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Saturday, April 11, 2015
Health / Nutrition ... Medicine ...

Being a vegetarian, I am also something of a health food nut . . . well, I don’t get too exotic about it, but I try to keep salt and fats and sugary carbs under control. I’ve also been getting more strict on starchy carbs now too, despite the fact that I love to eat them; they’re the last available ‘comfort food’ for people like me who avoid meat, eggs and dairy products. And yes, despite all the anti-vitamin and anti-supplement backlash that has been published of late, I still regularly pop a handful of OTC pills (and liquid drops) every day. I take varying levels of Vitamins B, C, D and E (mixed tocopheral, of course), algae oil (in lieu of fish oil), ginko, alpha lipolic acid, acetyl-carnatine, and MitoQ. But again, all in moderation; no “mega-doses” (except for the B vitamins – can’t get enough of them — and maybe a little bit over the “recommended daily allowance” for D).

As such, I’m something of an alternative-medicine sympathizer. But one area that I never got very involved with was homeopathic medicine. It seems so weird to me, despite the fact that it has a lot of followers; you can find plenty of web sites devoted to it. The problem is that when you go on these web sites and try to find out just what’s in the various potions that are recommended and why they might be effective, you see a lot of hocus-pocus. These remedies always come with a list of what is in the mix, but just what those ingredients are remains rather mysterious. E.g., Calcarea Iodata, which is recommended for “enlarged glands, tonsils . . . thyroid enlargements about time of puberty . . . flabby children subject to colds . . . adenoids . . . uterine fibroids”

Or how about Grindelia Robusta, said to be useful for “asthmatic conditions, chronic bronchitis . . . bronchorrhea with tough mucus . . . nausea and retching of gastric ulcer . . . sugar in urine . . . burns, blisters, vaginal catarrh and herpes zoste . . . hyperchlorhydria when attended with asthmatic and other neurotic symptoms . . . hyperaemia of gastric mucous membrane with difficult respiration.”

So what the heck is Calcarea Iodata or Grindelia Robusta, and why should they help enlarged tonsils, gastric ulcers or herpes? Some of the intended uses are relatively harmless (e.g. “flabby children with colds”), but as to sugar in your urine or thyroid enlargements, that’s stuff that you need a real M.D.for — don’t fool around with homeopathy for such serious symptoms.

The homeopathic treatment process seems quite weird . . . there seems to be as much focus on psychological states and personality as on what the body symptoms are. E.g., whether you agitated, anxious, bored, family-oriented or a good joke-teller . . . I mean, this may or may not have anything to do with getting relief from a chronic stomach ache or a rash or a sinus problem. And then there are the odd considerations such as whether the left or right nostril of your nose is blocked up.

So I generally stay away from homeopathy, even though I’m not a big fan of regular doctors and pharmaceuticals either. Nonetheless, I had a little interaction with the homeopathic world recently, when I had a minor ear infection. I first tried what my doctor had previously recommended – pour some peroxide in your ear and then wash it out with an ear bulb. But that seemed to plug things up pretty badly. So I went over the local drug store to see what alternatives were available.

Most of the “ear kits” on sale contained the usual carbamine peroxide; but I wanted something other than peroxide. I came across a “homeopathic” formula for “ear relief”, from Similsan. Hmmm . . . I was in one of the big national drugstore chains, which despite their devotion to OTC nostrums are not generally known as hotbeds for homeopathy. I took a look at the ingredients on the box, and they didn’t look too bad . . . first off was chamomilia, which sounds like chamomile tea. That seemed soothing, if nothing else. Next, mercurius solubilis, a mercury compound. Now that sounds a little more serious – mercury is nasty and toxic stuff, but it was once widely used to treat topical infections (in Mercurochrome, if like me you’re old enough to remember that). And then finally, sulfur – again, serious stuff, used in certain real pharmaceuticals such as sulfa drugs, which treat bacteria.

So I bought a box. Given that my overall ear problems also involve occasional earwax build-up, I also bought a bottle of Similasan Ear Wax Relief. Only when I got home did I realize that this may not have been such a wise purchase; I should have quit while I was ahead with the mercury-sulfur mix. The ingredients here are a bit more exotic: graphites, causticum, lycopodium and lachesis. Well, graphites is easy enough – carbon black. As to causticum, that’s a mix of slaked lime and sulfate of potash; in homeopath-world, there’s a wide list of things that it supposedly helps, including debility or inertness of the nerves as well as the muscles of the vocal cords, larynx, urinary bladder, upper eyelids and/ or the right part of the face; also bedwetting, croakiness and laryngitis. As to lycopodium, that’s from the lychopodium plant, also know as “creeping cedar”. According to Wikipedia, lycopodium is used by Austrian herbalists “internally as tea or externally as compresses for treatment of disorders of the locomotor system, skin, liver and bile, kidneys and urinary tract, infections, rheumatism, and gout.” Good for whatever ails you, I guess.

And finally . . . lachesis. Guess where that comes from? From the venom of the South American bushmaster snake! In homeopath-world, lachesis works best with those who are basically very go-getting, creative and somewhat sensitive in nature. For such people, it allegedly works as a blood flow enhancer, but also helps the nervous system, including petit mal attacks and fainting; also nosebleeds, headaches on the left side, hot sweats as well as tremors, fever, excruciating feelings in different parts of the body, stomach aches, and ulcers as well as vomiting in appendicitis. In addition — gastrointestinal problems and hemorrhoids that result in blood loss.

OK, so why is this stuff going to help get wax out of my ears? Especially if I’m not especially go-getting and creative? (But thank goodness I don’t have bloody hemorrhoids, as that would be a problem to take to a real doctor.)

Actually, about 10 years ago I went to a local CVS and bought a bottle of their store-brand “Earache Relief Ear Drops”, which contained the same stuff as the Similsan Ear Relief mix that I just bought. I used the CVS drops maybe once, but my ears just got stuffed up all the more and I finally went to a doctor and got some antibiotics. I actually found the same bottle the other day, but had to toss it out since it had expired in 2009.

Nonetheless, I’m willing to give the Similasan mix another try, given that my situation seems less acute this time (no pain, just a little “fuzziness” in the ear). The fact that CVS would promote this stuff as a house-brand, and the fact that people keep buying it, means (I hope) that it might do some good in low-level cases like mine. Actually, CVS still markets it, although they don’t use the term “Earache” anymore. Their lawyers must have gotten some cold feet on that claim. Walgreens also has a version, but they use a more exotic mix that includes belladonna, lycopodium and sulphur (and no mercury). Walgreens actually does use the term “Earache”, but also says that “homeopathic remedies are not guaranteed and may not be effective for everyone.”

That’s probably the right way to look at it. If CVS and Walgreens sell this stuff (and the Similasan mixes are also widely available, including at, it must be relatively safe, not likely to cause any permanent harm and engender big lawsuits. But that may also mean that it’s really a dilute mixture comprised overwhelmingly of inert ingredients, and thus may not be likely to do anything at all. The various critics of homeopathic medicine often say this, but they also admit that the placebo effect (i.e, the fact that you THINK it could do you some good) might actually help many people.

Well, I’m willing to be open-minded about the mercury-sulfur mix (even though the instruction sheet that comes with it says that your symptoms may temporarily get worse, which is just what happened when I used the CVS version of this stuff 10 years ago). But as to whether a tiny bit of snake venom, potash, plant extract and carbon black mixed into glycerine can loosen up an ear wax deposit, that I am not very hopeful about. And without hope, no placebo effect is possible. So, that purchase was probably a wasted $10 on my part. But if you do have faith and want to give homeopathic earwax cures a try, then go ahead, but don’t pay more than $7. I just saw the Similasan stuff at the local supermarket health-products isle going for $6.70.

P.S. — the one old-fashioned thing that really does seem to help my ear problems is a hot-water bottle, held against the side of the head for maybe 15 minutes.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:48 am      

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