In spite of being the second largest system of medicine in the world and having proved its efficacy in many therapeutic segments, homeopathy still remains much unorganised and often the last resort. Sushmi Dey explores the promising system of medicines
Docs and the bitter pills have always been objects of threat to patients of all age groups. Homeopathy has not just come as a relief to all such ideas but also as an effective alternative system of medicine. The origin of homeopathy is also as interesting as the system of medicine itself. Remarkably, the system of homeopathic treatment was first cracked by none other than a physician who himself used to practise conventional medicines. Back in the late 18 century, harsh and threatening methods of medical treatment prompted Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician, chemist and linguist to develop an alternative and less threatening way of treatment. Way back then, medicines contained toxic elements like arsenic and mercury and treatments involved lot of blistering and bloodletting (according to reports). The first breakthrough occurred while Hahnemann, disturbed with such medical practices, was translating an herbal text and came to know of a treatment used to cure malaria with Cinchona bark. Hahnemann observed the undiluted bark for sometime and discovered that he himself developed symptoms similar to malaria symptoms. This observation proved to be a landmark and lead to the concept of homeopathic medicines.
Coming home to homeo
|“Unlike conventional systems, homeopathy does not work through compression of symptoms or diseases. That’s why the time taken is longer”
– Dr Akshay Batra Deputy Managing Director
Dr Batras’ Positive Health Clinic
With time, homeopathy became popular all over the world, and it made its entry into India. The system of medicines first made its entry in India in 1810 when German missionaries distributed homeopathic medicines to people of the country. However, it became popular after Dr John Hoenigberger came to treat Maharaja Ranjit Singh who was suffering from paralysis of vocal cords and edema. Hoenigberger later shifted to Kolkata where he practised for quite some time.
Homeopathy was officially recognised in India in 1937 with the passing of the first resolution by the government, followed by another in 1948. However, according to Dr Akshay Batra, Deputy Managing Director, Dr Batras’ Positive Health Clinic, the real recognition came when a Central Act was passed in 1973. The Central Council of Homeopathy (CCH) was established in 1973 to oversee the standards for homeopathic education and practice. CCH later set minimum standards of education related to graduate and post-graduate courses and only approved colleges can provide education in homeopathy. Correspondence courses are not recognised and any practice on this basis is illegal.
The ruling concept
|“A homeopath not only has to know the dynamics of the disease, but also should have in-depth understanding of the patient’s nature, lifestyle, emotions and habits”
– Dr Issac Mathai Chairman and Managing Medical Director
Indian Holistic Medical Centre
Homeopathy works on the basic concept of fighting like with like. According to Batra, homeopathy attempts to use symptoms from a healthy person to treat someone who is suffering from those symptoms. Homeopaths believe that an effective drug must produce symptoms in healthy individuals that it can also cure. For instance, the effects of peeling an onion are very similar to the symptoms of acute cold. The remedy prepared from the red onion, Allium cepa, is used in homeopathy to treat the type of cold in which the symptoms resemble those we get from peeling onion.
On the other hand, homeopathy also tends to stimulate the energy of human body which is called self-healing response. “Homeopathy attempts to stimulate the body to recover itself. It is based on the Law of Similars or Law of Cure. This law demonstrates that the selected remedy is able to produce a range of symptoms in a healthy person similar to that observed in the patient, thus leading to the principle of Similia Similibus Curentur i.e. let likes be treated by likes,” tells Dr Issac Mathai, Chairman and Managing Medical Director, Indian Holistic Medical Centre in Bangalore.
How to treat?
Homeopaths believe that an illness is not just related to the body but also to the mind and the spirit. Hahnemann suggested that the vital energy in the body has the ability to react or adapt to disturbances and that various causes can attract hypothetical disease causing entities called miasms. “Homoeopathy is based on holistic models of medicine, which defines health as a perfect harmony between body, mind and spirit. In case of an illness, our body voices out the imbalance in the form of symptoms,” says Mathai.
This is the reason that any homeopath takes typically long time to read the symptoms of a patient in his or her first visit. The homeopathic doctors make an in-depth assessment of the patient during the first visit. “To prescribe a homoeopathic medicine, a physician has to know not only the dynamics of the disease but also should have an in-depth understanding of the patient’s nature, his lifestyle, emotions and habits. The homeopath aims at individualising the patient,” adds Mathai. However, the first visit guides the selection of one or more homeopathic remedies. Depending on the patient’s response in the following visits, the homeopath decides on the further line of treatment.
However, according to Batra, the ways to identify patients under homeopathy is exactly same as in other disciplines. “Homeopaths use exactly the same process to identify patients as any other doctor would. The right way to do it is through observing and noting the symptoms and then prescribing diagnosis where it is required. The methods of diagnosis are also same. We recommend tests like MRI and CT scan when required to our patients,” tells Batra. In fact, homeopathy also attempts to reconfirm its line of treatment through several methods of diagnosis.
Homeopathy treats a wide range of diseases like allergies, anorectal disorders, asthma, arthritis, back pain and neuralgia, colic, coughs and colds, cystitis, depression, eczema, gynecological problems, hair loss, heartburn, hyperpigmentation, insect bites, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, leg cramp, menopausal problems, migraines, morning sickness, nausea, obesity, pre-menstrual syndrome, sexual disorders, tumours and warts. “Homeopathy can cure generally all disease except surgical,” says Batra. Agrees Mathai and adds. “Homoeopathy works in all the areas. All the conditions which are curable are treatable in homoeopathy. For incurable conditions we have effective supportive treatments.”
Interestingly, homeopathy also claims to make a difference in certain cases of cancer and AIDS where treatment is a challenge even through conventional methods of treatment. According to reports, homeopathy can be very effective in the initial stages of cancer and can prove to be a supportive therapy at later stages of the disease. “In the homoeopathic therapy of cancer, the first aim is stopping of the tumour growth. In every single case, the homoeopath has to try to understand the nature of the patient before prescribing the correct constitutional remedy. Specific homeopathic remedies can be given for particular tumour. Homeopathic remedies are extremely safe and have no harmful side-effects,” suggests Mathai.
Homeopathic medicines are preferred because they are safe, effective and devoid of side-effects. The vast range of homeopathic medicine enables the doctors with various options. Reportedly, there are 3,000 varieties of homeopathic medicines available and if the correct remedy is prescribed, the results of the medicine are rapid and permanent. Homeopathy is, therefore, considered to be extremely effective in certain cases if it is done with the right approach. Besides, homeopathy being a holistic treatment is gentle and does not apply any strict dietary restrictions. However, homeopaths like any other physician advice against processed food and junk food.
In the conventional system, medicines usually palliates the symptoms of illness, without addressing the underlying cause while homeopathic medicines addresses the underlying cause, and attempts to cure the illness. The general perception about homeopathic treatment tells that it takes longer time of treatment, especially in comparison to other system of medicines. However, homeopaths dismiss such arguments. “These are myths,” says Dr SPS Bakshi, Chairman and Managing Director, Bakson’s Homeopathy. Agrees Batra, “The biggest advantage of homeopathic treatment is that it treats the disease from its root cause. Unlike conventional systems, homeopathy does not work through compression of symptoms or diseases. That’s why the time taken is longer. The time taken is because of ‘maintaining cause’.”
Many people subscribe to homeopathy because it is completely safe. Homeopathic medicines are mostly derived from natural sources like plants, minerals and at the most animals which help avoid adverse effects to a large extent. “90 percent of homeopathic medicines are extracted from plants and the remaining 10 percent comes from anything under the sun, like minerals, metals or animals,” says Batra. Besides, homeopathic medicines are administered in minute doses. The homeopathic medicine is prepared by diluting the substance in a series of steps and the level of dilution is kept quite high. “The extracts are diluted to such extent that at times one cannot even find the principal molecule,” adds Batra. However, homeopaths maintain that the healing properties of the substance are maintained through this process in spite of the level of dilution.
There is another important reason of homeopathy being safer in comparison to other system of medicines. According to Mathai, in conventional systems, medicines act directly upon the tissues and the cells of the body, without any effects upon the body’s healing powers and these medicines may cause side-effects in some cases whereas homeopathic medicines initiate a self-healing process, acting indirectly on the diseased cells and organs of the body and are free of side-effects and toxicity.
Apart from all the benefits that homeopathy offers, there is an added advantage to the subscribers of homeopathy. Experts say that homeopathic remedies can also be taken alongside other medication without producing unwanted side-effects.
According to Bakshi, till 1990 there were only 84 medical colleges where homeopathy was taught but 1990 onwards there was a complete transformation. While the WHO in 1994 noted that homeopathy had been integrated into the national healthcare systems of numerous countries, including Germany, the United Kingdom, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Mexico, in 1995 a separate directorate for homeopathy was established within the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare of India.
Homeopathy has now become part of the national network of health services, provided through hospitals, dispensaries and private practitioners. “The homeopathy industry in India is today growing at a rate of 30 percent. The present market size is around Rs 1,000 crore. The market has grown tremendously organised in last ten years and many corporate players are slowing entering the sector. The future of homeopathy is very bright in India,” avers Bakshi. Agrees Mathai and adds, “Homeopathy continues to grow more popular in India every day, with the opening of new dispensaries, numerous meetings and seminars and increasing numbers of homeopathic physicians and patients treated through homeopathy.”
Today, there are 182 homeopathic medical colleges in India which include government and private colleges and more than 50,000 homeopathic doctors are passing out of these colleges every year. “Homeopathy is as scientific as any other system of medicines. The students of homeopathy are taught and trained in similar manner as in any other system of medicines. In learning homeopathy also one has to go through all the process of learning anatomical details. The course is of five-and-a-half years,” adds Batra.
Status on research
Although homeopathy has stood the test of time, not much research has come to light in India. “Things were happening in India till a few years back but since last few years nothing much has been heard about,” says Batra. However, Mathai claims that a number of good double-blind homeopathy studies including both laboratory studies as well as clinical research, have been done. Also an impressive accumulation of statistics has been acquired.
According to Bakshi, there is a research happening in India but the research data is not coming to the market. There is no institution which can take sample and get into research. Most of the institutions are run by government.
Research and studies conducted outside India have shown that homeopathic drugs were also effective in various viral infections such as influenza, mumps, measles and chicken pox but the therapeutic efficacy in retroviral infections needs to be evaluated. Reports also suggest that homeopathic treatment for cancer is under trial at a leading medical centre in US. The clinical trials are going on mice to establish the effectiveness of homeopathic medicine and the results are expected by August this year.
In spite of the efforts of renowned homeopaths, support from government and continuous growth of homeopathy in India, the system of medicines has its own share of troubles and obstacles. Although the system of medicine is very popular in India and also in neighbouring countries, not many players are investing and it still remains far more unorganised in comparison to conventional treatment. “It has a huge potential in India but mostly untapped so far. There are not too many players in this segment. However, hospitals have started integrating and patients now have the right to choose treatment,” said Dr Mukesh Batra, Chairman and Managing Director, Dr Batra’s Positive Health Clinics.
The distribution channel is also not open for homeopathy. “Homeopathic medicines are supplied off-the-shelf. Homeopathy pharmacies are very few because the sales are low. They can only sell to the doctors. Also, it is very difficult to get an alcohol excise license required for the same. Besides, there are other norms like extra space and storage etc,” says Akshay Batra. “Although there are 50 dispensaries run by government all over India, the government policies and the regulatory norms concerning homeopathy are still weak in India,” complains Dr Bakshi. Besides, there is a sheer lack of awareness and prevailing ignorance to a large extent. “A large part of population, especially those who are uneducated are not aware of the benefits of homeopathy,” says Akshay Batra. A recent research conducted by AC Neilson reveals that there is a friction between conventional medicine and homeopathy. It observes that while 59 percent people opt for conventional medicine because it enjoys top-of-the mind recall, 56 percent of them subscribe to it because of immediate results. However 53 percent choose homeopathy because it is safe and is recommended by friends and relatives. Surprisingly, while homeopathy is considered one of the most effective means of treating chronic ailments, the AC Neilson research reveals that 51 percent of people suffering from chronic ailments try home remedies and 30 percent prefer to leave it unattended. “Homeopathy is often approached as a last resort when all other treatments have failed. Due to this, the duration of the treatment increases since the ailment reaches an advanced stage,” said Mukesh Batra.