The Wikipedia page on Samuel Hahnemann is also problematic. It is fairly short, yet there is a section on his “Coffee Theory of Disease.” This struck me as particularly odd. Homeopaths are well aware that coffee is considered a negative influence on people’s health. But, “the coffee theory of disease”…I have never heard of this. This is the Wikipedia section verbatim:
Around the start of the 19th century Hahnemann developed a theory, propounded in his 1803 essay On the Effects of Coffee from Original Observations, that many diseases are caused by coffee. Hahnemann later abandoned the coffee theory in favour of the theory that disease is caused by psora, but it has been noted that the list of conditions Hahnemann attributed to coffee was similar to his list of conditions caused by psora.
I have read most of Hahnemann’s works, including the essay On the Effects of Coffee from Original Observations. Interesting, but I never got the sense that Hahnemann was propounding a theory of disease in his article on coffee. From my recollection, coffee drinking was becoming popular, and he believed that this habit was damaging to people’s health. So he wrote this article on its effects. At no point was he creating a theory of illness. It appears as if those individuals that wrote this section on Wikipedia failed to read the source material, in this case a nineteen page essay, easily located in the book The Lesser Writings of Samuel Hahnemann. Here are some excerpts:
In modern times many more purely medicinal drinks and condiments have been added to our diet: snuffing and smoking tobacco, chewing tobacco and hemp-leaves, eating opium and agaric, drinking brandy, several kinds of stimulating and medicinal beers, tea, and coffee.
First he is establishing that coffee (like the other substances he just named) functions like a medicine (or a drug). This means that it has many distinct, strong effects. All of these substances are considered drugs today, with coffee being classified as a stimulant. Hahnemann goes on to say about medicines – i.e. drugs – (in a footnote):
Used by themselves, and when no disease is present, they are absolutely hurtful things for health and normal life. Their frequent use as articles of diet deranges the harmonious concordance of our organs, undermines health, and shortens life.
Dr. Hahnemann is saying (in 1803) that use of tobacco, opium, brandy, coffee and tea is bad for one’s health. It was not until the 1960’s that physicians as a group finally took the position that tobacco was damaging to health. Yet on the Wikipedia page, instead of praising Hahnemann for being ahead of his time, this essay on coffee is used to ridicule Hahnemann. Why would this be? It’s a head scratcher, that’s for sure.
Here is another quote from the essay on coffee and its effects:
Its primary action is in general a more or less agreeable exaltation of the vital activity…the vital functions (as they are called) are artificially exalted by it during the first hours, and the secondary action that ensues gradually after the lapse of several hours is the opposite – disagreeable feeling of existence, a lower degree of vitality, a kind of paralysis of…the vital functions. p. 394
In summary, the essay states that coffee imbues the drinker with energy and a sense of exaltation, while also causing increased peristalsis of the intestines, increased urination, suppression of the appetite, and several other effects. Hahnemann said that artificially bringing on these effects interrupted the body’s natural rhythms. Thus, instead of being tired and slowly waking first thing in the morning and gradually warming up into activity, coffee thrusts the body unnaturally into an excited state. Similarly, at the end of the day, when the body needs rest and one feels tired, a cup of coffee unnaturally stimulates one into activity. The body needs rest to recover and repair.
Dr. Hahnemann believed that by continually using coffee, that the health of the person was damaged. He observed that in chronic coffee drinkers, they were particularly tired, irritable, constipated, etc. without their coffee. Could constantly interrupting the body’s natural rhythms through the use of a stimulant, like coffee, be damaging to one’s health?
If we put Hahnemann’s ideas into their proper context, we see the point of his essay. Coffee drinking was becoming very popular. Dr. Hahnemann saw the damage this caused to his patients’ health. He was trying to convince people to not be so casual on treating coffee as a regular drink. He demonstrated how far he was ahead of his time by naming tobacco, alcohol, coffee and several other drugs as being damaging to health. For some reason, Wikipedia authors then use this essay to imply that Dr. Hahnemann was foolish, characterized in their statement, “Hahnemann later abandoned the coffee theory in favour of the theory that disease is caused by psora, but it has been noted that the list of conditions Hahnemann attributed to coffee was similar to his list of conditions caused by psora.” I will later address the psora theory. But there never was a “coffee theory” and it never was abandoned. Hahnemann never changed his belief that coffee was damaging to health, nor did he ever suggest that it was the cause of all disease.