The Royal family’s marvellous medicine

Since it first became known to the world, the complementary medicine that treats “like with like” has been reviled by physicians and labelled as hocus-pocus.

Yet the practice has endured. In fact, homeopathy has a history of some very important patients, starting with Queen Adelaide, who first made public her interest in homeopathy in 1835.

The Queen had been suffering a mysterious ailment the court physicians couldn’t cure but homeopathy did, and so the long history of “royal homeopathy” began.

King George V apparently used homeopathic remedies to cure seasickness, while his wife headed up the fundraising campaign to expand the London Homeopathic Hospital.

The next King George was an avid fan of homeopathy, granting royal title to the homeopathic hospital in 1948, which in recent years has been changed to the Royal London Hospital for Integrative Medicine.

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The Queen Mother once described arnica, the homeopathic remedy for bruising, among other things, as “marvellous medicine” and said everyone should use it. She regularly used it herself and on her dogs, a practice the Queen has reportedly kept up.

Her majesty has been a long-time patron to the now-named Royal London Hospital for Integrative Medicine. Today, the homeopath to the Queen is Dr Peter Fisher, who is also medical director of the hospital.

Prince Charles, too, is a dedicated believer, in 2007 going so far as to write to the Health Secretary Alan Johnson to implore him to consider including homeopathy in the NHS: “I cannot bear people suffering unnecessarily when a complementary approach could make a real difference,” he wrote in one of the infamous “black spider” letters.

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It’s not just the British royal family for whom the remedies seemed to work. Napoleon and Empress Eugenie were advocates, as were numerous kings, queens, and dukes from Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, along with Czar Nicholas and Czar Alexander II of Russia.

Dana Ullman, who describes himself as an evidence based homeopath, writes in the Huffington Post, “Despite the immense power that these monarchs had at that time, the resistance to homeopathy from conventional physicians was so strong that these monarchs were unable to overcome the economic power of the doctors and pharmacists of that era”.

Today, fans and practitioners of homeopathy face a similar resistance. The National Health and Medical Research Council here in Australia reviewed 1800 papers and declared the effects of homeopathy no better than a placebo.

The British Medical Association has described homeopathy as “witchcraft” and, earlier this year, the Government’s new chief scientific adviser, Sir Mark Walport, dismissed it as “nonsense”.

Homeopathy works on the principle of “like cures like”, and believes that symptoms can be treated by minuscule doses of natural substances that would induce the symptoms themselves at a larger dose.

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For example, King George V was treated with Tabacum. Smoking tobacco is known to cause symptoms of dizziness and nausea, therefore the homeopathic dose of tobacco relieves the symptoms of seasickness.

But while it may seem a bit whacky, homeopathy enjoys growing popularity. In France, it is the most popular form of alternative medicine and is regulated and funded under the national health scheme.

Meanwhile, Australians spent $US7.3 million on homeopathy in 2009, according to a World Health Organisation review.

Australian Homoeopathic Association spokeswoman Ana Lamaro told the ABC, “What’s most typical is that patients are receiving advice from a homeopath and a medical doctor or specialist at the same time”.

“Patients don’t risk their health, patients don’t go somewhere where something doesn’t work, and pay good money because it doesn’t work, patients… act in their own best interests, and this is what they’re doing”.

So is it a quaint Royal tradition or is there something in it? Just look at the Queen, who has barely had a sick day in her life.

What do you think? Is homeopathy an under-appreciated practice or a right royal furphy? Share your experiences and thoughts.