The term homeopathy comes from the Greek words homeo, meaning similar, and pathos, meaning suffering or disease. Homeopathy takes a different approach from conventional medicine in diagnosing, classifying, and treating medical problems. Homeopathy seeks to stimulate the body’s defense mechanisms and processes so as to prevent or treat illness. Treatment involves giving very small doses of substances called remedies that would produce the same or similar symptoms of illness in healthy people if they were given in larger doses. Treatment in homeopathy is tailored to each individual person. Homeopathic practitioners select remedies according to a total picture of the patient, including not only symptoms but lifestyle, emotional and mental states, and other factors.
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.”
In the fourth century B.C., Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, observed that large amount of certain natural substances can produce symptoms in healthy people resembling those caused by the disease, while smaller doses of these same substances can relieve those symptoms. 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.
There are over 2000 homeopathic remedies, which are made from naturally occurring plant, animal, or mineral substances and such exotic sources as bee stings, snake venoms, arsenic, gold and silica, and even compounds from diseased tissue. 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.
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, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Mexico.
Copyright 2007 Raquel Lazar-Paley