About Us

Ann McKay, R.N.C., John McGonigle, M.D. and Mark Brody, M.D. have devoted themselves to homeopathy and related alternative medical treatments. In keeping with the spirit of homeopathy's founder Samuel Hahnemann M.D., we utilize treatments that emphasize safety and the restoration of the sick to health.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Nature lover

I am sometimes caught in the awkward position of being asked by my patients something like, "Homeopathy -- that's a kind of natural medicine, isn't it?" Many people seek to place homeopathy in a classification of "natural" treatments, making the implicit leap that "natural" is better. Many so-called "natural" treatments, such as botanical medicine, functional medicine, and in particular homeopathy have been assailed by the promoters of techno-medicine as potentially dangerous. A big flap over "ma-huang" led to its being taken off the market, mainly because it is dangerous when taken in excess. This reality is no different from virtually all other over the counter medicines, but ma-huang had the misfortune of being more prone to abuse because of its powerful stimulant effects.

In spite of my discomfort with what often seem to be politically motivated attacks on alternative treatments by those who appear to be biased against them, I do believe that there is a certain truth to the notion that not all that is natural is better, just by virtue of being "natural." Indeed, for those who aren't aware, the FDA now permits foods to list among their ingredients "natural flavoring" or "natural ingredients" even when those "foods" are largely chemicals. Anything that emulates natural is apparantly acceptable for the label of "natural." The meaning of natural has been greatly diminished by these kinds of marketing tools which the FDA has kindly consented to. Indeed, it has come to be somewhat of a cliche, and a mantra for political causes.

So nowadays I am quick to tell my patients that while homeopathy is indeed made from substance found in nature, its particular virtues lie not in being natural, which in some cases can equate with toxic, but in its extreme level of safety and its unique capacity to catalyze healing. Having robbed my patients of the quietly reassuring but ultimately false belief that "natural" is necessarily a good, I nonetheless sometimes find myself paradoxically arguing in favor of a more naturally determined understanding of health.

Some years ago, when DHEA (Dihydroepiandrosterone) was being touted as an antiaging supplement, I asked my personal physician his opinion of it. It seemed to have earned many glowing testimonials, but something about it made me worry. My physician advised me to respect the balance of hormones that my body had endeavored to create. I ignored this balance at my own peril, he intimated. Whether it was the intent of his comments or not, he left me pondering the virtues of respecting what nature has wrought, and not to be too quick to trample on what had been forged over eons by Darwinian forces into something supremely adaptive.

Questions often come up in my practice about how to understand the merits of drug interventions, surgery, dietary supplements, hormone replacement treatment, vaccination, and so on. People are understandably confused in this modern world where you can find someone touting the virtues of just about anything, however outlandish, if you look deeply enough into cyberspace. Amidst the din of conflicting opinions, each competing with the others to be recognized, I encourage myself and my patients to submit their question to the test of whether it reasonably conforms to nature's way. I encourage patients to consider whether the action they are contemplating taking is forcing the body to become something it isn't designed to be, or whether it seems to be promoting the body's (and the world's) journey towards health.

In keeping with this, I have recommended that with regard to the influenza vaccination, that people get it (if they choose to get it at all) in the intranasal spray rather than by intramuscular injection, since influenza is generally communicated by inhalation of respiratory secretions, rather than by puncture wounds. I've advised people not to use hormonal therapies or strongly suppresant treatments on a chronic basis. I've come to believe that trying to eliminate illnesses through mass vaccination should not be accepted unequivocally as a virtue because it creates holes in the ecosystem whose consequences we can not measure or predict. The same applies to genetically modified foods, and to many drugs or treatments that are highly promoted, but have not yet passed the test of time.

Recently, a study showed that robotic surgery for prostate cancer was no better than the older, vastly less expensive type of surgery. The reputation of the highly touted Gardasil vaccine was tarnished by reports of serioius adverse reactions, including a number of deaths of young girls. Many psychotropic drugs such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors and neuroleptics, originally marketed as better or safer than the older drugs, are now known to have serious risks that warrant black box warnings.

On the other hand, one can argue that any and all medical interventions are not naturally inspired, since they invoke some use of technology and the manipulation of the natural order by human intelligence. I think we must all take care neither to blindly accept as safe nor to recklessly dismiss as dangerous the ways we try to manipulate nature towards human aspirations. To judge the virtues of our actions, I think it is wise to assess how well they reflect a respect for the natural order. Without undue respect for Mother Nature, we risk her taking umbrage, and penalties for this transgession I believe are likely to result. By being too timid, we risk not exploring the vast terrain of progress that the natural world offers.