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What Is Homeopathy and How Does It Work?

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Homeopathy is an all-natural medicine system based on the belief that the human body can cure itself. Homeopathic remedies allegedly work to stimulate this ability. It is considered to be a holistic practice, as it works to treat the patient as a whole, instead of only their sickness or symptoms.

Homeopathy isn’t a trendy new form of alternative medicine; it has been in use for over 200 years, and millions of people around the world continue to practice it. About five million adults use homeopathy in the United States alone, according to a 2015 National Health Statistics Report. And though it has been in use for over centuries, it continues to remain popular to this day.

What Is Homeopathic Medicine?

Homeopathic medicine was developed in 1796 by German physician Samuel Hahnemann. He conceived of the idea while translating a Scottish medical treatise into German, which claimed that cinchona bark cured malaria. A skeptical Hahnemann ingested the bark and experienced malaria-like symptoms, including a fever and joint pain. This experiment led him to believe that all medicines would cause healthy patients to experience the symptoms of the disease that the medicine treated. Not only this, but these medicines would also treat a sick individual who had similar symptoms.

The word “homeopathy” comes from the Greek words “hómoios” and “páthos,” meaning “like, similar” and “suffering,” respectively. It can also be interpreted to mean “like disease,” which is emblematic of the idea that the cure to a disease is also the cause of its suffering. For this reason, Hahnemann believed that medicines should only be taken in small, diluted amounts because, in larger amounts, they can cause (or worsen) the very problem they are working to cure.

In the growing clash of homeopathy vs western medicine, mainstream scientists and doctors were quick to denounce homeopathy as ineffective pseudoscience, but many homeopathic patients experienced more positive results than patients undergoing traditional treatment at the time. Because many common treatments, such as bloodletting, in the 19th century were detrimental to patient health, homeopathic remedies typically didn’t cause further harm, even if they weren’t actually effective.

Homeopathic Remedies

Homeopathic remedies are made from all-natural ingredients such as plants, minerals, and animal products. They may be used to treat a variety of ailments, including both chronic and acute health issues. Many people choose homeopathic remedies to treat everything from a headache to allergies, to depression — although such applications are not officially recognized by the FDA, and homeopathic producers cannot usually market their remedies as such.

The creation and prescription of homeopathic remedies operate under three main principles:

  • Let Likes Cure Likes: The first principle is the foundation of homeopathy itself: that a cure and disease must have similar symptoms for treatment to work. Homeopathic doctors (often called homeopaths) take symptom profiles of their patients and match them to the correct treatment. This similarity is what allows the body to stimulate its healing abilities.
  • The Minimum Dose: Homeopathic remedies are to be given in the smallest dose possible. While the raw remedy may work to cure a patient, it may also produce unpleasant side effects. In an effort to minimize them, the remedy is diluted. The patient is then given the smallest dose possible that will still stimulate their body’s ability to heal itself.
  • The Single Remedy: Only one remedy is given at a time. Patients are viewed as a single entity, and all facets of their life — including physical, mental, and spiritual health — are considered before receiving any kind of treatment. Homeopaths must consider both common and unique symptoms that the patient exhibits in an effort to determine the best, single remedy for them.

Homeopathy vs Western Medicine

As time has gone on, there has been an increasingly large divide between supporters of homeopathy and modern medicine. Though they both work to heal and help people, there are several key distinctions differentiate homeopathy vs Western medicine, including:

  • Symptoms: Mainstream medicine and homeopathy view patient symptoms in entirely different ways. While allopathy — a term coined by Hahnemann to describe mainstream medicine — may prescribe a different medication for each symptom or issue the patient has, homeopathy will consider the patient as a whole and prescribe a single cure.
  • Side effects: While homeopathic remedies attempt to reduce the number and severity of side effects as much as possible, allopathic medicines do not. Patients are typically expected to live with the side effects of their medication or may even be prescribed another medicine to relieve them.
  • Source of medicines: Homeopathic remedies only come from natural substances and are diluted in an attempt to have the purest essence of that substance. For example, some people use kratom as a homeopathic remedy, which can be traced back to its literal roots in Southeast Asia. On the other hand, mainstream medications may come from natural sources, be man-made, or a combination of the two.

Mainstream medicine has been critical of homeopathy and has opposed it since its creation. In fact, this opposition has gotten more intense as time has passed. In recent years, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has become more strict in its regulation of homeopathic remedies despite their continued popularity.

However, despite these restrictions, research on popular remedies like kratom can greatly benefit homeopathic patients. Most people who use or practice homeopathy self-prescribe instead of seeing a trained homeopath. Additional research can help ensure that users receive the most effective and safest care possible.

Though some physicians oppose homeopathy as a practice, people still choose to practice it. Understanding the history and principles of homeopathy can help patients make better-informed decisions about their treatment options. Ultimately, it is up to the individual to decide what kind of treatment they want to receive.