Ferrum phosphoricum, abbreviated as ferrum phos., is a homeopathic remedy compound made from iron and phosphorus. Its name is Latin for iron phosphate. The homeopathic formula of iron phosphate is derived from mixing iron sulfate, phosphate, and sodium acetate.
Based on the homeopathic "law of similars," which states that any substance that can cause certain symptoms when given to healthy people can cure sick people with similar symptoms, ferrum phos. is the remedy of choice for patients in the early stages of fever or other inflammatory conditions. It may also be given to patients suffering from low energy or anemia. Of the 2,000–3,000 homeopathic remedies that are available, ferrum phos. is one that often appears on "short lists" of those recommended for a home medicine chest.
It is important to note, however, that homeopaths do not prescribe a given remedy on the basis of a few physical symptoms. They try to match the remedy to the totality of the patient's symptoms, including emotional characteristics and personality traits. Thus a classically trained homeopath would not give ferrum phos. automatically to every patient who walked into the office complaining of fever or a viral illness. A contemporary American practitioner of homeopathy recommends giving ferrum phos. when the person does not have clear and distinct symptoms that would point to another remedy. The profile of the ferrum phos. person is that he or she has a lower fever and is more alert than one who needs belladonna but less upset and fearful than one who needs aconite. Where a patient with the belladonna profile may have a face that is flushed all over with fever, the ferrum phos. patient has clearly defined pink or red patches on the cheeks. The ferrum phos. patient is not focused solely on his or her discomfort and may have conversations with others as if he or she were not ill.
Other characteristics of ferrum phos. patients include a tendency to tire easily. They are nervous, sensitive people, disturbed by anxiety-provoking dreams. They may be restless sleepers, even though their illnesses are often brought on by overexertion. In addition, ferrum phos. patients often bleed easily; they are more prone to nosebleeds or minor bleeding from the gums at the onset of an illness. If they cough up mucus, it is likely to be streaked with blood.
The homeopathic definition of "symptom" is broader than the standard medical understanding. To a homeopath, symptoms represent the body's attempts to deal with an internal or external ailment. They are guides to choosing the correct remedy rather than problems to be suppressed. A homeopathic practitioner who is asking a patient about symptoms will inquire about the circumstances (e.g., light or dark, heat or cold, rest or activity, etc.) that make the patient feel better or worse. These factors are called modalities in homeopathy. In terms of modalities, gentle motion and applications of cold make ferrum phos. patients feel better, while cold air, nighttime, standing up, and heavy exertion make them feel worse.
A homeopathic practitioner might prescribe ferrum phos. for any of the following conditions:
- tickling coughs accompanied by chest pain
- red and swollen tonsils
- fevers that start slowly
- ear infections that have not yet produced pus
- incontinence, involuntary urination with coughing, bedwetting
- rheumatic joints
- menstrual periods that begin with headaches
- sore throats, especially in singers
- heart palpitations
Ferrum phos. is available in the United States in both liquid and tablet form. It can be purchased from homeopathic pharmacies or over the internet. Common potencies of ferrum phos. are 30C and 6X. The abbreviation 30C stands for a centesimal potency. This indicates that a process of dilution, along with vigorous shaking (succussion) of the remedy, has been repeated 30 times to achieve the desired potency. The abbreviation 6X indicates a decimal potency, and means that this decimal dilution has been repeated six times. In homeopathic practice, the strength of the remedy is in inverse proportion to the amount of chemical or plant extract in the alcohol or water; thus a 30C preparation of ferrum phos. is considered a much higher potency than a 6X preparation. People using homeopathic remedies at home are generally encouraged to use the lower potencies such as 6X or 12X.
The precautions recommended by homeopaths reflect concerns about proper administration of the remedies rather than specifying categories of patients who should not receive a given remedy. The quantity of a homeopathic remedy, for example, is less critical than the frequency of dosing. Homeopathy follows the principle of minimal dosing, which means in practice that the patient is not given a second dose of a remedy (or a dose of a different remedy) until the first has completed its action. Minimal dosing is based on the homeopathic belief that remedies work by stimulating or "jump-starting" the body's own natural defenses against illness rather than by killing germs. In general, however, the more severe the patient's acute symptoms, the more often he or she would be given the remedy. A ferrum phos. patient with a bad cold might be given a dose of the remedy every three to six hours, while one with a milder illness might be given only one or two doses a day.
Precautions regarding homeopathic remedies also include avoiding contamination of the medicine. The patient should not touch the medicine; it should be dispensed into a cup and tipped directly into the patient's mouth. Homeopathic remedies are not taken with water but allowed to dissolve in the mouth. Patients are asked not to eat or drink for about twenty minutes before and after each dose.
Homeopathic remedies rarely have side effects in the usual sense of the phrase because they are so dilute. On the other hand, a homeopathic remedy may sometimes appear to be making a patient's symptoms temporarily worse as part of the healing process. This temporary aggravation of the symptoms would be regarded by homeopaths as an indication that the remedy is effectively stimulating the patient's body to heal itself.
Homeopathic practitioners are not as a rule concerned with drug interactions, in part because homeopathic remedies are so dilute that there is little of the original substance to interact with a prescription given by an allopathic physician. In addition, the homeopathic "single medicine" principle, according to which a patient is given only one homeopathic remedy at a time for a given illness, also minimizes potential interactions among different remedies. For example, a ferrum phos. patient would not be given a different cold or cough remedy unless the homeopath determined that the patient's symptoms were changing and required a remedy with a different symptom profile. There is, however, an ongoing debate among homeopathic practitioners about the legitimacy of combination remedies. Many homeopathic pharmacies sell preparations that are low-potency combinations of the most commonly used remedies for use at home. Conservative homeopaths maintain that the possibility of interactions among the different ingredients makes it difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of these combinations.
Homeopaths are, however, concerned about the effect of other substances on homeopathic preparations. They believe that remedies can lose potency through interaction with heat, light, or other substances. Guidelines for proper storage of homeopathic remedies include keeping them away from strong sunlight and high temperatures, keeping them in their original containers, and not storing them
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Boiron Research Foundation. 1208 Amosland Road, Norwood, PA 19074.
Homeopathic Educational Services. 2124 Kittredge Street, Berkeley, CA 94704. (510) 649-0294. (800) 359-9051.
International Foundation for the Promotion of Homeopathy. 2366 Eastlake Avenue East, Suite 301, Seattle, WA 98102. (206) 324-8230.
National Center for Homeopathy (NCH). 801 North Fairfax Street, Suite 306, Alexandria, VA 22314. (703) 548-7790. Fax: (703) 548-7792.
Rebecca J. Frey, PhD