What is Homeopathy?
Homeopathic medicine is a natural pharmaceutical science that uses various plants, minerals or animals in very small dose to stimulate the sick person's natural defenses.
Homeopathy is a system of medicine that is based on the Law of Similars. The truth of this law has been verified experimentally and clinically for the last 200 years.
In 1796 a German doctor, Samuel Hahnemann, discovered a different approach to the cure of the sick which he called homeopathy (from the Greek words meaning 'similar suffering'), Law of Similar.
Like Hippocrates two thousand years earlier he realized that there were two ways of treating ill health, the way of opposites and the way of similars.
Homeopathy is a system of medicine based on the observation that high doses of pharmacologically active substances cause symptoms when administered to healthy individuals. These same substances, when prepared in very dilute form, relieve similar symptoms in conditions resulting from different etiologies.
The medicines are individually chosen for their ability to cause in overdose the similar symptoms the person is experiencing. "Homoios" in Greek means similar and "pathos" means disease . Since one's symptoms are actually efforts of the organism to reestablish homeostasis or balance, it is logical to seek a substance that would, in overdose, cause the similar symptoms the person is experiencing.
The medicines, thus, go with, rather than against, the person's natural defenses.
Unlike dietary supplements, homeopathic drugs are subject to the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and regulations issued by FDA.
What is the history of the discovery and use of homeopathy?
In the late 1700s, Samuel Hahnemann, a physician, chemist, and linguist in Germany, proposed a new approach to treating illness. This was at a time when the most common medical treatments were harsh, such as bloodletting, purging, blistering, and the use of sulfur and mercury. At the time, there were few effective medications for treating patients, and knowledge about their effects was limited.
Hahnemann was interested in developing a less-threatening approach to medicine. The first major step reportedly was when he was translating an herbal text and read about a treatment (cinchona bark) used to cure malaria. He took some cinchona bark and observed that, as a healthy person, he developed symptoms that were very similar to malaria symptoms. This led Hahnemann to consider that a substance may create symptoms that it can also relieve. This concept is called the “similia principle” or “like cures like.” The similia principle had a prior history in medicine, from Hippocrates in Ancient Greece—who noted, for example, that recurrent vomiting could be treated with an emetic (such as ipecacuanha) that would be expected to make it worse—to folk medicine.
Another way to view “like cures like” is that symptoms are part of the body’s attempt to heal itself—for example, a fever can develop as a result of an immune response to an infection, and a cough may help to eliminate mucus—and medication may be given to support this self-healing response.
Hahnemann tested single, pure substances on himself and, in more dilute forms, on healthy volunteers. He kept meticulous records of his experiments and participants’ responses, and he combined these observations with information from clinical practice, the known uses of herbs and other medicinal substances, and toxicology, eventually treating the sick and developing homeopathic clinical practice.
Hahnemann added two additional elements to homeopathy:
—A concept that became “succution ,” which holds that systematically diluting a substance, with vigorous shaking at each step of dilution, makes the remedy more, effective by extracting the vital essence of the substance. If dilution continues to a point where the substance’s molecules are gone, homeopathy holds that the “memory” of them—that is, the effects they exerted on the surrounding water molecules - still be therapeutic.
—A concept that treatment should be selected based upon a total picture of an individual and his symptoms, not solely upon symptoms of a disease. Homeopaths evaluate not only a person’s physical symptoms but her emotions, mental states, lifestyle, nutrition, and other aspects. In homeopathy, different people with the same symptoms may receive different homeopathic remedies.
Hans Burch Gram, a Boston-born doctor, studied homeopathy in Europe and introduced it into the United States in 1825. European immigrants trained in homeopathy also made the treatment increasingly available in America. In 1835, the first homeopathic medical college was established in Allentown, Pennsylvania. By the turn of the 20th century, 8 percent of all American medical practitioners were homeopaths, and there were 20 homeopathic medical colleges and more than 100 homeopathic hospitals in the United States.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, numerous medical advances were made, such as the recognition of the mechanisms of disease; Pasteur’s germ theory; the development of antiseptic techniques; and the discovery of ether anesthesia. In addition, a report (the so-called “Flexner Report”) was released that triggered major changes in American medical education. Homeopathy was among the disciplines negatively affected by these developments. Most homeopathic medical schools closed down, and by the 1930s others had converted to conventional medical schools.
In the 1960s, homeopathy’s popularity began to revive in the United States. According to a 1999 survey of Americans and their health, over 6 million Americans had used homeopathy in the preceding 12 months. The World Health Organization noted in 1994 that homeopathy had been integrated into the national health care systems of numerous countries, including Germany, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Argentine, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Mexico. Several schools of practice exist within homeopathy.
Persons using homeopathy do so to address a range of health concerns, from wellness and prevention to treatment of injuries, diseases, and conditions. Studies have found that many people who seek homeopathic care seek it for help with a chronic medical condition.
What kind of training do homeopathic practitioners receive?
In European countries, training in homeopathy is usually pursued either as a primary professional degree completed over 3 to 6 years or as postgraduate training for doctors. In Brasil, the Homeopathy is recognized by the National Council of Medicine as a specialty. After finishing 6 year program of medical school (M.D), it is necessary to take more 2-3 years of a homeopathic medical school program follow by the board test to get the Homeopathic Doctor License.
In the United States, training in homeopathy is offered through diploma programs, certificate programs and correspondence courses. Also, homeopathic training is part of medical education in naturopathy. Most homeopathies in the United States are practiced along with another health care practice for which the practitioner is licensed, such as conventional medicine, naturopathy, chiropractic, dentistry, acupuncture, or veterinary medicine (homeopathy is used to treat animals).
Laws about what is required to practice homeopathy vary among states. Three states (Connecticut, Arizona, and Nevada) license medical doctors specifically for homeopathy.
What do homeopathic practitioners do in treating patients?
Typically, in homeopathy, patients have a lengthy first visit, during which the provider takes an in-depth assessment of the patient. This is used to guide the selection of one or more homeopathic remedies. During follow up visits, patients report how they are responding to the remedy or remedies, which help the practitioner, make decisions about further treatment.
What are homeopathic remedies?
Most homeopathic remedies are derived from natural substances that come from plants, minerals, or animals. A remedy is prepared by diluting the substance in a series of steps (as discussed in Question 2). Homeopathy asserts that this process can maintain a substance’s healing properties regardless of how many times it has been diluted. Many homeopathic remedies are so highly diluted that not one molecule of the original natural substance remains. Remedies are sold in liquid form in the clinic.
How to store the Homeopathic remedies?
-Homeopathic medicines have a long storage life. If they are in the form of liquid, made in alcohol, the life will be as much as the life of alcohol. Mother tinctures prepared in water have shorter shelf life.
-Glass bottles should not be stored in strong light. They must specially be kept away from sunlight.
-Should be kept away from strong smelling items like perfumes etc. Never store them in your kitchen (which has maximum variety of smells). Even if the bottle is airtight, it should preferably be stored cautiously.
-It is not necessary to keep homeopathic medicines in a refrigerator. They should preferably be kept at normal room temperature.
Avoid placing them near a TV set, computer, cell phone or other such gadget that emits rays. The rays will damage the delicate nature of the medicines and destroy their efficacy.
-If you travel, avoid putting the remedies through the x-ray scanner. The remedies can be inactivated.
How does the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulate homeopathic remedies?
Because of their long use in the United States, the U.S. Congress passed a law in 1938 declaring that homeopathic remedies are to be regulated by the FDA in the same manner as nonprescription, over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, which means that they can be purchased without a physician’s prescription. Remedies are required to meet certain legal standards for strength, quality, purity, and packaging. In 1988, the FDA required that all homeopathic remedies list the indications for their use (i.e., the medical problems to be treated) on the label. The FDA also requires the label to list ingredients, dilutions, and instructions for safe use.
The guidelines for homeopathic remedies are found in an official guide, the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States, which is authored by a nongovernmental, nonprofit organization of industry representatives and homeopathic experts. The Pharmacopoeia also includes provisions for testing new remedies and verifying their clinical effectiveness. Remedies on the market before 1962 have been accepted into the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States based on historical use, rather than scientific evidence from clinical trials.
Have any side effects or complications been reported from the use of homeopathy?
Here is some general information that has been reported about risks and side effects in homeopathy:
-Homeopathic medicines in high dilutions, taken under the supervision of trained professionals, are considered safe.
-Some patients report feeling worse for a brief period of time after starting homeopathic remedies. This temporary aggravation of the symptoms means the effort of the vital force to restore health and body balance.
-Liquid homeopathic remedies can contain alcohol and are permitted to have higher levels of alcohol than conventional drugs for adults. This may be of concern to some consumers. However, no adverse effects from the alcohol levels have been reported either to the FDA or in the scientific literature.
-Homeopathic remedies are not known to interfere with conventional drugs. But steroids, quimotherapy, and antibiotics may antidote the homeopathic treatment.
Homeopathy - medicine of the 21st century
Homeopathy also offers a method of maintaining health and preventing illness. It is a subtle but effective therapy that can correct small imbalances long before the appearance of the more serious symptoms which denote a particular disease. It is not necessary for a homeopath to wait for a conventional diagnosis before treatment can start. Many patients swiftly restored to health before a more serious disease appears.
People who have had homeopathic treatment generally find that their state of health and well-being has improved. They are better able to resist infection and have a greater sense of stability and individual purpose in life. These improvements surely are steps towards real health.
Is NCCAM funding research on homeopathy?
Yes. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) supports a number of studies in this area.