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What Is Homeopathy?

Also indexed as: Homeopathy: Basics

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Homeopathy is a non-toxic system of medicine used to treat illness and relieve discomfort of a wide variety of health conditions. It is practiced by licensed physicians and other qualified prescribers in many regions of the world, including Europe, Asia, the U.K., and the U.S. Information on the use of several hundred remedies has been collected for nearly two centuries by homeopathic practitioners, through research studies known as “provings,” as well as documented clinical cases and recent scientific trials. (Sources and documentation are found in “References.”)

The Law of Similars and Potentization
Two important ideas on which the science of homeopathy is based are the Law of Similars and potentization. Simply expressed, the Law of Similars states that since exposure to a substance can cause specific symptoms in a healthy person, that substance—when correctly prepared as a homeopathic remedy—can stimulate the body’s curative powers to overcome similar symptoms during illness.

For example: A person who chops an onion can develop watery eyes, a runny nose, sneezing, coughing, and throat irritation from exposure to the onion’s active substances. The homeopathic remedy, Allium cepa, made of potentized red onion, can help the body overcome a cold or allergy attack in which the person has similar symptoms (watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing, coughing, or throat irritation.) The actual symptoms of the illness were not caused by exposure to an onion, but the remedy made from the onion can help the body overcome them, because the symptoms are similar.

Potentization is a process that involves a series of precise dilutions and succussions (succussion is a vigorous shaking action). A substance has to undergo this process to be useful as a homeopathic remedy. Potentization is very important, because the repeated process of dilution and succussion brings about an energetic change that gives the substance a deeper curative effect. Repeated dilution removes all chance of chemical toxicity, allowing the homeopathic use of many substances that would otherwise not be safe to take as medicine.

The safety and non-toxicity of homeopathic remedies is reassuring; however, they still must be chosen carefully on the basis of specific information—and used correctly—or they may affect the symptoms only superficially, or have no effect at all. Homeopathic remedies are not selected simply to treat an isolated symptom or a named disease. To work correctly, they must be chosen to match the way an individual’s system expresses its unique response to the current stress and illness. Even within the same diagnosis, different people respond to different remedies.

How to Use Homeopathic Remedies
Self-care with homeopathy for moderate, short-term illnesses and injuries can be rewarding. A correctly-chosen remedy can work gently and efficiently to relieve discomfort and help the body heal itself without toxicity or side-effects. If an illness or condition is chronic or serious, it is best to consult an experienced prescriber for a remedy that more deeply suits the person’s needs. (See “Constitutional Remedies,” below.)

Observe the person, taking special note of the strongest and most unusual symptoms, as well as the way the individual responds to the stress of illness, such as things that relieve or aggravate the symptoms (motion, temperature, light, noise) or the person’s emotional and mental state.

Choose the remedy whose description most closely matches the symptoms the person is expressing. When a remedy’s pattern of action is similar to the person’s response to the stress or illness, it can help the natural defenses more efficiently overcome the problems and return the person to a better state of health.

Take one dose of the selected remedy, then wait for a response to show. If relief of important symptoms is noted—or if the person starts to improve in general—the remedy is acting. Continue to wait and let it do its work. Do not give another dose unless improvement stops. (Unnecessary repetitions can interfere with or slow down a remedy’s action.)

Further doses of the remedy should be given according to how the person is responding, not on a pre-set schedule. Intense or painful situations may require more frequent repetitions. For instance, in severe discomfort (as with a burn or throbbing headache) a dose may be needed every few minutes to an hour. In moderate conditions, such as flu or indigestion, a dose once every few hours may be indicated. In many situations, one dose of a correctly-chosen remedy will be enough to stimulate the body to heal itself.

If no response is evident after a reasonable amount of waiting, give another dose and wait again. If no response is seen after several repetitions, review the important symptoms and choose another closely-indicated remedy.

Lower potencies (6X, 6C, 12X, 12C, 30X, 30C) are the most appropriate for non-professional self-care situations. A 30 will often act more quickly and deeply than a 6 and need fewer repetitions—but, the higher the potency, the more precise the remedy choice must be to bring results. High potencies (past 30C) should only be used by those with formal homeopathic training, as a more developed knowledge of the remedies is needed to make an accurate prescription and to monitor results. (See also Understanding Homeopathic Potencies.)

Using Homeopathy with Professional Guidance
Homeopathic remedies can also be helpful in complex or even serious conditions—although self-prescribing is not appropriate in such cases. To correctly select the remedy and monitor the healing process, an experienced physician who is trained in homeopathy should be involved, for the following reasons:

  • Medical knowledge is needed to assess complex or serious conditions. Professional diagnostic tests may be necessary, as well.
  • Using a remedy that covers isolated symptoms superficially, but does not fit the person on deeper levels, may change or suppress the symptoms, yet not be deeply curative.
  • Even with a correctly-chosen remedy, a temporary aggravation of symptoms may occur as part of the healing process. Training and experience are required to distinguish a helpful aggravation from an intensification of symptoms that occurs because a remedy has not acted and the illness is progressing.
  • An inexperienced or impatient person might be tempted to repeat the remedy unnecessarily, or change to other remedies at times when waiting is appropriate.

If an illness or condition is chronic or deep-seated, it is best to consult an experienced homeopathic practitioner, for a “constitutional” remedy that fits the characteristic symptoms of the case and considers the person’s physical condition and individual nature in a more comprehensive way. At at typical first visit, a homeopath interviews a patient for at least an hour—to take a careful history and elicit information about many aspects of the person’s state of health—before choosing a remedy.

How Does Homeopathy Work?
Within the limitations of available scientific funding, interesting research is being undertaken to understand how and why such highly-diluted remedies have profound and curative effects. Formal studies published in current medical journals show that homeopathic remedies, when used correctly, are significantly more effective than placebo. Researchers theorize that, during potentization, an energetic change occurs in the remedy substance and its medium of dilution (usually water), enabling them to stimulate a person’s system to deal with stress and illness more efficiently. Homeopathic remedies do not have chemical action in the body, and thus work differently than nutrients or drugs—which has made it difficult for some researchers accustomed to assessing drugs to adequately consider them. Since the body is clearly affected by many forces that have no chemical content (electricity, radiation, thermal energy, etc.), it is reasonable to think that research designed to observe non-chemical effects will yield more useful information.

References and Resources

The following articles published in medical journals analyze results of over 100 clinical studies assessing effects of homeopathic medicines:

1. Linde K, Clausius N, Ramirez G, et al. Are the clinical effects of homeopathy placebo effects? A meta-analysis of placebo-controlled trials. Lancet 1997;250:834–43.

Analysis of 186 studies; concludes that positive results in subjects taking homeopathic medicines are 2.4 times more likely than with placebo.

2. Kleijnen J, Knipschild P, ter Riet G. Clinical trials of homeopathy. Br Med J 1991;302:316–23.

Review of 107 studies, 81 of which (77%) showed positive effects from homeopathic medicines; researchers concluded: “The evidence presented in this review would probably be sufficient for establishing homeopathy as a regular treatment for certain indications.”

3. Summary and review of other recent homeopathic research studies, and other references, may be found in the following books:

Jonas WB, Jacobs J. Healing with Homeopathy. New York: Warner Books, 1996.

Ullman D. The Consumer’s Guide to Homeopathy. New York: Tarcher/Putnam, 1995.

Professional Resources

Allen HC. Keynotes and Characteristics of the Materia Medica. New Delhi: B. Jain (reprint), 1988.

Boericke W. Materia Medica with Repertory. Santa Rosa: Boericke and Tafel (reprint) 1988.

Borland D. Homeopathy for Mother and Infant. New Delhi: World Homeopathic Links (reprint).

Boyd H. Introduction to Homeopathic Medicine. Beaconsfield, England: Beaconsfield, 1981.

Hering C. Guiding Symptoms of our Materia Medica. New Delhi: B. Jain (reprint), 1988, (Vol 1–10).

Herscu P. The Homeopathic Treatment of Children. Berkeley: North Atlantic, 1991.

Kent JT. Lectures on Homeopathic Materia Medica. New Delhi: B. Jain (reprint), 1980.

Kent, JT. Repertory of Homeopathic Materia Medica. New Delhi: B. Jain (reprint), 1988.

Nash EB. Leaders in Homeopathic Therapeutics. New Delhi: B. Jain (reprint), 1988.

Perko S. Homeopathy for the modern Pregnant Woman and Her Infant. San Antonio: Benchmark Homeopathic Publications, 1997.

Schroyens F. Synthesis/Repertorium Homeopathicum Syntheticum. London: Homeopathic Book Publishers, 1993.

Tyler M. Drug Pictures. Saffron Walden, Essex: CW Daniel, 1982.

Vithoulkas G. Materia Medica Viva. London: Homeopathic Book Publishers, 1992, 1995.

General Resources

Castro M. Complete Homeopathy Handbook. New York: St. Martin’s, 1991.

Castro M. Homeopathy for Pregnancy, Birth, and Your Child’s First Year. New York: St. Martin’s, 1993.

Cummings S, Ullman D. Everybody’s Guide to Homeopathic Medicines. Los Angeles: Tarcher, 1991.

Lockie A. Family Guide to Homeopathy. New York: Fireside, 1993.

Panos M, Heimlich J. Homeopathic Medicine at Home. Los Angeles: Tarcher, 1980.

Ullman D. Consumer’s Guide to Homeopathy. New York: Tarcher/Putnam, 1995.

Vithoulkas G. Homeopathy: Medicine of the New Man. New York: Avon, 1971.

Homeopathic History and Theory:

Coulter HL. Homeopathic Science and Modern Medicine: The Physics of Healing With Microdoses. Berkeley: North Atlantic, 1987.

Coulter HL. Divided Legacy: A History of the Schism in Medical Thought. Berkeley: North Atlantic, 1975; 1977; 1981; 1994.

Hahnemann S. The Organon of Medicine, 5th Edition; 6th Edition.

Kent JT. Lectures on Homeopathic Philosophy. Berkeley: North Atlantic, 1979 (reprint).

Vithoulkas G. The Science of Homeopathy. New York: Grove, 1980.

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