As any good homeopath will tell you, homeopathy cannot cure cancer. But what is does seem very capable of doing is helping alleviate some of the stress and trauma of cancer, and particularly some of the side-effects of radio- and chemotherapy.
Homeopathy, and cancer. The practical application.
By Madeleine Kingsley
Homeopathy has been practised for over two centuries. Its therapeutic principles are very different from those of conventional medicine, as is its concept of ill health and its patient approach. The homeopathic premise is that disease is not a set of symptoms but an underlying disturbance of a person´s "vital force". As Beth MacEoin, author of Practical Homeopathy puts it:
"Conventional medicine takes a broadly mechanistic view of disease, regarding the human body as a highly sophisticated and specialised machine which can succumb to injury, infection of degenerative processes." It uses orthodox drugs to oppose symptoms and could be seen as taking a "waging war on illness" stance. Homeopathy, however, seeks to stimulate the body´s own capacity for self-healing and renewal. In terms of treatment, homeopathy works on the "hair of the dog" principle that "like treats like" and prescribes the very medicine that could produce similar symptoms in a healthy person. A homeopathic consultation (often longer and more detailed than a conventional appointment) will focus not only on the physical changes you may experience, but your psychological and emotional state of mind. The remedy you are prescribed will not necessarily be the same as for someone else with your condition, but is specific to your personality, constitution and lifestyle.
Homeopathy talks about "the magic of the minimum dose", recommending the smallest possible dose to avoid toxicity and treat gently. Remedies are prepared by dilution and "succussion" (repeated agitation of the solution on a hard surface) to reduce the risk of harm. But paradoxically, the more stages of dilution and succussion a remedy receives, the greater its potency. Remedies are referred to in the Latin. Some may be plant derived, some mineral. None are manufactured.
How it Started
Homeopathy seeks to stimulate the body´s own capacity for self-healing and renewal
The father of homeopathy is Dr Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843), a German physician and classicist. Dissatisfied with the theories and violent treatments of his time, such as bleeding and purging, Hahnemann pioneered sickbed hygiene and believed that fresh air and good cheer were factors in the healing art. "Hahnemann" says Dr Liz Thompson of the Bristol Homeopathic Hospital, "described the vital force as a spirit-like dynamism which animates the body and is responsible for growth and repair. It is what Chinese medicine would call chi - an energetic phenomenon. But it´s not described in the conventional framework of thinking - the nearest we get to it is the principle of homeostasis - the idea that the body is always trying to maintain an internal balance."
Attitudes Towards Homeopathy
Growing public concerns about chemicals in the food chain and the side effects of some medical drugs incline more of us to think "out of the box" when it comes to optimising health. David Reilly (Glasgow Departments of Homeopathy) assessed that 75 per cent of GPS want complementary therapies available on the NHS. Glasgow now incorporates homeopathy in its medical training curriculum as does Bristol. New studies are needed but 12 years ago the GP´s journal, Doctor found that 80 per cent of GPs believed homeopathy to be effective, whilst 21 per cent believed that in certain circumstances it was more effective than conventional treatment.
Homeopathy and Cancer?
Homeopathy was developed in an age when allopathic medicine could do little to combat
Dr Bruce Semon of the Wisconsin Institute of Nutrition is a physician and psychiatrist who specialises in this area. He points out that homeopathy was developed in an age when allopathic medicine could do little to combat cancer. He feels that the vital force of someone choosing surgery alone, will not necessarily recover because the cancer is cut out. The underlying cause of the illness needs to be addressed to ensure that cancer does not recur. Current medical thinking, he contends, does not really take account of the frequency with which a woman with cancer in one breast may later develop a tumour in the other. Homeopathy, he observes, can be usefully allied to conventional treatment, in order to reduce the risk of recurrence.
Within the NHS
There are five UK homeopathic hospitals: in London, Tunbridge Wells, Glasgow, Liverpool and Bristol, where Dr Liz Thompson works. She is one of just 10 consultant homeopathic physicians working within the NHS and is also an honorary senior lecturer in palliative care, and adviser to the Bristol Cancer Care Centre. She too sees homeopathy as an important complementary support to conventional treatment: "When somebody is diagnosed with a life-threatening disease there can be an emphasis on treatments like radiotherapy and surgery, but there is not always an emphasis on strengthening that person´s health. The two things need to go alongside in order to assist the journey to recovery." Liz came across homeopathy whilst still training: "I was interested in its very patient-orientated approach - you listen very carefully with the idea that the person is bringing their own body´s wisdom into this situation of suffering."
The Patient´s Choice
Patients are vulnerable when I see them
"Patients are vulnerable when I see them" says Liz. "They are in a difficult, life-threatening situation. So they need good advice and, where possible, they need some evidence to help them. People with a cancer diagnosis are, I think, misled every day through both conventional and complementary approaches. I sometimes find that a patient´s hope has been extinguished in various ways, but that using complementary therapies I have been able to engage with them in a more hopeful way. I very much believe that we should support patients trying to maintain their sense of control and their sense of self within a situation where cancer can break that down - it´s so important. After combined treatment a number of people I see are perceived as more stable and enjoying a fuller life than had been expected. For instance, a lady who came three years ago with a syringe driver is still alive, although her disease hasn´t gone... and a lady with advanced ovarian carcinoma has been trekking in the Alps."
What has yet to be definitively researched, Liz feels, is whether that stabilising influence has indeed been achieved by homeopathic stimulation of the body´s own self-repairing resources.
For someone just embarking on a cancer journey, Liz might offer Aconite "to help deal with the initial shock, and although this can be bought over the counter at a 60 or a 30c, I might prescribe a higher potency, up to 100c or 1m You can´t just take more pills to increase the potency - homeopathy doesn´t work that way. The way it´s done is to increase the dilution and the succussion."
Many people report that arnica is magic, yet for some reason this doesn´t show up in trials
"You might recommend Arnica or Bellis perennis around the time of surgery. Many people report that arnica is magic, yet for some reason this doesn´t show up in trials. Perhaps we are not using it in the right situation and we should try a scenario of acute bruising on the rugby pitch! Arnica is very specific for soft tissue bruising and certainly women who use it say they seem to recover better and remark on not needing as much analgesia."
"During radiotherapy you might want to use a combination of x-ray and Belladonna. There was a research trial in Italy where women were randomised either to a daily placebo or to x-ray and Belladonna. The trial didn´t show marked results but it did show a difference in the recovery phase within the two groups, in that those randomised to homeopathy seemed to have fewer symptoms of inflammation and pain during the recovery phase once radiotherapy had finished."
"One might want to use Traumeel during chemo - it´s a preparation of about a dozen homeopathic remedies and I´d use it for chemotherapy-induced mucositis. A double-blind placebo-controlled trial in children undergoing bone marrow transplant where the incidence of mucositis is very high found that the days of mucositis (and its symptom burden) were significantly reduced in those children using Traumeel. With further research one might look at the use of traumeel in adults undergoing radiotherapy for cancers of the head and neck. We want to study a herbal preparation called Infador and assess whether it can reduce the side effect of chemotherapy and improve functioning of the immune system.
You need to suppress a very clear reaction, and to do that you probably need quite powerful
"We also want to look at the use of homeopathy for women who have difficult side effects from tamoxifen. I ran a trial with women who had breast cancer and menopausal symptoms due to tamoxifen. They had been recommended tamoxifen because research suggests that it will improve survival, but day to day they get symptoms of hot flushes and fatigue. The observational studies published showed a significant improvement over time for the women using homeopathy." Vomiting is one of the more debilitating side-effects of chemo, and some homeopaths report that Cadmium sulph helps. Dr Thompson, however has not seen great results, but is more interested in trying acupuncture alongside a suitable conventional anti-sickness drug. "If you put poison, such as chemo drugs, into the body and then vomit, then the indication is that the body is responding well to that stimulus. You need to suppress a very clear reaction, and to do that you probably need quite powerful drugs."
In l988 Jacques Benveniste published his research in Nature magazine, showing that homeopathic dilutions were biologically active. Says Liz "Nature would only publish this with an accompanying editorial saying "Don´t believe what you are about to read: it can´t be true" . They then sent into his labs a very strange team of three including a magician (for sleight of hand) and a journalist who repeated the research with negative results. Some 14 years later a similar piece of work was repeated by Madeleine Ennis, a Professor of Immunology in Northern Ireland. Three out of four centres involved in her study also reported positive findings for biological activity. As a result Madeleine Ennis wrote: "I am forced to suspend my disbelief in homeopathy and look for a rational answer to these findings."
The Homeopathic Consultation - A Key X Factor
The consultation in itself is therapeutic
Homeopathic studies continue to accrue evidence: Liz´s own double blind trial randomised women to consultation plus remedy or consultation plus placebo. "It became apparent that you cannot separate the two: you can´t prescribe an individualised remedy without a consultation so you therefore cannot prescribe a placebo version without one either. So I am saying that the consultation in itself is therapeutic. Within it you are trying to facilitate that person getting more in touch with their own wise healing vital force. So this process is fairly complex."
You might also suspect that consultation helps because people coming for homeopathic help are already predisposed towards it. Not so, says Liz, "What´s bringing them is fear. They don´t want to die. I recently saw a 26 year old - so young and really upset. She came because she was open to homeopathy, yes, but if there were conventional treatments that were working for her, she probably wouldn´t be with me now." Liz Thompson´s husband, a GP, researcher and university lecturer who has introduced holistic care training and the concept of the vital force to medical undergraduates, has also has been researching the active ingredients of the homeopathic consultation - a unique and unprecedented piece of work. "Being listened to is in itself important" says Liz, "but we are trying to identify something a lot more active than that intervention. With homeopathy we are trying to pin down a substance in nature which, when totally matched to that individual, will stimulate the self-repairing response. That could be a very powerful response. The idea is that you are getting someone in touch with their wisdom, encouraging them to find meaning and to feel more connected to themselves, and to the world around them."
They really want that advice through the health service where they feel they can place their
The Medical Research Council has recently published a document looking at how homeopathy might build the evidence of complex intervention. Liz anticipates the need for trials comparing standard care versus standard care plus homeopathy. In Bristol, the research community has been growing with exciting results. Within the department of general practice, the Professor of Primary Care has been leading a study looking qualitatively at men´s use of CAM. "Men" says Liz Thompson, "use complementary therapies in cancer much less than women, but again what the research has shown is that people generally want a much broader array of information than they presently can get. They are very grateful to their conventional carers, but they also want advice on lifestyle, diet and supportive therapies that might help them recover more fully. And they really want that advice through the health service where they feel they can place their trust.
They also seem to want acknowledgment and approval from their oncologist of what they are trying to do. And that is something I am trying to work towards - we do need complementary advice to be very closely set within the system: it really should be made easier for people to access these choices." Could homeopathy make a real difference if patients came seeking supportive help earlier - before reaching the point of fear and desperation? Liz Thompson says that this question too really needs further research "but my vision of cancer care in the future would be that people could access a range of therapeutic approaches that would acknowledge them as the complex individuals they are."
The British Homeopathic Association upholds homeopathy by statutory registered health care practitioners - doctors, dentists nurses - even vets. Contact them for a list of practitioners in your area. at Hahnemann House, 29 Park Street West, Luton LU1 3BE tel: 08704 443950.
Website: www.trusthomeopathy.org . The Faculty of Homeopathy has five training centres in the UK and is a sister organisation to the BHA, found at the same address.
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