Homeopathy is a system of diagnosis and treatment that uses specially prepared plant, mineral, or animal-based medicines. Homeopathic medicines contain extremely small doses of these substances and are believed to stimulate the natural defenses of the patient.
Homeopathy comes from the Greek word "homoios," meaning similar and "pathos," meaning disease. The basic premise of homeopathy is that "like cures like." This idea was first introduced by Hippocrates in the fourth century BC and later served as the basis for homeopathy by its German founder, Samual Hahnemann, in the late 1700's.
Homeopaths believe that the same medicine that can cause symptoms in large doses can cure those same symptoms if given in very small doses. This concept, known as hormesis, may not seem to make sense but it has been proven in well-designed scientific studies.
Western medicine doctors often use ipecac to cause vomiting in patients who have swallowed something poisonous. Homeopathic ipecac is often used to cure patients of nausea and vomiting. Snake bite victims often have bleeding problems while homeopathic snake venom (lachesis) is a common remedy useful in bleeding disorders. Cutting onions will cause most people's eyes to water and nose to run while homeopathic onion (allium cepa) is a common remedy used for the runny eyes and nose due to hay fever.
Homeopathic medicines are extremely safe. There have been no reports of toxic reactions in the 200 years homeopathy has been practiced. Some patients may experience what is known as a healing crisis or aggravation. When this occurs, a patient's symptoms may get slightly worse for a day or so before getting better.
A first visit with a homeopath usually takes 90 to 120 minutes. During the interview, the homeopath will ask questions about current symptoms but also about general traits of the patient. Homeopaths may want to know if a person is usually cold or hot, what foods they crave, or if a person is tidy or messy. The homeopath uses all this information to match the patient with the remedy that best matches the patient. Usually the homeopath uses a computer program or a book known as a repertory to find the right remedy.
Homeopathic remedies are available from health food stores, drug stores, alternative doctors, and the internet. Homeopathic medicines are available as single remedies or as combination remedies that contain two or more medicines made to treat a specific condition.
There are no homeopathic schools but many organizations train medical doctors (MD), osteopaths (DO), chiropractors, acupuncturists, and lay people in homeopathic prescribing. Naturopathic programs are the only schools to include homeopathy as part of their core program.
For more information:
1. Burton Goldberg Group: Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide. Future Medicine Publishing, Puyallup, WA; 1994.
2. Inglis B & West R: The Alternative Health Guide. Alfred A. Knopf, NY, NY; 1983.
3. Kastner MA: Alternative Healing: The Complete A to Z Guide to Over 160 Different Alternative Therapies. Halcyon Publishing, La Mesa, CA; 1993.
4. Sifton DW: The PDR Family Guide to Natural Medicines and Healing Therapies. Three Rivers Press, NY, NY; 1999.
5. Woodham A & Peters D: Encyclopedia of Healing Therapies, 1st ed. Dorling Kindersley, NY, NY; 1997.