Homeopathy

Overview/History

Homeopathic medicine is an alternative form of medicine that began in 1796. Samuel Hahneman, a German physician, developed a doctrine called “similia similibus curentur.” In English, this means “like cures like.” According to Hahneman, if a substance normally causes an illness in an otherwise healthy person, a small dose of that substance will cure the illness in an afflicted person.

This notion of a small dose is another founding principle of homeopathy, which states that as the dose of a medicine becomes smaller, the effect of that medicine grows. In fact, many homeopathic remedies are so diluted, none of the original substance remains.

Even though Hahneman is considered the originator of homeopathic medicine, the practice of curing ailments with the “like cures like” system can be traced as far back as 400 B.C. Hippocrates reportedly used a portion of mandrake root, known to cause mania, to relieve mania in patients. In the 16th century, Paracelsus, often referred to as the father of modern pharmacology, also noted that a small dose of what ails a man can cure him.

In the 1900’s, there were dozens of homeopathic colleges and over 15,000 practicing homeopaths in the United States. However, by 1950, this number had waned to only 75. The field experienced a resurgence in the 1970’s, and by the 1990’s, the medical profession had begun to integrate modern homeopathic thought into practice. Currently, homeopathic medicine is common and can be purchased at most pharmacies in the United States. In 2007, 3.9 million citizens used homeopathic remedies for illness, and paid an estimated 2.9 billion dollars for homeopathic services.

Basics

By utilizing the two principles of “like cures like” and “lowest possible dose,” homeopaths create remedies for people based on their situation and illness. A natural substance from roots, leaves, herbs and other substances is diluted, or potentiated, in either alcohol or distilled water. It is mixed by performing 10 hard shakes against an elastic body, which homeopaths call succussion.

This diluted solution is then formed into a sugar pellet for ingestion, or an ointment, gel, drop or cream. The patient then applies the remedy, and the presence of the potentiated substance helps the body to cure the illness.

Back in the time of Hahneman, the suggested dilution level was so minute that there was no longer any active ingredient present. In those times, it was reasonable to think that a solution could be diluted indefinitely, since there was no concept of an atom. However, we know today that the suggested dilution levels would have left the solution bereft of the active agent.

Considerations/Uses

Homeopathic remedies have been regulated in the United States since 1938. As a result, they are safe for human consumption. They are widely used for allergies, dermatitis, irritable bowel syndrome and arthritis. However, they are not considered appropriate for larger scale, emergency diseases such as heart disease or cancer.

There is some evidence that homeopathic remedies can have helpful effects when used. However, since the solutions created often have little to no active ingredient in them, it is unclear whether the helpful result is from the placebo effect or not.

Advocates of homeopathy medicine believe that, even in extreme dilutions, the solution has a “memory” of the toxic substance to which the body responds. There is no scientifically documented evidence of this phenomenon.

Another difficulty when assessing the effectiveness of homeopathic medicine is the individualized treatment approach. It is not uncommon for two people with the same condition to receive a different treatment. Therefore, when comparing results on a case by case basis, it is difficult to find analogs to compare. As a result of this, a systematic evaluation of homeopathy is difficult.

It is important to tell your doctor if you decide to use homeopathic remedies for treatment. Your doctor needs to have a full and complete picture of your treatments in order to coordinate their work with you.

Furthermore, homeopathic treatments should neither be used as a replacement method for other, proven treatments, nor as a means to delay a visit to the doctor. Homeopathic remedies can certainly be used as a tool in a treatment strategy, but not as a complete treatment.

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