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 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 curenturâ€”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, emofreptional 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.
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%.