Skidding face first across the road, bicyclist Carmain Dutton felt his body go into shock.
His collarbone was broken. So was a thumb. Road rash covered his body.
A fellow cyclist squirted a red liquid beneath Dutton’s tongue to bring him out of shock. After he left the hospital, the friend covered his road rash with a green paste to heal the scars. She gave him gunpowder to prevent infection.
Dutton’s injuries healed quickly. At that moment, the chiropractor from Independence became a believer in homeopathic remedies.
Homeopathy has been around for centuries, starting in 1796 with the German doctor Samuel Hahnemann. It centers on the idea that medicines should produce similar symptoms of the disease in healthy people. So when given to a sick person, the remedy will counteract the symptoms.
Even as technology produces new vaccines, drugs and surgical techniques, Americans are turning in large numbers to homeopathy. The term is a derivation of the Greek words for similar (homeos) and suffering (pathos).
In the 1990s, consumers spent approximately $250 million a year on homeopathy. That number is expected to grow at a rate of 20 percent a year, according to the American Homeopathic Pharmaceutical Association.
The creation of homeopathic remedies
Homeopathic drugs can be made from minerals such as iron phosphate. They are derived from animals, including the venom of snakes and the ink of cuttlefish. They come from plants, including dandelions and even Missouri’s state flower, the white hawthorn blossom, a natural antibiotic.
To create remedies in digestible form, the source material’s molecular structures are broken down through dilution and rhythmic pounding.
“When a substance is repeatedly pounded and diluted, it breaks down the molecular bonding,” said Carol Kautzmann, a homeopath who runs the Martha-Mary Caring Center in Marshfield. “When the molecules re-bond, they are more powerful.”
With homeopathy, heightened self-awareness is essential, experts say. Before taking a remedy, a person must analyze his or her exact symptoms.
For instance, if you have a runny nose with burning sensations, your eyes water constantly and you sneeze often, a suggested remedy is Allium cepa, which is derived from red onions.
If you have a red nose and runny nasal secretions that burn the nose and upper lip, a recommended remedy is Arsenicum album, a derivative of the poison arsenic.
Kautzmann said that although homeopathic remedies are derived from nature, users still need to closely monitor their intake. As with conventional prescription drugs, homeopathic remedies come in varying strengths.
“A person is totally responsible for taking the remedy and following through with keeping their body in balance,” Kautzmann said. “You can cause problems when you dose too often with too much remedy in a person whose vital forces are already too low.”
In addition to remedies, homeopathy involves maintaining balanced energies that will help heal and help ward off future ailments.
“With illnesses, the cell metabolism is often disturbed, and this causes disease,” she said. “Nutrition is key in maintaining balanced energies.”
An initial visit to a homeopath will include an analysis of mental and physical health, as well as nutritional habits.
Although homeopathic medicine has gained a foothold among consumers, many doctors and believers in more conventional treatments remain skeptical.
John Fisher, an MU medical student studying anesthesiology, said he thinks homeopathy plays off people’s emotions.
“They want to feel better, and so they believe that this substance, diluted beyond effectiveness, is helping them,” he said.
A majority of studies done on homeopathic remedies show that they have more effect than placebos, but the difference is negligible, Fisher said.
“There is no hard evidence that they harm, but there is also no hard evidence that they help,” he said.
“Homeopathy takes advantages of people’s hope that there’s something that can help them.”
Some advocates of homeopathic medicine say reassurance can be enough reason to use the remedies, noting the links between positive mental health and healing.
Bob Van Arsdale, a faculty member at MU’s Sinclair School of Nursing, said the homeopathy research he’s studied shows no scientific data suggesting measurable results.
“The case studies are often the result of someone’s desire to see the result,” he said. “The data reported in case studies can’t be tied to any cause because they are case studies.”
Though he doesn’t believe in the effectiveness of homeopathic remedies, Van Arsdale supports selling them in pharmacies.
“Everyone should be able to use products available over the counter and be able to make up their own mind,” he said. “But I’ve made up my mind.”
Challenges to homeopathy in the U.S.
In many European and Asian countries, homeopathy is covered under nationalized health plans and is refundable by insurance companies. Neither is true in the United States.
Kautzmann said she would like to see homeopathy used in U.S. hospitals.
“When someone is in shock from an accident, doctors could easily given them arnica to stop the bleeding while they make the decision as to what they are going to do with him,” she said, adding that it could also benefit rural residents who might be miles from the nearest medical center.
In the 19th century, U.S. hospitals that practiced homeopathy had death rates from epidemics that were from one-third to as little as one-eighth that of hospitals practicing traditional medicine, author Charles Moore wrote in the article “Homeopathy: The Once and Future Medicine.”
In 1849, for example, Cincinnati experienced a cholera epidemic. Only 3 percent of the more than 1,100 patients at a homeopathic hospital died, while from 48 percent to 60 percent of the cholera patients at conventional hospitals died, Moore found.
At the turn of the 20th century, 22 U.S. medical schools taught homeopathic medicines, and one in five doctors used homeopathy in their daily practices, according to the National Center of Homeopathy. Those numbers began to dwindle after World War II, with the influx of penicillin on the market.
No hospitals in Columbia include homeopathic remedies as a part of treatment.
With little support from doctors and hospitals, the merits and techniques of homeopathy tend to spread by word of mouth.
Among proponents is Richard Knapp, an analyst expert for MU’s Administration and Information Technology Services, He has studied homeopathy for eight years.
He was hooked after spraining his ankle while jogging. Knapp took a homeopathic remedy twice in an hour, with favorable results.
He uses online homeopathic discussion forums to help guide his decisions.
“A lot of big shots from the homeopathic world participate, so you get a chance to hear from experienced people,” he said. “The discussion hosts many points of view and presents a way to learn that is flexible, and you have some input as well.”
Even though he’s acquired a working knowledge of homeopathy, Knapp said new and experienced users alike should be careful when recommending specific treatments.
“It is hard to prescribe for other people because we often don’t have the detachment or perspective to see what’s really wrong,” he said.
Kautzmann hosted an online homeopathic study group while living in North Dakota but hasn’t found enough interest in Missouri to start one.
“We would learn about remedies one at a time, go out and practice them, and then report back on our success,” she said. “We learned a lot from each other.”
For Dutton, 58, the cycling accident of 12 years ago spurred an interest in homeopathy that eventually grew into a profession.
After years of studying homeopathy, Dutton opened the Three Trails Homeopathic Center in Independence.
As a homeopathic practitioner, he sees approximately six to 10 people a day. He charges $200 for the initial visit, which lasts two hours and includes a foot reflexology exam and a nutritional analysis. Subsequent visits cost $40.
Dutton recommends that patients see him once every two weeks rather than wait for emergencies.
“Homeopathy is not something you practice in crisis situations,” he said. “Be healthy, and don’t wait until you’re sick to start healing yourself.”
Despite the growing use and popularity of naturally derived remedies, most Americans continue to rely too much on prescription drugs, Dutton said.
“We are a nation full of drug addicts and have the mentality that if something is wrong, we have to fix it with a pill,” he said.