Introduction to homeopathic theory in veterinary medicine

Introduction to homeopathic theory in veterinary medicine

Covered Topics;

  1. Complementary and alternative medicine in veterinary Science
  2. The definition of homeopathy in veterinary medicine
  3. The status of homeopathy in the UK
  4. The history of homeopathy in veterinary medicine
  5. The principles of homeopathy in veterinary medicine
  6. Treating with homeopathy in veterinary medicine
  7. Mechanisms of action of homeopathy
  8. Hering’s law – the direction of cure
  9. Proving a drug
  10. Drug pictures
  11. Materia medica and repertories


Complementary and alternative medicine in veterinary Science 

Complementary and alternative medicine, as defined by the US National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), is a group of diverse medical and healthcare systems, practices and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine.

These systems of medicine are all characterised by the fact that they involve holistic practice – that is, the procedures are individualised according to each patient’s circumstances.

This means that medicines (or procedures) appropriate for one patient might be totally inappropriate for another – even though the symptoms may be similar.

Conversely, the same medicine may be used to treat very different conditions in different patients.

A distinction can be made between complementary and alternative therapies, which include those manipulative interventions that generally rely on procedures alone (for example, chiropractic and reflexology), and complementary and alternative medicine (for example, aromatherapy, herbalism and homeopathy), which is associated with the use of medicines (or ‘remedies’ as they are often called). However, the terms are often used interchangeably.

The definition of homeopathy in veterinary medicine

Homeopathy is a complementary and alternative therapy the use of which is based on the Law of Similars and involves the administration of ultradilute medicines prepared according to methods specified in the various official national homeopathic pharmacopoeias , with the aim of stimulating the body’s capacity to heal itself.

The status of homeopathy in the UK

In the UK, homeopathy has been available under the country’s National Health Service (NHS) since its inception in 1947–48.

However, it is not the UK’s most popular complementary and alternative therapy by total market value, and it is possible that herbal and perhaps aromatherapy products will be fully reimbursable under the NHS in the foreseeable future.

The practice of homeopathy has changed little in the last 200 years or so in the way its medicines have been used.

In direct contrast to orthodox medicine, relatively few new medicines have joined the modern homeopath’s armamentarium in recent years.

The history of homeopathy in veterinary medicine

Christian Friedrich Samuel Hahnemann was born just before midnight on 10 April 1755 in Meissen, the ancient town renowned for its porcelain and situated on the banks of the River Elbe, about 100 miles south of Berlin. He qualified as a physician at the Frederick Alexander University in Erlangen in 1779. 

In 1790, Hahnemann translated and annotated a materia medica written by the eminent Scottish physician William Cullen (1710–90).

Hahnemann disagreed with Cullen’s suggestion that the mechanism of action of cinchona bark in the treatment of marsh fever (malaria) was due to its astringent properties.

Because he knew of the existence of several astringents more powerful than cinchona that were not effective in marsh fever, he decided to test the drug by taking relatively large doses himself.

He found that the resulting toxic effects were very similar to the symptoms experienced by patients suffering from the disease.

Hahnemann then tried a number of other active substances on himself, his family and volunteers to obtain evidence to substantiate his findings.

In each case he found that the medicines could bring on the symptoms of the diseases for which they were being used as a treatment.

Thus he systematically built up considerable circumstantial evidence for the existence of a Law of Similars  based on the concept of ‘like to treat like’.

He called the systematic procedure of testing substances on healthy human beings, in order to elucidate the symptoms reflecting the use of the medicine, a ‘proving’.

In 1810 Hahnemann published his most famous work, the Organon of the Rational Art of Healing (commonly simply referred to as ‘The Organon’).

1 A total of five editions appeared during Hahnemann’s lifetime; the manuscript for a sixth edition was not published for many years after his death.

The subject matter in the sixth edition was set out in 291 numbered sections or aphorisms, usually denoted in the literature by the symbol § and the relevant section number.

The principles of homeopathy in veterinary medicine

There are four important principles associated with the practice of homeopathy:

1.       1 . Like cures like

 Hahnemann believed that, in order to cure disease, one must seek medicines that can excite similar symptoms in the healthy human body.

This idea is summarised in the Latin phrase similia similibus curentur, often translated as ‘let like be treated with like’.

Thus a medicine such as Coffea tosta, made from toasted coffee beans, might be used to treat insomnia.

1.      2.  Minimal dose.

When Hahnemann carried out his original work he gave substantial doses of medicine to his patients, in keeping with contemporary practice.

This often resulted in major toxic reactions; fatalities were not uncommon. He experimented to try to dilute out the unwanted toxicity, while at the same time maintaining a therapeutic effect.

Hahnemann found that, as the medicines were serially diluted, with vigorous shaking at each stage, they appeared to become more potent therapeutically. To reflect this effect he called the process potentisation.

1.        3. Single medicine

Hahnemann believed that one should use a single medicine to treat a condition. Provings in all materia medicas relate to single medicines and there is no way of knowing whether or how individual medicine drug pictures are modified by combination with other ingredients. In later life Hahnemann did use mixtures of two or three medicines, and there are a limited number of such mixtures still used today, including Arsen iod, Gelsemium and Eupatorium perf (AGE for colds and flu), and Aconite, Belladonna and Chamomilla (ABC for teething). There is a growing tendency for the major manufacturers to combine mixtures of medicines and potencies in one product. These are known as complexes.

 4.   Whole patient.

The holistic approach to treatment, in which all aspects of a patient’s wellbeing are considered, not just local symptoms in isolation.

Treating with homeopathy in veterinary medicine

1. Treating with homeopathy involves the following stages:

2. Collecting information.

3. Matching symptoms reported by a patient with the drug pictures of appropriate medicines.

4. Confirming the choice with questions based on modalities (what makes the symptoms better or worse).

5. Choosing the correct dose and frequency.

6. Following up.

Mechanisms of action of homeopathy

The mechanisms of action of homeopathy are not fully understood. Homeopaths consider disease to be an expression of the vital force of each individual. Because all individuals are quite different in their expression of the vital force, patients are treated according to their idiosyncratic, rather than their common, symptoms. The symptoms are important only in that they act as an indicator for the selection of an appropriate medicine. It is believed that the vital force operates on three different levels:

1. General, where changes in understanding and consciousness are recorded (e.g. confusion and lack of concentration) and changes in emotional states are recorded (e.g. anxiety, envy, fear, irritability, love, sadness). These observations serve to build up a picture of the patient’s wellbeing.

2. Physical, where changes to the body’s organs and systems are recorded (e.g. organ malfunctions and disease).

 3. Local, where changes occurring in the immediate vicinity of the patient’s problem are considered.

Under normal conditions, the vital force is thought to be responsible for the orderly and harmonious running of the body, and for coordinating the body’s defences against disease. However, if the force becomes disturbed by factors such as emotional stress, poor diet, environmental conditions or certain inappropriate allopathic drugs, then illness results. Homeopathic practitioners consider the body’s functions to be a melange of all these levels when determining which homeopathic medicine is appropriate to restore the vital force to its ‘normal’ level.

As stated above, homeopaths look at the totality of symptoms rather than at individual aspects of disease in isolation. However, this comprehensive approach is not the only way homeopathic medicines can be used. It is possible to administer medicines chosen for their local effect, in which case the drug picture is reduced to a few highly significant indications (known as ‘keynotes’) for matching. This approach is used especially for first aid and the treatment of many simple self-limiting acute situations.


Hering’s law – the direction of cure

Hering’s law, attributed to Dr Constantine Hering (often called the father of American homeopathy), gives an indication of the order in which a condition may be expected to resolve during homeopathic treatment. It states that cure takes place;

 1. from top to bottom of the body

  2. from the inside to the outside

  3. from the most important organs to the least important

 4.  in reverse order of onset of symptoms.

Hence mental symptoms (emotions) might be expected to improve before physical symptoms are resolved, and recent symptoms will subside before longstanding chronic symptoms. A good example of this law in practice is the resolution of asthma, a condition that is often associated with a skin condition. It is not uncommon to see the physical symptoms of asthma improving only to find an underlying skin condition becoming more pronounced.

Proving a drug

Most homeopathic medicines have a drug picture, a written survey of the symptoms noted when the drug was given to healthy volunteers, a process known as ‘proving the drug’. Hahnemann defined very precise guidelines for carrying out provings. Theoretically, the proving of a substance refers to all the symptoms induced by the substance in healthy people according to Hahnemann’s original instructions. Provings are still carried out today, to verify earlier work and to bring new medicines to the homeopath’s armamentarium.

Drug pictures

Drug pictures may also contain symptoms derived from the following sources:

 Observations of toxicological effects arising from therapeutic, deliberate or accidental administration.

 Observations of pathological symptoms regularly cured by the medicine in clinical practice. This is the source of many seemingly strange symptoms noticeable in some drug pictures. In some instances the whole drug picture may be derived from toxicological or clinical observations and not from a true proving at all.

Materia medica and repertories

The drug pictures are collected together in large weighty books called materia medicas and repertories, many of which have been computerised. The former list all the drugs with their drug pictures; the latter list conditions with an indication of the medicines that might be useful in treating them. Within this list there is a hierarchy of type styles in the text to reflect the relative importance of the items mentioned. The process of choosing a medicine to treat a particular condition by matching symptoms to a drug picture is known as repertorisation.

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