By Megan Kawasaki
Picking up a cup containing two tiny, white pills, Gus Woythaler ’12 studied them for a moment before popping them into his mouth, tasting the faint flavor of sugar as they dissolved under his tongue.
Despite not feeling sick at all, Woythaler was taking medicine from his doctor. Unlike conventional pills, these were homeopathic remedies, alternative, controversial medicines that deal with psychological and bodily ailments.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, homeopathy was developed in Germany around 200 years ago and is one of many active holistic medicinal practices. It claims to fend off illness by strengthening the body’s immune system with small doses of diluted substances. The medicines are composed of entirely natural ingredients and are believed to remedy numerous bodily sicknesses, ranging from headaches to lingering joint pain.
To obtain his homeopathic remedies, Woythaler regularly visits Linda Johnston, board-certified in classical homeopathy.
“It’s almost like a therapy session,” Woythaler said. “She asks me if I have any dreams that I remember that I can share with her, and when I do, she always asks me how I feel during the dream.”
He and Johnston discuss any physical or emotional problems he has had since his last visit. After a thorough talk, Woythaler receives one or two homeopathic remedies to deal with the most significant ailments.
“I only take them when I visit the doctor,” Woythaler said. “Normally I get two remedies, but I’m not told what the remedy is or what is in it. I just take them right then and there.”
The process is typical for him, since he visits Johnston up to four times a year. His mother’s interest in homeopathy encourages his visits to Johnston’s office, but Woythaler does not generally find the remedies to be helpful, he said.
In most cases, he does not take any kinds of medicine at all. The exception is when he is feeling very acute symptoms, in which case he takes over-the-counter medicine or antibiotics.
“Since my dad is a doctor, he can just prescribe me anything if I’m feeling really sick,” Woythaler said.
The success of homeopathic remedies is often attributed to a placebo effect, where patients feel they are getting better despite not taking effective medicine, according to an article written by Stephen Barrett, M.D., who denounces homeopathy as being “quackery.”
Since the medicines are so thoroughly diluted, sometimes to the point that the original substances are in extremely minute quantities, and dosages are generally one or two pills each day, homeopathy is not considered suitable treatment to most doctors.
The American Academy of Clinical Homeopathy, however, claims that the remedies are successful and work by energizing the body to achieve a healthy balance.
As another alternative treatment, some students take average herbal medicines, which have been around for 5,000 years, according to the Institute of Chinese Herbology. These kinds of remedies are meant to treat the bodily imbalances that cause illness.
Justin Ho ’12 is no stranger to Chinese medicines and has used them from a young age. He takes them whenever his parents feel that he is deficient in vitamins or important nutrients.
“The Chinese medicines aren’t to fix, they are to supplement my health,” Ho said.
A remedy that he often uses is homemade ginseng tea, a potent brew that is said to lower blood pressure and increase energy.
According to the NCCAM, ginseng root also contains ginsenosides, active compounds that have anticarcinogenic and antioxidant properties.
“Drinking ginseng tea burns as it goes down, but my mom and grandma always seem to see a definite difference, so I just go with it,” Ho said. “I don’t feel anything different, but it could be because the changes are gradual.”
Chinese medicine is not Ho’s preference when it comes to treating illness. He said that his parents often remind him to take his treatments and that he tends to take Western medicine more often.
Jeffrey Bu ’12 and Danni Xia ’12 also take Chinese medicines, and both feel improvements in health after taking them.
Bu sticks to one specific treatment at the urging of his parents: an herbal tea derived from the isatis root, or ban lan gen, which he says is meant to alleviate throat pain and discomfort. His parents prepare it for him, and it often turns out to be what he can only describe as a “brownish liquid.”
“It’s not supposed to cure the sickness or anything. It lasts for a couple of hours, maybe — just temporary relief,” Bu said. “Usually, I might drink a couple of cups a day.”
Xia has been treated with a variety of herbal remedies. Having lived in China for most of her childhood, she is familiar with a myriad of traditional treatments.
“The herbal teas like rose, ginger, pang da hai (boat sterculia seed) help to regulate body temperature,” Xia said. “They are pretty effective, more for regulating than treating, but important nonetheless.”