Homeopathy Papers

What is Meant by Suppression and How Does it Cause Chronic Illness?

Dr. Larry Malerba discusses suppression and its relationship to chronic disease.

Most doctors and patients tend to take the term suppression for granted. They have only a vague sense of what it means as it applies to medicine—but what is it really and what impact does it have upon health? I believe that homeopathic practitioners have an obligation to increase awareness of this phenomenon in the clearest terms possible, primarily because it lies at the very foundation of the explosion of chronic disease around the globe.


When asked, the average person is likely to describe suppression in immunologic terms; in other words, it is believed to be a type of weakening of the immune system, which can result in greater susceptibility to microbial invasion. While this is partially true, it is really a concept that derives from scientific reductionism. It fails to take into account the whole picture. Suppression needs to be understood in its much broader context.


No symptom, no matter how superficial or odd, is random. We must begin with this basic understanding—each symptom has a purpose within the greater whole of the human organism. That purpose may not always be discernable, but all symptoms must be seen in the larger context as expressions of imbalance of the underlying vital life energy that animates each human being.


Homeopaths understand that when the life force is unhappy, it generates symptoms that reflect its degree of distress. Symptoms can manifest on any or all levels: physical, emotional, mental, and/or spiritual. Frequent vomiting is a more serious sign of distress than, say, a runny nose or a facial pimple. A tendency to jealous rage is a more serious symptom than a flare-up of hemorrhoids.


It is also understood that symptoms can jump from one level to another. The reason for this is that all symptoms, at bottom, are driven by the status of the underlying bioenergetic life force. The energetic focus of a condition can easily shift, for example, from migraines to anxiety and back to migraines again. Herein lies the limitation of a conventional medical understanding of health and illness, which is steeped in materialism and fails to acknowledge the energetic dynamics of human health.


A comparatively healthy life force will tend to generate more superficial, less threatening symptoms, such as sneezing, temporary sadness, or a patch of itchy skin. A more compromised life force will often generate more serious symptoms, whether they are acute symptoms, such as sudden facial paralysis or intense abdominal pain, or chronic symptoms, such as loss of interest in life or arthritic hip pain.


When we understand the above, it becomes clear why most normal healthy babies tend to get diaper rashes, stuffy noses, and fevers. In contrast, less healthy adults tend to complain of symptoms such as headaches, stiff joints, and bouts of sleeplessness. Adults with more compromised states of health tend to develop high blood pressure, chronic fatigue, and mood disorders like depression and anxiety.


Is illness, as most people are conditioned to believe, simply a function of getting older or is there more to it? After all, not all people become burdened with serious chronic illness as they grow older. There are plenty of relatively happy, healthy adults out there who lead active, creative, productive lives. Nevertheless, there is a rapidly rising incidence of chronic illness that is affecting not only older people but young people too. This trend, in my opinion, is a direct consequence of the rise of the pharmaceutical industry. A conventional medical colleague once told me that he could guesstimate the number of pharmaceuticals that his patients were taking based upon their age. Patients in their forties took four drugs, patients in their fifties took five drugs, and so on.


So what accounts for the difference between healthy adults and chronically ill adults, or healthy and not so healthy kids for that matter? The answer requires that we return to the phenomenon of suppression. The long-term trajectory of one’s health lies largely in the way that each given individual handles symptoms and illness. When suppressive measures are employed, the long-term outcome is much more likely to be chronic illness. When the methods used respect the intent of symptoms and work with the vital energy, rather than against it, the outcomes tend to be more favorable.


Let’s compare two children to illustrate the effects of suppression:

Jack and Jill were healthy children. Their only medical issues were patches of eczema on the elbow creases of each child. Jack’s parents applied topical cortisone cream just a few times until the eczema vanished, never to return. Jill’s parents used alternating applications of calendula and chamomile creams with a moderate degree of success. At times her eczema would fade and at other times it would resurface, but it remained generally tolerable over the course of several years.


Within a couple weeks of the disappearance of Jack’s eczema, he developed an ear infection. It was successfully treated with an antibiotic, but Jack developed five more ear infections over the course of the following year, and each was treated with another round of antibiotics. During this time, Jack’s demeanor became more grumpy and whiny and he became pickier about the foods he would eat. Meanwhile, while Jill still had a touch of eczema that fluctuated over the months, the only other problem that she had was one minor head cold, which was treated with a combination of vitamin C and honey lemon tea.


By the age of five, Jack ceased to have ear infections, but they were replaced by annual bouts of bronchitis that could last for weeks, and these were also treated with rounds of antibiotics. Jack was also given an inhaler when his pediatrician detected some wheezing during a couple of his bouts with bronchitis. Over time he began to complain of stomachaches, and he remained finicky about his food choices. His dietary staples had been reduced to hotdogs, chicken fingers, pasta, and cheese sticks. Jill, on the other hand, continued to be generally healthy with just an occasional cold and a recurring touch of eczema.


At the beginning of his middle school years, Jack showed signs of having greater difficulty. He stayed home some days complaining of stomach pain but his parents suspected that this was also partially due to his inability to complete some of his homework assignments. His doctor prescribed a couple of acid reflux drugs, to no avail. He was now taking daily doses of medication to prevent asthma but he continued to miss school days with respiratory illnesses especially in the winters. Jill adjusted to middle school comparatively well. Her parents brought her to a homeopathic practitioner to see if anything could be done for her eczema. To their surprise, the eczema seemed to vanish completely after a few months of treatment during which time she seemed to blossom into a socially active and academically successful teenage girl.


Frustrated with Jack’s lack of overall progress both health-wise and academically, his parents sought help from the pediatrician who suggested a trial treatment with an antidepressant. Jack seemed to improve for a few months but thereafter took a dramatic turn for the worse. He began acting out in school, failed to turn in assignments, and wound up in detention several times. His doctor changed his prescription to an attention deficit medication. Meanwhile, Jill continued to thrive in school with little difficulty and almost no health problems.


I hope by now that you are beginning to see a very clear trend. I could go on until Jack turns fifty years old with heart disease and diabetes, but I won’t belabor the point. The more important point is that this type of scenario is increasingly common.


Long-term health is almost a direct function of the way in which symptoms and illnesses are handled. The outcomes, in terms of who remains healthy and whose health deteriorates over time, are not at all random. Suppressive treatments often result in very poor long-term outcomes. When we consider that almost all drug therapies are fundamentally suppressive, the implications for our collective health are staggering.


All symptoms represent the human organism’s best efforts to heal itself. The vast majority of the time, this self-healing mechanism works just fine without outside intervention—most conditions resolve on their own after their purposes have been served. But sometimes symptoms are too intense, or dangerous, or remain unresolved. This is when outside assistance becomes desirable. While very threatening symptoms may necessitate temporary suppressive measures, most illnesses do not fall into this category. Nevertheless, conventional medicine, by default, opts for a suppressive approach in almost all cases.


A shortsighted approach seeks to suppress the immediate symptoms without regard for the context in which they are occurring or without concern for the greater whole. Put another way: a painkiller may dull a headache but it is not necessarily good for you. Tylenol may lower a fever but it is not necessarily in the best interest of overall health. And cortisone may make eczema disappear but it is definitely not good for long-term health.


Suppression drives illness deeper into the system, thus causing it to mutate into more serious conditions. The life force manifests its distress in the most favorable way possible, given the parameters of each situation. A strong life force will focus its energy toward the periphery, thus generating relatively superficial symptoms such as a simple skin eruption or a runny nose. As the life force weakens and becomes compromised, illnesses manifest on deeper levels.


There is a general hierarchical relationship in terms of the way symptoms manifest in the human organism—and it proceeds roughly in this direction: body > heart > mind > spirit. Therefore, when a physical illness is prevented from occurring, usually by means of suppressive medications, the life force seeks to express the disturbance in another location. There is a tendency for the disturbance to eventually “metastasize” to another, deeper level. When it is forced away from the physical level, the energetic disturbance often resurfaces on the emotional or mental levels. Since conventional medicine does not acknowledge this phenomenon, it never owns up to the role it plays in generating mental, emotional, and spiritual illness.


So, how do we know if a treatment is suppressive or not? The answer lies in the longer-term direction that one’s overall health takes over time. Is overall health generally improving or declining? Note that this is very different from asking whether the eczema or headaches are improving over time. If a child with successfully treated eczema ultimately winds up with migraines, it is likely that suppressive treatments contributed to this outcome. If strong painkillers are then used to suppress the migraines to the point that they cease to recur, but the child then develops depression, it is almost certain that suppression led to an overall decline of health.


Genuine healing works in a direction opposite to suppression. If a method that respects the body’s innate healing capacity is employed, we might expect that as the depression recedes, the migraines may temporarily resurface. And as the migraines recede, the eczema may erupt once again. While suppression concerns itself with eradicating the symptom at hand without regard for the whole, any truly effective healing method is always cognizant of the greater whole and longer term overall direction of a person’s health status. Homeopathy and other green healing modalities respect the wisdom of the body, seek to work with symptoms of illness rather than against them, and contribute to positive long-term outcomes.

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  • Thanks, Dr Malerba, for a wonderfully clear exposition of the concept of suppression as it pertains to conventional mistreatment of common childhood disease.

    I hope you will permit me to add a few words from Dr P S Krishnamurty’s introduction to Abdur Rehman’s wonderful ‘Encyclopaedia of Remedy Relationships in Homoeopathy’, for it is clear to me that not only the allopaths face the danger of routinely suppressing symptoms.

    ‘It is a fallacy and blissful ignorance according to homoeopathic scientific therapeutics, to use indiscriminately homoeopathic drugs without an expert knowledge of drug relationship. One cannot attain Hahnemannian cure of a disease syndrome in a patient in acute disease, in chronic diseases or in epidemic diseases. The process of treatment becomes suppressive if one does not follow the rules of drug relationship.’

    I ask to Dr. Larry Malerba about supression and homeopathy : homeopathic medicines may cause supression?
    Almost all supressions are described as an allopathic complication. Organon refers about supression and alopathic medicines and in some paragraphs with homeopathic medicines.In MY COUNTRY (Brazil), cases of suppression are rarely described and many times as a hypothesis.There are cases related to suppression and homeopathic medicines? And the descriptions reliabvle.?

  • Dear readers, dear Author

    This theme is around for as long as homeopathy exists.
    Towards the end of the article the author writes:

    >> So, how do we know if a treatment is suppressive or not? The answer lies in the longer-term direction that one’s overall health takes over time. <<

    This is not the case. Every medicine given which does not correspond to the disese-symptom-picture by symptom similitude, and which is applied in an inappropriate dose and repeated / continued inappropriately is not capable of bringing order in the disturbed live force / living principle.

    The result of bringing order to the live force / living principle will express itself by independent improvement signs and further on by an orderly withdrawal of diesase symptoms.

    It should be born in mind that any medicine only becomes homeopathic by its application according the rules and principles governing HOMEOPATHY.

    For further information have a look here, where we discuss all relevant topics:

    Hans Weitbrecht

  • To Kevin and Gil, Yes, I agree that it is possible for a homeopathic prescription to act in a suppressive manner, although it is far less likely to have that effect compared to allopathic drugs. Even when a homeopathic Rx suppresses I find that the resulting symptom picture that emerges can provide clues that indicate the remedy that is really needed.

    To Hans, I agree that even allopathic medicines in allopathic form can act homeopathically, although that would be a true rarity. Otherwise, I’m not sure how what you are saying differs from what I wrote. Long term improvement in the direction of cure should be the final say on whether suppression has taken place or not.

  • Excellent article! This helps me to better explain suppression to my patients and those that attend my lectures. Thank you!

  • well ! to access homeopathic supression , best method is to track the accessory symptoms of both medicine as well as disease and

  • to asses suppression best is to track Accesory symptoms of disease and medicine both. As per Organon this will guide us to either change remedy, use nosode or any other deep acting remedy and that is how supperession can be managed in Homeopathy…..a suggesion derived from practise.

  • While Dr Malerba does describe well the process of suppression as it relates to both chronic and acute disease, I think his overall analysis is simplistic especially in his example of treatment of the two hypothetical children. I say this because of course there is so much more at play in health and disease. He has not taken into account the genetic inheritance of the children or any other factors in their lives which will influence their health or ill-health. Homeopathic treatment in childhood is not a prescription for perfect or even slightly perfect health throughout life. Disease is more complex than that. The sole use of homeopathic treatment to maintain health, even if used from childhood is no guarantee that one will not develop respiratory problems, heart disease or cancer. I say this is as a qualified homeopath who has been totally committed to homeopathy for my family’s health and who has had great results. Nothing’s perfect. Homeopathy (and some other holistic therapies) are about as perfect as it gets! But let’s not make unrealistic and sweeping generalizations as it doesn’t serve our profession and doesn’t do homeopathy any favours.

    • Regarding your jumping to conclusions over my “unrealistic and sweeping generalizations,” I’m afraid you’ve missed the point of the article. Yes, I could have taken into account health factors such as miasmatic tendencies, poor prescribing, karmic considerations, family system dysfunction, astrological considerations, and more, but that would have been a bit cumbersome for a brief article. The example I used was purposely kept simple. It was not intended to be an advanced lesson for homeopaths. The actual point was to encourage homeopathic practitioners to educate their patients about the phenomenon of suppression. It is a concept that only homeopaths truly understand, and I believe they should use that to their advantage by explaining suppression in terms that the general public can comprehend.

  • DEAR DR,

    • Dear Dr Gupta, In my experience, homeopathy can suppress especially when an inappropriate and relatively superficial prescription that only covers part of the case is repeatedly taken. In such cases, I have found that the local symptoms improve temporarily while the overall case worsens. The silver lining is that the symptoms that worsen often make it easier to find the correct remedy that will push the case back toward the direction of cure.

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