Nervous system problems

By Dr Tom Whitmarsh

The nervous system can encompass so much.  Neurology has to do with any dysfunction of the nervous system, but is  generally not held to include those conditions traditionally thought of  as psychiatric, such as depression, schizophrenia and anxiety disorders  which can all have major effects on the proper functioning of the  nervous system. Homeopathy, of course has a large role to play in that  area, but this is beyond the scope of this article. I’ll content myself  with a few remedies or groups of remedies I have found to be helpful in  some of the better known neurological conditions, many of which can lead  to long term discomfort or disability. The role of homeopathy in many  of these conditions is not to cure but, on the whole, to help people  cope better with their difficulties and a qualified physician should  always be consulted.

Aetiology 

Before enumerating specific symptoms, it is worth commenting on an  aspect of how people perceive their illness. Many patients with a  chronic, unremitting medical condition, have the impression that their  symptoms all stem from a specific event in their lives. In homeopathic  terms this possible aetiology is listed in the repertory in the rubric  “ailments from…” People might say for example “I’ve had the headache  ever since I fell off that bike and was knocked out”, so the homeopathic  practitioner might look up “ailments from injury to the head” to  include in their analysis and selection of the remedy in a particular  case. The teasing out of perceived (and actual) aetiology is a very  important part of homeopathic case taking and can be used in just about  any condition, but it does seem that there are a few situations in  neurology where it is particularly important, for example:

Ailments from grief or loss: perhaps the death of someone close, or a  loved pet; children moving away from home; retirement from a long-held  occupation. Here, the remedy Ignatia is very useful. I usually use a  high potency such as 10M. Remedies useful around retirement include  Aurum (gold) and Kali bromatum.

Ailments from fright or shock: here,  people might say “it all began when I saw that car accident” or  something similar. Whatever the symptoms or the condition, Aconite  (again in high potency) is the remedy.

Ailments from a stressful period of nursing someone: this covers the  person whose sleep has been disturbed every night for months as they  looked after a sick relative. They now have a headache and the remedy  might be Cocculus.

Ailments from injury: neurologically, we are usually thinking of head  injury and many people with multiple sclerosis (MS) or headache date  the onset of their symptoms from a car accident or other accident where  they hit their head. It is hard not to give a high potency dose of  Arnica here, though other remedies such as Hypericum and Helleborus  might be appropriate, always of course depending on the particularities  of the symptoms. Injuries of the spinal cord causing symptoms (for  example post-whiplash headache) are often helped by Natrum sulphuricum.  Surgery has to be considered as an injury here and these remedies may be  called upon when there is pain or other symptoms after spinal or other  neurosurgery.

Ailments since an infection: the nosodes come in especially here.  Nosodes are homeopathic remedies made from products of disease, or in  the case of micro-organisms, sometimes from the bacterium or virus  itself. It is entirely safe, as it is used in such high dilutions that  no organisms remain, just the healing power. Examples in neurology might  be the pain and out of their bed or wheelchair. Simple cramps often  respond to a daily dose of Cuprum 30c or 200c. More severe symptoms  might require Strychninum (strychnine is a poison that works by inducing  severe spasm in all muscles, including those of breathing) or the  nosode made from the tetanus toxoid. I have a number of patients who  find their spasm much lessened by a regular dose of Plumbum (lead) or  Nux vomica (a plant which contains a large amount of strychnine and so  acts homeopathically to spasms). 

Fatigue 

It is disappointing to have to report that although this is probably  the symptom which is most felt in MS and other chronic neurological  conditions, there is no specific treatment. Experience suggests that  finding the true constitutional similimum is the most helpful thing  here.

Bladder symptoms 

Frequency, getting up often at night to go to the toilet and more  annoyingly having accidents where the sufferer couldn’t get to the  toilet in time are common in many neurological conditions. In MS, for  example, there is often loss of correct sensation in the bladder and the  sufferer is not aware of the need to go, so they hold on too long and  then they become at risk of recurrent urine infections. The remedies  Causticum and Equisetum can help this

Twitches, jerking & other involuntary movements

These may be a symptom of a deeper neurological disorder, such as MS  or they may commonly be benign, with no chance of progression, but are  just annoying. Either way, frequent, uncontrollable twitches of muscles  throughout the body (for example in the eyelid) sometimes respond to  Agaricus (the poisonous mushroom fly agaric). People who might respond  to this remedy are very chilly, experience burning or itching and might  have a disturbed sense of perspective so that movements are awkward or  exaggerated. The resemblance to what some people experience with MS is  clear. Another remedy with this exaggerated way of moving (takes a great  big step to get over a small object “just in case”) is Onosmodium (the  false gromwell), which is a major remedy in cases of MS. It encompasses  slowness of thinking and comprehending too.

The remedies made from the spiders can be useful in neurological  conditions with unusual movements. People who need spider remedies seem  to have an altered sense of the rhythm of life, they are basically  speedier than other people. They fill up their life with activity, a  fruitless business. In trying to slow down to the general pace of other  people, they have to over-control their natural speed which can result  in bizarre patterns of movement. Music is very helpful to them as when  they tune in to a rhythm they move more easily and it needs to be loud  music with a beat. The best known of these spiders as a remedy is  Tarantula Hispanica, but it is interesting that most spider poisons are  neurotoxins (they act on nerves) and so might be expected to have a role  in homeopathically helping neurological conditions. Other spider  remedies that might be useful neurologically include Mygale and  Theridion.

Restlessness 

This is a very frequently reported symptom and often takes the form  of just being unable to settle down for the night, especially because  the legs feel jumpy and want to keep moving, often forcing the sufferer  to get up and pace around to calm things down. The general night-time  restlessness can be helped by Arsenicum album or sometimes by Rhus tox.  Restless legs often do well with Zincum metallicum.

Headache 

There is a myriad of remedies where headache can be part of the  picture, probably because the occasional headache is a near universal  human experience. Some specific features are useful though and on the  whole are more important in prescribing than knowing a diagnosis,  although, of course, there are some headaches indicative of rare  underlying disorders and these always need to be ruled out. Features  which I have found to be particularly useful remedy-pointers include the  following:

  • absolute need to stay completely still (not even moving the eyes during a headache attack) – Bryonia;
  • one-sided migraine headache occurring  especially at weekends, relieved by a walk outside (wanting to do  anything but go to bed in the dark is an odd feature in migraine) and  often associated with nausea or vomiting – Iris versicolor;
  • sudden onset bursting pain – Belladonna;
  • right-sided pain which comes up from the back of the neck over the side of the head to lodge behind the eye – Sanguinaria.

Other pains 

The so–called “Arnica of the nerves”, Hypericum, is appropriate for  reducing pain in injury were there is specifically nerve damage. It can  even be helpful in reducing the length of relapses in MS (for example in  bouts of inflammation of the optic nerve – optic neuritis). I’ll  mention two other specific pains, which are always hard to treat  conventionally and for which homeopathy sometimes has some answers.

  • Peripheral neuropathy: this is often a  result of diabetes. The nerves which take sensation from the ends of the  limbs (especially, at first, the feet) lose their proper blood supply  because of the sugar imbalances in diabetes and so sufferers cannot feel  things correctly. This ability to feel is replaced by a nasty pain  which is constant and deeply debilitating. For example, patients often  say that it feels as if they’re walking on hot pebbles. I have had some  success in this situation with the remedy Hydrophis (from the venom of a  sea snake) and also Nux vomica. Incidentally, Hydrophis (from another  neurotoxic venom) is a great remedy for the after effects of polio. Its  major keynote is a split between a strong, “normal” upper part of the  body and a weak “abnormal” lower half, often the situation with people  who are affected by polio.
  • Trigeminal neuralgia: this affects  people as bouts of stabs of incredibly severe pain in the area supplied  by one branch of the trigeminal nerve on one side of the face. It can be  triggered by a variety of stimuli, including touch, brushing the teeth,  a cold draught and talking or eating. Sufferers can have many, many  stabs in one day and can get seriously depressed with the pain.  Conventional treatment relies on anti-convulsant medication taken  regularly and sometimes surgery, which can be effective for a while, but  the symptoms often return. The remedies Aconite, Verbascum, Kalmia and  Spigelia are among those which can help sufferers.

Seizures & epilepsy 

These are very common – whether present from birth or coming on for  no obvious reason in childhood or presenting later in life as the result  of strokes or other brain injury. Most people with epilepsy will be  controlled to some extent on a variety of anti­convulsant medications.  Homeopathy can add to the control but should not be used as the sole  treatment. Remedies which can often improve control of childhood  epilepsy and sometimes allow reduction in medication, include Baryta  carbonica, Cicuta, Belladonna, Stramonium and Hyoscyamus. Baryta  carbonica is particularly interesting if the epilepsy is part of a more  global delay or impairment in the child’s development. It can really  “kick start” them and bring them back to a more appropriate level of  function. Interestingly, it also has a role at the other end of life, in  older people who are perhaps “sliding back” in their functioning.  Taking a stroke to be a brain injury, then it is clear that a high  potency of Arnica post-stroke should be helpful. I have also seen  homeopathic Opium be extremely beneficial in people who have bouts of  somnolence and “absence” after strokes, probably amounting to small  seizures.

Speech disorders

People’s speech can be affected in neurological conditions for a  variety of reasons. The loss of normal fluency and content of speech may  be transitory, as in some people with migraine, or long-term and fixed,  as in some following a stroke. It is common to have some form of speech  disturbance after a stroke and this is an area where homeopathy can  help. A family of remedies which has a special relationship to speech  problems is that of the snakes. The best known snake remedy in  homeopathy is Lachesis, but not all people who would benefit from a  snake remedy will benefit from this particular one. The remedies are  usually made homeopathically from the venom, although we do use a number  of non-poisonous snakes (such as the Boa constrictor) where other parts  have to be used.

The idea that there are families of remedies, usually related  botanically or zoologically is very current in homeopathy and so we look  to find the “themes” of a family in a particular case and sort out  which snake it should be for this individual. Snake “themes” might  include a tendency to bleeding and haemorrhages, disordered speech, a  feeling of congestion, a dislike of constriction and a feeling you get  that they are trying to get your attention in a particular way – seduce  you (they often wear very alluring clothes – snake skins are very  beautiful). All of these themes are issues you might recognise as  belonging to Lachesis, but then we can go further and realise that we  are actually seeing general snake themes here. Trying to sort out which  snake is most appropriate for an individual will then depend on  particular characteristics and symptoms of that person. For example,  Naja (cobra) has stiffness of the neck, Elaps (coral snake) expresses  himself artistically and creatively and Crotalus cascavella is very  superstitious and has a great interest in magic and the occult.

Narcolepsy & cataplexy 

People with narcolepsy have an inherited predisposition to go to  sleep at any time, day or night. The need is unstoppable and can happen  at the most awkward times, even in the middle of a conversation.  Cataplexy sufferers have attacks in which they become unrousable and  unable to communicate, so it looks like sleep, but they are fully aware  of what is happening and can remember all that is being said around  them. These attacks often happen at times of heightened emotion, so  laughing or crying can be a trigger (or a medical consultation!). They  quite often sustain injuries in their sudden fall into an attack with no  warning and frequently end up in ambulances against their will (they  are unable to resist). The conventional treatment of these conditions  involves amphetamines. I have found that the remedy Nux moschata  (nutmeg) can give good relief and avoid the need for high doses of  conventional drugs.

Tom Whitmarsh MA MBBS FRCP FFHom is Consultant Physician at Glasgow Homoeopathic Hospital.