I recently had the opportunity to interview Doctor Peter Fisher, an integrative medicine doctor from the U.K. who works with Her Majesty the Queen.
Andrea Donsky: I understand you arrived yesterday from England. I'm curious what you take for jetlag?
Peter Fisher: We have a traditional combination that we use for jetlag, which is arnica montana, and cocculus indicus. So arnica is something that is traditionally used for bruises, and cocculus is used for sleep problems. So arnica and cocculus combined, 6CH every hour or two, helps with jetlag.
Andrea Donsky: I read about the incredible work you do as an Integrative Medicine Doctor so I thought we would start today's interview with having you explain what that means.
Peter Fisher: Simply put, it means the best of both worlds: the best of conventional, and the best of complementary medicine. There is also a much longer and more complicated definition, but essentially it's integrating complementary medicine in care packages to avoid some of the worst excesses of conventional medicines, like over-drugging, and excess use of medication.
Andrea Donsky: I know you don't see patients with the common cold or flu, but if you did, what would be your protocol?
Peter Fisher: I've done quite a lot of research on the flu. It's quite clear that conventional treatments don't work all that well, and may even prolong the flu. Most of the conventional treatments push the symptoms down [suppress them] and actually prolong the illness.
Andrea Donsky: So something like Oscillococcinum would be a perfect thing to recommend to people.
Peter Fisher: Yes, and other homeopathic combinations that can speed up the resolution, relieve the symptoms, and make the flu go away quicker.
Andrea Donsky: Tell me a little bit about the European way of practicing medicine. I remember hearing that in Europe doctors prescribe homeopathy alongside medication. Is this true?
Peter Fisher: It varies widely between countries. In France, Germany, and increasingly in Spain, it is the case, but not so much in the UK. A lot of doctors do incorporate it in their practice and they integrate homeopathy when it seems appropriate, but they also use antibiotics and other drugs when they feel it is appropriate.
Andrea Donsky: Do you often approach these skeptics and say: "Listen, you are wrong because there is research behind it!"
Peter Fisher: I will debate with anybody, anytime. The trouble is, skeptics don't like that because they always lose. I've been involved in a series of debates with "so called" skeptics. But many well-known skeptics avoid me because they lose the debate. What they prefer to do is to blog, or tweet, so they can make nasty sneering public remarks and you can't come back at them. If it's a proper debate, I say my piece, you say your piece, there's somebody there to make sure that it's fair play, and that could be in a journal, it could be in a lower court, I don't care. There was a big court case in the U.S. that was resolved in September where that happened. An allegation was made that false claims were being made for homeopathic medicines and they lost the case…homeopathy won!
Andrea Donsky: Tell us how you came to be a physician to Her Majesty the Queen.
Peter Fisher: There's a long tradition of the Royal Family having a homeopathic physician. It actually goes back 150 years to Queen Victoria and her beloved Prince Albert. The founder of our hospital was Prince Albert's father's doctor. There has been an official homeopathic physician treating the Royal Family since the 1930s. It's been me since 2001.
Andrea Donsky: It is nice to hear that the Royal Family is open to integrative medicine. Do you just treat the Queen, or the whole family? I read that Prince Charles eats organic and has an organic garden so I am assuming he is quite open to it as well.
Peter Fisher: I treat the entire family. I think Kate and Will are too young and healthy so they don't need medicine. But the Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, is very friendly, and he is more than willing to stick his neck out to actually say things. He has spoken at the World Health Assembly, which is the AGN of the World Health Organization. So he's really quite fond of integrative medicine.
Andrea Donsky: I think that's incredible. As a conventionally trained physician, how did you become interested in homeopathy?
Peter Fisher: At the end of the Cultural Revolution I went to visit China. I was a medical student at the time, and I remember the moment when it became clear to me. I was in the operating room of a small Chinese provincial town and there was a woman lying on the operating table with her entire abdomen open, fully conscious talking to the anesthetist with three needles in her left ear.
Andrea Donsky: Acupuncture needles?
Peter Fisher: Yes.
Andrea Donsky: That's amazing.
Peter Fisher: The needles were connected to a little electrical box. I thought, "That doesn't happen. They didn't tell us about this at Cambridge." I went to the best medical school, Cambridge, a very elite medical school, and I just thought, "This can't happen. This doesn't happen." That experience is what made me think that there was more to medicine than what we were taught in medical school. Then a few years later, I became ill myself. I was still a medical student so I went to see a very distinguished professor at my medical school who made a precise diagnosis and said, "Tough, nothing can be done." So my friends suggested I try homeopathy, and I did, and it helped. So it snowballed from there.
Andrea Donsky: Oftentimes we need to see things for ourselves and/or experience it to believe it.
Peter Fisher: Yes. I got almost obsessed by it, you know. In many ways as a scientific thing it shouldn't work. I mean I do understand to that extent where the skeptics are coming from. There does appear to be a good reason why it can't possibly work, and yet it does.
Andrea Donsky: Can you define what homeopathy is and how it works?
Peter Fisher: Homeopathy is based on the idea of like curing like. So you give a very small dose of something that could cause a similar illness if given an enlarged dose. Some people say it's like holding a mirror up to nature. You're saying to the body, "OK, this is what your problem is, this is what the disease is." The idea is that the body has very strong self-healing capabilities; it is strong, but sometimes it can be stupid like when it comes to autoimmune diseases. In that case it is actually the body's defensive mechanism being misdirected.
Andrea Donsky: Can you explain the difference between a single remedy and a combination?
Peter Fisher: A single remedy is one remedy and a combination is multiple. Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of homeopathy. One is the so-called "keynote prescribing way," where you prescribe for one or two keynote symptoms like a cold, sore throat, or runny nose.Then there is "constitutional medicine" where you are not so much treating the disease, but rather the person. So for example, if someone has insomnia, muscular aches and pains or even a cold and/or flu, they can take a combination of two, three, four, or even five different homeopathic medicines, which will likely cover the symptoms. This is more for self-treatment, rather than doctor prescribed.
Andrea Donsky: That makes sense. I like that there is a role in homeopathy for both self (like for the common cold) and expert prescribing.
Peter Fisher: Yes. It is one thing if someone has a short-term health issue, but it is another thing if they have a chronic complicated, multi-faceted issue. I mean one of the interesting things about homeopathy is the idea of treating the person, and not the disease.
Andrea Donsky: One of the biggest complaints I hear from people when I recommend using a natural or homeopathic remedy, is that it is too slow of a process. It takes too long to get into the system… It doesn't work as quickly… or it doesn't work at all… That is because they are used to medication or drugs that work instantaneously so they want quick relief. What do you say to people who tell you that?
Peter Fisher: Well, I ask them if they want to feel better instantly and go on with treatment forever, or feel better more slowly, but actually stop their meds eventually. Homeopathy works on a self-healing process, and when it is used to treat a chronic disease, it can't go away instantly. If it's a fast disease, the person can get better fast. If it's a slow disease, a chronic disease, it'll take more time to get better because you are trying to get it by the roots, you're trying to resolve the thing, but that can't happen overnight.
Andrea Donsky: Right. The important thing to stress here is that we need to fully understand the potential side effects of any medication before we start taking them, and perhaps be open to exploring other options, like homeopathy (case specific of course).
Peter Fisher: Yes. And not only side effects, but interactions as well, especially when you're taking multiple drugs. I mean if you're up to seven or eight drugs, the chances of having drug interactions are very close to 100%.
Andrea Donsky: What about with homeopathy? Do they have any interactions with drugs?
Peter Fisher: No, on the whole they don't. Herbals do, but homeopathy does not, no.
Read more: 8 Natural Remedies to Soothe that Cough, Because Cough Medicines Don't Work
Andrea Donsky: Can you please sum up what the benefits of homeopathic medicine are? Like if you were to say to one of your patients today: "You really need to try homeopathy because…"
Peter Fisher: The most important benefit is that it's safe. It's extremely safe. There are no reports of serious side effects, if any at all. Also, you don't need to go on with it forever, it doesn't interact with other drugs, and it's effective for a wide range of things – some of which are difficult to treat by conventional means, or the treatments are habit-forming.
Andrea Donsky: Consider this scenario: You're at a friend's house for dinner, and they invited another friend that you never met before. When their friend asks you what you do for a living, and you tell them you are a homeopathic doctor and they say with:"that stuff is hocus pocus and doesn't work." How do you respond?
Peter Fisher: I always come back to the facts. They ask: "If the earth is round then wouldn't we fall off?" The only way we know it is round is through careful systematic observation. So I tell them: "I know it seems implausible, I know these high dilutions seem ridiculous, but so does it seem that the earth is not flat or does it seem ridiculous just from a common sense point of view. But actually there is a large body of evidence that says it isn't." My favorite thing to recommend is called CORE-hom. It's a database of research on homeopathy so it's reliable and based on research.
Andrea Donsky: Amazing.That's the perfect place for anyone to go who says there is no research behind homeopathy.
Peter Fisher: It currently has 1,117 clinical trials. They're being reviewed in various ways, and most of the time the result is positive. The study also found that the homeopathic doctors got the same results with about half the amount of drugs across the board. This is important because when it comes to respiratory tract infections, antibiotic resistance is becoming a huge problem. We now have bugs, bacteria that are resistant to all known antibiotics. There's a real risk that in ten or 20 years time we'll find ourselves back to the pre-penicillin, the era where there will be bugs that can't be treated. The reason there's so much resistance is that antibiotics are grossly overused. Antibiotics are absolutely wonderful drugs when used appropriately.
Andrea Donsky: We are also eating animals that are treated with antibiotics. That contributes to the problem of resistance.
Peter Fisher: Yes. They key is, we need to use antibiotics when they need to be used. The rest of the time we need other effective treatments such as homeopathy.
Andrea Donsky: From your experience, would you say that homeopathy works better on children than adults because they've been less exposed to chemicals, and toxins, and medications? Or would you say it's pretty even for both?
Peter Fisher: It works well with children, yes. It also works quicker because of what we discussed earlier about "the pace of the recovery mirrors the pace of the disease" and kids younger have more acute diseases so they get better quicker. But it works inadults as well … and animals!
Andrea Donsky: Let's move on to dosage. Does it matter how many pellets you take. The instructions say 5, but then sometimes I am told to only take 3. I'm curious how that works.
Peter Fisher: What makes the difference is the dilution of the medicine and how frequently you take it, but the exact size of the dose is not critical.
Andrea Donsky: So how can the average consumer determine what's best dilution for them?
Peter Fisher: If they've got a cough or a cold they can just get a "complex" which will have the appropriate things in roughly the right dilutions, so they shouldn't worry too much.
Andrea Donsky: Is it the higher the dilution the more potent the remedy is?
Peter Fisher: Well, yes and no. The higher dilutions tend to be used for more chronic things and less frequently. So we can't really refer to it as potency. I think it's best avoided because it's easily confused. Typically for acute issues you would use five, six, seven C four times a day, something like that. For more chronic issues you might use a higher dilution, 30C twice a week, something like that.
Andrea Donsky: What do you have in your medicine cabinet?
Peter Fisher: Mostly homeopathic medicines and some vitamins.
Andrea Donsky: What are your top 5 homeopathic remedies that everyone should keep in their medicine cabinet?
Peter Fisher: Well, probably Oscillo or one of the combinations for flu symptoms. Then there's arnica for bruises, and Nux Vomica.
Andrea Donsky: In your opinion, what are the current trends in homeopathy?
Peter Fisher: I think the big thing is that for me, and from my perspective, is that the scientific evidence is gradually being established despite a lot of hostility. There is a steady growing body of scientific evidence but when people are going to actually start accepting it, that I don't know. Second thing is that it is spreading and getting more popular. It's interesting actually if you look at some of the political situations. I was in Poland in May last year (2015) and it was an interesting time to be there because it was exactly the 25th anniversary of the fall of communism. You can be sure there was very little homeopathy being used in Poland in 1990. Now 30% of the population uses it. Just allow people to do what they want to do and they will use homeopathy. The same thing goes for Spain and Portugal. The moment the pressure's off and people can start doing what they want to do, then they will start using homeopathy. So that's spreading. The country from which I've had the greatest rise in the use of homeopathy is Iran. It's also booming in South Africa, in Japan … in so many different countries. People use it because it works for them.
Andrea Donsky: What percentage of the world population is using homeopathy? Do we have a stat?
Peter Fisher: We know that in India it's widely used. In India there's a quarter of a million practitioners. I know India's a big place, but a quarter of a million is a lot. There are a quarter of a million practitioners, 300 homeopathic medical colleges, and its own ministry. I'm going to Delhi in April for AYUSH. AYUSH stands for Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha, and Homeopathy. Unani and Siddha. It's immensely popular in India. You've got something like, I don't know, half the population using it. Half the population of France has used homeopathy at some time, and places like Germany and Holland are not far behind, with 30% or 40%.
Andrea Donsky: OK, last question: What do you see for the future of homeopathy?
Peter Fisher: I think eventually homeopathy will be scientifically vindicated. That everyone will understand the science behind it. We've made rapid progress but there are still big gaps, but the fact of the matter is as I've said, I will go head-to-head and debate the scientific evidence with anybody, anytime. There is scientific evidence, and it's starting to hold together, and we may eventually really understand what's going on. Maybe then there will be a breakthrough.
Andrea Donsky: Thank you so much for this valuable information.
Peter Fisher: My Pleasure.