Homeopathy is a nontoxic form of medicine that was developed approximately 200 years ago by Dr. Samuel Hahnemann. The word homeopathy is derived from two words: homoios meaning similars and pathos meaning suffering. Homeopathy is a form of medicine that uses highly diluted pathogens or other potentially toxic substances as remedies. These remedies provoke healing responses in a person’s immune system, or provoke other body responses to treat the root causes of illnesses.
The theory behind homeopathy is based on the law of similars. “Like cures like.” In the 1700’s, Peruvian bark (also known as chincona or china) was used to treat malaria. The healing power of Peruvian bark was thought to be due to its bitter taste. Dr. Hahnemann disagreed with this conclusion and experimented on himself. He ingested the bark to evaluate its effects. Eventually, he developed fevers and chills, symptoms typical of malaria. Dr. Hahnemann theorized that because the bark produced symptoms similar to malaria, taking a small amount of the bark would stimulate the body to heal itself of malaria.
Principles of Homeopathy
Homeopathy requires that drugs be tested, or proved, in healthy subjects. Proving is necessary because the homeopathic drug can only express itself in its pure form in a healthy person that is unaffected by interactions with a disease process. The quest for knowledge about homeopathic drugs through provings on healthy subjects has yielded a fascinating body of literature. This is particularly true in Europe where homeopathy is a more common form of therapy than in the United States.
One double-blind study that evaluated the effect of a homeopathic remedy on people with the flu found almost twice as many flu sufferers recovered within 48 hours after receiving the homeopathic remedy compared to patients who received placebos (inactive pills). In another study, hay fever sufferers experienced six times as much symptom relief after taking a homeopathic remedy compared to those who took placebos.
An evaluation of 89 clinical trials of homeopathic remedies was recently conducted by seven health professionals in the United States and Germany. They found homeopathic medicines were more than twice as effective as placebos in the evaluated trials.
Symptoms as the Basis for Homeopathic Treatment
One of the biggest differences between the homeopathic medicine and western medicine is in the emphasis on making a diagnosis.
Western medicine groups patients according to the diagnosis they share. Patients who have the same diagnosis generally receive the same or similar treatments, even if there are striking differences in their symptoms. One of the major goals of western treatment is to suppress symptoms. This has resulted in a large market for products that reduce pain, fever, and other common symptoms.
Homeopathic treatment is determined by looking at the whole patient as a unique individual rather than categorizing his or her illness based on symptoms that are similar to those of other patients.
According to homeopathic thought, the body’s symptoms of illness are an expression of the body trying to heal itself and should not be suppressed. This individual expression of symptoms is of utmost importance in determining homeopathic prescriptions, since the remedy must perfectly match the symptoms. It is like finding the correct key for a specific lock. Homeopathic treatment can begin based on symptoms alone even if an underlying diagnosis has not been made.
For record-keeping purposes and/or to make it easier to discuss a person’s ailment, homeopathic practitioners might say that a person is suffering from a certain kind of flu or ulcerative disease. However, such names by themselves do not determine a patient’s treatment.
Homeopathic remedies do not eliminate the cause of disease, nor do they cure disease.
They do not provide immediate relief of symptoms. Rather, homeopathic remedies help establish balance in the body, and promote its ability to heal itself. In order to treat seriously ill people, the practitioner must effect a profound change at the deepest levels boosting the immune system. Homeopathy intervenes at the level of a person’s reactive, self-curative powers, with or without the person’s fully conscious cooperation. The goal is to bring about a change in the total functioning of the body. Although homeopathic treatment can be supplemented by other holistic therapies, practitioners believe such a change can be brought about by homeopathic treatment alone.
Insuring the Safety of Homeopathic Remedies
According to federal law, homeopathic remedies are considered drugs. To be considered an official homeopathic medicine, a product must meet the guidelines described in the Compliance Policy Guide (CPG) developed by the American Homeopathic Pharmacists Association and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A remedy must have known homeopathic provings and/or known effects that mimic the symptoms, syndromes, or conditions for which it is given. It must also meet the manufacturing specifications established by the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States (HPUS). HPUS is the official compendium of homeopathic medicines recognized by the FDA. The HPUS contains all of the official manufacturing procedures for homeopathic medicines. This includes procedures for dosing, labeling, and administration information for users. Currently, there are over 1,300 official HPUS substances.
The HPUS initials on a product label identify it as a homeopathic medicine, and insure that the legal standards for strength, quality, purity, and packaging have been met for that product.
The standards applied to products seeking HPUS approval are established by the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia Convention of the United States (HPCUS). HPCUS is a nongovernmental, nonprofit, scientific organization. HPCUS members are experts in the fields of medicine, art, biology, chemistry, and pharmacology who have appropriate training and demonstrated knowledge, and an interest in homeopathy.