reliable, can only signify simillimum, because they are not idem (tauton).
We know that if we give a medicine based on a variation of the law of similars (homeo– or homo-), the medicine works according to a given principle, namely that a stronger similar disease (the medicine or artificial disease) destroys the weaker natural disease. However, if we give a medicine to prevent a disease, what is the principle here?
If the disease is already engaging those not yet producing symptoms, then this falls under the domain of a curative action. But what if there is as yet no disease, such as when there is no known measles outbreak or threat and yet a medicine is given to immunize?
One suggestion was made in a previous edition of this journal that the principle is the one cited above, by Dr. Hahnemann, that two similar diseases cannot co-exist in the same organism. This is a possible mechanism in the case of homeoprophylaxis and epidemic prescribing when it is likely that those not yet exhibiting symptoms are already infected (and in the latency or pro-dromal period). However, Dr. Hahnemann also made clear that the medicinal wesen does not last very long in the organism, which is what makes the artificial disease agent or medicine safe (when prescribed in the optimum, that is dynamic, dose).
So what is the principle of action? It is derived from the one that Dr. Hahnemann gave us as the foundation of prevention: what will cure a disease according to the law of similars will also prevent that same disease. And how can this be?
Reflect a moment on the matter of provings. What are they but the generation of a temporary artificial disease in a person? And what did Dr. Hahnemann tell us about provings? That they strengthen the organism in health. “Once bitten, twice shy,” as the saying goes. Provings are by their very nature an immunization against the disease similar in nature (cause) to the substance being used.
§141.1.a]10. Let him not imagine such small illnesses due to proving medicines be generally detrimental to his health.
§141.1.a]11. Experience teaches, on the contrary, that the organism of the prover becomes… more seasoned against everything that is detrimental by means of such moderate self-provings with medicines.
§141.1.a]12 His health becomes more invariable; he becomes more robust, as all experience teaches.
Thus, the principle of dynamic immunization is that of the use of an artificial disease agent (dynamic medicine) to temporarily engender an artificial disease in an otherwise healthy person so that they are then fortified in their defense against the disease agent should they be exposed to it.
Conclusion: We can use the curative medicine to immunize those not yet affected by the similar disease. In the case of the primary, constant nature diseases, we can use the specific medicine, usually in the form of a nosode or isode, much as is found in the literature and more recently applied in a formal manner by Isaac Golden. In the case of the secondary, variable nature diseases, we have the process of the genus epidemicus and all of the literature on this, to guide us. If provings are real, then their immunizing effects are equally real and, as Golden’s statistics demonstrate, they do indeed immunize. That this is not 100% is because of other factors that can weaken an immune system that are not necessarily addressed by immunization alone.
Nonetheless, Heilkunst does provide for the principle and validity of immunization, using a safe and effective approach compared to the allopathic form which is destructive because it is both injected directly into the life blood and because it is idem, from which nothing good can result as Hahnemann warned us. I close with a quote from a footnote to the 6th Edition of the Organon. It relates to the cure of disease, but applies mutatis mutandi to its mirror action, immunization.
§56.4.a]7 But meaning to cure [or prevent] a human disease (scabies or maladies arisen therefrom) with an identical [crude] human disease matter (e.g. with a Psoricum taken from scabies) – that is going too far!
§56.4.a]8 Nothing results from it but calamity and aggravation [or creation] of the disease! (bold and square brackets added)
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Rudi Verspoor is Dean and Chair Department of Philosophy Hahnemann College for Heilkunst, Ottawa. He served as the Director of the British Institute of Homeopathy Canada from 1993 to early 2001 and helped to found and is still active in the National United Professional Association of Trained Homeopaths (NUPATH) and the Canadian/International Heilkunst Association (C/IHA).
Part of his time is spent advising the Canadian government on health-care policy and in working for greater acceptance of and access to homeopathy. His publications include:
Homeopathy Renewed, A Sequential Approach to the Treatment of Chronic Illness (with Patty Smith);
A Time for Healing; Homeopathy Re-examined: Beyond the Classical Paradigm (with Steven Decker);
The Dynamic Legacy: Hahnemann from Homeopathy to Heilkunst (with Steven Decker).
Visit his website at http://www.heilkunst.com/