History of Homeopathy
The practice of homeopathy has been around for more than 200 years and is still practiced in one form or another in nearly every country on earth today. The creation of homeopathy dates back to a man named Samuel Hahnemann, who in 1796 used ideas originating from Ancient Greek medicinal practitioners to form his theory of homeopathic medicine.
His philosophy and practice were based on the idea that the body has the ability to heal itself naturally, and that symptoms are its way of showing a patient what’s wrong and going on internally. Homeopathy is, therefore, different from conventional medicine because it views symptoms of illness as normal responses from the body as it attempts to regain health.
Symptoms are viewed as “messengers” and are meant to be interpreted, in addition to being treated. At the time of his original work, Hahnemann didn’t base his theory on many scientific studies or facts, but rather on his own logic, observations of patients and reasoning. The laws of homeopathy originally devised by Hahnemann are still in use by homeopaths practicing around the world today.
By definition homeopathy is “the treatment of disease by minute doses of natural substances that in a healthy person would produce symptoms of disease.” (1) In other words, it’s an alternative medicinal practice that uses the smallest possible amount of an active ingredient in order to help treat or cure a disease, even if this same ingredient can contribute to an illness in the first place. Another way to put this concept: “like cures like”!
As of 2012, surveys showed that an estimated 5 million American adults and 1 million children used homeopathy in the previous year alone. Homeopathy dates back to the late 1700s, and today the World Health Organization recognizes it as “the second largest therapeutic system in use in the world.” (2)
Hundreds of different homeopathic remedies are now in existence. Homeopathic medicine comes from a range of natural substances, which can either be plant, mineral or animal-based. Examples of substances that a homeopathic doctor might use to treat a patient include: fresh or dried herbs, activated charcoal, vinegar, garlic, caffeine, mountain herbs, crushed bees, white arsenic, poison ivy and stinging nettle plants. These substances are extracted or processed in another way to create tablets, skin ointments, gels, drops or creams. (3)
What are some commonly-known homeopathic remedies you might recognize? St. John’s Wort, chamomile, calcium carbonate, potassium and silica, for example.
Homeopathic medicine is considered to be a safe practice and remedies have been regulated by the FDA since the late 1980s. (4) While there’s been much debate in the medical community over the years regarding whether or not homeopathic medicines work, many patients are able to find relief from illnesses like food or seasonal allergies, insomnia, fatigue and so on using very small doses of natural, safe homeopathic solutions.
Here are some key facts about homeopathy and an overview of how this system works:
- Homeopathic doctors first evaluate a patient and identify symptoms of an illness in order to “match” them with a remedy. Symptoms are usually graded depending on their intensity and frequency, and then specific remedies are assigned.
- Because homeopathy is a “holistic” practice, the patient’s entire lifestyle, habits and background are considered. There’s a very strong emphasis on emotional symptoms and conditions that might be contributing to an illness. For example, homeopathy takes into account that emotional stress can trigger tension headaches and a lack of sleep can contribute to digestive issues.
- A core belief in homeopathy is that mental and emotional symptoms are so important that they even outweigh many physical symptoms. The reason for this belief is that someone’s personality, beliefs and mental/emotional symptoms are characteristic of the entire individual and affects their ability to heal.
- Many homeopathic remedies have names written in Latin (after their animal, mineral or plant source) and are assigned a number and ratio to describe how strong the solution is.
- It’s common for homeopathic medicines to be called “tinctures” or “mother tinctures,” which are simply solutions made from either grinding, distilling or extracting active ingredients in to some sort of carrier (usually either alcohol or water).
- Based on the number of “potentization steps” needed, a homeopathic remedy is diluted to a certain degree and assigned based on intensity of symptoms. Decimal potency numbers or ratios are given to each remedy, in order to state the ratio of active chemical ingredients in relation to either water or alcohol.
- In homeopathic medicine, there is an important distinction between “potency” and “strength” of a remedy. A remedy is not always considered to be stronger or better if it’s more potent, since each person’s reaction to a potency will be different.
- Many homeopathic substances are capable of causing toxicity, poisoning or negative reactions if taken in high enough doses (like mercury, arsenic or even snake venom, for example). Therefore, very low doses are usually administered — even doses so low that the substance itself is practically unidentifiable due to being heavily diluted.
Who Benefits from Homeopathy the Most?
Homeopathy has been used most widely in patients suffering from: (6)
- migraines and tension headaches
- anxiety disorders
- dermatitis and other skin disorders
- thyroid or autoimmune disorders
- digestive problems like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Effectiveness of homeopathy: wondering if homeopathy really works?
- At least 142 trials have been published in scientific journals regarding homeopathy. The School of Homeopathy has found that up to 85 percent of random-controlled trials demonstrate that homeopathy is more effective than placebo. (7)
- There have been five meta-analyses reviewing homeopathy trials to date, including one that appeared in the European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology in 2005. (8) Four analyses showed that overall homeopathy worked better than placebos.
- A six-year study released in 2005 from Bristol Homeopathic Hospital reported that 70 percent of 6,500 follow-up patients experienced improvement in their health after receiving homeopathic treatments.
Some speculate that homeopathy medicines are so diluted with water that they are incapable of having any effects. However, these remedies have been used for centuries and decades of anecdotal evidence shows that many people’s symptoms do, in fact, improve after receiving homeopathic medicines. It is true that because homeopathic treatments address many aspects of a patient’s life (emotional health, personality, eating habits and medical history), it can be very hard to measure progress and improvements.
Studies that have been done investigating homeopathy’s effects have been mixed overall: Some show effectiveness and reductions in symptoms, but others do not. According to a report published by Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, several challenges exist regarding studies of homeopathy. One challenge is that to date there haven’t been many long-term, well-controlled clinical trials conducted investigating the effects of homeopathic treatments. Because of this, many homeopathic doctors claim that there isn’t enough evidence to rule out these remedies’ effectiveness without more well-controlled studies. (9)
One theory that’s presented by homeopathic doctors in response to the claim that homeopathic remedies are too diluted to even work is this: Even when a homeopathic remedy is very low in strength, it’s still possible for even a slight amount of the active ingredient to remain present and to have an effect on the patient. Homeopathic experts point to studies showing that water molecules can take on a physical form where extremely small particles of an active chemical, gas or certain types of light can become embedded and have an effect on the patient. This theory has not been fully proven, but some studies using methods like microscopy and spectroscopy have shown that active ingredients do remain even after much dilution.
Wondering why it would be beneficial to use homeopathic substances to help treat an illness or health problem if the same substance seems to also contribute to illness? The idea is that this practice helps stimulate the immune system and the body’s natural ability to heal. As the School Of Homeopathy states, “that which a substance is capable of causing, it is also capable of curing.” (5)
One of the most important principles of homeopathic medicine is that treatments must be “individualized” and tailored to each person’s specific symptoms, history, body and needs. Even if two people are battling the same illness, they can receive completely different commendations from their homeopathic doctors based on their unique situation and how their body would be expected to respond.
What makes homeopathy very different from conventional medicine is that a patient’s emotions and personality are highly important. It’s common for a homeopathic doctor to talk in depth with a patient about their stress levels, relationships, personal characteristics, family and so on. Patients respond differently to a range of doses of homeopathic medicines, some needing much higher doses than others based on their current situation. Homeopathic remedies — whether adaptogen herbs, minerals, medicinal mushrooms or animal products, for example — are diluted to a certain potency depending on the patient’s needs, and the goal is to always use the minimum dose possible that will still offer benefits.