Homeopathy is a form of alternative medicine, which was introduced originally by a German physician, Samuel Hahnemann, in 1796. In this particular method of medicine, Hahnemann discovered a principle known as "the law of similars", according to which practitioners use very highly diluted preparations to produce desired symptoms in healthy individuals and then use such diluted preparations to cure sick people suffering from identical symptoms. The preparations are diluted using a method known as serial dilution, in which the homeopathic ingredients are diluted in progressive and incremental steps till the the potency of the medicine reaches the desired level and the substances used in the dilution almost disappear from the solution. Homeopathic cures are prescribed not only on the basis of symptoms, but also on patient's physical and physiological state and the totality of the patient's condition. Compared to many allopathic medicines, most homeopathy remedies are said to be safer, with no side effects. Practitioners of allopathic medicine however do not agree with this view, as they argue that homeopathic remedies are not based on exact scientific research and are not adequately lab tested like the modern medicines. There is also an argument that homeopathic remedies are no more effective than placebo. Those who want to prove a point against homeopathy also contend that when homeopathic remedies are subject to dilution, the resultant solution may not contain any substances having medicinal value. Those who practice homeopathy however argue that since dilution is done with water, water has the ability to retain the original properties of the material dissolved, even when they are present in negligible quantities.
The regulations governing homeopathic treatment vary from country to country. In some countries you don't have to possess any qualifications to practice homeopathy, while in some countries you need licenses and degrees in conventional medicine from accredited universities. It is also a common practice to use homeopathy alongside other systems of medicine by some doctors to provide holistic treatment solutions to their patients, especially to treat difficult and incurable diseases.
General philosophy and Miasms
Homeopathy is centered around the hypothesis that sickness is caused by disturbances in the vital force of life force of the body. These disturbances manifest themselves as certain symptoms. According to homeopathy theories, the vital force is a dynamic energy which is susceptible to the internal and external causes and has the ability adapt itself accordingly. The mind has the ability to exert its influence upon the body. Negative thoughts renders the body susceptible to sickness producing entities called miasms. When they invade the body, it becomes sick. The theory of miasms was originally proposed by Hahnemann in 1828. A miasm is producer of disturbances in the vital force. There are many such miasms, each of which is responsible for a specific disease. According to Hahnemann, initial exposure to miasms causes local symptoms, such as skin or venereal diseases, but if these symptoms are suppressed by medication, the cause goes deeper and begins to manifest itself as diseases of the internal organs. Homeopathy maintains that you cannot treat diseases simply by attacking the symptoms directly. If you want to provide an effective cure for deep seated ailments, you have to go deeper to understand the underlying causes, whcih are responsible for the disturbances in the vital force and address them effectively. Originally Hahnemann presented three miasms, of which the most important was "psora", related to any itching diseases of the skin, including scabies. He believed psora to be the cause of such diseases as epilepsy, cancer, jaundice, deafness, and cataracts. Since Hahnemann's time, other miasms have been proposed, some replacing one or more of psora's proposed functions, including tubercular miasms and cancer miasms.Hahnemann's theory of miasms is disputed by many within homeopathy as it does not provide adequate explanation for many well known diseases.
The Law of Similars
In his experiment with cinchona bark, Hahnemann found that when you introduce certain substances into the body, they produce symptoms that are similar to the symptoms caused by certain diseases. For example he found that when he consumed the cinchona bark, he experienced symptoms that were similar to the symptoms of malaria. He found similar results with other substances and proposed the" law of similars", which is now the central healing principle upon which homeopathy treatment is fundamentally based. According to this principle, like is cured by like. Hahnemann thought that when a homeopathy drug was introduced in negligible quantities into the body in regular doses and subsequently the dosage was stopped, the vital force to to neutralize the disturbances and expel the disease. Thus if large doses produced symptoms of specific diseases, small quantities cured them. Critics of this theory argue that Hahnemann's arguments are based upon his opinions, not facts.
Remedy is a technical term used in homeopathy to refers to a substance that has been prepared according to a particular procedure and intended for treating certain diseases, It should not be confused with the generally-accepted meaning of "a medicine or therapy that cures disease or relieves pain". Homeopathic practitioners rely on two types of reference when prescribing remedies: Materia medica and repertories. A homeopathic Materia medica is a collection of "drug pictures", organized alphabetically by remedy, that describes the symptom patterns associated with individual remedies. A homeopathic repertory is an index of disease symptoms that lists remedies associated with specific symptoms.
Homeopathy uses many animal, plant, mineral, and synthetic substances in its remedies. Examples include Arsenicum album (arsenic oxide), Natrum muriaticum (sodium chloride or table salt), Lachesis muta (the venom of the bushmaster snake), Opium, and Thyroidinum (thyroid hormone). Homeopaths also use treatments called nosodes (from the Greek nosos, disease) made from diseased or pathological products such as fecal, urinary, and respiratory discharges, blood, and tissue. Homeopathic remedies prepared from healthy specimens are called sarcodes.
Some modern homeopaths have considered more esoteric bases for remedies, known as imponderables because they do not originate from a material but from electromagnetic energy presumed to have been "captured" by alcohol or lactose. Examples include X-rays and sunlight. Recent ventures by homeopaths into even more esoteric substances include thunderstorms (prepared from collected rainwater). Today there are about 3,000 different remedies commonly used in homeopathy. Some homeopaths also use techniques that are regarded by other practitioners as controversial. These include paper remedies, where the substance and dilution are written on a piece of paper and either pinned to the patient's clothing, put in their pocket, or placed under a glass of water that is then given to the patient, as well as the use of radionics to prepare remedies. Such practices have been strongly criticised by classical homeopaths as unfounded, speculative, and verging upon magic and superstition.
In the 16th century the pioneer of chemical medicine Paracelsus declared that small doses of “what makes a man ill also cures him", anticipating homeopathy, but it was Hahnemann who gave it a name and laid out its principles in the late 18th century. At that time, mainstream medicine employed such measures as bloodletting and purging, used laxatives and enemas, and administered complex mixtures, such as Venice treacle, which was made from 64 substances including opium, myrrh, and viper's flesh. Such measures often worsened symptoms and sometimes proved fatal. While the virtues of these treatments had been extolled for centuries, Hahnemann rejected such methods as irrational and inadvisable. Instead, he favored the use of single drugs at lower doses and promoted an immaterial, vitalistic view of how living organisms function, believing that diseases have spiritual, as well as physical causes. (At the time, vitalism was part of mainstream science. In the 20th century, however, medicine discarded vitalism, with the development of microbiology, the germ theory of disease, and advances in chemistry.) Hahnemann also advocated various lifestyle improvements to his patients, including exercise, diet, and cleanliness.
Hahnemann conceived of homeopathy while translating a medical treatise by Scottish physician and chemist William Cullen into German. Being skeptical of Cullen's theory concerning cinchona's action in malaria, Hahnemann ingested some of the bark specifically to see if it cured fever "by virtue of its effect of strengthening the stomach". Upon ingesting the bark, he noticed few stomach symptoms, but did experience fever, shivering and joint pain, symptoms similar to some of the early symptoms of malaria, the disease that the bark was ordinarily used to treat. From this, Hahnemann came to believe that all effective drugs produce symptoms in healthy individuals similar to those of the diseases that they treat. This later became known as the "law of similars", the most important concept of homeopathy. The term "homeopathy" was coined by Hahnemann and first appeared in print in 1807, although he began outlining his theories of "medical similars" or the "doctrine of specifics" in a series of articles and monographs in 1796.
Hahnemann began to test what effects substances produced in humans, a procedure which would later become known as "homeopathic proving". These time-consuming tests required subjects to clearly record all of their symptoms as well as the ancillary conditions under which they appeared. Hahnemann saw these data as a way of identifying substances suitable for the treatment of particular diseases. The first collection of provings was published in 1805 and a second collection of 65 remedies appeared in his book, Materia Medica Pura, in 1810. Hahnemann believed that large doses of drugs that caused similar symptoms would only aggravate illness, so he advocated extreme dilutions of the substances; he devised a technique for making dilutions that he believed would preserve a substance's therapeutic properties while removing its harmful effects, proposing that this process aroused and enhanced "spirit-like medicinal powers held within a drug". He gathered and published a complete overview of his new medical system in his 1810 book, The Organon of the Healing Art, whose 6th edition, published in 1921, is still used by homeopaths today.
19th century: rise to popularity and early criticism
Homeopathy achieved its greatest popularity in the 19th century. Dr. John Franklin Gray (1804–1882) was the first practitioner of Homeopathy in the United States, beginning in 1828 in New York City. The first homeopathic schools opened in 1830, and throughout the 19th century dozens of homeopathic institutions appeared in Europe and the United States. By 1900, there were 22 homeopathic colleges and 15,000 practitioners in the United States. Because medical practice of the time relied on ineffective and often dangerous treatments, patients of homeopaths often had better outcomes than those of the doctors of the time. Homeopathic remedies, even if ineffective, would almost surely cause no harm, making the users of homeopathic remedies less likely to be killed by the treatment that was supposed to be helping them. The relative success of homeopathy in the 19th century may have led to the abandonment of the ineffective and harmful treatments of bloodletting and purging and to have begun the move towards more effective, science based medicine. One reason for the growing popularity of homeopathy was its apparent success in treating people suffering from infectious disease epidemics. During 19th century epidemics of diseases such as cholera, death rates in homeopathic hospitals were often lower than in conventional hospitals, where the treatments used at the time were often harmful and did little or nothing to combat the diseases.
From its inception, however, homeopathy was criticized by mainstream science. Sir John Forbes, physician to Queen Victoria, said in 1843 that the extremely small doses of homeopathy were regularly derided as useless, "an outrage to human reason". James Young Simpson said in 1853 of the highly diluted drugs: "No poison, however strong or powerful, the billionth or decillionth of which would in the least degree affect a man or harm a fly." 19th century American physician and author Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. was also a vocal critic of homeopathy and published an essay in 1842 entitled Homœopathy, and its kindred delusions. The members of the French Homeopathic Society observed in 1867 that some of the leading homeopathists of Europe were not only abandoning the practice of administering infinitesimal doses, but were also no longer defending it. The last school in the U.S. exclusively teaching homeopathy closed in 1920.
Revival in the late 20th century
The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 (sponsored by New York Senator and Homeopathic Physician Royal Copeland) recognized homeopathic remedies as drugs. By the 1950s there were only 75 pure homeopaths practicing in the U.S. However, in the mid to late 1970s, homeopathy made a significant comeback and sales of some homeopathic companies increased tenfold. Greek homeopath George Vithoulkas performed a "great deal of research to update the scenarios and refine the theories and practice of homeopathy" beginning in the 1970s, and it was revived worldwide; in Brazil during the 1970s and in Germany during the 1980s. The medical profession started to integrate such ideas in the 1990s and mainstream pharmacy chains recognized the business potential of selling homeopathic remedies.
Isopathy is derived from homeopathy. Invented by Johann Joseph Wilhelm Lux in the 1830s, Isopathy differs from homeopathy in the manner in which remedies are produced. In Isopathy remedies are made up either from things that cause the disease, or from products of the disease, such as pus. Many so-called "homeopathic vaccines" are a kind of of isopathy remedies.
Flower remedies are produced by placing flowers in water and exposing them to sunlight. The most famous of these are the Bach flower remedies, which were developed by the physician and homeopath Edward Bach. Although the proponents of these remedies share homeopathy's vitalist world-view and the remedies are claimed to act through the same hypothetical "vital force" as homeopathy, the method of preparation is different. Bach flower remedies are prepared in "gentler" ways such as placing flowers in bowls of sunlit water, and the remedies are not succussed. There is no convincing scientific or clinical evidence for flower remedies being effective.
The idea of using homeopathy as a treatment for other animals, termed veterinary homeopathy, dates back to the inception of homeopathy; Hahnemann himself wrote and spoke of the use of homeopathy in animals other than humans. The FDA has not approved homeopathic products as veterinary medicine in the U.S. In the UK, veterinary surgeons who use homeopathy belong to the Faculty of Homeopathy and/or to the British Association of Homeopathic Veterinary Surgeons. Animals may only be treated by qualified veterinary surgeons in the UK and some other countries. Internationally, the body that supports and represents homeopathic veterinarians is the International Association for Veterinary Homeopathy. The use of homeopathy in veterinary medicine is controversial, as there has been little scientific investigation and current research in the field is not of a high enough standard to provide reliable data. Other studies have also found that giving animals placebos can play active roles in influencing pet owners to believe in the effectiveness of the treatment when none exists.
Source: Adapted from Wikipedia article titled "Homeopathy" with suitable modifications.