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Homeopathic Medicine

Overview :


Homeopathy was founded by German physician Samuel Hahnemann (1755–1843), who was much disturbed by the medical system of his time, believing that its cures were crude and some of its strong drugs and treatments did more harm than good to patients. Hahnemann performed experiments on himself using Peruvian bark, which contains quinine, a malaria remedy. He concluded that in a healthy person, quinine creates the same symptoms as malaria, including fevers and chills, which is the reason why it is effective as a remedy. He then began to analyze the remedies available in nature by what he called provings. Provings of homeopathic remedies are still compiled by dosing healthy adults with various substances and documenting the results, in terms of the dose needed to produce the symptoms and the length of the dose's effectiveness. The provings are collected in large homeopathic references called materia medica or materials of medicine.

Hahnemann formulated these principles of homeopathy:

  • Law of Similars (like cures like)
  • Law of the Infinitesimal Dose (The more diluted a remedy is, the more potent it is.)
  • illness is specific to the individual

Hahnemann's Law of Similars was based on thinking that dated back to Hippocrates in the fourth century B.C. It is the same thinking that provided the basis for vaccinations created by Edward Jenner and Louis Pasteur. These vaccines provoke a reaction in the individual that protects against the actual disease. Allergy treatments work the same way. By exposing a person to minute quantities of the allergen, the person's tolerance levels are elevated.

The Law of the Infinitesimal Dose has always caused controversy among those outside the field of homeopathy. Hahnemann contended that as he diluted his remedies with water and alcohol and succussed, or shook, them, the remedies actually worked more effectively. In fact, diluted homeopathic remedies may have no chemical trace of the original substance. Practitioners believe that the electromagnetic energy of the original substance is retained in the dilution, but toxic side effects of the remedy are not. It is this electrochemical "message" that stimulates the body to heal itself.

Homeopathic practitioners believe that illness is specific to an individual. In other words, two people with severe headaches may not receive the same remedies. The practitioner will ask the patient questions about lifestyle, dietary habits, and personality traits, as well as specific questions about the nature of the headache and when it occurs. This information gathering is called profiling or case-taking.


Samuel Christian Hahnemann created and developed the system called homeopathy. It is also known as similia similibus curentor or like cures like. Although his new methods initially met with ridicule and criticism, by the time of his death they were accepted the world over as a result of the great success he had with his new cure.

Hahnemann was born in Meissen, Saxony (now part of Germany) into a financially challenged middle class family. His parents initially educated him at home, where his father taught him never to accept anything he learned without first questioning it. He graduated as a physician at Erlangen in 1779 after studying at Leipzig and Vienna. He was also fluent in English, German, Italian, French, Greek, Arabic, Latin and Hebrew.

At age 27 he married his first wife, Johanna Henriette Kuchler, the daughter of an apothecary, with whom he had 11 children.

Living in poverty, Hahnemann began practicing medicine in 1781 and translating scientific texts to supplement his income. However, disillusioned with medicine, he eventually gave it up entirely.

He discovered the concept of homeopathy when considering the effect of quinine on malaria, and went on to cure soldiers and then sufferers of a typhus epidemic with astounding success. He documented his discoveries in the Organon, a treatise on his work. Homeopathy also proved its worth in 1831 when there was an outbreak of cholera. Hahnemann used homeopathic treatment with a 96% success rate, compared to the 41% of allopathic medicine. He also wrote his Materia Medica Pura.

In 1834, Hahnemann met his second wife, Marie Melanie d'Hervilly. Despite a great difference in age, they were happily married until his death in Paris on July 2, 1843, at the age of 88.

In the early 1900s, homeopathy was popular in America, with over 15 percent of all doctors being homeopathic. There were 22 major homeopathic medical schools, including Boston University and the University of Michigan. However, with the formation of the American Medical Association, which restricted and closed down alternative practices, homeopathy declined for half a century. When the 1960s invigorated back-to-nature trends and distrust of artificial drugs and treatments, homeopathy began to grow again dramatically through the next decades. In 1993, The New England Journal of Medicine reported that 2.5 million Americans used homeopathic remedies and 800,000 patients visited homeopaths in 1990, and it has continued to grow. Homeopathy is much more popular in Europe than in the United States. French pharmacies are required to make homeopathic remedies available along with conventional medications. Homeopathic hospitals and clinics are part of the national health system in Britain. It is also practiced in India and Israel, among other countries.

Homeopathic Remedies That Work
Name Description
Aconite Commonly known as monkshood, aconite is highly
toxic. A nontoxic, diluted extract of aconite is used in
homeopathy to treat symptoms similar to that of poison.
Allium cepa Commonly known as red onion, homeopathic physi-
cians use a dilute extract of red onion to treat symptoms
similar to that of red onion—watery eyes, burning, etc.
Apis Commonly known as the honeybee, apis as a homeo-
pathic remedy is made from the body of the bee. It is
used to treat symptoms similar to that of a bee sting—
redness, swelling, etc.
Arnica Commonly known as the mountain daisy, arnica is used
by homeopathic physicians to treat bruises, sprains, and
Also known as ars alb, arsenicum album is a diluted
form of arsenic, a metallic poison. It is used by homeo-
pathic physicians to treat symptoms similar to the
effects of arsenic poisoning—dehydration,
burning pain, etc.
Belladonna Commonly known as deadly knightshade, belladonna is
used in homeopathy to treat symptoms of dry mouth,
nausea, delirium, etc.
Bryonia Commonly known as wild hops, bryonia is used in
homeopathy to treat vomiting, diarrhea, inflammation,
Also known as calcium carbonate or calc carb, it is used
in homeopathy to treat symptoms of exhaustion,
depression, and anxiety.
Cantharis Commonly known as Spanish fly, cantharis is used in
homeopathy to treat conditions with symptoms of
abdominal cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions, etc.
Chamomilla Derived from German chamomile, it is used in
homeopathy to treat irritability, impatience, etc. It is
most often prescribed to children.
Also known as ferrum phos or iron phosphate, it is
used to treat symptoms of low energy and anemia.
Gelsemium Also known as yellow jasmine, it is used to treat condi-
tions that effect vision, balance, though, and
Derived from the inner layer of oyster shells, hepar
sulphuris is used to treat infection.
Hypericum Commonly known as St. John's wort, hypericum is used
to treated nerve damage.
Ignatia Derived from seeds of a plant, this homeopathic remedy
is prescribed to treat conditions with symptoms such as
headache, cramping, and tremors.
Ipecac Ipecac induces vomiting and causes gastrointestinal
distress. Homeopaths prescribe it to treat similar
Commonly known as potassium bichromate, kali
bichromicum is a poison used also in textile dyes, wood
stain, etc. Homeopaths use it to treat localized pain.
Lachesis Derived from the venom of the bushmaster snake, this
homeopathic remedy is used to treat conditions that
cause the same symptoms as the venom itself.
Ledum Also known as marsh tea, ledum is used to treat infec-
tions, most often from animal bites, stings, cuts, etc.
Lycopodium Commonly known as club moss, lycopodium is used to
treat diarrhea, digestive upset, etc.
Also known as quicksilver, it is used to treat symptoms
of sweats, shaking, nausea, etc.
Commonly known as salt, it is used to treat conditions
that cause excessive thirst and salt cravings.
Nux vomica It is used to treat symptoms caused by overeating and
too much caffeine or alcohol.
Phosphorus It is used to treat symptoms of excessive thirst, fatigue,
and nervousness.
Homeopathic Remedies That Work [Continued]
Name Description
Pulsatilla It is used to treat conditions that are accompanied
by discharge, such as bedwetting, sinusitis, etc.
Commonly known as poison ivy, homeopaths use it
to treat conditions with symptoms of fever, swollen
glands, and restlessness.
Ruta It is used to treat conditions with bruising, such as
tennis elbow, sciatica, etc.
Sepia Sepia is the discharge used by the cuttlefish to
disappear from a predator. Homeopaths use sepia
to treat symptoms of apathy and weakness.
Silica Also called flint, silica is used by homeopaths to
treat conditions that cause weakness, sweating,
and sensitivity to cold.
Sulphur It is used to treat conditions with symptoms of itching,
burning pains, and odor.

A visit to a homeopath can be a different experience than a visit to a regular physician. Surveys have shown that homeopathic doctors spend much more time during initial consultations than conventional doctors spend. This is because a homeopath does a complete case-taking to get a complete picture of a person's general health and lifestyle, as well as particular symptoms, on the physical, mental and emotional levels. Some symptoms can be so subtle that the patient is not always completely aware of them, and the doctor must spend time getting to know the patient.

The initial visit often includes a long questionnaire about a patient's medical and family history, and then a long interview with the doctor, who prompts the patient with many questions. Sometimes a homeopathic doctor will use lab tests to establish a patient's general level of health. The initial interview usually lasts between one and two hours.

The purpose of homeopathy is the restoration of the body to homeostasis, or healthy balance, which is its natural state. The symptoms of a disease are regarded as the body's own defensive attempt to correct its imbalance, rather than as enemies to be defeated. Because a homeopath regards symptoms as positive evidence of the body's inner intelligence, he or she will prescribe a remedy designed to stimulate this internal curative process, rather than suppress the symptoms.

In homeopathy, the curative process extends beyond the relief of immediate symptoms of illness. Healing may come in many stages, as the practitioner treats layers of symptoms that are remnants of traumas or chronic disease in the patient's past. This is part of Hering's Laws of Cure, named for Constantine Hering, the father of homeopathy in America. Hering believed that healing starts from the deepest parts of the body to the extremities, and from the upper parts of the body to the lower parts. Hering's Laws also state that homeopaths should treat disease symptoms in reverse chronological order, from the most recent to the oldest, restoring health in stages. Sometimes, the patient may feel worse before feeling better. This is called a healing crisis.

When prescribing a remedy, homeopaths will match a patient's symptoms with the proper remedy in a repertory or materia medica that has been compiled throughout the history of homeopathy. Classical homeopaths prescribe only one remedy at a time. However, it is becoming more common, especially in Europe, to use combination formulas of several remedies for the treatment of some combinations of symptoms.

The cost of homeopathic care can vary. The cost of visits will be comparable to conventional medicine, with initial visits ranging from $50 to $300. Non-M.D. homeopaths can charge from $50 to $250. Follow-up visits are less, at about $35 to $100. Homeopathic medicine is significantly cheaper than pharmaceuticals, and most remedies cost between $2 and $10. Some doctors provide remedies without charge. Homeopaths rarely use lab tests, which reduces the cost of treatment further. In general, homeopathy is much more economical than conventional medicine. In 1991, the French government did a study on the cost of homeopathic medicine, and found that it costs half as much to treat patients, considering all costs involved.

When homeopaths are licensed professionals, most insurance companies will pay for their fees. Consumers should consult their insurance policies to determine individual regulations. Insurance usually will not cover homeopathic medicine, because it is sold over-the-counter.

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