- The Washington Times - Monday, April 4, 2005

Dr. Molly Punzo is trying to treat more than symptoms. As a physician in private practice in Easton, Md., she regularly tells her patients to use homeopathic remedies instead of mainstream medicines.

After watching one of her patients recover from pneumonia when he tried using homeopathic drugs instead of antibiotics, Dr. Punzo became interested in the form of healing. It especially intrigued her because she felt frustrated by many of the side effects of conventional drugs.

“Homeopathy addresses the whole person,” Dr. Punzo says. “When someone comes in with any complaint that’s physical, you can also track mental and emotional symptoms. The goal is to find the remedy to treat all the levels at once.”

Homeopathy, a distinct form of alternative medicine different from herbal remedies, was started by German physician Samuel Hahnemann in the late 1700s. Homeopathic practitioners believe it is a more effective way of treating patients than mainstream medicine.

In the battle between conventional and alternative medicine, however, traditional doctors have their own opinions.

The American Medical Association, headquartered in Chicago, includes homeopathy in its policy on alternative medicines. Part of the organization’s statement says, “Physicians should routinely inquire about the use of alternative or unconventional therapy by their patients, and educate themselves and their patients about the state of scientific knowledge with regard to alternative therapy that may be used or contemplated. Patients who choose alternative therapies should be educated as to the hazards that might result from postponing or stopping conventional medical treatment.”

If homeopathy works for patients it’s because of the placebo effect, in which improvement in health is not attributed to treatment, says Dr. John J. Lynch, a member of the Center for Bioethics at the Washington Hospital Center in Northwest.

“Just because you take something and you feel better doesn’t mean it came from that medicine; it’s sort of mind over matter sometimes,” Dr. Lynch says. “There is no scientific evidence that homeopathic remedies are effective in treating cancer or other diseases.”

Although homeopathic medicine is not widely accepted in the United States, it is used regularly in Europe and India, including by the British royal family, says Claire Brawley, supplement and body care manager at Yes! Organic Market in Northwest. She is originally from England.

“It has been said that homeopathy is the medicine of the 21st century,” Mrs. Brawley says. “It’s harmless, and it does seem to work.”

In a study looking at the effects of homeopathic treatment on 62 patients with fibromyalgia, people who were on active, individualized homeopathic treatment had less pain and better overall health than the people taking a placebo, says Dr. Iris Bell, director of research in the program in integrative medicine at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

The research, which was funded through a grant from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, was published in 2004 in Rheumatology, an international peer-review journal.

Dr. Bell administered the homeopathic remedies to her patients by asking them to breathe the medicine through their noses.

“Placebo and active remedies did not produce the same result in brain waves,” Dr. Bell says. “There was more alpha brain wave activity in those people on active treatment.”

Homeopathic physicians base their work on the idea of “like curing like,” says Dana Ullman, director of Homeopathic Educational Services in Berkeley, Calif. Therefore, the practitioners give their patients a medicine with a diluted form of the substance that is making them ill, hoping it will cure them.

The same substance given to a healthy person would elicit the symptoms that are irritating the sick person, Mr. Ullman says.

“The principle is similar to immunization and allergy treatments,” Mr. Ullman says. “It’s not just coincidental.”

Many conventional medical doctors discount homeopathy, saying that the dilution and shaking process used to create the homeopathic remedies wouldn’t leave any of the original substance in the medicine.

However, it is the structure, not the composition, that determines the property of the water, says Rustum Roy, Evan Pugh professor of the solid state emeritus at Pennsylvania State University in University Park.

Therefore, homeopathic medicine has the possibility of being effective, he says. Homeopathic practitioners say the more the substance is diluted, the more potent it becomes.

“There is a phenomenon in material science called epitaxy, the way of transferring structure without transfer in composition,” says Mr. Roy, who holds a doctorate in material science. “Chemists say homeopathy can’t work because there is no composition change. That’s wrong.”

Dr. Felix Liao, a dentist in private practice in Ellicott City, Md., routinely uses homeopathic medicines for jaw, tooth and gum infections. He keeps some in stock and has others shipped to his patients. Unlike conventional drugs that need prescriptions, some of the medicines can be bought at health food stores.

“You need a trained doctor’s skill, care and judgment to decide what kind of homeopathic medicine you need,” Dr. Liao says. “We treat patients very individually. We don’t have one public health program for everybody.”

Menopause, sciatic nerve pain, insomnia, arthritis, gout and rheumatism are among the problems homeopathic medicines can treat, says Catherine Clark, marketing manager at Washington Homeopathic Products in Berkeley Springs, W.Va.

The company manufactures more than 2,000 products and ships them around the globe to its 40,000 customers, including stores in the metro area, such as Common Market Food Co-Op in Frederick, Md..

“These are not only available to people who are alternatively minded,” Ms. Clark says. “It’s available to people who have no other options. It’s so fast. It’s so easy. There are no harmful effects. Everyone I know who uses homeopathic medicine never goes back to standard medicine.

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