How Does Homeopathy Work? An Essential Guide

Published: January 29, 2012

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Depending upon the person, homeopathy is either the best form of medicine available, or it's a pseudoscience that is ineffective. However, given its history, it's clear that homeopathy, while not as popular as it once was, is a commonly used option to treat illness, particularly in those who don't have access to mainstream allopathic medical care.

A Brief History

Homeopathy is the creation of Dr. Samuel Hahnemann. Hahnemann, a German physician, graduated from medical school in 1779 and immediately saw problems in the common medical practices of his time. These treatments included bleeding, blistering and herbal emetics. In fact, it is believed by many that the common medical practices of bleeding and blistering were responsible for the death of George Washington in 1799.

While researching cinchona bark, a common effective treatment for malaria at the time, Hahnemann developed his principle of "similars". Using himself as a test subject, he discovered that the same herbal preparation that was being used effectively to cure malaria also induced symptoms of the disease in healthy people.

Using the principle of similars, Hahnemann and his colleagues began testing other substances that were used as medicine at the time. Through his research, Hahnemann determined that the same concentrations that induced symptoms in healthy people were far too strong to treat illness. Because of this, homeopathic medicines are usually heavily diluted.

In 1810, Hahnemann wrote his medical treatise called "Organon of Rational Therapeutics." It has been republished many times, but the version that is still used today was published in 1921, at the end of homeopathy's popularity, until it's resurgence in the 1970's. Today homeopathy is the second largest system of medicine in the world, according to the World Health Organization.

How it Works

As stated above, homeopathy uses the principles of similars. The theory of similars is that if something causes symptoms in a healthy person, then it should be used to treat those same symptoms in someone who is not well. However the substance needs to be highly diluted. According to Dr. Hahnemann's treatise, the more diluted a particular substance is, paradoxically, the more powerful it is.

The response to treatment is thought to follow the "Laws of the Cure" which says:

  • A remedy will work from the top of the body down.
  • A remedy will work from the inside out, and from major organs to minor ones.
  • The symptoms of an illness will disappear in the reverse order from which they appeared.

Because of the dilution of homeopathic medicines, reading the labels can be a bit tricky. They will have letter and a number, such as 6X or 200c, etc. The letter refers to the number of parts of the dilutent substance (either water or alcohol). The number represents the concentration of the tincture of the original botanical.

Homeopathy is the second most popular medical system of medicine in the world and beyond the medicines and dosages used, works very much like mainstream allopathic medicine. A patient should still see a homeopathic physician before taking any sort of remedy, however some remedies are readily available in most health food stores so self diagnosis is not uncommon among those who believe in homeopathy as a healing practice.

Health Claims

Homeopathy can possibly cure many ailments, and is often used for treating such conditions as insomnia, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), the symptoms of the flu and colds, pain of many different varieties, and common childhood ailments like teething. Often, even if homeopathy can't cure an ailment, it can help relieve the symptoms and allow the body's immune system to do the rest.

Many of the positive health claims related to homeopathy and homeopathic treatment require further research and investigation. While many support the positive health claims of this form of complementary and alternative medicine, there are those who consider homeopathy to be nothing more than a placebo effect. Ongoing research is still being conducted at this time to verify the validity and effectiveness of homeopathy.

What It Can't Do

There are things that homeopathy doesn't cover. Things like surgical procedures are out of the scope of homeopathy. Even a devout homeopath will need to see an allopathic doctor if any type of surgical procedure is required. The same is true for things like broken bones and lacerations that would require stitches. Homeopathy can however help with swelling, pain relief and infection prevention.

Regulation And Safety

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, homeopathic remedies should be prepared in accordance with the Homeopathic Pharmacopeia of the United States (HPUS), which was written into law in the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act in 1938. Homeopathic remedies are regulated in the same way as over-the-counter medicines, like those used for colds or heartburn. They are required to be labeled in accordance with the regulations of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) if sold over-the-counter. However, homeopathic remedies are often homemade, which makes controlling them difficult.

Licensing And Certification For Practitioners

Currently, there are no uniform licensing standards for homeopathic physicians. Each state is responsible for their own licensing requirements. Typically, homeopathy is included in licensure for other health care professions and in licensure for naturopathy as well.

Some states offer certification for homeopathic assistants, but they must practice under the supervision of a licensed physician. Homeopathic practitioners are usually licensed doctors of other specialties or naturopathy.

National certification is available through some organizations, but state licensing is still required to be able to practice.

Homeopathy is a great system of healthcare for those who don't have access to, want to compliment, or choose not to use mainstream allopathic medicine. Patients should still use the same caution when choosing providers and treatments as those who use mainstream medicine. But the reward for the caution is better health and that's something everyone can use.

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