You are here

Homeopathic prophylaxis? Tantalizing question, surprising answer

Homeopathic prevention for epidemic diseases? Certainly, it has been done. It has worked often enough to tantalize the imagination. Both clinical experience and laboratory findings offer enough evidence of its potential effectiveness to make us realize that we need to learn more about how it works and when and how to use it. Many severe epidemic diseases had up till now fallen from the conscious attention and current training of health care practitioners in this country. The threat of bioterrorism refocuses our attention. The homeopathic community has an excellent opportunity now to review what we already know about homeopathic prevention and target more energetically the aspects of it that we must understand better.
     Today, we have better-than-ever allopathic treatments and prophylactics for many severe epidemic diseases. Yet we don't have all the answers. Conventional vaccinations are less than 100% effective and can cause severe side effects in particularly susceptible individuals. And as people get older or if they are very sick, they may lose some of their ability to respond to the usual vaccinations. Likewise, antibiotics, while extremely valuable, also are less than 100% effective, especially for people suffering overwhelming infections. Certain people experience allergies or severe side effects from many antibiotics. In addition, disease organisms sometimes develop resistance to antibiotics, prompting hesitation to use them as often as might otherwise be useful. Consequently, needing additional clinical tools, we have good reasons to learn everything possible about homeopathic prophylaxis, and even better reasons to encourage credible research into how it works, so that it might gain wider recognition as a reliable tool for maintaining public health.
     Samuel Hahnemann, homeopathy's founder, initiated the use of homeopathic remedies to protect people from epidemic diseases. He recorded dealing with epidemics of scarlet fever and then Asian cholera. In both instances, once he had determined the remedy that best matched the symptoms of the epidemic, he gave a dose of it to the patients' families. In this way, he effectively prevented the manifestation of those diseases in others at high risk. For scarlet fever, the remedy was Belladonna, and for Asian cholera it was Cuprum metallicum. We note two important concepts in Hahnemann's prophylactic use of homeopathic remedies:
     a) the remedies were the epidemic simillimum (the curative remedy for the epidemic, often referred to as the "genus epidemicus"), not nosodes (remedies made from diseased matter); nosodes had not yet been developed.
     b) Hahnemann was not "vaccinating" the general population, but treating people who had already been exposed.
     Referring to the cholera epidemic, Hahnemann specifically states (Lesser Writings, "Cure and Prevention of Asian Cholera," p. 755):

     The above preparation of copper, together with good and moderate diet and proper attention to cleanliness, is the most certain preventive and productive remedy; those in health should take, once a week, a small globule of it (Cupr 30c) in the morning fasting, and not drink anything immediately afterward, but this should not be done until the cholera is in the locality itself, or in the neighborhood.

     Hahnemann taught and demonstrated that homeopathic remedies treat existing disease states in individuals; he was not attempting to prevent states that might possibly happen sometime in the future. This definition applies to all uses of homeopathic remedies, even when we act "prophylactically" or preventively. In Aphorism 7 of the Organon, his masterwork on homeopathy, Hahnemann states, "Briefly, in every individual case of disease, the totality of symptoms must be the physician's principal concern, the only object of his attention ..." I was surprised as I researched the available literature concerning homeopathic "prophylaxis," to see how universally Hahnemann's statement appears to apply to all uses of homeopathic remedies. I began to understand that homeopathically, prophylaxis and treatment work identically. In contrast, the action of homeopathic remedies, so effective within the homeopathic framework, appears to correlate only partially with allopathic concepts such as vaccination, antibodies, and disease entities. Our present use of the word "prophylaxis" in reference to homeopathically prepared substances thus creates a fascinating riddle by suggesting that homeoprophylaxis and allopathic vaccination are analogous concepts, when in fact they are quite different.

History of homeoprophylaxis
In addition to Hahnemann, two other eminent early homeopaths, Hering and Boenninghausen, studied homeopathic prophylaxis extensively, pioneering the use of nosodes—remedies made from diseased matter. Nosodes seem to present the advantage of simplicity. In acute epidemics, they offer a specific remedy for a specific disease (for example, Pertussin for whooping cough, Variolinum for smallpox, or Anthracinum for anthrax), in contrast to the usual homeopathic analytical search for the simillimum. Epidemics of extremely toxic and fast-acting diseases demand very rapid action, and nosodes can allow homeopaths to act quickly while they also search for the epidemic's simillimum (often called its "genus epidemicus"). However, the prophylactic use of nosodes in the manner of conventional vaccinations with no reference to actual disease exposure appears to draw more on allopathy than on homeopathy. First, it is not a treatment, and there are no symptoms to indicate its level of effectiveness. Second, it is administered regardless of the individual's state, in direct contrast to the homeopathic rule of treating according to the patient's current state of health or sickness.
     Many homeopathic experts believe that nosodes provide a reliable, safe way to protect exposed individuals from contracting epidemic diseases when they are used to treat already exposed patients in the midst of epidemics. For instance, C.M. Boger, in discussing Psorinum in The Homeopathic Recorder, states:

... in fact all nosodes seem to be most successful in types of disease similar to the ones from which they have been derived ...They are also used as prophylactics, inducing a more certain immunity than can otherwise be obtained; this is especially true of Variolinum, the smallpox nosode which I have tested to my entire satisfaction, even allowing unvaccinated persons under its influence to nurse and sleep with the smallpox victim ... Out of more than a dozen of such exposures, I have not had a single infection.

     We should note that nosodes provide one alternative, but that rapid action is also possible with other remedies. Many of the most severe epidemic or sporadic diseases are what Hahnemann called "acute miasms," diseases that retain essentially the same character each time they become epidemic. Such diseases tend to overwhelm the vital force, inciting a limited and somewhat predictable totality of symptoms. This enables homeopaths to assume that the epidemic simillimum may well be the same one that has worked in previous outbreaks. As a result, materia medicas cite epidemic remedies likely to be effective for most cases of specific diseases: for instance, Arsenicum album for anthrax, Baptisia for typhoid, Veratrum album for cholera, Lathyrus sativa for polio.
     Obviously, these listings are based on clinical experience rather than on provings. The provers for these remedies developed symptoms closely resembling the most common symptoms of these diseases; they didn't develop polio, typhoid, or anthrax poisoning per se. As simillima (plural of the Latin word "simillimum"), however, these remedies have effectively treated the indicated diseases. Homeopaths treating epidemic diseases have also recorded their use of other remedies for different stages or different manifestations of symptoms in specific patients. Thus, for anthrax poisoning (a disease historically common among farmers and wool processors), to take one example, H.C. Allen in his Keynotes of the Materia Medica with Nosodes, under the listing "Anthracinum," suggests the following remedies for treating patients in advanced stages of the disease: Crotalus horridus, Pyrogen, Carbolic acid, and Lachesis.
     This information relative to epidemic remedies for acute epidemic diseases can be useful in an emergency, when the expected simillimum is likely to be readily available while the nosode may prove more difficult to obtain. In-depth information on epidemic simillima for a range of epidemic acute miasms has recently been compiled from research in materia medicas and published cases by associates of Caduceus Institute for Classical Homeopathy, and posted on their website (http://www.homeopathyhome.com/caduceus/).

Homeoprophylactic treatment in recent epidemics
Most available reports on homeoprophylaxis have followed the lead of the early homeopaths, documenting homeopathic treatment in the midst of acute epidemics. For instance, Dr. Michael Traub, in an article published in 1994 (Journal of Naturopathic Medicine, Vol., 5, No.1, "Homeopathic Prophylaxis") cites successful homeoprophylaxis in an outbreak of smallpox in Iowa in 1902.

     In 1907 Charles Woodhull Eaton read his paper "Immunization with Variolinum" before the American Institute of Homeopathy. Homeopathic prophylaxis for smallpox was supported and defended by the Supreme Court of Iowa, and Eaton reported the following statistical study, the first of its kind that I have uncovered in my review of the literature. A nosode was prepared from the smallpox pustule and administered in 12X and 30X potencies during the smallpox epidemic in Iowa of 1902. Fifteen doctors in Iowa participated in the study, and only properly verified cases were counted (the total number of those given Variolinum and the number known to have been exposed were less than the actual numbers). The number of persons immunized with Variolinum was 2,806. Of these, 547 were known to be exposed to smallpox. Only 14 individuals contracted the disease. Of these 14 cases, one got the disease two years later and three had also received the scarification vaccine. Eaton concluded that Variolinum was a more effective prophylactic than the vaccine.

[The text of Dr. Eaton's presentation is available on Julian Winston's website, www.homeopathic.co.nz/AFHtrans/smallpox1.htm ]

     Another respected homeopath, Dr. Arthur Hill Grimmer, described his regimen for homeopathic prophylaxis during a polio epidemic in The Layman Speaks, Vol. 5 No. 3, March 1952 (from Collected Works of Arthur Hill Grimmer, edited by Ahmed N. Currim, PhD, MD). This protocol consisted of a single dose of Lathyrus sativa 30C once a month for three months during the epidemic. After the third dose of 30C, he recommended, for children, two more monthly doses of the same remedy at 200C. This was to be followed by a single dose of 1M two months after the second 200C dose, then a single dose of 10M twice a year for the following five years. For adults, the first three 30C doses were given in a regime identical to that he used with children. Then they received 1M every six months "for several years" (pp. 173--174). Dr. Grimmer's success with this protocol, replicated subsequently with similar success in large polio outbreaks in South America, went relatively unnoticed in the U.S., even though it preceded the allopathic vaccine by more than a decade. This at a time when the country was literally panic-stricken about polio, with children kept indoors and away from pools, movies, or any other public gathering place all summer every year for fear they might become victims. Yet his success with this regime, by his own account, was close to 100%.
     Another testimonial to the power of homeoprophylaxis used as treatment within an epidemic was provided in a report given by Dr. Carola Lage Roy at the 2001 annual meeting of the California Homeopathic Medical Society (October 20, 2001, San Francisco). She briefly described the work she had recently spearheaded in Germany to immunize herds of cattle threatened by the spread throughout Europe of BSE, "Mad Cow Disease." Apparently some cattle in all of the surrounding countries—France, the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium—have had to be destroyed, after showing symptoms of this disease. In Germany, no cattle were destroyed, and no herds showed evidence of carrying the disease. Why? Because in Germany, the major herds routinely had received homeopathic treatment under the direction of Dr. Roy and another colleague. The remedy used was not a nosode, but Kali arsenicosum, which the homeopaths had determined to be the epidemic simillimum through a true homeopathic process of analyzing the disease symptoms and matching them to remedy descriptions in materia medicas.
     Obviously, homeopathy seems to have worked well in these epidemics, reinforcing the assessments of the early homeopaths on prophylactic success treating patients who had been exposed to acute epidemic diseases.

Usefulness of scientific studies
"Qualitative" experiential research like homeopathic provings and field reports is gaining substantially in credibility among scientists. However, our conventional "gold standard" for credible results is still achieving and replicating statistically significant measurable answers in controlled laboratory studies. Studies using homeopathic remedies are fairly numerous. Many of these studies, however, follow the allopathic model of disease and vaccination, administering one or two "prophylactic" doses of a remedy to subjects not at risk from the disease itself or measuring pathogens or antibodies without reference to actual patients and their symptoms.
     Such studies ignore one factor that remains essential to measuring homeopathic effectiveness: disease symptoms in patients. Symptom generation and relief have been the foundation for the whole philosophy, history, and research of homeopathic therapeutics. Homeopathic remedies have been developed and proven on that basis. Homeopathic methodologies have used symptoms in patients as their primary reference point. From the start, homeopathy has developed an integral system that does not refer to or depend on disease entities. Homeopathy is the science of what Hahnemann calls, in the footnote to Aphorism 11 of the Organon, "the action of medicines upon living people."
     Concepts such as microbes and antibodies, important as they may be, are not synonymous with symptoms. Allopathically conceived studies may, and generally do, show some overlap with homeopathic research using the same remedies. But researching the homeopathic system through the veil of allopathic criteria is somewhat akin to transliterating a French or Japanese text, word for word, into English and expecting the readers to understand clearly and precisely what the original text was saying. Anyone who has struggled to assemble a toy or tool by trying to follow directions created in this way knows how frustratingly fuzzy the meaning can become.
     Many allopathically based studies, having been published over a long time period in a wide variety of journals, are difficult to access directly without visiting a comprehensive medical library. Two authors in particular have recently done this work and created comprehensive overviews of the studies and results they found: Dr. Todd Hoover, whose article on homeoprophylaxis is scheduled for publication in the Autumn 2001 issue of the Journal of the American Institute of Homeopathy, and Dr. Michael Traub, whose article, "Homeopathic Prophylaxis," appeared in the Journal of Naturopathic Medicine, 1994, Vol. 5, No. 1. Those who would like to know the extent of previous research on this topic would find these two articles thorough and enlightening.
     Allopathically based studies draw a wide range of conclusions as to the effectiveness of homeoprophylaxis, presenting experimental success rates ranging from close to 100% down to 20%. Obviously, some relevant variables have not been accounted for in these studies. However, even studies that generate positive results, while intriguing, can, if conducted within an allopathic framework, fail to enlighten us about homeopathic treatment. The following study was cited in both Dr. Traub's and Dr. Hoover's articles. At first reading, its results seem encouraging. Then, when one tries to apply these results homeopathically to treating symptoms in real patients experiencing an epidemic, one realizes that the findings say something concrete about antibodies and yet don't translate to knowledge about treating symptoms. Dr. Hoover sums up the study:

     In 1932, Chavanon published that 45 children [out of 45] had developed antibodies to diphtheria, as measured by a standard test, after being treated with diphtherinum. Patterson and Boyd repeated this test in 1941 and 20 of 33 children treated converted to Schick test negative. Roux again repeated this study in 1946 with similar results.

     The results of this study, having been replicated several times, are reliable. What they actually mean clinically outside of their direct reference to antibodies—their validity—remains unclear.
     Useful formal lab studies can be well designed around homeopathic criteria. Dr. Hoover cites another study that comes much closer to working within a homeopathic paradigm. This study may begin to shed light on the mechanism of homeoprophylaxis, demonstrating its effectiveness as a treatment rather than as pure prevention, just as the early homeopaths surmised. In a four-group study of carbon tetrachloride poisoning in mice, one experimental group received two initial prophylactic doses of Lycopodium, and the other one received a dose of Lycopodium every week for four weeks. In the two control groups as in the two experimental groups, one was injected with carbon tetrachloride weekly for four weeks, and the other received one injection. Interestingly, the liver damage initially was the same in all four groups. However, the group that received the weekly doses of Lycopodium was effectively treated; the mice in this group were the only ones ending the experiment with intact livers.
     Conducting more carefully designed laboratory studies that measure symptoms or pathology in living organisms against experimental and control treatments with homeopathic remedies vs. placebo would help to establish credible benchmarks for describing the effects and validity of homeopathic treatment and for understanding the issues that exist regarding posology, potency, prevention, and the use of nosodes.

Conclusion
As homeopaths, we need to remember the central role of the vital force and its health or susceptibility. People whose constitutional state is balanced and strong run less risk of contracting serious epidemic diseases. Timely constitutional treatment is, in the long run, the best prophylactic for health challenges. David Little comments, in his article "The Origin of Prophylaxis" (www.simillimum.com/thelittlelibrary/homoeopathicphilosophy/prophylaxis.html):

     Constitutional treatment strengthens vitality and increases the general resistance of the host to diseases while specific prophylaxis works against a single miasma. Nevertheless, these two methods are complementary when used correctly.

     This assertion indicates the probable desirability of using a combination of constitutional and prophylactic treatments. The total picture of preventing epidemic diseases thus must include both the individual's overall state, as we saw in the citation from Hahnemann that opened this article, and the potentially overwhelming risk from an imminent infection. As with all treatment of potentially serious conditions, treatment in epidemics is best entrusted to a skilled homeopathic prescriber who can manage the many variables. Ideally, patients receiving treatment in epidemics have already experienced homeopathic treatment for chronic states to insure that their vitality is at its highest possible level.
     Homeopathic prophylaxis as a process separate from classical homeopathic treatment may be an illusion. In classical treatment of epidemics, even with treatment of exposed individuals who have not yet begun to show the disease symptoms, we often see a high level of concrete success; but in many available lab studies where one or two "prophylactic" doses of a nosode are administered in an artificial setting, the results tend to support homeopathy less strikingly. This difference is clear enough to support the initial experience and writings of the homeopathic founders, indicating that it's probably best to use proven classical treatment methods rather than try to adapt homeopathy to such allopathic concepts as immunization.
     Homeopathy first became widely known and appreciated precisely because it helped overwhelmingly in earlier epidemics of such serious diseases as scarlet fever, cholera, yellow fever, smallpox, meningitis, polio, plague, and influenza. In the U.S. in recent years, we've experienced fewer episodes of these historically epidemic diseases. Now, with a resurgence of concern about their potential for mass infection may well come a resurgence of public interest in homeopathic treatment as a vital personal and national resource.

Suggested readings
Here is a brief list of some relatively available publications that deal in some depth with issues of homeopathic prophylaxis, for those who may wish to study this subject further.
Boenninghausen, Lesser Writings, "Typhoid Fever and High Potencies."

Burnett, J.C., Vaccinosis and its Cure by Thuja, "Some Remarks on Homeoprophylaxis" (written in 1884).

Currim, Ahmed N., Editor, The Collected Works of Arthur Hill Grimmer, M.D., 1996 "Prophylaxis," pp. 147--186.

Golden, Isaac, "Homeopathic Disease Prevention," Homeopathy Online Journal, Dec 2000, http://www.lyghtforce.com/

Hahnemann, Samuel, Lesser Writings, "Cure and Prevention of Asian Cholera."

Herscu, Paul, Herscu Letters 33--38, 1999, www.nesh.com/letter.html

Hoover, Todd, "Homeopathic Prophylaxis: Fact or Fiction," Journal of the American Institute of Homeopathy, Autumn 2001. (For journal subscriptions or single issues: http://www.homeopathyusa.org/)

Keizer, Willa Esterson, Rosemary C. Hyde, et al.,
up-to-date information on prophylaxis and treatment for specific diseases that may be used by bioterrorists, including a comprehensive article on anthrax is posted at www.homeopathyhome/caduceus

Little, David, "The Origin of Homoeo-Prophylaxis," www.simillimum.com/thelittlelibrary/homoeopathicphilosophy/prophylaxis.html

Traub, Michael, "Homeopathic Prophylaxis," Journal of Naturopathic Medicine, 1994, Vol. 5, No.1, pp. 50--61. (For a reprint, send $5 to Michael Traub, ND, DHANP, 75-5759 Kuakini Highway, Suite 202, Kailua Kona, HI 96740.)

Sidebar:
Homeopathic prophylaxis: Synopsis of published research
Smallpox • In 1902, during the smallpox epidemic in Iowa, Variolinum 12X and 30X were used as prophylaxis for 2,806 patients of 15 doctors. Of these, 547 were subsequently known to be exposed to smallpox. Only 14 of these got smallpox.1

Diphtheria • Chavanon published his book La Diphterie in 1932, in which he discussed the use of the Schick test to demonstrate the immunizing ability of Diphterotoxinum 4000K or 8000K, one dose, in 45 children.2 In 1941 Paterson and Boyd re-tested 33 Schick-positive (susceptible to diphtheria) children following doses of Diphtherinum 200C and Alum precipitated toxoid (A.T.P.) 30C. Twenty of these children became Schick-negative (indicating measurable antibodies to diphtheria in the blood). Thus 60.6% acquired immunity.3 Similar results were obtained by Roux in 1946.4

Polio • In the 1957 polio epidemic in Buenos Aires, Lathyrus 30C was given to thousands of people. Not one case of polio was reported in these individuals.5 Between 1956 and 1961, Lathyrus 200C, 1M and 10M was given to over 50,000 cases worldwide. One subject developed non-paralytic polio, occurring one day after his dose of Lathyrus.6

Influenza • In 1958, an influenza nosode was given to 1,100 industrial workers in Britain. 12.6% got the flu. Of 500 who did not get the nosode, 15.5% got the flu. (This was not a statistically significant difference).7

Tetanus • In 1960, Ledum and Hypericum were found to not prevent tetanus in guinea pigs, but Hypericum did retard the appearance of the disease.8

Meningitis • In a 1974 epidemic of meningococcal meningitis in Brazil, 18,640 children were given Meningococcinum 10C, one dose. Four cases of meningitis occurred in these children (0.02%). Of 6,340 children who did not receive the nosode, there were 32 cases of meningitis reported (0.5%).9

Pertussis • A 1987 report suggested that Pertussin 30C was more than 50% effective at preventing whooping cough in children of 694 parents who responded to a questionnaire after their children had received the nosode (the group was not large enough for the results to be statistically significant).10 In another study, Pertussin 30C also reduced the severity of whooping cough when used in the treatment of diagnosed cases. This result was statistically significant.11

Tularemia • In a 1999 study, mice were given Francisella tularensis nosode three times per week for one month before and after being infected with F. tularensis. Protection rates averaged 22% in the nosode group over the control group. Protection rates in the conventional vaccine treated group was 100%.12

References
1. Eizayaga, F., "Tratamiento Homeopatico de las enfermedades agudas y su prevension." Homeopatia, V.51, No. 342, 1985, p. 352--362.
2. Chavanon, P., La Diphterie, 4e edl, Imprimerrie St-Denis, Niort. 1932.
3. Paterson, J. & Boyd, W.E., "Potency Action: A Preliminary Study of the Alteration of the Schick Test by a Homeopathic Potency," British Homeopathic Journal, V.31, 1941, 301--309.
4. Eizayaga, 352--362.
5. Ibid.
6. Eisfelder, H.W., "Poliomyelitis Immunization: A Final Report." Journal of the American Institute of Homeopathy, Vol. 54, Nov--Dec 1961, 166--167.
7. British Faculty of Homeopathy, "Faculty Review of Asian Influenza," Homeopathy, V.8. 1958, 115--124.
8. Eizayaga.
9. Castro, D. & Nogueira, C.G., "Use of the Nosode Meningococcinum as a Preventive Against Meningitis," Journal of the American Institute of Homeopathy, V.68, 1975, 211--219.
10. English, J.M., "Pertussin 30—preventive for whooping cough? A pilot study," The British Homeopathic Journal, April 1987, Vol. 76, 61--65.
11. English, J.M., "Symptoms and treatment of whooping cough, 1980-82," The British Homeopathic Journal, April 1987, Vol. 76, 66--68.
12. Jonas, W.B., "Do homeopathic nosodes protect against infection? An experimental test." Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, September 1999, 5(5):36--40.

Michael Traub, ND, DHANP, President of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, has been practicing homeopathy for 20 years. He lives in Hawaii.

About the author:
Rosemary C. Hyde, PhD, has recently started her practice as a homeopath in Berkeley, CA. She had become acquainted with homeopathy while living in France during the 1960s, and has used homeopathic rather than conventional treatment since returning to the U.S. She studied and embraced homeopathy professionally, after retiring from a lifelong career as writer, editor, and professor of communications. Her main previous research publications have been ethnographic interview-based studies of several U.S. minority cultures, focusing on traditional practices including the healing arts. She can be reached via e-mail: hyde@carepathpartners.com