What is Homeopathy? – ABC of Homeopathic Medicine

Hpathy Ezine, April, 2007 | Print This Post Print This Post |

A brief but interesting introduction to the science of homeopathy.


Definition & Basic Principles of Homeopathy

Homeopathy (also spelled homeopathy or homoeopathy), from the Greek words homoios (similar) and pathos (suffering), is a system of medicine, notable for its practice of prescribing water-based solutions that do not contain chemically active ingredients. The theory of homeopathy was developed by the Saxon physician Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843) and first published in 1796. It has a wide and growing popularity in areas where it is practiced today, but the way homeopathy medicines work and many of the fundamental principles of homeopathy like the theory of the vital force and chronic miasms are still hotly debated.

Homeopathy calls for treating “like with like” (law of similars). The practitioner considers the totality of symptoms of a given case. He or she then chooses a remedy that has been reported in a homeopathic proving to produce a similar set of symptoms in healthy subjects. This remedy is usually given in extremely low concentrations prepared according to a procedure known as potentisation (see the Principle of Dilution below), because it is held that this process gives higher dilutions more therapeutic power.

History of Homeopathy

Homeopathy was developed by Dr Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843) starting with his recognition of the Law of Simila as a general therapeutic law. Although people like Hippocrates and Paracelsus (born around 1493), had proposed & used similar ideas in their times, it was Dr. Hahnemann who first recognised & applied this therapeutic principle as a general law.

In the 18th century, the medical science was still very unscientific. The knowledge about human body, diseases and the modalities of treatment were poor and vague. Methods like blood-letting, leeching, purging were the common treatments for most ailments. Practically the whole of the 18th century in Europe was marked by a plethora of theories and hypothesis concerning the nature of disease and its causation. Consequently methods of therapeutic practice were as numerous and diverse as the theories propounded. The uncertainty and lack of any fixed principle of healing disappointed Dr. Hahnemann.

So Dr. Hahnemann relinquished his medical practice & devoted himself to the translation of great medical classics of his time. In 1790, when Dr. Hahnemann was engaged in translating William Cullen’s (a Scottish physician) materia medica from English to German, his attention was arrested by the remark of the author that cinchona bark cured malaria because of its bitterness & tonic effects on stomach. This explanation appeared unsatisfactory to him. In his youth he had travelled in a particular area of Hungary where Marsh Fever or Malaria had been rife. He had used the herb, Cinchina Bark, but his experience did not support the conclusion of Cullen’s paper. He decided to carry out some experiments of his own.

He took a dose of the herb himself and he found that he developed symptoms very much like Marsh Fever. He realised that the cure of the disease could cause the symptoms of the disease. He tried it on his family, friends and volunteers and they all developed the same sort of symptoms. He experimented with this one drug on many people and the majority of them told the same story. In 1796, after 6 years of Dr. Hahnemann’s first experiment, he published an article in Hufeland’s Journal volume-II, parts 3 & 4, pages 391-439 & 465-561. “An essay on a new principle for ascertaining the curative powers of drugs & some examinations of the previous principle.”

Like Cures Like

So he developed the principle that a substance which will create the symptoms of a disease in a healthy person will actually cure the symptoms of the disease in a sick person. Hahnemann called this principle “similia similibus curentur” or “let like be cured by like”. He went on to “prove”, as it is called, some 67 remedies on his many healthy students, family and friends. His findings were published in Materia Medica Pura of 1810. Many of the substances Hahnemann used were highly poisonous, for example arsenic and mercury, and to avoid the toxic effect, he experimented with smaller and smaller doses. By experimentation, he found that successive dilutions of a substance became progressively more medicinally active, and less toxic.

Homeopathy Principles

Homeopathy as a science of medical treatment has a philosophy of its own and its therapeutics is based on certain fundamental principles. These are:

  • Law of Similia
  • Law of Simplex
  • Law of Minimum
  • Doctrine of Drug Proving
  • Theory of Chronic Disease
  • Theory of Vital Force
  • Doctrine of Drug-Dynamisation

The law of similars

The first and most important “natural law” expressed by Hahnemann, the one from which homeopathy derives its name, is similia similibus curentur—let like cure like. This means that the appropriate substance to treat a disease is one which induces similar symptoms in a healthy person. Then, it is crucial to know the symptoms associated with various substances, remedial pathogeneses. They are to be determined by drug provings on healthy persons, in which subjects take the remedy and record all physical, mental, emotional and modal changes in symptoms.

The Principle of Dilution

Hahnemann developed the system of homeopathic dilution, where one part of the starting material (usually plant extract) is diluted with 99 parts of diluent (usually alcohol and water). The mixture is then “succussed” or “potentised”, which is a rhythmical shaking of the liquid which helps to release the energy within the substance. The dilution is called a 1C homeopathic potency. The process of dilution can be repeated with the 1C potency to make a 2C potency, and so on until the desired potency is reached. Hahnemann discovered that by administering infinitesimally small doses, he not only cured ailments without undesirable side effects but in fact the cure was more effective than with larger doses. Later two more scales for menufacturing homeopathic medicines were created. The Decimal scale developed by Hering uses the 1:9 ratio for successive dilution, whereas the LM scale given by Dr. Hahnemann uses a dilution scale of 1:50,000.

Read in detail all the principles of homeopathy.

Homeopathic philosophy

Modern science recognizes that an organism’s response to stress occurs in a highly organized and interrelated manner. In homeopathy the concept of homeostatic balance on physical levels is expanded to include the mental and emotional realms as well. In other words, one’s body, mind and emotions are viewed as always working to maintain a relative degree of homeostasis or balance. Because the body, mind and emotions respond in unity to stress, the homeopathic approach to understanding disease is holistic. This means an attempt is made to evaluate any problem in the context of the whole person–physically, mentally and emotionally–and to understand how the person is limited.

The homeopathic approach does not combat disease symptoms in the same manner as one would in conventional practice. Instead, homeopathic philosophy states that if the organism is brought back into balance, the symptoms of disease (imbalance) will resolve accordingly. The homeopathic means to this end is unique to each person; therefore, whereas a conventional diagnosis is based on a defined set of common symptoms, and will be treated conventionally with common treatments, a homeopath looks for a broad and unique picture of imbalance specific to each person.

An example of this difference between conventional and homeopathic practice can be made by looking at how each would approach an inflammatory condition. Conventional practitioners might view a chronic inflammatory disease as the result of an overly-aggressive immune system, and could make a diagnosis based upon a pattern of common symptoms. They could then choose from any number of anti-inflammatory or immune-modulating agents, hoping to suppress the problem.

For a homeopath, the signs and symptoms of inflammation are just the starting point for understanding the full breadth of disease. The common signs of inflammation–’rubor, calor, dolor and tumor’–are simply the tip of the iceberg. A conventional diagnosis would not be specific enough for selection of a remedy, and one would need to consider other broader or unique expressions of disease.

The effort to target inflammation alone is also be viewed by homeopaths as ‘suppressive’, meaning that although the most obvious symptoms of imbalance (eg., inflammation) may be quelled, the underlying stress and imbalance from which this problem arose have not changed. Therefore, a person with a chronic inflammatory condition is treated but not cured. Homeopaths also view the effort to suppress symptoms as one which occurs at the expense of the rest of the organism. That is, if the organism works as an integrated whole, one cannot single out and combat individual symptoms without the battle spilling over in effects on the whole.

Therefore, to rid a person of their chief complaint is not enough in homeopathy. The improvement must also be in line with a general ‘direction of cure’–if a person’s chief complaint is resolved, one should not see a subsequent problem develop at a deeper or more vital level of function.

Does Homeopathy Work?

Homeopathy has a two hundred year track record of curing illness. Homeopathy received widepread public attention through its effectiveness during epidemics of cholera in the 19th century. During the great influenza epidemic of the 1920′s, homeopathic hospitals reported low death rates, while hospitals employing conventional medicine reported death rates of 20% to 30%.

Since the late ’40′s, double blind trials testing homeopathy on various medical conditions have led to mixed results. Some are claimed to support the use of homeopathy. In other cases, this method of evaluation proved itself incapable of documenting the success of homeopathic cures.

In a report published in the September 20, 1997 issue of Lancet, Dr. Wayne Jonas, head of the Office of Alternative medicine, and Dr. Klaus Linde, concluded that, when the evidence of the 89 studies of homeopathy judged to be of good quality was pooled, homeopathy was deemed to be 2.45 times more effective than placebo.

In 1996, an unpublished study from the Homeopathic Medicine Research Group, an organization formed by the European Union to determine the effectiveness of homeopathy, concluded that homeopathy was more effective than a placebo… and the probability was only 0.027% that this result might be due to chance! Remarkably, a group skeptical toward homeopathy had assisted in the study’s design.

In the February 9, 1991 issue of the British Medical Journal, an analysis by two Dutch researchers asked to assess the efficacy of various forms of alternative medicine, reported that although initially they had been sceptics as to homeopathy and alternative medicine in general, “The amount of positive results came as a surprise to us… The evidence presented in this review would probably be sufficient for establishing homeopathy as a regular treatment for certain indications.”

Another, more recent, study stated “Compared with placebo, homeopathy provoked a clear, significant, and clinically relevant improvement in nasal inspiratory peak flow, similar to that found with topical steroids.” British medical Journal August 19th 2000.

Today, as we learn more and become more sensitive to the relationships between all living things, homeopathy has rightfully attracted the interest of a great many intelligent, inquisitive and preceptive minds within both the lay and the medical community.

Growth of Homeopathy

Such was Hahnemman’s success, particularly with endemic and epidemic diseases, that homeopathy quickly spread throughout Europe and across to America. Dr Fredrick Harvey Foster Quinn introduced homeopathy into Great Britain in the late 1820′s and in 1849 he founded the London Homeopathic Hospital.

Homeopathy was brought to America in 1825 and rapidly gained in popularity, partly due to the fact that the excesses of conventional medicine were especially extreme there, and partly due to the efforts of Constantine Hering. Hering developed the doctrine that symptoms always move in a particular way: from the surface to the interior, from the extremities to the upper part of the body, and from less vital to more vital organs. His “Laws of Cure” state that the cure must take place in the reverse order of the appearance of the symptoms (first in, last out).

Nearly as important as Hahnemann himself to the development and popularization of homeopathy was the American physician James Tyler Kent (1849 – 1921). His most important contribution may be his repertory, which is still widely used today.

Homeopathy reached its peak of popularity in America in the decades 1865-1885. In the 1930s the popularity of homeopathy began to wane, especially in Europe and the United States, partly due to advances in biology and conventional medicine, partly due to a decline in coherence in the homeopathic community and partly due to increasing influence of AMA on medical practice. Homeopathy experienced a renaissance in the 1970s that continues to this day. George Vithoulkas, who studied in India, where the homeopathic tradition had remained strong, was instrumental in resurrecting homeopathy in Europe.

With advent of computer technology, the ease with which large symptom databases can be used has brought about profound changes in the way homeopathy is practised. Today a large number of homeopaths use personal computers to sift through hundreds of thousands of pages of provings and case studies. The homeopathic repertorisation software have made practicing homeopathy much more easier.

Where is Homeopathy Popular Now?

Homeopathy is particularly popular in France, England, Germany, Greece, India, Pakistan, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, and South Africa. Approximately 40% of the French public have used homeopathic medicines, and 39% of the French physicians have prescribed the medicines. About 20% of German physicians occasionally utilize these natural medicines, and 45% of Dutch physicians consider them effective. According to a survey in the British Medical Journal (June 7, 1986), 42% of British physicians survey refer patients to homeopathic physicians, and a New York Times article reported that visits to British homeopaths is growing at a rate of 39% a year.

Despite these impressive statistics, homeopathy is particularly popular in India where there are over 180 five-year homeopathic medical schools. Homeopathy is also growing very rapidly in the United States. Market research shows that sales of homeopathic medicines have grown at a rate of 25-50% per year during the past ten years.

There are estimated to be over 500,000 physicians practising homeopathy world wide, with an estimated 500 million people receiving treatment. Over twelve thousand medical doctors and licensed health care practitioners administer homeopathic treatment in the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. Since 2001 homeopathy is regulated in the European Union by Directive 2001/83/EC. The latest amendments to this directive make it compulsory for all member states to implement a special registration procedure for homeopathic drugs.

In India, there are nearly 180 homeopathic medical colleges, 7500 government clinics, and 307 hospitals offering homeopathy treatment. Approximately 35 are government colleges, rest are managed by private bodies. Homeopathy is the third most popular method of treatment in India, after Allopathy and Ayurveda. It is estimated that there are about quarter million homeopaths in India. Nearly 10,000 new ones add to this number every year. The legal status of homeopathy in India is very much at par with the conventional medicine.

In the United Kingdom, as in most countries, homeopathic remedies may be sold over the counter. The UK has five homeopathic hospitals where treatment, funded by the National Health Service, is available and there are numerous regional clinics. Homeopathy has a core of public support, especially in Scotland and also from the English royal family.

In the United States, homeopathic remedies are, like all healthcare products, subject to regulation by the Food and Drug Administration. However, the FDA accords homeopathic remedies a treatment significantly different from that accorded to other drugs. Homeopathic products are not required to be approved by the FDA prior to sale, not required to be proven either safe or effective prior to being sold, not required to be labeled with an expiration date, and not required to undergo finished product testing to verify contents and strength. In the United States only homeopathic medicines that claim to treat self-limiting conditions may be sold over the counter, while homeopathic medicines that claim to treat a serious disease can be sold only by prescription.

Homeopathy’s popularity in the United States is growing. The 1995 retail sales of homeopathic medicines in the United States were estimated at $201 million and growing at a rate of 20 percent a year, according to the American Homeopathic Pharmaceutical Association. The number of homeopathic practitioners in the United States has increased from fewer than 200 in the 1970s to approximately 3,000 in 1996.

In Germany, about 6,000 physicians specialize in homeopathy. In 1978 homeopathy, along with anthroposophically extended medicine and herbalism, were recognized as “special forms of therapy”, meaning that their medications are freed from the usual requirement of proving efficacy. Since January 1, 2004 homeopathic medications, albeit with some exceptions, are no longer covered by the country’s public health insurance. Most private health insurers continue to cover homeopathy.

In Austria homeopathy has been a recognized part of the medical system since 1983. In Switzerland homeopathy is one of the five classes of complementary medicine.

Useful Links -

Faq about Homeopathy
Benefits of Homeopathy
Myths about Homeopathy
Life History of Samuel Hahnemann
Scientific Research in Homeopathy
Organon of Medicine ebook
Online Homeopathy Dictionary
Free Introductory Course on Homeopathy
Homeopathic Materia Medica
Homeopathy Repertory
Homeopathy Pharmacology and Pharmacy
Homeopathy Combinations

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