What is Homeopathy?

Homeopathy is a natural, complete system of medicine that uses highly diluted doses of substances applied using a precise scientific method to stimulate the body’s own healing mechanism towards full health.

The use of homeopathic medicines – what homeopaths refer to as “remedies” – is based on the discovery that medicinal substances are capable of curing the same symptoms they cause. By studying the pattern of symptoms that develop when a healthy person tests or “proves” a remedy, homeopaths can determine which symptoms the remedy is capable of curing in the sick. This is called the Law of Similars, or “like cures like.”

A simple example of this principle can be seen with the common onion. If you’ve ever sliced an onion while cooking, you know the symptoms the onion creates: itchy, burning, watery eyes; then sneezing usually follows, or at least, a runny nose. You probably also know by experience that fresh, cool air stops the onion’s effects; or that a splash of cold water stops the burning feeling in your eyes so you can continue to chop your onion.

Those same symptoms are just as familiar to those who suffer from hay fever, which is why many hay fever sufferers with symptoms of burning, watery eyes, sneezing, and runny nose have found relief after taking homeopathic Allium cepa (the remedy made from red onion). This is what we mean when we say the substance that can cause symptoms in healthy people can, as a remedy, cure those symptoms when they arise in the sick.

Classical Homeopathy and Polypharmacy

Homeopathy was developed by a German doctor, Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, in 1790. Samuel Hahnemann was an accomplished scholar even as a child, known in his home town of Meissen for his extraordinary gift for languages and his exceptional skill in the study of the sciences. By the age of 12, he tutored students at the local university in Greek and Latin. By the time he was ready to enter university himself, he had added English, French, Italian, Arabic, Syriac, Chaldaic, and Hebrew to his list of mastered languages. He was able to make a living as a translator and language instructor at the university in Leipzig, where he also trained in the sciences. He became a member of many scientific societies, honoured specifically for his research in chemistry. His other fields of expertise included botany, astronomy, and meteorology. He undertook the study of Medicine in Leipzig and Vienna, and qualified with honours in 1779. He started his practice in 1781.

His natural gift led him to study medical disciplines from older medical systems of ancient cultures, such as eastern traditions (which have a vitalist understanding of physiology, as homeopathy does). Hahnemann was disappointed with the practice of medicine in his time, because he saw that the treatment he was trained to offer caused harm and rarely cured. He gave up his practice and worked as a translator of medical texts.

While translating William Cullen’s A Treatise on the Materia Medica, Hahemann was forced to examine the medicinal effects of substances ‘under a different light.’ Cullen claimed in his medical text that the drug called “cinchona” (we know it as Peruvian Bark) was effective as a treatment for malaria because it was a bitter astringent which produced a tonic effect on the stomach. Hahnemann had studied the use of the drug as a folk remedy, and realized that something else made the drug more effective than just its bitterness: if it were just bitterness that made it potent, then other, more bitter and more astringent substances would have to be even more effective drugs against malaria. But they were not. Something else about cinchona bark made it an effective drug against malaria.

So Hahnemann conducted his first “proving”, or test, to challenge Cullen’s assumption about cinchona, and to demonstrate why cinchona worked so well. He ingested the cinchona bark just as it would be used by a patient with malaria, even though he himself was healthy. Soon he started to feel the symptoms of the disease itself: chills, joint pain, and recurrent fevers. It was obvious that cinchona’s effectiveness as an anti-malaria drug was not to be found in its bitter taste or in its astringent compounds. Cinchona cured malaria because it could produce the symptoms of malaria in the body, that was what made it an effective cure.

Hahnemann continued to explore, test, and document the outcomes of his “provings” of other known medicinal substances, so Provings became the foundation of what he’d articulated in his research, the Natural Law of Similars. Eventually he developed the serial dilution and succussion process of preparing the medications, called “Potentization”: this was his solution to the problem of toxicity of the medical materials commonly in use. He became known as the Father of Experimental Pharmacology because he was the first physician to prepare medicines in a specialized way, and because he “proved” or tested them on healthy human beings to determine how those medicines would act in the body. Before Hahnemann’s intense work in provings, medicines were given on purely speculative indications (like Cullen’s unproven idea that cinchona cured through it’s bitterness), without the benefit of experimental verification.

A classical homeopath follows the method of practice elaborated by Dr. Hahnemann in his writings, including The Organon of Medicine (outlining the philosophy, the Law of Similars, and the application of that law in treatment), the Materia Medica Pura (which documents exact effects of remedy provings), and his theoretical work called The Chronic Diseases: Their Peculiar Nature and Their Homeopathic Cure. Hahnemann spent more than 50 years writing and re-writing the Organon of Medicine, refining his methods of remedy preparation to include advances he’d made in chemistry (such as making “insoluble” materials soluble via trituration, which then made them capable of serial dilution). Over the course of his life and practice, Hahnemann continued to refine and expand his scientific method, producing six editions of the Organon during his decades of practice. Hahnemann changed much in his method regarding the potency of the medicines he prepared, but he kept three basic tenets unchanged. They remain unchanged today because they are Homeopathy ‘s foundation. They are:

1. “Similia similibus curentur” , or “like cures like”. Each person’s vital force expresses symptoms of the body, mind and “spirit” (the emotional, mental, and yes, spiritual state) when he is sick. Some of these symptoms are common to the particular sickness and some of them are unique to that individual. In order for the homeopathic remedy to be curative, the symptom picture of the remedy must be like that picture which the sick person shows.

2. The single remedy. The homeopathic doctor gives only one remedy substance medicine at a time to the sick person. Then, sufficient time must be allowed to pass to observe the effects of that single medicine on the patient, in order to assess and analyze that remedy’s effect and in order to properly proceed with case management.

3. The minimum dose. Drugs given to people in material doses cause effects that include adverse reactions. To minimize this problem, the homeopathic doctor gives the smallest possible dose so as to maximize the beneficial effects and minimize the harmful effects of the medicine. Less is more: remedies are given only when needed, and when they’re needed only the smallest possible dose is used.

Classical homeopaths will avoid the use of combination/ “complex” medicines, or “Polypharmacy” drugs, made from groups of potentized remedy substances. We’ve all seen these in health food stores, they’re mislabeled as “homeopathic” because they contain mixtures of several remedies. Complexes combine substances which antidote each other or cause serious suffering to the patient when used together (the “inimical” remedy substances). We know from over 200 years of clinical documentation that certain substances should never be used together or used in succession to one another, because they can cause needless pain or suffering.

Polypharmacy medicines are designed to be used just like pharmaceutical drugs in conventional medicine: instead of treating the mis-tuned vital force, they are designed to treat a single symptom, or a named pathology–just as if each patient were no different from anyone else with the disease. This is why they’re sold directly to the general public, and to conventional medical doctors who haven’t bothered to study homeopathy but wish to provide “alternative” drugs to patients they know want alternatives.

Because we don’t know which single ingredient of the mix produces any change in the patient, there is no way to manage the patient’s care. This is the main reason homeopaths avoid polypharmacy combinations. It’s simple: if we can’t individualize the treatment to suit the patient’s symptom picture, and we can’t know for certain what the drug is doing in the body, case management becomes impossible. The best we can hope for is temporary palliation, but we’d never be able to know if we did harm with the jumble of drugs combined, or figure out which remedies caused the harm in order to antidote them.

That makes for haphazard results, and very poor care. And that is just not good enough in Homeopathy.