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Healing versus masking?

While some health-care professionals are skeptical, other people tout homeopathy

While some health-care professionals are skeptical, other people tout homeopathy

June 20, 2005|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - Cycling around Asia in late 1994 and 1995, Jennifer Carpenter-Peak and her husband often got sick from contaminated food and water.

For bacterial infections, the couple took the antibiotic ciprofloxacin, which helped, at least temporarily, Carpenter-Peak said.

"What was happening is, you'd get knocked out for a day, then you'd feel great for a couple of weeks, and then it would come on back," said Carpenter-Peak, who lives south of Berkeley Springs.

When the couple decided to return to Thailand in 2000 with their 2-year-old son, Carpenter-Peak said she decided to try a different preventative technique - homeopathy - instead of the usual vaccinations. The family took homeopathic tinctures in place of vaccines and took homeopathic remedies on the trip in case they got sick.

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"We felt a lot better than we ever did the first time in Asia and were not using homeopathic (remedies). We never got anything serious," she said.

Homeopathy, according to Webster's New World College Dictionary, is based on the "theory that certain diseases can be cured by giving very small doses of drugs which in a healthy person would produce symptoms like those of the disease."

The theory is similar to that of going to the allergist and getting a tiny amount of pollen injected so the body gradually builds up immunity, said Sue Higgins, pharmacist manager at Home Care Pharmacy in the Fennel Building on East Antietam Street.

Homeopathic remedies are manufactured and sold at Homeopathy Works on Fairfax Street. The store has remedies in various forms, including liquid, tablet, ointment and pill form. A bottle containing 60 to 70 pills for the typical homeopathic remedy costs $7 or less, owner Joe Lillard said.

Rhus toxidendron, a remedy used for poison ivy and arthritis, among other things, is made from poison ivy leaves, Lillard said. The leaves are mashed, specific amounts of water and alcohol are added, the mixture is left to sit for a month, and the leaves are squeezed.

The resulting liquid is diluted and shaken hard three times, then sprayed on sugar pills, Lillard said. Remedies are diluted to varying degrees. The more one is diluted and shaken hard, the stronger the effect.

A repertory containing information on 1,500 to 1,600 remedies is consulted to narrow down the possible remedies for a sickness to four or five, Lillard said. The repertory is a list of symptoms and remedies that helps those symptoms. The remedies are graded based on their success rates.

Once the possible remedies are narrowed down, the patient looks up the finalists in a materia medica - a homeopathic reference - to determine which remedy is best suited for the specific case, Lillard said. The materia medica describes what each remedy does.

Sometimes it's difficult to find the right remedy, Carpenter-Peak said.

In a time when many people would rather just pop a pill, Carpenter-Peak said, working with homeopathic remedies takes patience. "There's a time and place for that, too, I believe."

Carpenter-Peak said she has found homeopathy to be more effective than over-the-counter medications in healing the body.

"I don't believe over-the-counter medicines are actually healing the body. I think they're masking the pain and comfort and there's a time and place for that," she said.

Her understanding of prescribed antibiotics is that they kill "the good (bacteria) as well as the bad stuff in the body" and that's why she and her husband got tired and sick again after taking antibiotics in Asia.

Carpenter-Peak saves "the big stuff" - antibiotics - for really important times because she has heard diseases are becoming more resistant to antibiotics.

Carpenter-Peak first tried a homeopathic remedy on herself in 1998, after much research and consulting others who practice homeopathy.

Now she treats her entire family with homeopathic remedies such as chamomilla to calm sick and cranky children or arsenicum album for upset stomach.

Carpenter-Peak said she knows key symptoms for dangerous diseases so she can get professional help when needed.

Key to homeopathy are knowledge and vigilance - monitoring symptoms and knowing the state of your body, she said. So homeopathy might not be for people who don't take care of themselves, she said.

Like Higgins, Dr. Matthew Hahn knows a lot of people who take homeopathic remedies and believe they work.

But Higgins and Hahn are skeptical. Neither thinks the theory sounds reasonable.

"In an effort to evaluate it myself, I've both done a little research and tried it myself. I have personally not found it to be successful, but I'm told that if one doesn't take it right, the results can really be misleading," said Hahn, a family physician at Tri-State Community Health Center in Hancock.

"There are certain medical conditions where I think it's extremely important that we don't experiment and other medical conditions where I think it's perfectly reasonable, non-life threatening," Hahn said.

Hahn said various skin conditions and rashes or allergies are good for experimenting with treatment like homeopathy. Those are not conditions that would kill most people in most circumstances, he said. In such cases there is the luxury of time and safety, he said.

Hahn said he has prescribed some herbal remedies and acupuncture because they were tested and were safe and effective, but he hasn't seen good scientific evidence that shows homeopathic remedies work.

"That doesn't mean they don't work," Hahn said.

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