Homeopathy is a complementary medicine system practiced worldwide that aims to promote the body’s self-healing powers. It 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.
Homeopathic practitioners are often licensed physicians certified in homeopathic medicine. Three types of homeopathic certification exist:
- A Doctor of Homeotherapeutics (DHt) certification is reserved for licensed medical doctors (MDs or DOs)
- A Diplomate of the HANP (DHANP) certifcation can be acquired by naturopathic physicians who have graduated from an accredited naturopathic school
- A Certified Classical Homeopath (CCH) certification can be obtained by non-licensed practitioners*
*The Caring Ambassadors Program recommends seeking care from licensed medical professionals
Principles of Homeopathy
Homeopathy is based on three guiding principles:
- “Likes Cure Likes”: The theory behind homeopathy is based on the law of similars. 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. Homeopathic medicine prescribing is undertaken by matching a patient’s overall physical, psychological, and emotional complaint characteristics with a homeopathic prescription’s “drug picture”, so that “likes cure likes”.
- “The Minimum Dose”: Homeopathic medicines are highly diluted and strongly agitated, until no presence of the original compound can be detected. By prescribing only the minimal dose, homeopathic practitioners aim to eliminate a medicine’s side effects while still having a healing therapeautic effect.
- “The Single Remedy”: Most homeopathic practitioners only prescribe a single remedy at a time to prevent the confusion caused when trying to understand therapeutic effects when several remedies are used at the same time.
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.
Homeopathic Medicine & the Evidence
Efficacy means how effective something is when it is studied under controlled conditions, like those in an experiment. Presently, there is very little data that supports the efficacy of homeopathy for treatment of medical conditions. Few well-designed research studies (called randomized control trials) have been performed to study the effects of homeopathy on illness and health outcomes. With a few exceptions, the research that has been performed has largely been inconclusive or shown no significant results favoring homeopathic treatments. Homeopathy should not be used to replace conventional treatments.
However, millions around the world practice homeopathy and claim to benefit from it, and homeopathic treatments are accepted as generally safe. If you are interested in adding homeopathy to your health care plan, first do your research. Find additional information on homeopathic evidence on the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health’s website, and visit the American Institute of Homeopathy Association’s website for more homeopathy patient resources.
In rare instances, homeopathic treatments can cause a negative interaction with conventional medical treatments. If you decide to pursue homeopathy, tell all your health care providers.