Two antagonistic camps exist among homeopaths - those who only prescribe a single remedy for a particular case (and find anything else anathema), and those who don't mind resorting to combination homeopathic remedies - usually marketed as 'complex' remedies - for minor complaints. This type of medicine contains a mixture of compatible remedies, each known to be frequently appropriate for the condition when used alone.
In France, where homeopathy is firmly established, the two most popular remedies for flu or the common cold are both homeopathic. The top seller is the single remedy 'Oscillococcinum 200', while the number two slot is firmly held by a mixture, which sells under the cryptic L.52. Both are available in the UK, and their popularity is due to their long-established reliability in ridding sufferers of symptoms without side effects.
Oscillococcinum, discovered accidentally by Dr Joseph Roy during the 1930s, is prepared from very diluted Barbary duck heart and liver, which were - incorrectly, we now know - thought to contain a bacterium, Oscillococcus, associated with flu-like states. Roy's spurious bacterial theory has now been found to have foundation in fact; game fowl have been proved to be a prime reservoir for human influenza viruses. This remedy's extraordinary reliability in treating influenza over almost seven decades has been proved with success rates reported in various population samplings from 80-90 per cent, whenever the remedy was taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. Controlled trials were run and published in France (c. f. Thorsons Enclopaedic Dictionary of Homeopathy by this author, HarperCollins, London 1991) demonstrating effectiveness in controlling fever, cough during day and night, runny nose, muscle and joint stiffness, and shivering. This study was backed up on a larger scale (Br J Clin Pharmacol, March 1989; 27: 329-35).
The competing remedy, L.52, is a combination of 10 common cold and flu remedies: Aconitum nappellus, Arnica montana, (Atropa) Belladonna, Bryonia alba, Cinchona officinalis, Drosera rotundifolia, Eucalyptus globulus, Eupatorium perfoliatum, Gelsemium sempervirens and Polygala senega.
In a scientific trial conducted by researchers (none of whom were homeopaths) at the department of infectious Illnesses at the Felix Houphouet-Boigny Hospital in Marseilles, a high percentage of patients improved significantly in all categories - bronchial congestion, day and nighttime coughing, runny nose, need to resort to antibiotics after treatment, speed of recovery - compared to a group given a placebo (Casanova et al, 'L.52: A Flu Treatment,' Dr Ph Lecocq, pub., Metz: Editions Lehning, 1988).
Harald Gaier is a registered naturopath, osteopath and homeopath.