Homeopathy: An Alternative Medicine

Homeopathy is a system of medicine whose name is derived from Greek roots meaning "similar suffering". The principles of homeopathy are that like cures like; that only one medicine should be given at a time; that the medicine must be potentized - extremely diluted - and given in the smallest possible dose; and that remedies must have been "proven" on healthy people. Homeopathic medicine works quite differently from modern western medicine or allopathy. Allopathy aims to manage isolated symptoms of physical illness, while homeopathy aims to stimulate the whole body to heal itself. Allopathy blocks symptoms, while homeopathy aids the body's immune system, giving it something it recognizes and allowing the immune system to work naturally to reduce symptoms.

Homeopathic remedies should be prescribed by a homeopath or naturopath who has been trained in homeopathy, preferably in a country which has a national body which regulates homeopathic education. A diagnosis will take into account much more than just physical symptoms: the homeopath takes a detailed case study which involves the patient being examined and listened to while they explain in detail their symptoms, thoughts and feelings and the history which has led up to the present consultation. The homeopath will then analyze the whole picture and compare the symptoms to the compendium of known remedies, the materia medica. The practitioner's aim is to find a single remedy which best covers the patient's expressed symptoms - mental, emotional and physical. The dosage and length of time of treatment will vary according to the condition for which help is being sought.

The prescribed homeopathic remedies are drugs produced by homeopathic pharmacies from substances derived from plants, minerals, and animals. These substances are subject to a process called potentization, which dilutes them till only miniscule traces of the original ingredient remains. To treat a particular set of symptoms, the practitioner chooses a medicine consisting of a substance which, if given in large doses to a healthy person, would cause symptoms similar to those being experienced by the patient. Homeopathic medicines are usually taken in the form of small sugar globules which should not be touched by the hands, instead being dissolved under the tongue; they may also be taken in a tincture. Homeopathic remedies, because they deliver such tiny quantities of substances, have no side effects and are not addictive.

While the idea that like cures like might make some intuitive sense, the principle of potentizing - diluting till almost none of the original substance remains - often incites ridicule, and as the writeup below describes, is incompatible with western chemical principles. Thus people charge that homeopathic remedies are merely placebos, and that any healing that occurs happens only because people believe that it will. Homeopaths "prove" their methods by practitioners taking a remedy and documenting the results, which is not "scientific" in the western sense. Nevertheless, homeopathy has achieved positive results on many patients, as well as on children and animals who lack the faith of adults. I myself have had some rather dramatic successes with homeopathy, prescribed by a skilled naturopath. If you're wondering if homeopathy might be for you, consider that it can't hurt you, so if you're struggling with a condition that allopathic medicine can't cure, you might try it. After all, a harmless placebo which is potentially effective is better than an ineffective medicine with potential side effects.

The Founder of Homeopathy

Samuel Christian Frederic Hahnemann (1755 - 1843) was a formidable Renaissance man, son of a poor German porcelain painter who was able to gain an excellent pre-medical education through scholarships earned by virtue of his brilliance. Then he began to study for a medical degree in Liepzig, supporting himself by teaching French and German and translating treatises on medicine, botany, and chemistry. (Hahnemann spoke seven languages fluently, including English, Latin, and Italian.) He graduated in 1779 and practiced medicine for a time, but eventually gave it up, declaring that his patients were as likely to thrive or perish on their own as with his help. He would return to the practice of medicine many times over the next few decades, only to give it up in dissatisfaction with the treatments available at the time and the difficulty of extracting payment from his patients. Settling in Dresden, he supported himself and his growing family with writing and chemistry; he published a celebrated treatise on arsenic poisoning and one on the treatment of syphilis with a preparation of mercury which still bears his name (Hahnemaniann soluble mercury).

Soon Hahnemann began to gain notoriety. He publicly denounced the practice of bloodletting after Emperor Leopold of Austria died unexpectedly in 1792 after having been bled four times in 24 hours for fever and abdominal distension. He began to espouse a healthy lifestyle, giving up smoking and advocating a diet low in meat. Around this time he began to experiment with substances on himself, discovering, for example, that cinchona bark, from which the antimalarial quinine is made, could induce in him the same symptoms that it would cure in a sick person. Around this time too he opened the first asylum for mental patients which aimed to cure, not imprison, the insane, and in this endeavour he had some success. Still poverty-stricken, he travelled from village to village, selling medicines of his own manufacture, to the ire of local pharmacists who resented him taking their trade. He caused a sensation in 1800 by dealing with a scarlet fever epidemic by dispensing potentized belladonna. In 1810 he published his seminal work, Organon of the Healing Art, which laid the foundations of homeopathy. In 1813 he treated an outbreak of typhus using his principles, but was forced out of Leipzig by pharmacists who were outraged at him encroaching on their privileges; he settled in Köthen, where he worked on a theory of miasm and chronic disease, and had another success in treating a virulent cholera epidemic with camphor, cuprum and veratrum.

In 1835, when Hahnemann was 80 and five years widowed, a young Parisian travelled to meet and consult with him; she swept him off his feet, and he moved with her to Paris. Here he perfected his techniques, compiling the sixth revision of Organon. Hahnemann was a brilliant man, for besides his development of an entire system of medicine and his proving of about a hundred remedies, he wrote 70 original works on chemistry and medicine and translated 24 works into German from other languages.

See also Samuel Hahnemann.