As a physician, I first started to notice significant numbers of hypersensitive patients in the early ‘80s, when a cluster of special people descended on my office.They claimed that they reacted vehemently to the slightest dose of medication—even with alternative modalities like herbs and vitamins, oxygen therapy, colonics, or parasite therapy. Conventional and alternative practitioners alike refused to believe them, saying “My other patients all react well to this treatment.” The hypersensitive patient almost felt accused of torturing the physician with this inexplicable behavior. “I really can’t do anything for you,” these doctors would say, recommending a psychiatrist instead.
The alternative practitioners were worse, if anything, believing that the benevolent action of their gentle vitamins could not possibly harm a patient. Newspaper articles quoting leading professionals were no help; one headline read, “Hypersensitivity to the environment and many other factors, medications included, are the result of a psychosomatic attitude.” Or in other words, “It’s all in your mind.” The word “psychosomatic” is a great invention for getting doctors off the hook. Of course, it really stands for the true mind-body connection—but not in this context. Instead, physicians use “psychosomatic” to dismiss the patient as a “nut case” or as someone “on the verge of a nervous breakdown”. The patient feels rejected and insulted. What’s even worse, s/he often loses family support, is abandoned by friends and starts questioning him/herself: “Am I really going crazy?”
Since these hypersensitives first emerged in large numbers in the early ‘80s, they have been labeled “universal reactors” and having “multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS)”. Not that it has helped these unfortunate victims in the least to recuperate—but at least their disorder was given a name, official recognition that they suffer from something more than just a mental disorder. “It’s better than nothing,” hypersensitives tell me. “At least my family doesn’t call me crazy or lazy anymore.” And new syndromes have emerged with hypersensitivity as one of their primary features—or even their only feature. The patients who flocked to my office in the early ‘80s suffered from Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS). A large percentage of them exhibited multiple food and environmental sensitivities, among their myriad symptoms.
It took ten years before CFIDS was recognized by the official medical world: in 1990 the Centers for Disease Control finally acknowledged the existence of this condition and formulated diagnostic criteria. And the concept of multiple chemical sensitivities was not really taken seriously until Gulf War Syndrome emerged—in which more than 25,000 young, healthy males suffer from the same kind of universal reactivity which was formerly thought to occur only in “hysterical” women. The official explanations have included the industrial pollution in Saudi and nerve gas deployed by Saddam Hussein. The real reason is being covered up: the toxic cocktail of experimental anti-nerve gas and vaccinations to which these soldiers were subjected, without any information or consent.
Is this kind of hypersensitivity a new condition? It has always existed; Hahnemann, the father of homeopathy, first formulated the concept and estimated that 10% of his patients were hypersensitive. Today the real numbers are grossly underestimated. Forty to 50% of the population suffers from some form of environmental or food sensitivity, ranging from some sneezing and snuffling and occasional constipation to severe asthma or allergic reactions to perfume, carpets, paint, or gasoline. In extreme forms, the body even reacts to itself and the patient develops an auto-immune disorder such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. And the numbers are ever increasing.
What has turned human beings into a race of hyper­sensitives? And why such a big jump in the early ‘80s? The first post-World War II generation was just reaching their mid-30s then. Think of the huge difference in how those babies were treated: mass vaccinations and the widespread use and abuse of antibiotics started in the 1950s. American babies now receive more than 20 vaccinations before the age of 2. The immature immune system of an infant cannot handle the shock of so many vaccinations; other countries like Japan and many European countries delay vaccinations to later in childhood precisely for this reason. In addition, exposure to environmental chemicals and pesticides has proliferated. (“Better living through chemistry” went into full swing in the 1950s). Antibiotics are increasingly overprescribed (including for viral illnesses when MDs themselves know they will do no good, but MDs succumb to pressure from their patients to write a prescription).
Antibiotic abuse has weakened our immune systems (partly by destroying the friendly intestinal flora, a cornerstone of our immune system) and has led to a frightening rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which threatens to reintroduce TB, malaria, gonorrhea and syphilis when we thought these conditions were ancient history.
Besides vaccinations, drugs, and a toxic chemical environment, the economic situation has created an extremely stressful mental/emotional environment, all of which makes our immune system pay dearly. In my practice, financial concerns are a close second behind relationship difficulties among the leading causes of stress in my patients’ lives, Anxiety, frustration, anger, and mental, emotional and physical burn-out leave our immune system squeaking in its grooves.
When the immune system is low, we have no defense against the environment. We lose adaptability, one of the cornerstones of good health. At every moment our immune system is battling with the environment; if it is weak, our bodies easily get overwhelmed. So why then isn’t everyone suffering from hypersensitivity? Perhaps you are, yet your friends who have received the same vaccinations and antibiotics can function quite well in this sinister world. But people are individuals, and one of the strengths of homeopathy is to individualize the patient, to look at the person with the illness and not just the illness. People’s sensitivities range in magnitude from 1 to 1000; this was discovered two hundred years ago by Hahnemann, the father of homeopathy, in his infinite wisdom. Some people will react to a trigger (medication, environmental chemical, food allergen, etc.) at only 1/1000th of the strength at which another person would react. Hahnemann classified people in the sensitivity range from 700-1000 as being hypersensitive.
Through homeopathy, we can learn to recognize two types of people who most often suffer from hypersensitivity. Once we recognize these people, we can reduce their doses of medication, vitamins, vaccinations, anesthesia, etc. Let’s take a look at two of the most intriguing hypersensitive personalities, based on two of the leading homeopathic remedies (because these people respond so well to their respective remedies).
The first group—including some of my most beloved people—are the PHOSPHORUS personalities. This homeopathic remedy comes from the element Phosphorus, used to make matches; it flares up with a sudden blinding light, then just as suddenly disappears. This quality explains the physical, emotional and mental make-up of the Phosphorus patient. The Phosphorus person has a radiant, bubbly, effusive energy but is easily physically and mentally exhausted, always in need of a short nap, which revives him easily. We call them good beginners (because they are so easily excitable, they start many things) and bad finishers (because they run out of stamina!).
They are extremely sensitive on all levels: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. They are the most likely to react to environmental chemicals, paint fumes, etc. They are sensitive to changes in the weather, often getting headaches at the approach of a storm. And they are sensitive to spiritual vibrations, being attracted to all kinds of New Age spirituality, channeling, crystals, etc.
They are often clairvoyant and are great mediums. They are extremely sensitive to others’ emotions, even feeling others’ emotions within themselves, to the point that they often lack boundaries between themselves and others. Thus they are known as “psychogenic sponges.”
Physically the Phosphorus presents mainly as a tall, slender individual with delicate features, long eyelashes, and large shiny, radiant eyes. Phosphorus people stand out through graceful, effeminate manners; they talk with vivid and rapid movements of the hands as if to attract attention to their expressive face. The big eyebrows have a round form, eyebrows belonging to the sentimental and spiritual person, who loves walks in the moonlight, recites poetry, and sings tender, romantic songs. They often have oval nails on long slender fingers.
Tears come easily, but they can be promptly interrupted by an infectious smile, especially when the person is entertained or has the attention of an audience. This person detests the winter months, at which time he becomes a reclusive. Being full of light himself, he needs the constant stimulus of growing energy, like in the Spring, to sustain the bubbling, creative personality. This person often suffers from Seasonal Affection Disorder (SAD). Emotionally these people are very sympathetic, too much for their own good. They are especially concerned about the welfare of their loved ones. They love traveling, singing, dancing, parties, anything that is exciting, and any chance to perform for an audience. They have many fears: of being alone, in the dark, thunderstorm and lightning, in large crowds, etc. They crave the company of friends, love consolation when something goes wrong and weep easily even over small events. They choose professions with creativity and flexibility.
Don’t put them in a run-of-the-mill nine-to-five job—it’s like putting a bird in a cage! They are our actors, actresses, dancers, performers, outrageous barbers, travel agents, artists, interior designers, stand-up comedians, pianists, bartenders, astrologers and sentimental novel writers.
Do you recognize yourself here? Then be careful—your middle name is “SENSITIVE.” The physical sensitivity of the Phosphorus person is also reflected by overreactions to anesthesia, even to small amounts in the dentist’s office. The numbness can stay for a long time, or the patient has a hard time waking up from anesthesia after surgery. It is a phenomenon well known in Western medicine, yet anesthesiologists cannot predict it or know how to avoid it. Homeopathy recognizes this sensitive patient before therapy starts, avoiding unnecessary, even harmful aggravations.
Usually hypersensitives need only half or even a quarter of the normal recommended dose, be it drugs, vaccinations, anesthesia or vitamins. More than that, and they are likely to react as though to a toxin (even with vitamins), because their systems are overloaded and their vital energy suppressed.
While the Phosphorus person has a sunny, vivacious, radiant personality, a more gloomy type can have an almost equal sensitivity level. This is the ARSENICUM type: thin, nervous, restless and sometimes angry. They are tall and slender, with a tendency to walk very erect, head up. They are the ones with allergic shiners (black circles under the eyes). They are full of anxiety and insecurity about the future, putting stress on their hard-functioning adrenals. Their lips are often oval, pursed and pinched, as if continually hiding disapproval. Their words are delayed by reflective selectivity.
This all adds up to an uptight personality, quite a contrast with the Phosphorus. Arsenicums are fastidious to the point of obsessive compulsiveness. Their greatest fear is catching a disease, so they are constantly washing their hands, scrubbing their food and disinfecting silverware to avoid those omnipresent germs. They realize they will “succumb to these buggers or maybe cancer” but they are willing to give it their best fight.
They have many fears about the future, afraid that no one will take care of them when they are sick and old. And sick they are. They constantly are on the lookout for a disease which is just around the corner. They are convinced that either no doctor has been able to find their disease or that everyone else has underestimated the “terrible” disease they are suffering from. To control their anxiety as much as possible, they will always pay close attention to detail. While the Phosphorus person looks for the pleasant side of life, the Arsenicum personality always perceives the cup as half empty. They are analytical thinkers, enough to drive you crazy, but great to have as a secretary (your desk will be cleaned if you want it or not!) Nothing gives the Arsenicum personality more joy than cleaning, over and over again.
Of course, they are more dependable and better organized than the Phosphorus person, but there will be a lot less laughter in your office with an Arsenicum. With their eye for detail they make great detectives, inspectors, professors, psychotherapists, dentists, accountants, pharmacists, social workers, and proofreaders. Where the Phosphorus person is usually born as such, the Arsenicum type is often sculpted from sad events: fear and anxieties from a young age on because of the death or illness of relatives or parents, financial loss, poverty, and even food poisoning, all can lead to this Arsenicum personality. And alas, they become almost as sensitive as the Phosphorus person. There is a great difference, though: the Phosphorus person has environmental sensitivities, the Arsenicum food sensitivities or allergies.
By understanding these different types and incorporating this knowledge into our treatment, Western medicine would avoid many of the unfortunate reactions which are so commonplace nowadays. As always, homeopathy will look for the initial cause and treat the whole person. By recognizing sensitive patients, the skillful homeopathic physician will cure their disorder and balance their sensitivity so that the world becomes a friendlier place to live in! If you are hypersensitive, make sure to consult a homeopath who is familiar with LM potencies, the special potencies devised by Hahnemann himself to be gentle enough for hypersensitives. Otherwise aggravations are bound to happen! As you strengthen your constitution through homeopathy, you will become less reactive to the world around you and increasingly able to lead a normal life.
NOTE: for more about your type, read my book What About Men on the connection between homeopathic remedy types and Traditional Chinese Medicine.