Homeopathy is not new or “new age.” The medical physician and chemist Samuel Hahnemann discovered it over two centuries ago. This was during an age of conventional medicine in which the sick were bled, blistered, and purged with toxic doses of mercury and other dangerous minerals and plants. Hahnemann became convinced that instead of curing people physicians were killing them.
Hahnemann gave up medicine to become a translator of medical texts and wrote on pharmacological subjects. It was while he was translating an English materia medica (book of medicines) into German that Hahnemann became interested in the author’s description of cinchona bark, a natural source of quinine that comes from a South American tree; it was (and still is) useful in the treatment of malaria.
To discover the effects of the cinchona bark Hahnemann took the medicine himself over a period of weeks. To his surprise he reacted to the herb by developing symptoms that were identical to those of malaria. With further research he concluded that cinchona bark could be a cure for malaria precisely because it could cause the same symptoms as found in the disease. He went on to test dozens of substances on himself, his large family, and his fellow physicians.
These earliest examples of research on human subjects (called homeopathic “provings”) became the founding information on which homeopathic remedies are still prescribed. In 1810, he published the results of his experiments announcing his new theories of treatment and diagnosis. He also created two new medical terms: homeopathy, which means “treatment by similars,” and allopathy, “treatment by opposites” (i.e. conventional medicine).
Homeopathy was introduced into the United States in 1825 and rapidly became widely accepted by Americans due to its success in the treatment of the cholera and yellow fever epidemics of the 19th century. Homeopathy expanded so quickly that in 1844 homeopathic medical doctors organized the first national medical society, the American Institute of Homeopathy. In large part due to homeopathy’s success, a rival medical society was formed in 1846 called the American Medical Association (AMA); one of its expressed purposes was to stop homeopathy.
By the beginning of the twentieth century 15-20% of all M.D.s in America were homeopaths. However, the political successes of the AMA, the discovery of useful drugs such as steroids and hormones, and sectarian divisions among homeopaths themselves were all weakening the movement. Homeopathic medical schools began to close; of the 22 colleges operating in 1900, only six remained in 1918. In 1940 the last homeopathic medical school in America, Hahnemann Medical College in Philadelphia, converted completely to allopathic/conventional medicine. Since then the only medical schools that offer homeopathic training in America are the naturopathic medical colleges.
It is only in America that homeopathy seems like a new idea. In other parts of the world homeopathy never suffered the same decline as here. In fact, homeopathy enjoys extensive popularity in Europe and many other parts of the world. In addition, considerable favorable clinical research has been published in European conventional medical journals.
Samuel Hahnemann formulated three fundamental principles of homeopathy:
The Law of Similars (Similia Similibus Curantur – “like treats like”). A homeopathic remedy is given that is capable of causing symptoms similar to those of the patient who is ill. This is based on the idea that each organism is constantly trying to maintain balance (called homeostasis in physiology), and many symptoms a patient experiences are the result at this effort to heal. So a well-prescribed homeopathic remedy directly supports the organism’s self-healing effort. This is why the homeopathic interview and the patient’s subjective experience of their illness is the most important guide to the choice of the correct remedy.
The Minimum Dose. Homeopathic remedies are most commonly made from simple natural substances such as a plant or mineral. A special dilution and succussion (i.e. shaking) process prepares these so that as little of the original material as possible is employed. This is called the minimum dose. Because of the very low material doses used and since the remedy is chosen to fit a specific individual, they are completely non-toxic and accidental poisonings are impossible.
The Single Remedy. The homeopath views a person’s health status as a condition of the entire individual rather than in terms of the presence or absence of isolated symptoms. Therefore, one homeopathic remedy needs to be selected that matches the whole individual and best corresponds to that person’s total state at that particular point in time (i.e. the “totality of symptoms”). Each individual remedy is tested on people in a homeopathic “proving” to learn its effects; these effects are what determine which patients will benefit from that particular remedy.
“Healing” can be defined as what happens when a patient’s innate defense mechanisms successfully restore balance leading to their symptoms going away. Traditional homeopathy is one of the most effective health care systems for stimulating this self-healing. While traditional homeopathy requires the most training, the best understanding of the patient, and is the most time-intensive, it is also the most successful at helping people fully recover their health. This is because the whole person is treated instead of just the different component parts. The homeopathic remedy does not directly treat a symptom or condition. Instead, it stimulates the self-healing process by which the person’s whole system (body and mind) heals itself.
Some practitioners use homeopathic remedies without the training required to practice it traditionally. These people are well-intended but use shortcuts to make up for this lack of training (e.g., “muscle testing,” machines/computers, “cookbook” prescribing, or multiple remedies at a time). While there are many anecdotal claims made for these newer alternatives to traditional homeopathy, the lack of published research suggests that these practices are not capable of leading to a permanent or complete cure of the whole person. This is because the whole person is not being treated with the one correct homeopathic remedy that fits that whole individual.
Since homeopathy is used to simulate the whole organism to heal itself, not just treat the disease, most people, whatever their diagnosis, can benefit from homeopathic care. Homeopathy helps people who have a wide variety of acute and chronic problems. It is important to realize that there are no specific remedies for specific problems. Everybody experiences their disease differently and therefore needs different remedies.
Of course, like all health care systems, homeopathy has limitations. One of the most important is that the practitioner has to find the correct matching remedy. However, with over 30 years of clinic experience we are usually able to achieve this. In addition, while homeopathy can be very effective with “functional disease,” it is difficult to achieve true healing with “organic disease” (also called “end-stage” pathology). According to Dictionary.com functional disease is defined as “a disease in which there is an abnormal change in the function of an organ, but no structural alteration in the tissues involved (as opposed to organic disease).”
Examples of things that homeopathy is often very helpful with include inflammation, allergies, asthma, migraines, infections, digestive problems, mental/emotional issues, and most of what people suffer from where the symptoms come and go. On the other hand, examples of organic disease (end-stage pathology) include joint degeneration (although the inflammation causing the degeneration can be treated effectively), cancer, and sever physical damage to the heart, brain, lungs, or other organs. Even in these situations where a homeopathic cure is unlikely, homeopathy may be able to significantly improve function and reduce symptoms. We are happy to discuss these potential limitations with you before you decide if homeopathy is suitable for your health issues. This is one of the benefits of our free introductory consultation.