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"Either you're going to stimulate healing, which
takes time for the body to repair itself,
or you're going to relieve symptoms with
some kind of medication - whether it's homeopathic
or allopathic doesn't matter. But you can't cure
and palliate at the same time."

Richard Pitcairn, D.V.M., Ph.D.

A few weeks ago a reader called Tiger Tribe to ask if we had heard of a particular homeopathic "drainage remedy." We didn't know anything about it, and the reader said, "Well, it's homeopathic. It certainly can't be harmful, can it?

Dr. Richard Pitcairn's answer to this question is simple - any homeopathic medicine, prescribed without an understanding of the healing process, can potentially be dangerous. "You can often do more damage with homeopathy than you can with allopathic medicine," he told us during a series of conversations over the last several months. In addition, he feels that combination remedies, mixtures of proven and unproven remedies represent a seriously flawed and dangerous departure from what he considers good homeopathic practice.

That anything homeopathic could be considered dangerous might come as a surprise to those who see homeopathy as an exercise in delusion and who attribute apparently curative results to the placebo effect. But to those who have witnessed truly remarkable homeopathic cures in animals and people, it should come as no surprise. Any medicine with the kind of power homeopathy demonstrates must certainly have the potential for misuse.

"The central issue," Dr. Pitcairn told us, "is understanding the difference between treating palliatively or even suppressively and treating in a curative way.

"Any time you put a medicine in an animal's body and that medicine has a resemblance to the disease process there are three possibilities. (1) Symptoms are relieved temporarily - and when the symptoms return, the asprin or antihistamines, for example, may have to be repeated, and each time you need to increase the dosage. This is called palliation. (2) The symptoms of the disease are suppressed permanently but the disease remains uncured or gets worse. This is, of course, called suppression. (3) The animal moves towards cure in the manner described by homeopathic literature."

When D. Pitcairn talks about a "resemblance to the disease process," he is referring to the basic law of homeopathy, similia similibus curatur, or "like cures like." In other words, a healthy person, given a particular medicine day after day, would ultimately develop a certain set of symptoms as his vital force responds to the medicine. This set of symptoms can resemble a disease state, and a homeopathic practitioner, studying the symptoms of a person or animal, can find a remedy which most closely matches the case. By way of the law of similars a cure is achieved.

The basic understanding of homeopathy is important to grasp because it points out the need for provings of the homeopathic remedies. Healthy people, given the remedies, record the symptoms they experience, and homeopaths use these sets of symptoms to prescribe.

"The problem with combination remedies," Dr. Pitcairn told us, "is that we don't know what they do in terms of a historical proving, and we can't accurately match them to the condition of the animal. So there is no way to prescribe them homeopathically.

"Even stranger to me is the use of a number of potencies of the same remedy in a given combination remedy. There isn't a tradition of or evidence for using multiple potencies like this. If I give a 30X remedy to an animal and he reacted poorly to it, one way to antidote it is to give a lower or higher potency. So these combinations are very strange. I don't know where the idea came from, but it's not homeopathy."

Returning to the issue of palliation versus cure, Dr. Pitcairn told us, "These combination remedies are often being used in the home and being used for what in most cases is chronic illness. When a reaction takes place and the person doesn't understand the course of a cure, they may switch remedies or repeat the original remedy. The result is most likely to be palliative or suppressive. They will have what appears to be a temporary improvement, just like cortisone. But later the animal will be worse in some way.

"We see this frequently in our practice; animals who have been treated with homeopathic drugs a few weeks before and now coming in with kidney failure. And most people think that the use of the remedy is unrelated to the development of the disease. They'll say, 'My cat was better on this remedy for a while, but now he's changed,' when actually what we are seeing is the result of symptom suppression by homeopathic medicine.

"Hahnemann made it very clear in the first paragraph of the Organon of Medicine," Dr. Pitcairn went on to tell us: "He said that the mission of the physician is to cure the patient. He said this to remind us that the purpose is not to palliate or suppress symptoms because that is harmful.

"So it's with this understanding that we should prescribe any medicine. The remedies shouldn't be applied in terms of giving temporary relief, especially when you're dealing with chronic disease. Not only can you do harm if you prescribe this way, but you can cloud the symptom picture in such a way that it becomes difficult for even a good homeopath to understand the nature of the original disease."

We told Dr. Pitcairn that the common complaint we hear about classical homeopathy is that it is too slow in action and that people don't have the time to wait to see if a remedy will work.

"That issue is a watershed," he told us. "What we are talking about hear is the difference between any kind of treatment that results in healing and improvement of health and treatment that relieves symptoms temporarily.

"This is the big difference between homeopathy and allopathy; the allopaths are very good at giving quick relief, without improving the level of health - in fact, the level of health seems to worsen over time. But if you want to achieve a truly curative response, you must expect that this will take time. Either you're going to stimulate healing, which takes time for the body to repair itself, or you're going to relieve symptoms with some kind of medicine - whether it's homeopathic or allopathic doesn't matter.

"If the point of view is that we don't have time for this kind of slow but true healing, then we have to look deeper and ask ourselves what we are doing here. Are we keeping animals for our convenience? Are we saying that we're too busy to care if their level of health is truly good and that disease is not just superficially covered up? It becomes an ethical question.

"The problem with combination remedies and with poor homeopathic prescribing is that they are used to treat chronic illness in a palliative way. It may work and work quickly, but we can also say that antibiotics and steroids work. The problem is not whether these other approaches work or not, the problem is what the long-term consequences are.

"It's always been appealing to people to find some kind of quick solution. That's the way of our society. We want a quick solution and we end up feeding commercial foods and using steroids and other things because we're in to much of a hurry. When you start compromising for the sake of speed, then you're back in the mainstream, rushing along like everyone else.

"People sometimes come to our veterinary practice with this kind of expectation of a quick cure and with little time to spend. We had a case just this week. The client had moved here from the east coast and was referred to us by a "homeopathic veterinarian." What the client expected was to give a two sentence report and get a new prescription within an hour. The client started complaining and wondering why the process was taking so long, why we were asking so many questions! We didn't want to speak poorly of the veterinarian who referred this client, but in fact he had misrepresented homeopathy by cultivating this kind of quick-cure attitude.

"The most common scenario we see with other practitioners is that if they hit upon a curative remedy, they quickly avoid waiting for the response to unfold because they mistakenly think that the remedy is making things worse. They don't understand the difference between palliation and cure; they are looking for instant relief. And when they don't get that palliation, they become uncomfortable.

"It's really a philosophical problem. Most people in our society, as I said before, are raised with the expectation that medical treatments should be quickly palliative. When that doesn't happen they become anxious. It's a misguided assumption, but unfortunately it's the pervasive and dominant concept. So it's confusing when someone comes along and says 'true healing isn't that way,' but it's really just common sense. If an individual has been getting sick for years, you can't expect them to be well in just a few days or a few weeks. It's going to take a year or more of gradually rebuilding their health. How fast can the body heal itself? If someone breaks a bone, you wouldn't expect it to heal in two or three days. We have to have the same understanding in the case of chronic disease.

"The great issue for us as human beings is to understand the difference between going deeply enough to really deal with a problem and superficially glossing over it. That's a difficulty throughout our society, whether it be in the area of politics or the area of medicine. We have an opportunity now, with the renewed interest in holistic medicine, and especially in homeopathy, to deal with these issues. Because from my experience, homeopathy, as discovered and developed by Hahnemann, is what makes the difference between curing and not curing."

-L. Granfield

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