Hi Peter ~ This is a great question and I'm sure you will get lots of answers. Classically, there are a number of substances that supposedly will reduce the effectiveness of the homeopathic remedies and "antidote." Some substances have a particular affinity with certain remedies and they are listed in the materia medica. These were most likely based upon provings and clinical observance. For instance, if some one was taking natrum muriaticum and getting excellent results until the person took some mints then this was noted. When that would happen numerous times with the same individual and many persons over time we could assume that there was a relationship between the remedy and the substance which stopped its action.
Camphor is a major source of antidotal properties and in one seminar Roger Morrison mentioned the strong chemicals that would interact in the body with the menthol/mint family. Thus, it was often suggested not to be near these strong aromatics.
Coffee also has drug-like properties and there are sensitivities in individuals to different chemicals. Some people find decaffeinated coffee does not bother the action of their remedy.
I have found that numerous homeopaths today will say if you are a regular coffee / tea drinker then you do not have to change your habits. Sometimes it is the coffee that is the offending substance [nervousness, insomnia, headaches, etc.] causing the problems.
I am personally quite lenient and will say to take your remedy. If it is effective and then you drink coffee and you are feeling worse, then this may indicate an interaction. See what happens when you stop drinking coffee and take your remedy again. It's very individual and each person has different sensitivities.
The same goes for dental treatment, x-rays, electromagnetic fields, strong odors, etc.
Ah! The Vexed Question of Antidotes ...
One of my popular (oft-copied/disseminated) articles - copied below for your reading pleasure!
In homeopathy, certain substances are thought to reverse, or "antidote" the action of homeopathic remedies, causing the person's original symptoms to return. For this reason, homeopaths often suggest that their patients refrain from using even small amounts of coffee, camphor, tea tree oil, and other strong smelling substances.
Let's look at the word antidote. Webster's Dictionary defines it as: a medicine or other remedy that counteracts the effects of a poison.
This doesn't really describe the process as we apply it in homeopathy--as I have understood it. Our medicines are not poisons. This vexed question of antidotes is one the homeopathic community wrestles with over and over again. So at the risk of opening a rusty old can of worms (?!) let's take off the lid and have another look.
In my early years in practice I embraced enthusiastically everything homeopathic, including the concept of antidotes. I wrote a patient information leaflet that forbade everything from mint toothpaste to coffee ice cream and cough lozenges. I believed patients were glad to have something they could do towards their own healing. Because this is what I had been taught. I believed that my medicines were rather vulnerable, delicate, easily affected by external influences--by heat and x-rays and strong smells. I wouldn't even let my patients touch their own remedies ... the tablets they were taking. Although I never went to the extremes of some homeopaths who forbade their patients to cook with garlic. My Italian blood simply freaked out at the very thought!
So ... about ten years ago I spotted a worrying development in my practice, in terms of the relationship between me and my patients. This is what would happen. Sometimes (as much as once a busy day) a patient would return for a follow-up consultation ... typically after 4-6 weeks, and tell me they had had a nice response to their treatment--at first. That there had been an improvement of some sort that lasted only a week or two and was
followed by a relapse.
What concerned me was this. I noticed a certain tone creeping into my voice when I asked The Big Questions. "Did you antidote your remedy? Did you drink any coffee?" Responses varied from the indignant "Of course not!" to coy giggles and "Well I did forget this one time," to guilty glances and "We went to Paris for the weekend and I just couldn't resist it," or a pathetic whine "I missed it so much, I only had one cup, surely it isn't that bad."
I would, of course, repeat the remedy and I'd impress upon my hapless patient the importance of obeying the rules. I don't think I actually got out my finger and wagged it pointedly at them, or rather I hope I didn't! But the words bad boy or bad girl definitely lingered unspoken in the air at these times.
At the other end of the spectrum there was the anxious mother who would call in a panic to ask what to do about her child who had eaten a piece of chewing gum. Or the conscientious new patient who wanted to know if he could eat the salad his wife had made because it had some mint from the garden chopped into it.
And then I remember reading about the old French homeopaths who would send their women patients home with a dose of Nux vomica for a drunken husband and instructions to put it in their unsuspecting spouse's soup. And it worked. I remember reading this and hearing my mind skid to an abrupt stop. I wasn't concerned about the ethical issues. I was amazed at how a remedy administered in hot soup could work. My patients were timing their 30 minutes before and after each dose with something approaching religious fervor, in order to take their remedies according to the rules about having a "clean mouth."
I started experimenting. I crushed remedies and sprinkled them in my dog's food. They worked. I told mothers not to worry about whether their children ate before or after a remedy. The remedies worked. A friend put her child's remedy in his macaroni and cheese. It worked. Another patient was desperate to give her elderly parent a remedy. Her mother didn't want a remedy. Her mother was suffering. I struggled with the ethics of this and finally relented. I suggested she put the remedy in her mother's morning tea. It worked.
And then I reflected on my practice and the relationships I was building with my patients and added into my reflections my hopes and goals for these relationships. I realized that the many rules I had built up around my treatments were acting as constrictions and sometimes as traps. I also realized that the very notion of enforcing them made it difficult for me not to persecute my patients when they "messed up," and this put them into an unpleasant victim-like position. Not the sort of healing relationship I had in mind.
I found out that some of my patients were lying to me. Because friends of theirs squealed on them. This made me feel terrible. I had created a situation where these patients were hiding things from me. We were both acting out a most unfavorable aspect of the age-old dance of parent and child. And it was my fault. What a mess. And I found out that I was not alone. I have come across many patients who have lied to homeopaths with similarly stringent rules. When we behave like a critical parent by giving our patients rules to adhere to, we automatically bring out the scared or rebellious child part in our patients--whatever their age.
I did a complete about face. And I called it an experiment. For a whole year I did not take anybody off anything. The effects were interesting. The most immediate and palpable result was that a whole layer of tension that had settled into my practice completely melted away, disappeared. I relaxed and so did my patients. We never looked back. Actually I never went back to believing in antidotes in the same way, although I do ask my patients to avoid strong aromatic oils especially camphor, eucalyptus and peppermint (but stress that ordinary toothpastes and mint in cooking is fine).
So what happened, I hear you asking! Well, a number of patients did not improve. The number was no different from my previous year in practice. As you know, we cannot help all the people all the time, and these patients I referred to other practitioners.
Some patients improved and then relapsed. The numbers were not very different from the previous year. I realized that these were patients who had been given the wrong remedy--a similar remedy rather than the simillimum in many cases--and I worked that little bit harder to find a treatment to help them. Rather than blaming coffee.
In addition, with each of these patients I checked the relationship of coffee to their remedy (at the back of Kent's Repertory or with Dr. P. Sankaran's Clinical Relationships), and if it was a listed antidote I negotiated with my patient to cease and desist from drinking coffee for a period of time--again, mutually agreed upon. This worked well. If their symptoms returned when they drank coffee again, then we went back to the negotiating table and worked out a longer term plan. Now that I live in the latte capital of the world this way of working is much appreciated by patients whose morning coffee is sacrosanct!
My bottom line--for what it is worth--is this. Anything that affects a person strongly can affect any healing response including one that is due to a homeopathic medicine. Any medicine (whether it is coffee or corticosteroids or cannabis) which has a strong effect on the psyche or substance of a person can counteract a healing response, whether this positive response is due to a homeopathic medicine, an acupuncture treatment or falling in love. Patients whose nervous systems are affected by coffee, or whose headaches are brought on by alcohol need to avoid these substances, at any time but especially while they are pursuing any treatment which seeks to enable healing to take place.
I do ask whether coffee-drinking patients experience palpitations and/or the "shakes" after relatively small amounts of coffee, or find it difficult to get to sleep at night if they drink it after mid-day. Coffee is strong medicine for these people and should be avoided. These patients are well aware of this and are usually only too happy to be encouraged to do so.
I have heard of patients whose remedies have been "antidoted" by a single coffee-flavored candy. I find this very hard to believe. I wonder whether it is because the homeopath and the patient believe it so strongly that neither take the time or the trouble to investigate other possible stresses. Our beliefs are powerful motivating forces in all our lives. To a certain extent they shape how we think, feel and behave. And to another, probably larger extent, they shape our expectations.
We believe a homeopathic medicine works by stimulating the vital force, that it acts as a catalyst for healing. Therefore, a homeopathic medicine does not, of itself, do the healing, does not heal per se.
Therefore (and this is a logical leap), a homeopathic medicine cannot of itself be antidoted. So, after fifteen years in practice, and hundreds of discussions around this topic, I have come to the conclusion that we need to investigate and question this concept of antidotes more carefully. It is true that the healing response--in other words the reaction to a homeopathic medicine--can be affected. By any significant stress, be it physical, emotional or mental. Are these then antidotes? To what?
Our medicines stimulate a healing response. I believe this response can be a delicate process, and that the healing effect itself can be counteracted. By strong physical stresses: which can range from an accident to an allopathic medication to a recreational drug, to a homeopathic medicine that has an"opposite" effect to the one previously prescribed. Emotional stresses that can interfere with a healing response include absolutely anything that affects the patient strongly, to which they are particularly sensitive because of their own weaknesses and struggles.
I don't have a simple answer as to how to write about this aspect of our work. I have dutifully written a section on antidotes in each of my books, and I would rather have called these sections by another name but I don't actually have one! We don't have one. Maybe you do--I would love to hear what you have to say about this!
Our healing can be a delicate process. As a homeopath, I believe my patients deserve to be treated with kindness and respect. Being a homeopathic patient is demanding enough. I have decided not to stress the relationship unnecessarily through the administration of harsh or unnecessary rules.
Hahnemann extremely didn´t like coffee because of some other reason, even political - anything that doesn´t belong to your normal daily intake from your area, should be avoided (spices, etc....) he didn´t like the idea coffee drinking becomes a daily german habit....but in Paris he saw it is not possible to make people not drinking coffee or enjoy other things.... so he tought with LM potencies people can still enjoy their things, but the information is put daily and the remedy can work.
My personal experience: I am a big coffee drinker and for me coffee is not so terrible like mint or garlic. But before or during homeopathic treatment I anyway don´t have so much need for coffee...and if I have I take it rather than to feel tortured with the treatment. I feel temporary change, but still the effect of the remedy.
Not to take coffee can have postivie effects on some patients of course, but then it should be made step by step and much before the treatment (not only during the treatmnet, or)?
Dear Miranda and Tihana ~ This is a great discussion and fabulous points have been made to help us decide how to run a practice. Unless a person wants to change their habits and makes every effort to do so, I do not think they will stop drinking coffee.
Using LMs or even just water doses of any potency is a method used to keep stimulating the vital force into action despite the intake of drugs, medications, coffee or other substances or even environmental hindrances or inharmonic relationships.
THE VITAL FORCE
Miranda hit upon an important idea. That the vital force is stimulated into action [the secondary response] to heal the mind, body and spirit. It is not the 'remedy' per se which does the healing work. So, a change in environment, relationship, nutritional intake and many other factors can improve quality of life as the soul lives in a better space. A kind word can make a person's heart smile and lift the spirits. The similimum can 'stimulate' the body into a healing response.
Tihana also brought up the idea that we live in an historical period which tells our concepts of our generation. What is acceptable scientific or ethical theory of one day may change as time progresses.
Please elaborate on this sections: "On the other hand, those extracts obtained by means of acids of the so-called alkaloids of plants, are exposed to great variety in their preparation (for instance, chinin, strychnine, morphine), and can, therefore, not be accepted by the homœopathic physician as simple medicines, always the same, especially as he possesses, in the plants themselves, in their natural state (Peruvian bark, nux vomica, opium) every quality necessary for healing. Moreover, the alkaloids are not the only constituents of the plants."
I know that these substances are listed in our Materia Medica, therefore, I presume they are used in homeopathic potency for healing, as well as many tissue organs [isopathy].
The last paragraph is also unclear as it relates to society today. Has coffee and tea drinking become such a habitual that it has put down a disease layer? Or has it become acclimated to the human body as to not cause infirmary, except in the sensitive? Is it the quantity, type, frequency and time of day of imbibing these drinks that makes a difference? What about the processing methods which may vastly differ from Hahnemann's time?
hi peter, as a homeopath i have never found coffee to have any effect on remedies. i don,t drink it all that often myself but have never sreered away from it while taking remedies myself or advised any of my clients to avoid it either. never had any problems this is just my personal experience.