What is Homeopathy?

hahnemann

Portrait of Hahnemann painted by his wife, Melanie. Reproduced by generous permission of the Institut für Geschichte der Medizin der Robert Bosch Stiftung, Stuttgart, Germany
“The highest ideal of cure is the rapid,
gentle, and permanent restoration of health . . .
in the shortest, most reliable and most
harmless way. . .”

—Samuel Hahnemann, M.D. (1755-1843),
founder of homeopathy

Homeopathy was developed about 200 years ago after a discovery by a German doctor, Samuel Hahnemann. Wondering why quinine was useful in malaria, he took the medicine himself and found that, given to a healthy person, it temporarily produced the symptoms found in malaria. When given to a malaria patient, however, it was curative.

Homeopathy literally means to “treat with a similar disease.” Its central principle, “Like cures like,” contrasts with other medical approaches. The term allopathic means to “treat with other than the disease” and is used to denote the standard medical approach of today, which attempts to counteract symptoms. For example, a patient with a fever may be given an anti-inflammatory drug.

To understand better how homeo­pathy works, it helps to consider two aspects of a disease. First, there is the immediate cause, such as a bacterial agent, virus, toxin, or internal immunological activity. Second, there are the patient’s responses–individual reaction and defenses, such as fever, inflammation and discharge. These are the body’s attempts to eliminate pathogens and toxins and to heal damaged tissue.

While homeopaths do not ignore immediate causes, such as infection, their primary focus is on the patient’s attempts to respond and heal. Their aim is to strengthen the patient’s defenses and shift the balance in favor of recovery.

Dr. Hahnemann found that substances could be used to stimulate healing by applying the principle of “like cures like” in very specific ways. He would give the patient a substance that would gently nudge the system in the direction of the “disease,” reproducing the same (or almost the same) syndrome or whole set of particular symptoms in a mild form. He found this to be a very effective way to stimulate natural defenses. It is almost as if the patient’s defenses cannot distinguish between the natural disease and what the similar substance is doing. Thus homeopaths fine-tune the use of medicines to enhance the patient’s own attempts to overcome the disease.

In this manner, homeopathy employs hundreds of substances that have all been thoroughly studied as to their unique effects on body, emotions, and mind. Some of these are common herbs or minerals; others are from plants; some remedies are even made from toxins and venoms.

Homeopathic pharmacists carefully prepare these many substances in a time-tested manner that enhances their usefulness while minimizing potential harm. They systematically dilute them to eliminate toxic effects, at the same time shaking or grinding them in a way that maximizes their helpful effect. This use of a dilute similar substance is somewhat similar to the use of vaccines or to the method of allergy desensitization.

In summary, homeopathy stimulates the healing process through temporarily establishing an artificial disturbance of health with carefully selected medicines. This disturbance, when similar to the disturbance caused by the disease, makes the body work harder to get well. The healing changes that follow are the result of this stimulation. While simple in theory, this process requires skill and experience, particularly in chronic conditions. The homeopathic doctor closely evaluates the changes that occur after use of each homeopathic medicine. In this way, the patient can be guided to recovery of health over the weeks or months necessary for the body to repel the disease and regrow damaged tissues.

Based on text courtesy of Richard Pitcairn, D.V.M., Ph.D.