The surprising story of Charles Darwin and his homeopathic doctor

December 12, 2007

A new scholarly written book describes hundreds of well-known and respected physicians, scientists, politicians, corporate leaders, and literary greats who used or advocated for homeopathic medicine. Eleven U.S. Presidents, seven popes, Sir William Osler, J.D. Rockefeller, Charles Kettering, and C. Everett Koop are among those famous people who were known to have benefited from homeopathy. Perhaps most surprisingly is the evidence of Charles Darwin's use of homeopathic medicines and the significant results he received from them.

In the new book, The Homeopathic Revolution: Why Famous People and Cultural Heroes Choose Homeopathy (North Atlantic Books, 2007), Dana Ullman presents strong evidence derived primarily from Charles Darwin's own letters about the treatment he received from a homeopathic physician. Ullman suggests that Charles Darwin would not have lived long enough to have completed his seminal work, The Origin of Species, in 1859 if he didn't get homeopathic treatment ten years previously.

It is well known that Darwin became very ill during his trip to South America in the late 1830s. His health continued to decline, and he was so ill that he couldn't attend his own father's funeral in 1848. He suffered from severe and constant nausea, heart palpitations, widespread boils, and trembling for 12 years, and by 1849, he had suffered from fainting spells and spots before his eyes for two years. According to Darwin's letters, he was not able to work one day in every three.

Finally, in 1849, he sought the treatment from Dr. James Manby Gully, a homeopathic physician who owned a hydrotherapy spa. Although Darwin was skeptical of homeopathy, he obediently took the prescription of homeopathic medicines his doctor gave him, and within a month, his health was considerably better. Darwin didn't have nausea for a month, gained some weight, took a seven mile walk (which he was previously unable to do), and then wrote to a friend, "I am turning into a mere walking and eating machine." After just a month of treatment, he had to admit that Dr. Gully's treatment was not quackery after all.

Ullman also has uncovered some of Darwin's own experiments using extremely small "homeopathic" doses of various ammonia salts and watched their significant effects on insect-eating plants (Drosera rotundifolia). He was so shocked by his experiments that he had his son replicate them, and ultimately, he felt embarrassed to have to report on their surprising findings. Although Darwin provided details about the exceedingly small doses he tested, he never used the word "homeopathic" when referring to these experiments. He wrote, "I am quite unhappy at the thought of having to publish such a statement" about these results. An endorsement of homeopathy by Darwin at that time might have led to great antagonism against his new theories about life and evolution.

Many famous people benefited from Dr. Gully's care, including Charles Dickens (novelist and writer), Alfred, Lord Tennyson (poet), Florence Nightingale (famed nurse), George Eliot (British novelist), Thomas Carlyle (Scottish essayist, satirist, and historian), Edward Bulwer-Lytton (British novelist, playwright, and politician), Thomas Babington Macaulay (first Baron Macaulay, poet and politician), and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce. Further, three prime ministers sought Dr. Gully's care, including William Gladstone, Benjamin Disraeli, and George Hamilton-Gordon, as well as Queen Victoria herself. Hamilton-Gordon described Dr. Gully as "the most gifted physician of the age."

According to Ullman's book, other leading physicians and scientists who used and/or advocated for homeopathy, including Sir William Osler (the "father of modern medicine"), Emil Adolph von Behring (the "father of immunology"), August Bier, MD (the "father of spinal anesthesia"), Harold Griffith, MD (founding president of the World Federation of Societies of Anesthesiologists), Charles Frederick Menninger, MD (founder of the Menninger Clinic), and C. Everett Koop, MD (former Surgeon General of the United States).

Besides physicians and scientists, this book uncovers biographical information about many cultural heroes of the past 200 years, including various literary greats (Emily Dickinson, Louisa May Alcott, Washington Irving, Goethe, George Bernard Shaw, Lord Alfred Tennyson, Gabriel Garcia Marquez), sports superstars (David Beckham and Martina Navratilova), musicians (Beethoven, Chopin, Wagner, Tina Turner, Cher), politicians (11 U.S. presidents, Gandhi, Tony Blair), clergy (seven popes and leading rabbis and Muslim clerics), and corporate leaders (JD Rockefeller, Charles Kettering).

Besides the personal stories from history and the present day, this book also reviews modern high quality clinical research and evaluates both positive and negative outcomes. Ultimately, the preponderance of scientific and historical evidence shows how the placebo effect is an inadequate explanation for the clinical results from homeopathic treatment. Ullman also reviews recent basic science evidence that provide new insights into how homeopathic nanodoses may have biological activity.
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Foundation for Homeopathic Education and Research

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