Fit to be Tried: Homeopathy
THERE isn't much that fazes Dublin therapist Dianne Simms – babies with colic, kids with sniffles, angst-prone teenagers, even injured dancers, she takes them all in her stride.
Dianne is a qualified homeopath, one of about 300 practising in Ireland.
Homeopathy is a "gentle holistic system of healing", according to its supporters, who include Prince Charles, although he clearly hasn't found a remedy to stop his ears sticking out. Former Beatle Paul McCartney is another high-profile fan.
In Europe, the market has grown 60pc in a decade, while here and in Britain homeopathic remedies line the shelves of shops, consolidating a turnover estimated at €50m a year.
However, homeopathy has been condemned as "rubbish" by Britain's chief medical officer, Professor Sally Davies, who says she is "perpetually surprised" it is available on the NHS. Ms Davies has described homeopaths as "peddlers", and told British MPs she doesn't believe the therapy works beyond the placebo effect.
So what is homeopathy? A German doctor, Samuel Hahnemann, invented the system in the late 18th Century, based on the principle that "like cures like", so a substance that causes disease can cure the same disease if given in very small doses – similar to the effects of vaccination.
Homeopaths dilute their remedies over and over again until there is little or no trace of the original substance, but they believe "water has a memory" so tiny amounts remain and these have healing properties.
Dianne says she was drawn to homeopathy because it aims to treat the underlying causes of illness as well as the symptoms.
For example, a dancer recently visited her because he had strained his groin muscles, and needed to be back on stage the next day. The homeopathic remedy is Rhus Tox, and Dianne says this helped the worried performer because it's fast-acting: I put it to the test on a sore shoulder, and found some improvement.
Homeopaths cite parallels in conventional medicine to support the like-cures-like concept – radiation causes cancer but also treats it.
But while conventional medicine gives doses you can measure, homeopathy does not. Homeopaths believe minute doses of their therapeutic agents can achieve cures.
The medicines, from plants, minerals, metals and even poisons, are serially diluted in alcohol and water, up to many thousands of times.
Dianne and other homeopaths offer their services over the counter from the Down to Earth health shop in Dublin's South Great George Street.
A calm and friendly woman, she treats a range of patients from drop-ins looking for a quick fix for conditions such as coughs, sore throats and flu to those needing longer-term care.
Some cures seem alarming – for example, extracts of cancer cells for dealing with trauma, or Staphysagria to help alleviate the effects of bullying or stress.
I wasn't too sure about the whole business, but I've not been sleeping well lately, and going through a bit of stress, so I decided to give it a try. The remedies Dianne prescribes for me include Arsenicum and at first there's little effect, but after a few days there definitely is some benefit.
And I found just chatting to this friendly and knowledgeable woman a bit of a cure in itself – but maybe that's a bit more of the placebo effect.