Homeopathy is an alternative system of medicine that was founded in the early 19th century by a German physician, Dr. Hahnemann. It had its greatest popularity in the late 19th century here in the United States, when 15 percent of the doctors in this country were homeopaths.
However, with the advent of modern medicine, Homeopathy began to look old and stodgy and its popularity took a nosedive. However, since 1980 Homeopathy has seen a resurgence of interest in the United States and the U.K.; homeopathic books can be found in many bookstores and homeopathic physicians in most towns and cities.
The Principles of Homeopathy
Classical Homeopathy rests on three principles: the law of similars, the single medicine, and the minimum dose. The law of similars states that a disease is cured by a medicine which creates symptoms similar to those the patient is experiencing in a healthy person. Hence an important part of the prescription of a Homeopathic Medicine is a lengthy interview to determine all the symptoms the patient is experiencing. The homeopathic physician then determines which medicine best matches the symptoms that the patient is experiencing and prescribes it.
The principle of the single remedy states that a single medicine should cover all the symptoms the patient is experiencing: mental, emotional, and physical. A classical homeopath would not prescribe one medicine for a headache and another for an upset stomach, he or she would find a single medicine that covered both symptoms.
The principle of the minimum dose has two parts. First the homeopathic physician only prescribes a small number of doses of the Homeopathic Medicine and waits to see what effect the medicine has. Second, the medicine is given in an infinitesimal dose. Homeopaths have discovered that the effect of homeopathic medicines is strengthened upon successive dilutions as long as the medicine is violently shaken between each dilution. Medicines are typically used in very high dilutions such as 30C (1 part in 10^-60) or 200C (1 part in 10^-400).
It is the use of infinitesimal doses that is the most controversial aspect of Homeopathy and the reason why most conventional doctors claim it functions only as a placebo. However, a number of controlled studies have been performed which show the effectiveness of Homeopathic Medicine in treating a number of diseases.
The best summary of this research is a study published in the British Medical Journal. The authors of this study are not homeopaths but medical school professors asked by the Dutch government to review the existing research.
“Clinical trials of homoeopathy.”, Kleijnen, Jos; Knipschild, Paul; ter Riet, Gerben; British Medical Journal, Feb 9, 1991 v302 n6772 p516(8).
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