Coffee... An Obstacle or Antidote?
"Shall I take Coffee?"
- A common question of our patients, also arises when we speak,
discuss about our treatment. Dr.Will Taylor, world-renowned physician
uncovers the layers of antidoting. He had contributed many articles
to online journals and popular international journals.
The question of antidoting
often comes up when discussing homoeopathic treatment. Patients
are often told, or believe from their readings, that they need to
assiduously avoid "antidotes" to their homoeopathic remedy,
including coffee, mint, camphor-containing compounds, tea-tree oil,
and dental work. I hear much discussion among homoeopaths as to
how significant the phenomenon of antidoting might actually be in
practice, and even hear of practitioners who believe that the concept
of "antidoting" is a modern invention to conveniently
explain away therapeutic failure rising from other causes.
I think it is perhaps
unfortunate that the term "antidoting" has been applied
to this phenomenon. By my understanding of that word, it leads us
to expect a phenomenon somewhat different than that which we actually
see in practice.
I understand the term
"antidote" to mean "a remedy counteracting a poison
or an evil", suggesting that the antidote acts "counter"
to a substance, "neutralizing" the substance, here the
In practice what we
see is somewhat different, and that is that any of a number of medicinal
influences can interfere with the response that we wish the vital
force to make in reaction to our remedy. The interfering influence
may invite its own response that may risk "derailing"
the response that the vital force might otherwise make to our prescription.
Hahnemann describes the phenomenon in a rare poetic metaphor:
"The softest tones
of a distant flute that in the still midnight hours would inspire
a tender heart with exalted feelings and dissolve it in religious
ecstasy, are inaudible and powerless amid discordant cries and the
noise of day."
-The Organon, footnote to §259
So the issue is not
that "coffee or whatever neutralizes remedies"; it is,
rather, that coffee (as one example of a substance that may "antidote")
may sometimes exert a medicinal influence that diverts the vital
force from making the response that we desire it to make to our
Far from being a recent
invention of homoeopaths, we see this phenomenon of "antidoting"
well described in the classical literature. Open up Hahnemann's
Materia Medica Pura, for example, to its first alphabetical listing
acids and wine antidote its effects, and so do other medicines
which correspond palliatively or homoeopathically to some of its
Note that final line,
where the salient point is:
"so do other medicines which correspond palliatively
or homoeopathically to some of its ... symptoms.
We can look throughout
the classical literature - which is well-founded in careful experience
- for other specifics re "antidoting":
In the Materia Medica Pura, (chosen at random):
The erysipelatous swelling caused by belladonna
are readily removed by hepar sulphuris. Camphor, too, displays
much antidotal power against some of the morbid effects caused
Coffee is serviceable as a homoeopathic antidote
... the sufferings it causes may, according to their character,
be relieved by the antidotal power of pulsatilla or chamomilla,
and in rarer cases by cocculus, arnica, camphor or vinegar.
So the issue is, that
a "spurious" medicinal substance that overlaps with our
remedy in "partial similitude" to the case can divert
the response of the vital force to our chosen remedy. We can employ
this to our advantage in calming a similar or dissimilar aggravation
to our prescription, or we can encounter this as an obstacle when
it blocks a hoped-for healing response to our prescription.
When is this most likely to happen?
- When the "interfering" substance bears
some partial similitude to the disharmony being addressed, and
therefore to the remedy given - e.g., we see the classical antidotal
parings of Ignatia/Nux-v, Ignatia/Puls, Bell/Camphor, Bell/Opium,
- When the vitality of the patient is relatively
- When the sensitivity of the patient is relatively
- When the remedy given is not the best match in
similitude ("the simillimum" can still be "antidoted",
but is less likely to be interfered with than would be a "merely-close-icum")
Now with regard to point
#1 above, there are some substances that have far-reaching effects
on the economy of the organism, that bear widespread similitude
to many states of disharmony and likewise to many remedies. Two
of these are Camphor and Coffee, and this is why we see these mentioned
so often in the classical literature as "antidotal" to
the effects of remedies. Leaf through the Materia Medica Pura &
observe how often these are mentioned in this regard.
This does not mean that
coffee will always "antidote" homoeopathic treatment.
In clinical experience, it most often (perhaps 95% of the time?)
does not. If you are treating someone with high vitality and modest
sensitivity (most of my patients), and you have selected a good
simillimum (more & more of your patients), it is not likely
that "antidoting" will be much of an issue. However, if
you are treating (and you will):
- a one sided case, with a "close-as-I-can-findicum"
- a case in which there is some uncertainty in the
remedy, and you (likely unknowingly) have a close-enough similimum
but not "The Simillimum", or
- a patient with low vitality,or
- a patient overly sensitive to environmental /
- are using a remedy with close similitude
- the risk of coffee acting as an interfering
substance is much increased.
Hahnemann wrote eloquently
on the subject of coffee. In his Lesser Writings (also available
as a separate pamphlet) is a 19-page essay, On the Effects of Coffee
(Leipzig, 1803), in which he expounds at length on the assertion
that coffee needs to be regarded principally as a (palliative only)
self-medication for symptoms common to the core human condition
(read it! it's a great essay). Although he does not say it in so
many words at that time (note this was well before his views on
chronic disease were matured - The Chronic Diseases was not published
for another 25 years), it is not difficult to extrapolate that coffee
is often used as a self-medicating palliative for many of the disturbing
symptoms of the nearly universal human condition of Psora. In Chronic
Diseases (1828) he describes this more directly.
This medicinal effect
of coffee is not confined to its ingredient caffeine, but is a property
of the whole substance, in the manner that our remedies act not
as collections of ingredients but as whole substances.
Note the numbers of
people who continue to embrace coffee as self-medication, who find
it difficult to abandon its use, even when they confine use to decaf.
It is likely this effect (the palliation of some of the disturbing
symptoms of Psora), which has brought coffee into such widespread
use, which permits Starbucks to charge such outrageous prices in
airport lobbies for the stuff, even without the caffeine. How many
other things do we consume in a "dose-related" way? ("4
cups/day", etc. - do we eat Kale that way?) I'd suggest that
coffee's palliative relationship to Psora confers it a "partial
similitude" to many antipsoric remedies, which sets it up for
possible interference with their invitations to the vital force.
When Hahnemann began
applying similia similibus as a curative art, he was quite sensitive
to the excesses of polypharmacy in allopathic practice. He advocated
a highly restrictive diet (see the Organon and Chronic Diseases)
to minimize potentially interfering medicinal influences. As his
experience grew, he slacked off somewhat on this intense restriction,
perhaps with growing experience in the specifics of antidotal influences
(restricting vinegar with Sepia, rather than universally, for example),
and perhaps also with astonishment that the "subtle" effects
of his tiny doses were not so subtle after all, and persisted through
minor medicinal interference in the diet. We even find a reference
to his giving a remedy in coffee at some point. This does not mean
that he abandoned the notion that coffee might "antidote"
- but rather than he recognized that "antidoting" is a
relative phenomenon, that is in some circumstances more of an issue
than it is in others.
In practice, I find
accidental "antidoting" to be a rare, but certainly not
a non-existent event. Even intentional antidoting, e.g. to calm
an excessive similar or dissimilar aggravation, is often more difficult
than I'd like it to be.
suggest to folks who appear to be self-medicating with coffee and
who might be at greater risk of "antidoting" (according
to the factors listed above) that they might ensure a more positive
response if they eliminate coffee from their diet. Similarly, folks
receiving Sepia are cautioned about excesses with vinegar, folks
receiving Lycopodium about excesses with mint, etc. Although certainly
not a universal or even common phenomenon, I have certainly seen
cases where indiscretion with these items interfered prominently
||Dr Will Taylor M D
The School of Homeopathy
964 Third Avenue, 8th floor
New York, NY 10155-0003