A few thoughts on links between science and complementary medicine
Marta Wellner, PhD, HCEA, RSHom
It is rather a cliché nowadays to say that the patients have a choice. The number of people choosing alternative and complementary health approaches is on the rise, but I am not sure if they always have a choice. Perhaps now is the right time when we could build bridges and in the same time to show what the real choices are. Or perhaps the two may work together. The potential of integrative approach to health care could certainly be higher. This indeed needs open minded people on both sides. Because working together for the benefit of the patients is a challenging.
Nonmainstream treatment approaches used together with conventional medicines are considered complementary, whereas nonmainstream tactics used in place of conventional medicines are called alternative. CAM is diverse and can include herbal or phytotherapy, probiotics and prebiotics, and mind–body practices such as acupuncture and hypnosis. (1)
Patients and MDs often have many questions regarding the role of complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs), and recently you may find scientific articles regarding nonallopathic therapies. It is known that CAMs of various forms are used by 30-50% of patients worldwide. One way or other people simply use it. We could name lots of therapies from reflexology to talking therapies. But we are all eating and the role of nutrition, or simply food is definitely recognised.
According to science, the intestinal microbiota is believed to contain about 10 times as many microbial cells then human cells, which is around 100 trillion. They are performing important metabolic and immunological functions. They have vital functions in performing as biological barrier against pathogens. Its composition varies during the lifetime and influences the human physiology, metabolism, nutrition and the disruption to the gut microbiota may lead to gastrointestinal conditions. Also mental and emotional correlations are now recognised. The gastrointestinal tract and (GIT) of the new born is rapidly colonized by bacteria from both the birth canal and faecal maternal floras and the surrounding environment through a complex process. And so it goes on by introduction of foods… And finally, everyone of us will have a very individual gut flora which going out of balance may help to develop individual problems, conditions, and defects in the GIT functioning. The dietary modulation of the gut microbiota by food, probiotics and prebiotics are already well know. Recently lot of research showed that gut microbiota plays an important role in the development of children, in many conditions of adults and at the decline of life. That includes many conditions starting with autism and ending with dementia. Modern scientific methods show that modifying the microbiota we are gaining an important therapeutic tool to improve the overall general health, performance, and even controlling inflammation. What is more important, the technology allows scientist to measure the differences of the patients state before and after intervention.
For decades there were critics on each side of the allopathic and alternative/complementary medical approaches with no communication. However, the two were developing nevertheless.
I am a homeopath, so let me take it as an example. Homeopaths think that homeopathy is science. Allopaths think homeopathy is not science. However, science by definition is a methodology which is evolving as we go. Technology based medicine has no alternative. That is without question a fact. However, when it comes to chronic conditions and mental health homeopathy was shown to be very productive. After all the role of molecules of emotions were described already in 1980’s by American neuroscientist Candance Pert. She significantly contributed to the emergence of mind-body medicine that is only now catching our attention. It takes a few decades till the scientific discoveries reach the general knowledge and unfortunately also the detached scientific disciplines. Indeed, we can be very highly skilled scientist but without seeing what the others do, we may not see the forest because of the trees.
Homeopathy does it all, there is enough evidence to say that homeopathy has beneficial effects in treatments of many chronic conditions. The randomized and controlled studies conducted for more than 25 years showed its competence. Hence homeopathy is nowadays a vital part of the Integrative Medicine worldwide, alongside nutritional therapy, physiotherapy, acupuncture and phytotherapy. Recently its role amid the mind-body therapies is accelerating, exactly because of the experience which comes with use of homeopathic medications for individuals treating the whole person on physical, emotional and mental levels in the same time.
It is lesser known to medical professionals and the public, that homeopathy can be used in various ways and it also has many methods. The standard treatments focus on managing symptoms. It can be also considered as talking therapy, but it is also used to track down the aetiology and do not forget, many homeopaths are MDs and may have qualifications in other sciences and nutrition. Generally any homeopath will include questions regarding dietary tendencies and changes, they have to take in account the use of medications, general modalities, sensitivities and may need to use so called bowel nosodes if indicated.
What are the ‘nosodes’? Please do not be afraid of an ancient term, because what it covers will be familiar to you.
The bowel nosodes were brought into being by Dr Edward Bach (did you ever use a Bach remedy? – yes it is named after the same person), furthermore John Paterson and Elizabeth Paterson, his wife who continued the research. They prepared the homeopathic nosodes and are in use ever since. By definition the Bowel Nosodes are medicines prepared from cultures of non-lactose fermenting bacterial flora of the intestinal tract. They are not the morbid product of disease, but they are classified as ‘nosodes’.
The investigation and experiments on the bowel bacteria and chronic diseases were first undertaken by Dr Bach (1886 – 1936), a bacteriologist at London University College Hospital. His investigation led him to conclude that certain intestinal germs belonging to the non-lactose fermenting, gram-negative, and coli-typhoid group, had a close connection with chronic diseases and their cure. These germs were present in the intestines of both healthy people and people suspected of suffering from chronic diseases. However, the difference between the two is that in the latter instance these germs were large in number and pathogenic, whereas their presence was smaller in proportion in the healthy people. Various groups of the nosodes are differentiated from each other based on their ability to ferment certain sugars.
Bach’s attempt to cure his patients from chronic diseases has led him to isolate the bacilli and then gave it back to the patient in the form of a vaccine (an autogenous vaccine) which was prepared from the cultures of the killed organisms. Bach initially started treating people using material doses of bowel flora, and he claimed to cure the disease with this form of vaccine. 95% of the individuals showed favourable response and 80% of the cases revealed excellent results. Later he administered the potentized vaccine, prepared according to the homoeopathic principle, and cured many of his patients. Hence he ultimately discovered that homeopathic remedies made from these materials were much more effective.
NB At this point if you sense some similarity with the present time gut microbiota research and methods, it could be resonance in higher overtone!
By 1930, Bach briefly summarized clinically derived indications for most of the bowel nosode and moved away from their further investigation.
John Paterson (1890 – 1955) first worked on the nosodes with Dr. Bach, and he is the one who took the investigation further after Bach turned his attention to the flower remedies. Paterson and his wife Elisabeth refined the indications for the use of bowel nosodes. The contribution of Paterson was that he confirmed experimentally Dr. Bach’s findings on the bowel nosodes. Furthermore, he considered how the modern life style, dietary habit, both psychological and physical stresses and the overuse of antibiotics have contributed to the weakening of the vitality of the host and compromising the digestive, absorptive and immune functions of the body. These have led to the alterations in the bacteria metabolism and the over growth of potentially pathogenic microorganisms in our intestinal system.
Hence the link between homeopathy and the GIT problems of our era is obvious to me. As you see, they investigated the bowel flora up to one hundred years ago. There was no further investigation of their properties in health and disease since Paterson, and I must say that they were not even well enough utilized by the homoeopathic profession in the daily practice until recently.
On the other hand, I am pleased to see that the present mainstream science is achieving success in the field of gut microbiota, and because I know about both sides I would like to bring it into awareness of both sides. Perhaps it is the time for a dialogue. It can be to the homeopath’s disadvantage that they do not know about the today’s medical scientific knowledge about bowel flora and the important role it plays in the balance between health and diseased conditions. However, it is a shame that the knowledge which started a whole new branch of homeopathy almost a hundred years ago, is totally neglected and unknow to medical science.
My experience, use and understanding of the bowel nosode is limited to my eight years of practicing homeopathy. However, it is a fact that the bowel nosodes are invaluable in rebalancing a child’s gut flora, normalising bowel function in adults, assisting the body detoxing heavy metals in a gentle way, and they are fantastic in dealing with psychological symptoms such as anxiety or rage.
Understanding the composition and function of the gut microbiome represents a major challenge, the scientist are aware of it. And we homeopaths know just well how individual the human being is. The microbiome is part of it.
Hope I will inspire you, Marta
Norwich 16 08 2018
1 Cheifetz A. S., Gastroenterology 2017;152:415–429
www 006 Bowel nosodes: A group of neglected remedies de Ai-ling Makewell Août 2006
Scientists re-invent Homeopathic Bowel Nosodes as ‘Fecal Microbiota Transplantation’ by Alan Freestone on May 19, 2013 in Autism, Homeopathic Research