Behind an arched stone facade in Heidelberg, Germany, Natalie Grams spent years welcoming patients into bright rooms with plastered white walls and hardwood floors. As a homeopathic physician, she listened to their concerns and prescribed tinctures, ointments, and little white pills for their ailments. People trusted her, and Grams was certain that these nontraditional treatments (echinacea for colds; arnica for muscle pain) made them better.
For her, homeopathy was more than a profession. It was something she accepted on faith and an essential part of her identity. She treated herself homeopathically and her young family, too. “I was convinced that homeopathy could heal everything, really everything,” Grams says.
Then one day in 2013 at a nearby lake, Grams fell violently ill with a viral infection. Under different circumstances, she might have turned to a tincture or those little pills, which homeopaths call globules. But there was no time. Her fever was spiking, and her sense of reality was fading away. Her family called an ambulance. Bumping along the potholed country road, the medics tried to distract Grams by inquiring about her work. When she said she was a physician, they asked what field of medicine. Vulnerable and scared, she couldn’t bring herself to tell them. These are real doctors, she thought. They save lives. They were saving her life. She couldn’t do what they did. What, then, did that make her? So she lied and said she was a general practitioner.
It would be a few more years before Grams fully turned her back on homeopathy—becoming, practically overnight, Germany’s most prominent skeptic of the practice. But that afternoon in the ambulance, she began to question her devotion. “I was, somehow, for the first time, not sure whether it was a good thing to be a homeopath,” she recalls.
The pseudoscience of homeopathy was invented in Germany in the 18th century by a maverick physician named Samuel Hahnemann. His theory was based on the ancient principle of like cures like—akin to the mechanism behind vaccines. The remedies Hahnemann developed, meant to help the body heal on its own, originate as substances that with excess exposure (like pollen) can make a patient ill (in this case, with hay fever)—or kill them: Arsenic is used as a treatment for digestive problems, and the poisonous plant belladonna is meant to counteract pain and swelling. These substances are diluted—again and again—and shaken vigorously in a process called “potentization” or “dynamization.” The resultant remedies typically contain a billionth, trillionth, or … well … a zillionth (10 to the minus 60th, if you’re counting) of the original substance.
Today, homeopathy is practiced worldwide, particularly in Britain, India, the U.S.—where there’s a monument to Hahnemann on a traffic circle six blocks north of the White House—and, especially, Germany. Practitioners, however, differ greatly in their approach. Some only prescribe remedies cataloged in homeopathic reference books. Others take a more metaphoric bent, offering treatments that contain a fragment of the Berlin Wall to cure feelings of exclusion and loneliness or a powder exposed to cellphone signals as protection from radiation emitted by mobile handsets.
Grams, the daughter of a chemist, first turned to homeopathy in 2002. While she was attending medical school to become a surgeon, a highway accident left her car in the ditch with the windshield shattered. Grams walked away unhurt, but she soon began to suffer from heart palpitations, panic attacks, and fainting spells that doctors couldn’t explain. Her roommate suggested she visit a heilpraktiker, a type of German naturopath that offers alternative therapies ranging from acupuncture and massage to reiki and homeopathy.
Homeopaths typically spend a lot of time with patients, asking not just about symptoms but also about emotions, work, and relationships. This is all meant to find the root cause of a patient’s suffering and is part of its appeal. The heilpraktiker asked Grams about her feelings and the accident, things she hadn’t spoken about with her doctors—or anyone—thinking they weren’t important in understanding what was wrong. The heilpraktiker prescribed her belladonna globules and recommended she visit a trauma therapist. Steadily, her symptoms fell away. She was healed.
Soon after, Grams dropped the idea of becoming a surgeon, opting for a future as a general practitioner while taking night courses in alternative therapies. After completing her medical degree, she began a five-year residency to qualify as a GP. But three years in, Grams abandoned conventional medicine and began an apprenticeship with a homeopath near Heidelberg.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
A Crash Course in Omicronomics
Sussing out the impact of the new coronavirus variant on growth and inflation
The New Fighter At the CFPB
Rohit Chopra wants to know more about tech companies’ plans for financial products
Next on Your Plate: Bug Burgers
The faux-meat industry is starting to explore fruit fly patties and mealworm nuggets
Ready Aim Omicron!
Drugmakers always knew variants would arise. The latest will test their preparedness
Crossing Borders With Crypto
A Mexico-based startup says it can send remittances from the U.S. cheaper and faster
Treasure Hunters Of the Stalled Supply Chain
For salvage companies, an unclaimed shipping container is a potentially profitable mystery box
In the EV Age, Hyundai Still Has High Hopes for Hydrogen Cars
The South Korean automaker sees fuel-cell technology as key to decarbonizing global transportation
The Next Accounting Fiasco
Twenty years after Enron’s failure, investors are still vulnerable to corporate numbers games
When Same-Day Delivery Is Too Slow
Gopuffis trying to outrace its competitors in the “dark convenience store” business
The Most Broken Business in America
Biden’s Build Back Better plan may make day care more affordable for parents—if the providers don’t go belly up first
DEMENTED HITLER'S BIZARRE FINAL DAZE!
Newly discovered documents reveal Nazi leader lost his grip on reality
‘THE BIG DELETE:' INSIDE FACEBOOK'S CRACKDOWN IN GERMANY
Days before Germany’s federal elections, Facebook took what it called an unprecedented step: the removal of a series of accounts that worked together to spread COVID-19 misinformation and encourage violent responses to COVID restrictions.
MAUSER MODEL 1898
GOOGLE TO INVEST $1.2B IN GERMANY CLOUD COMPUTING PROGRAM
Google said that it is investing 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion) by 2030 to expand its cloud computing infrastructure in Germany and to increase the use of renewable energy.
Auf Wiedersehen, Klimakanzlerin
As she leaves office, Angela Merkel, hailed for her pioneering global leadership on climate change, stands accused at home of not moving fast enough
German Sniper Rifles
In the run-up to World War II, military planners in Germany expected a fast-moving mechanized war. They considered that a sniper firing one well-aimed round at a time was a holdover from trench warfare. On December 6, 1934, the German Army’s High Command ordered all “Telescope Sight Rifles” to be turned in by the 15th of that month. There was no plan for their replacement (from Sniper Variations of the German K98k Rifle by Richard D. Law).
DAYS OF OUR LIVES
James Reynolds (Abe)
Shannon T. Lewis
A Performance of Many Lifetimes
SLACK KICKS OFF 2021 WITH A GLOBAL OUTAGE
Slack, the messaging service used by millions of people for work and school, suffered a global outage on Monday, the first day back for most people returning from the New Year’s holiday.
FIVE YEARS AFTER THE ICON’S PASSING, A FAN REVIEWS THE POSTHUMOUS RELEASES