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A History and Definition of Drainage

Toxicity is generally considered to be a detriment to health in both complementary and orthodox medical fields. Complementary health practitioners consistently put more emphasis on this notion of a toxic accumulation within the person in almost all their treatments.

Naturopathy grew largely out of a tradition of medical doctors such as Henry Bieler, Benedict Lust, Henry Lindlahr, and J.H. Tilden, doctors who promoted the concept of toxemia and the impossibility of a cure without addressing it. Since the late 1800s, naturopathic medicine has tended to sway from its heritage, forgetting the basic principles on which it rests. The notions of drainage and naturopathy have arisen from the works of Hippocrates and Paracelsus, in whose works nature was treated as the ideal medicine for the evacuation of toxins. Drainage serves as an expansion of fundamental naturopathic concepts while providing the most efficient and effective tools for eliminating toxic accumulations. With its origins in French homeopathic prescription, drainage has evolved in both theory and practice to include most other aspects of natural medicine. A history of drainage, pieced together from the few available sources on this topic, may help define this school of thought.

“Le drainage” was first described by Léon Vannier, a French physician who published several papers on homeopathy in the 1930s and served as the eminent leader of the French Homeopathic School. Vannier promoted the use of low potency homeopathics to instigate a centrifugal, outwardly moving or dispersing effect of toxins by using remedies that appeared to have particular organ affinities. His work is generally thought to be an extension of a Swiss physician, Dr. A. Nebel of Lausanne, who, as early as 1912 taught the need for ‘organic cleansing’ in homeopathic treatment. Most of what Dr. Nebel practiced was not documented; however, Dr. Vannier later explained and clarified his work. This notion of organic cleansing appears closely related to the original writings of Samuel Hahnemann, the father of homeopathy, who talked about the need to remove the cause of disease before any true cure can occur1. It is both interesting and crucial to show that the two schools of homeopathy (classical and drainage) have their roots in Hahnemannian thought.

Dr. Fortier Bernoville, a colleague of Dr. Vannier’s, wrote about the purpose of drainage. He advocated the use of many remedies, “simultaneously or successively,” to eliminate the symptoms caused by to the toxicity of particular organs. He may have been one of the first French authors to distinguish satellite remedies, or complementary remedies, from the more broadly acting polycrests, which have an action in nearly every tissue of the body and in all miasms. He wrote

“...the practice of drainage is to follow or precede the principal remedy indicated, by the application of one or more satellite remedies with the aim of making easy the toxic elimination in a given morbid condition, to check aggravation and to obtain a more rapid and sure result.”2

This idea of satellite remedies is described further in a work entitled Drainage in Homeopathy by Dr. E.A. Maury. This book, originally written in French in 1965, is one of the few texts existing in English which focuses solely on the topic of drainage. Maury explains that homeopathics are prescribed according to the law of similars to facilitate the elimination of toxins, thus preparing the patient for, or increasing their receptivity to, the intense action of high potency remedies given at a later time. His definition of drainage also extends beyond the bounds of pure homeopathic prescribing; he explains that the theory of drainage is an age-old concept where any effective modality can potentially be used for the end result of detoxification.

Michel Bouko Levy of Marseilles, France, a medical doctor and a drainage practitioner recently gave a simple explanation of drainage:

“...cleaning and fortifying of the body is maintained by the emunctories. In most cases you need to help and stimulate the organs touched by the chronic disease. This is the drainage.”3

He stated that drainage not only functions in elimination, but also serves to stimulate those organs which could improve the patient’s overall health if they were in proper functioning order. Bouko Levy elaborates briefly on drainage philosophy in his Homeopathic and Drainage Repertory by stating that drainage is a necessary tool for removal of the most superficial layers of a patient. He says that in order to affect the deep mechanisms of the patient, the superficial layers must be removed successively, with the outermost layers being removed first. Bouko Levy considers the deeper mechanisms of the patient the determinants of the degree of pathology which may present in that person’s life. These deeper mechanisms are determined by the individual’s Reactive mode. Reactive modes are a central tenet of drainage philosophy which we will investigate in a later section (see section on Terrain).

In North America, it is a common assumption that ‘Drainage’ refers to combination homeopathy. Jay Yasgur, author of Yasgur’s Homeopathic Dictionary, includes a definition for “drainage remedies” which states they “are remedies which promote the excretory functions of a particular organ or organ system.” He further reports that these remedies are typically prescribed in low potency or in combination formulas. While this definition is, in part, correct, it is an extreme oversimplification of modern Drainage therapeutics.

Today drainage has evolved into a focused format with several steps to clean the terrain of an individual, where even miasms or the inherent weaknesses of an individual (see section on Terrain) are addressed and cleared. Mikhael Adams, N.D., one of the pioneering practitioners of drainage in North America, has been indispensable to the development of these ideas. He defines drainage as, “the process of detoxifying the body by opening the emunctories and discharging the toxic accumulations”4 (see Defining Emunctories). The focus on opening the emunctories is central to how drainage differs from detoxification; drainage is a way to gently eliminate, without the inherent unpleasantries, such as acute illnesses or healing crises, of traditional naturopathic cures. Dr. Adams insists that drainage philosophy differs from traditional detoxification techniques, in that healing crises are unnecessary and can be easily avoided. His 17 years of practice and study provide a format which beginning practitioners can follow called the “Steps to Healing.” This nine-step framework lays out a basic guideline to follow in the treatment of most conditions.

Dr. Adams’ lectures greatly expand the historical tradition of using single and complex homeopathic remedies to achieve drainage. In addition to teaching one type of complex homeopathy, he strongly encourages the use of botanical Gemmotherapy, mineral Oligotherapy, organotherapy and the Schussler cell salts, along with other nutritional supplementation when necessary (see sections on Gemmotherapy and Oligotherapy). He stresses the use of these newer therapies since they are, in most cases, much stronger and more efficient at stimulating an individual’s eliminatory functions.

Dan Kenner, an American acupuncturist, and Yves Requena, a French medical doctor, known for their recent book on botanical medicine, titled Botanical Medicine: A European Professional Prospective, also describe drainage as a technique that uses herbal treatment5. They explain that Drainage utilizes the full scope of phytotherapy, where vital nutrients are provided and disturbed functions are regulated. The drainage is accomplished by choosing the most appropriate botanical. In this way, the chosen therapeutics address the presenting complaints of the patient, and at the same time, stimulate the excretory functions.

The most complete writings on drainage are available only in French. A two-volume work jointly written by medical doctors G. Gueniot and C. Delplanque, titled Nouvelles Connaissances en Medicine Homeopathique, covers Drainage philosophy from the aspect of the existing toxins, acute and chronic illness, miasms, and blockages to therapeutic attempts. In these works, the doctors clearly outline the necessity of drainage, as well as the actions of individual remedies in the Unda Numbered Compounds, which are the low potency combinations popular in drainage.

Overall, drainage has begun to entail many other health-related philosophies and paradigms. It has evolved over time to include several different forms of alternative treatment, providing a synthesis of new ideas in phytotherapy, mineral therapy and homeopathy. Throughout this evolution, however, the general philosophy has remained unchanged: gentle elimination of toxins, preparing the patient for those therapeutics more effective once the toxins are cleared. As the work of Kenner and Requena demonstrates, drainage is a technique that combines the findings of European and North American health practitioners.

*This article is taken from Dr. Erin Holston Singh’s 1998 naturopathic graduate senior case medical thesis, entitled “Drainage: An Evolving Naturopathic Medical Technique”.

1Hahnemann, Samuel. The Organon of Medicine, 6th ed. Cooper Publishing, Blaine, WA, 1982.

2Vannier, Léon. Difficult and Backward Children, 6th ed. Hahnemann Publishing Co., Calcutta, 1937.

3Bouko Levy, Michel, M.D. Homeopathy for Physicians Seminar. Chicago, IL Feb. 7-10, 1998.

4Adams, Mikhael, N.D. Biotherapeutic Drainage Seminar. San Francisco, May 3-4, 1997.

5Kenner, Dan and Requena, Yves. Botanical Medicine: A European Professional Perspective. Paradigm Publishing, MA, 1997.