Outline of Lesson
- A Brief History of Homeopathy
- Scientific Research on Homeopathy
- Homeopathy versus Allopathy
- How Safe Are Homeopathic Preparations?
- How to Take Homeopathic Formulations
- Homeopathy and Herbalism
A Brief History of Homeopathy
Some claim that the roots of homeopathy go back to the ancient Greek physician, Hippocrates, and perhaps even earlier. But homeopathy as we know it today originated with the work of the German physician, Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843).
During the late 1700's, Dr. Hahnemann became disillusioned with the rather crude and dangerous medical practices of his day. He set out to find an alternative method of healing which led him to the discovery of the first principle of homeopathy; "like cures like," which is also known as the "law of similars." Dr. Hahnemann observed that substances that produce symptoms of a disease in healthy people in large dosages, will cure the same symptoms when given in very minute (diluted) amounts. Dr. Hahnemann named his new healing science by combining the two Greek combining forms homeo-, meaning "same," and pathy, meaning "disease."
According to homeopathic theory, various materials found in nature contain an energy field that can exert a healing effect on the body. This energy field can be amplified, or "potentiated," by a series of dilutions and vigorous shakings. The more the "mother tincture" is diluted, the stronger the healing effect will be. The materials used in homeopathic formulations can come from plants (herbs), from minerals, or from animal parts.
You may have noticed that homeopathic preparations carry a designation such as 2X, 4X, 6X etc. These indicate the number of times the mother tincture has been diluted and potentiated. The higher the number, the more dilute the preparation and the stronger the healing effect.
Critics of homeopathy claim that the preparations are so diluted they couldn't possibly have an effect on the body. They assert that any beneficial effect observed from homeopathic preparations must be due to a placebo effect. (It works because the patient believes that it works.) The proponents of homeopathy answer this criticism by claiming that homeopathy works not because of a direct effect, but because of the energy fields of the mother tincture, which are imparted to the carrier (water or alcohol) during the vigorous shakings. Homeopathy is therefore considered, along with acupuncture, magnetism, etc., as a form of "energy medicine." Homeopaths counter the criticism of the placebo effect by pointing out that homeopathic preparations have been observed to work just as well with children and animals, in whom the placebo effect could not possibly be operational.
Scientific Research on Homeopathy
Many scientific studies have been performed on homeopathy. In a paper published in 1997 in the medical journal The Lancet, 1 researchers considered 186 of these studies for inclusion in a meta-analysis to test the efficacy of homeopathy. Of the 186 studies, 97 were thrown out of the analysis because they did not meet the inclusion criteria or did not contain sufficient data. Of the 89 remaining placebo-controlled studies, a meta-analysis was performed. The findings were that the positive results of homeopathic remedies were not just the result of a placebo effect.
This study is very important, not only because it was published in a prestigious medical journal, but also because it included data from many different placebo-controlled scientific studies, subjected this data to the most rigorous of scientific analyses, and confirmed the efficacy of homeopathy remedies.
Homeopathy versus Allopathy
Allopathy [allo-, other + pathy, disease] refers to the system of treating disease by inducing a pathologic reaction that is antagonistic to the disease being treated. This term was coined by Dr. Hahnemann to differentiate conventional medicine from homeopathy. Today, many practitioners of conventional medicine object to being called allopaths, but the term has never-the-less remained in use.
A simple example will help explain the difference between the homeopathic and allopath approaches to healing:
If someone with high blood pressure goes to an allopath (i.e, a conventional medical doctor), the doctor will prescribe a drug that would produce low blood pressure in a normal individual. The intention would be to strike a balance between the two pathological states with the blood pressure ending up somewhere in the middle. The problem with this approach is that very strong drugs are usually required and there are often very undesirable side-effects, some of which can be very dangerous.
If the same individual with high blood pressure went to a homeopath, the homeopath would prescribe a dilute preparation of a substance that in a higher dosage would produce high blood pressure in a normal individual. However, since the preparation is so diluted, there is no chance that it will raise the blood pressure. Instead, the homeopathic preparation stimulates the body into regulating its own blood pressure, bringing it back down toward normal. Because homeopathic preparations are so diluted, there are rarely, if ever, any side-effects.
In 1796, Dr. Hahnemann founded the first homeopathic school of medicine, which was located in Philadelphia. During the 1800's, homeopathic physicians, as well as allopaths and many other types of healers, flourished in many countries including the United States.
In 1847, a group of U.S. allopathic physicians (who coincidently held their first conference in Philadelphia) organized themselves into what would become the American Medical Association. One of the actions taken at this first conference, (besides recommending that the curriculum of medical schools be extended from four months to a minimum of six months), was to endorse a proposal that all applicants to medical school should be required to present a letter of recommendation from a "regular" (i.e., allopathic) medical practitioner with whom they had worked; and that "the certificate of no preceptor shall be received, who is avowedly and notoriously an irregular practitioner, whether he shall possess the degree of MD or not."2 One of the first actions taken by the AMA, therefore, was to attempt to monopolize the profession for the allopaths.
It wasn't long before the AMA had accumulated enough political power to have most competing branches of medicine eliminated. (Of the many that were in existence in the 19th century, only chiropractic has survived to this day to any significant degree.) As a result, the practice of homeopathy as a profession is virtually non-existent in the U.S., but it still flourishes in many other parts of the world, most notably in Western Europe and particularly in Germany.
How Safe Are Homeopathic Preparations?
Since homeopathic preparations are very diluted mixtures of natural substances, they are completely safe and without undesirable side-effects. In the United States, homeopathic preparations are currently regulated by the FDA as over-the-counter medications.
How to Take Homeopathic Formulations
Most homeopathic formulations come in a liquid base or in a tablet designed to dissolve quickly under the tongue. Whichever form is used, the recommended dose should be held under the tongue for about a minute before swallowing. The blood veins under the tongue absorb the active ingredients directly into the bloodstream allowing the preparation to go to work immediately.
Because the vibrations of certain foods can counteract the effects of homeopathic formulations, it is recommended that you do not eat or drink anything other than water for at least 15 minutes before or after taking a homeopathic remedy. It is also recommended that you do not store homeopathic formulations in close proximity with strongly aromatic herbs or foods, such as mints, essential oils or coffee.
Liquid homeopathic formulations often contain an alcohol base, because alcohol is the best carrier for most substances and is an excellent preserver. The amount of alcohol is not enough to be of any concern for most people. For those who need to avoid alcohol completely, the liquid preparation can be added to a cup of warm water, and then drank after waiting for a minute or two. The warm water will evaporate most of the alcohol. For those taking the drug Antabuse, alcohol preparations should be avoided entirely.
Homeopathy and Herbalism
Most alternative health care providers consider homeopathy and herbalism to be completely compatible. Both are derived from natural substances, can be safely used by the public without a prescription, and have few, if any, undesirable interactions or side-effects.
It is important to note that homeopathic formulations, as diluted mixtures, do not provide nutrition. Whenever using a homeopathic product it is wise to include an herbal formulation which does contain nutrition. The homeopathic preparation can be thought of as the builder or activator, and the herbs as the building materials. The homeopathic provides the energy, and the herbs provide the raw materials. I recommend that one of NSP's key products be used with the homeopathic formulation. Choose the key product that targets the same body system as the homeopathic formulation.
In this lesson we briefly explored the roots of homeopathy, compared homeopathy with allopathy, and examined the use of homeopathic formulations with herbs.
- Linde K, Calusius N, Ramirez G, Melchart D, Eitel F, Hedges LV, Jonas WB. Are the clinical effects of homoeopathy placebo effects? A meta-analysis of placebo-controlled trials. Lancet 1997;350:834-43.
- Davis NS. History of the American Medical Association, from its Organization Up to January, 1855. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo & Co., 1855.
The following terms pertain to this lesson. If you are unsure of any, click on the word for a definition. (Use your browser's "back" button to return here.)
Word Review List:
- placebo effect
End of Lesson 15
Before proceeding to the next lesson, complete the Self Evaluation for Lesson 15.