An Introduction to Homeopathy

What is homeopathy?

Homeopathy is a medical and pharmacological specialty that uses extremely small doses of plants, mineral, animals, or chemical substances to treat people whose symptoms are similar to the syndrome of symptoms these substances cause in overdose. Because symptoms of disease represent the body’s best efforts to survive and to defend itself, using nanodoses of medicinal agents that mimic the body’s defense can aid immune response to elicit a healing response. Homeopathy is a type of nanopharmacology. Distinct from nutritional supplements and herbal remedies that are usually regulated as “foods” by most regulatory agencies in the world, homeopathic medicines are usually regulated as “drugs,” and due to their safety, the vast majority of homeopathic drugs do not require a prescription by a medical doctor.

What is the history of homeopathic medicine?

Developed in the early 1800s by renowned German physician Samuel Hahnemann, homeopathy’s significant popularity in Europe, America, and throughout the world resulted from its successes in treating the infectious disease epidemics of that era. By the early twentieth century, there were twenty-two homeopathic medical schools in the United States, including Boston University, University of Michigan, Ohio State University, New York (Homeopathic) Medical College, Hahnemann Medical School (Philadelphia), and the University of Iowa.

What are the principles of homeopathy?

A recurrent principle in nature and in medicine is that “like treats like,” that is, substances that cause problems in overdose can and will elicit an immunological response when given in specially prepared “nano”-size (extremely small) doses to people whose symptoms match its toxicology. Because symptoms are defenses, these medicines augment that inner doctor in us. The very word homeopathy is derived from two Greek words: “homeo,” which means similar, and “pathos,” which means suffering or disease (also known as “the law of similars”).

Vaccines are not strictly homeopathic medicines, though one of the fathers of immunology and discoverer of the diphtheria and tetanus vaccines, Emil von Behring, reported that he created these vaccines after being inspired by the homeopathic “principle of similars.”

How does homeopathy differ from other modalities?

Homeopathy and homeopaths have a profound respect for evolution. It is assumed that the human species has survived as long as it has because that doctor inside of us is that smart and effective. Our survival is evidence for this fact. The symptoms that our bodies create are not simply “breakdowns” of the body, but are our body’s best defenses for survival. In this light, homeopaths discourage and seek to minimize the use of pharmacological agents that suppress the body’s inherent defenses. Further, homeopaths honor the wisdom of Hippocrates, who insisted upon “First, do no harm.” 

What are some of the benefits and risks of homeopathic medicines?

Homeopathic medicines are exceedingly safe. If the extremely small dose in a homeopathic medicine isn’t the correct one for a person’s unique syndrome of symptoms, then literally nothing happens. And yet, if and when one knows how to apply the homeopathic methodology to the selection of the individually selected medicine, you significantly increase the chances of providing profound health benefits.

What is the difference between self-treatment with homeopathy and going to a professional homeopath? 

With a little instruction, any educated person can learn how to treat themself and their family for non-life-threatening ailments. It is strongly recommended that consumers not attempt to treat any chronic or potentially life-threatening conditions. Professional homeopaths typically treat people with chronic ailments after conducting a detailed interview of all of the symptoms the person is experiencing. Most modern homeopaths use software that helps them find the correct medicinal agent that matches the symptoms of the sick person. Homeopaths strive to be a part of a complex health and medical system that seeks the safest and most comprehensive solutions.

Are homeopaths doctors? What kind of training do they have?

Throughout Europe, most homeopaths are medical doctors but, as in many other countries, there are a variety of other health and medical professionals who engage in its practice, including naturopathic doctors and chiropractors, veterinarians and dentists, and nurses and physician’s assistants. In some countries, there are also professional homeopaths, that is, clinicians who do not have any conventional license but who specialize in homeopathy. Many countries’ insurance companies reimburse for homeopathic treatment from medical doctors, but not from others. 

Utilization of Homeopathic Medicines

Homeopathy has been one of Europe’s leading alternative medical treatments for decades. Around thirty percent of the European population has used homeopathic medicines. England’s Royal Family has had an almost 200-year history of using homeopathic medicines for themselves and on their farms. In India, there are 100 million people who rely solely on homeopathic medicines. 

How long or often should I use a homeopathic medicine?

Homeopathic medicines are not meant to be taken daily like many nutritional supplements. Homeopathic medicines are usually meant to be taken when a person is ill or injured and as prescribed by a professional homeopath. It is quite common for professional homeopaths to prescribe just one or two doses for several weeks or even several months, though acute ailments and infections commonly require repetitions two to six times a day for up to several days. 

Consumers can use homeopathic medicines and conventional drugs concurrently, though most practicing homeopaths don’t need to use conventional drugs as often in their practice. 

When is it best to use homeopathy?

Infants and children commonly benefit from this safer medicine, as do pregnant and lactating women. There are numerous simple first aid medicines that anyone can learn to use for various injuries. Even acute minor ailments can receive homeopathic self-care. 

The strongest scientific evidence for the efficacy of homeopathy is in the treatment of upper respiratory tract infections and in respiratory allergies, otitis media (ear infections), childhood diarrhea, side effects of cancer treatment, and post-surgical recovery. 

As for its use in professional homeopathic care, homeopaths commonly prescribe individually selected “constitutional medicines,” which are specifically chosen to strengthen a person’s overall immune and defense system. People who commonly benefit from homeopathic treatment are people with autoimmune ailments, chronic pain disorders, musculoskeletal complaints, and mental illness. In these and other ailments, homeopathy is sometimes used alone and sometimes used in conjunction with conventional medical treatments, as well as various alternative modalities. Homeopathy is a challenging and vigorous specialty and each clinician has varying levels of proficiency at it. The good news is that the medicines don’t have side effects except that they may delay some other treatments, which may or may not be successful themselves. 

Can you point to good evidence that homeopathy works?

More than a dozen leading conventional medical journals—including The Lancet, British Medical Journal, The Journal of Pediatrics, Pediatrics Infectious Disease Journal, Chest, Rheumatology, Cancer, and others—have published research that has shown the efficacy of homeopathic medicines in specific instances, while some of these journals and others have published studies that show that it didn’t work in specific instances. The newest review of reviews of research found a tendency toward proven efficacy of homeopathic medicines.

What do skeptics say about homeopathy?

Skeptics of homeopathy commonly assert that the exceedingly small doses used in homeopathic treatments could not possibly provide any clinical benefits. Further, they claim that many homeopathic medicines do not have any medicines in them. Homeopaths counter this argument by simply saying that the 200 years of clinical experience prove otherwise. More recently, scientific evidence published in the American Chemical Society’s esteemed journal, Langmuir, verified that nanoparticles of medicinal agents persist in solutions, even after the medicine had been diluted 1:100 hundreds of times, with vigorous shaking of the glass vial between each dilution. This research confirms that each medicinal agent gets smaller and smaller in size, but it never disappears; there is an immense body of scientific evidence that shows that our own bodies operate at and are strongly influenced by nano-size amounts of numerous hormones and cell-signaling agents. 

About the Author

Dana Ullman, MPH, CCH, is one of America’s leading advocates for homeopathy. He has authored ten books, including The Homeopathic Revolution: Why Famous People and Cultural Heroes Choose Homeopathy, Homeopathy A-Z, Homeopathic Medicines for Children and Infants, Discovering Homeopathy, and (the bestselling) Everybody’s Guide to Homeopathic Medicines (with Stephen Cummings, MD). Dana also created an e-course How to Use a Homeopathic Medicine Kit. He is the founder of Homeopathic Educational Services, America’s leading resource center for homeopathic books, tapes, medicines, software, and e-courses.

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