Homeopathy comes from the Greek words homeos, meaning like or similar, and pathos, meaning disease or suffering (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). Both words together mean “like disease” (Gale, 2014, p. 1166). Homeopathic medicine believes that substances that cause disease can be curative if they are used in highly diluted amounts (Gale, 2014). Homeopathic remedies stimulate the body to heal, and can be derived from plant, mineral, or chemical substances (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013).
Homeopathy is governed by three principles: the Principle of Similars, the Principle of Infinitesimal Dose, and the Principle of Specificity of the Individual. The Principle of Similars says that like cures like, and that the disease-causing element can bring about healing (Freeman, 2009).
The Principle of Infinitesimal Dose states that homeopathic remedies are diluted to include the least amount of the healing element needed to produce a cure- the greater the dilution, the more effective or potent the medication (Gerber, 2001). Potentization of homeopathic remedies comes from these repeated dilutions, which energize remedies and “release their full healing potential” (Petersen, 2014, p. 41). This can involve succussion, trituration, or electronic imprinting. Succussion is the “process of striking a liquid remedy firmly onto a resilient surface to imprint the remedy’s vibratory patterns into the solvent” (Petersen, 2014, p. 42). Trituration is used for solid or insoluble remedies, and the original substance is dried, ground, and mixed with lactose to a potency of 6X. Electronic imprinting uses electronic devices to imprint the remedies (Petersen, 2014).
The third principle, the Principle of Specificity of the Individual, states that illness is specific to an individual, and although two people could be suffering from similar symptoms, they may be prescribed different remedies (Gale, 2014). Each person has a unique diet, lifestyle, and personality, and the remedy must match the profile and symptoms of the patient (Freeman, 2009; Gale, 2014).
In homeopathic philosophy, disease arises when a person’s defenses weaken, making the body susceptible to bacteria, stresses, toxic elements, and other factors (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). The goal of homeopathy is to bring the body to homeostasis by incorporating the body, mind, and emotions into the healing process (Gale, 2014). The initial consultation with a homeopathic doctor can be lengthy with an extensive case-taking process. Symptoms are recorded in great detail, and include body type, emotional manifestations, food cravings and aversions, mental manifestations, metabolic reactions, physical manifestations, reactions to environmental stimuli, sleep patterns and positions, thirst, and others (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013).
Because remedies are so diluted, they are considered to be safe. There may be side effects, but those are considered part of the healing process (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). Homeopathic medicines are generally less expensive than allopathic drugs (Gale, 2014).
Hippocrates was the first to teach the Law of Similars over 2,400 years ago, but it was not until the 1790s that a German physician, Samuel Christian Hahnemann, founded homeopathy (Freeman, 2009). He started practicing medicine in 1781, but after seeing his children and his patients get repeatedly ill, and their symptoms worsen with treatment, he became disillusioned with medicine at the time (Gale, 2014). He discovered homeopathy when treating malaria with Chinchona officinalis, a Peruvian bark that mimicked the symptoms of malaria, and was used to make quinine, a drug to treat malaria (Gale, 2014; Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). He determined that malaria was cured when symptoms similar to it were brought about in the patient. This is how he discovered the law of similars, similia similibus curentor, or like cures like (Gale, 2014).
Hahnemann continued testing other remedies and compiled his discoveries in the Organon and Materia Medica Pura. He gained recognition treating a cholera outbreak in 1831 with a 96% success rate, when allopathic treatment was only 41% successful (Gale, 2014). This success spread the use of homeopathy to other countries.
In the United States (US) the first homeopathic medical school was established in 1835 in Allentown, Pennsylvania (Freeman, 2009). In the early 1900s over 15% of doctors were homeopathic doctors, and there were 22 homeopathic medical schools, almost 100 homeopathic doctors, and over 1,000 homeopathic pharmacies (Freeman, 2009; Gale, 2014). However, by the 1930s these had closed down and the practice of homeopathy greatly decreased due to the advent of scientific medicine and the formation of the American Medical Association. A renewed interest in alternative healing methods in the 1960s brought resurgence to the use of homeopathy. By 1993, 2.5 million Americans used homeopathic remedies (Gale, 2014).
More than 500 million people around the world use homeopathy (Freeman, 2009). Homeopathy is practiced in many countries including Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, India, Mexico, United Kingdom, and increasingly in the US and Canada (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). There are more than 6,000 homeopaths in Germany, more than 5,000 in France, and more than 100 homeopathic colleges in India (Freeman, 2009). In the US and Canada, the Accreditation Commission for Homeopathic Education in North America has accredited the Canadian College of Homeopathic Medicine and Northwestern Academy of Homeopathy. There are other training programs available through other schools (Gale, 2014).
Homeopathic practitioners are certified by the National Center for Homeopathy and the North American Society of Homeopaths. The Council for Homeopathic Certification provides a certification exam and code of ethics, and those who pass the exam are able to use the title of CCH or Certification in Classical Homeopathy. The Homeopathic Academy of Naturopathic Physicians also offers an exam, and successful completion grants the DHANP certification or a Diplomate in the Homeopathic Academy of Naturopathic Physicians (Gale, 2014).
Allopathic doctors and scientists believe that homeopathic medicines are ineffective, because of the high level of dilution of homeopathic remedies (Gerber, 2001). However, published studies have demonstrated that homeopathic treatments are effective for “treatment of headache, bruising, cancer-related symptoms, attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder in children, asthma, upper respiratory tract infections, otitis media, arthritis, allergies, male infertility, influenza, cardiac insufficiency, herpes, osteoarthritis, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, and chronic fatigue syndrome” (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013, p. 320).
In 1991, a study conducted by Kleijnen et al. over a 25-year period included 105 controlled clinical trials, and 81 of these had successful results from treatment with homeopathic remedies (Gale, 2014; Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). A meta-analysis published by Linde et al. indicated that out of 89 studies, there was a 2.45 favorability ratio towards homeopathy (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). A study in 1997 in Munich found that in 95% of the cases homeopathy was more effective than a placebo (Hahn, 2013). Another study looked at 110 homeopathic trials, and determined that homeopathic remedies were as effective as conventional medication (Hahn, 2013). In 13% of the cases, homeopathy was more effective (Hahn, 2013).
Eighty-one children in Nicaragua aged six months to 5 years suffering from acute diarrhea participated in a study that compared homeopathic treatment to a placebo. The children who received homeopathic treatment recovered much faster than the children receiving a placebo (Gerber, 2001). A comparison study amongst 60 patients suffering from migraine looked at homeopathic remedy against a control. Those who received homeopathic treatment reduced the frequency of migraine attacks, and some decreasing from 10 attacks to less than two. In addition, after a four-month period, 78.8% of the control group required medication to treat migraine, and only 21% of those receiving homeopathic remedies required medication (Freeman, 2009). Another study on 144 people suffering from hay fever found that homeopathic remedies significantly reduced symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, and eye irritation. In addition, participants reduced their antihistamine intake by 50% (Freeman, 2009).
A 2008 study by Witt et al. looked at 3,709 chronically ill patients who had been treated with homeopathy in Germany and Switzerland. The patients covered 103 homeopathic care centers, and diagnoses included allergic rhinitis, atopic dermatitis, headaches, and recurrent infections. During an eight-year period, the severity of the disease had decreased over time, and patients had improved mentally, physically, and in quality of life (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). Other studies indicated that homeopathy was an effective adjuvant to cancer treatment, and aided in improving adverse effects from radiotherapy, chemotherapy-induced stomatitis, and radiodermatitis (Freeman, 2009). More evidence is available indicating the effectiveness of homeopathy.
Freeman, L. (2009). Mosby’s Complementary & Alternative Medicine, A Research-Based Approach (3rd ed.). St. Louis, MO: Mosby Elsevier.
Gale (2014). The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, (4th Ed). Farmington Hilla, MI: Gale Cengage Learning.
Gerber, R. (2001). Vibrational Medicine (3rd ed.). Rochester, VT: Bear & Company.
Hahn, R. G. (2013). Homeopathy: meta-analysis of pooled clinical data. Forschende Komplementrmedizin, 20, (5), 376-381. doi:10.1159/000355916
Petersen, D. (2014). Homb 501 Dynamic Phytotherapy. Portland, OR: American College of Healthcare Sciences.
Pizzorno, J. E. & Murray, M. T. (2013). Textbook of Natural Medicine (4th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Churchill Livingstone.