is an alternative system of medicine that was founded in the early
19th century by a German physician, Dr Samuel Hahnemann, who published
the first basic textbook on the subject in 1810. The principles
involved in homeopathy were known to earlier physicians and had been
used in Ayurvedic medicine for many centuries before Hahnemann, but it
was he who established the modern foundation of homeopathy.
The basic principle of this medical therapy rests on the notion
encapsulated in the Latin phrase, Similia similibus curentur, or 'Like
cures like'. In fact, homoios in Greek means 'similar' and pathos
means disease or suffering. This means that a disease can be cured by
a medicine that is capable of producing symptoms similar to those
experienced by the patient in a healthy person. Hahnemann observed
that many treatments used to treat disease actually caused the
symptoms produced by the disease itself. His initial discovery was
with quinine, which was, and still is, used for the treatment of
malaria. [Quinine will produce the high temperatures, sweats and
rigours which characterise a malarial attack.]
Hahnemann wondered whether this principle of 'like cures like' could
be used for treating other diseases as well. He set about
systematically testing over 4,000 substances, taking them in high
doses himself and noting all the symptoms they produced. He then
administered these substances in dilute form -- because he believed
that the more dilute the remedy, the more powerful its effect -- to
patients with symptoms of diseases and noted that they improved.
The most important part of homeopathic treatment lies in the lengthy
interview which the homeopath conducts with the patient in order to
determine all the symptoms the patient is experiencing. The homeopath
then decides which medicine to prescribe, based on the closest match
between the patient's symptoms and the known symptoms elicited by the
medicine in a healthy body.
But since the key to finding the right homeopathic remedy is
individualisation, homeopaths have to not just record the totality of
all the physical symptoms experienced by the patient (including those
apparently unrelated to the main complaint), they have to also take
note of a patient's personality as well as her/his emotional and
mental state. This leads to patients with identical diseases, such as
asthma or the common cold, being offered completely different remedies
because their personalities are different, or because what are known
as the 'peculiars' (specific individual symptoms) vary.
A homeopathic remedy is normally a single substance, usually derived
from a plant, an animal or a mineral, which is then subjected to a
special procedure which brings out the medicinal properties of the
original substance. There are currently about 2,000 substances whose
specific effects on the body have been recorded. Examples are
charcoal, salt, poison ivy, snake poisons, etc.
Homeopaths have discovered by experience that the effect of
homeopathic medicines is strengthened dramatically upon successive
dilutions and vigorous shaking between each dilution. The final
dilution is very high (ranging from 1 part in 1000 to 1 part in 10^60
and above). The degree of dilution is referred to as the 'potency' of
the remedy, with higher dilutions corresponding to higher potencies.
The potency is denoted by a number and a letter on the label, such as
'C6', 'C12', '12X', etc. (higher numbers denote higher potencies).
Homeopathic remedies are available in different preparations: tablets,
liquids, and globuli (small white pellets). Tablets and globuli are
made of impregnated milk sugar, whereas liquid preparations are
solutions of the medication in water with some amount of alcohol added
as a preservative.
It must be mentioned that the use of high dilutions in homeopathic
remedies has given rise to much controversy. Many conventional doctors
and scientists claim that highly diluted homeopathic medicines only
function as a placebo.