An Introduction to Homeopathic Medicine

Homeopathy, or homeopathic medicine, is a holistic system of treatment that originated in the late eighteenth century. The name homeopathy is derived from two Greek words that mean "like disease." The system is based on the idea that substances that produce symptoms of sickness in healthy people will have a curative effect when given in very dilute quantities to sick people who exhibit those same symptoms. Homeopathic remedies are believed to stimulate the body's own healing processes. Homeopaths use the term "allopathy," or "different than disease," to describe the use of drugs used in conventional medicine to oppose or counteract the symptom being treated.

Origins

Homeopathy was founded by German physician Samuel Hahnemann (1755–1843), who was much disturbed by the medical system of his time, believing that its cures were crude and some of its strong drugs and treatments did more harm than good to patients. Hahnemann performed experiments on himself using Peruvian bark, which contains quinine, a malaria remedy. He concluded that in a healthy person, quinine creates the same symptoms as malaria, including fevers and chills, which is the reason why it is effective as a remedy. He then began to analyze the remedies available in nature by what he called provings. Provings of homeopathic remedies are still compiled by dosing healthy adults with various substances and documenting the results, in terms of the dose needed to produce the symptoms and the length of the dose's effectiveness. The provings are collected in large homeopathic references called materia medica or materials of medicine.

Hahnemann formulated these principles of homeopathy:

* Law of Similars (like cures like)

* Law of the Infinitesimal Dose (The more diluted a remedy is, the more potent it is.)

* Illness is specific to the individual

Hahnemann's Law of Similars was based on thinking that dated back to Hippocrates in the fourth century B.C. It is the same thinking that provided the basis for vaccinations created by Edward Jenner and Louis Pasteur. These vaccines provoke a reaction in the individual that protects against the actual disease. Allergy treatments work the same way. By exposing a person to minute quantities of the allergen, the person's tolerance levels are elevated.

Homeopathic Remedies That Work

Name

Description

Aconite Commonly known as monkshood, aconite is highly toxic. A nontoxic, diluted extract of aconite is used in homeopathy to treat symptoms similar to that of poison.
Allium cepa Commonly known as red onion, homeopathic physicians use a dilute extract of red onion to treat symptoms similar to that of red onion—watery eyes, burning, etc.
Apis Commonly known as the honeybee, apis as a homeopathic remedy is made from the body of the bee. It is used to treat symptoms similar to that of a bee sting—redness, swelling, etc.
Arnica Commonly known as the mountain daisy, arnica is used by homeopathic physicians to treat bruises, sprains, and strains.
Arsenicum album Also known as ars alb, arsenicum album is a diluted form of arsenic, a metallic poison. It is used by homeopathic physicians to treat symptoms similar to the effects of arsenic poisoning—dehydration, burning pain, etc.
Belladonna Commonly known as deadly knightshade, belladonna is used in homeopathy to treat symptoms of dry mouth, nausea, delirium, etc.
Bryonia Commonly known as wild hops, bryonia is used in homeopathy to treat vomiting, diarrhea, inflammation, etc.
Calcarea carbonica Also known as calcium carbonate or calc carb, it is used in homeopathy to treat symptoms of exhaustion, depression, and anxiety.
Cantharis Commonly known as Spanish fly, cantharis is used in homeopathy to treat conditions with symptoms of abdominal cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions, etc.
Chamomilla Derived from German chamomile, it is used in homeopathy to treat irritability, impatience, etc. It is most often prescribed to children.
Ferrum phosphoricum Also known as ferrum phos or iron phosphate, it is used to treat symptoms of low energy and anemia.
Gelsemium Also known as yellow jasmine, it is used to treat conditions that effect vision, balance, though and locomotion.
Hepar sulphuris Derived from the inner layer of oyster shells, hepar sulphuris is used to treat infection.
Hypericum Commonly known as St. John's wort, hypericum is used to treat nerve damage.
Ignatia Derived from seeds of a plant, this homeopathic remedy is prescribed to treat conditions with symptoms such as headache, cramping, and tremors.
Ipecac Ipecac induces vomiting and causes gastrointestinal distress. Homeopaths prescribe it to treat similar symptoms.
Kali bichromicum Commonly known as potassium bichromate, kali bichromicum is a poison used also in textile dyes, wood stain, etc. Homeopaths use it to treat localized pain.
Lachesis Derived from the venom of the bushmaster snake, this homeopathic remedy is used to treat conditions that cause the same symptoms as the venom itself.
Ledum Also known as marsh tea, ledum is used to treat infections, most often from animal bites, stings, cuts, etc.
Lycopodium Commonly known as club moss, lycopodium is used to treat diarrhea, digestive upset, etc.
Mercurius vivus Also known as quicksilver, it is used to treat symptoms of sweats, shaking, nausea, etc.
Natrum muriaticum Commonly known as salt, it is used to treat conditions that cause excessive thirst and salt cravings.
Nux vomica Nux vomica
Phosphorus It is used to treat symptoms of excessive thirst, fatigue, and nervousness.
Pulsatilla It is used to treat conditions that are accompanied by discharge, such as bedwetting, sinusitis, etc.
Rhus toxicodendron Commonly known as poison ivy, homeopaths use it to treat conditions with symptoms of fever, swollen glands, and restlessness.
Ruta It is used to treat conditions with bruising, such as tennis elbow, sciatica, etc.
Sepia Sepia is the discharge used by the cuttlefish to disappear from a predator. Homeopaths use sepia to treat symptoms of apathy and weakness.
Silica Also called flint, silica is used by homeopaths to treat conditions that cause weakness, sweating, and sensitivity to cold.
Sulphur It is used to treat conditions with symptoms of itching, burning pains, and odor.

The Law of the Infinitesimal Dose has always caused controversy among those outside the field of homeopathy. Hahnemann contended that as he diluted his remedies with water and alcohol and succussed, or shook, them, the remedies actually worked more effectively. In fact, diluted homeopathic remedies may have no chemical trace of the original substance. Practitioners believe that the electromagnetic energy of the original substance is retained in the dilution, but toxic side effects of the remedy are not. It is this electrochemical "message" that stimulates the body to heal itself.

Homeopathic practitioners believe that illness is specific to an individual. In other words, two people with severe headaches may not receive the same remedies. The practitioner will ask the patient questions about lifestyle, dietary habits, and personality traits, as well as specific questions about the nature of the headache and when it occurs. This information gathering is called profiling or case-taking.

In the early 1900s, homeopathy was popular in America, with over 15 percent of all doctors being homeopathic. There were 22 major homeopathic medical schools, including Boston University and the University of Michigan. However, with the formation of the American Medical Association, which restricted and closed down alternative practices, homeopathy declined for half a century. When the 1960s invigorated back-to-nature trends and distrust of artificial drugs and treatments, homeopathy began to grow again dramatically through the next decades. In 1993, The New England Journal of Medicine reported that 2.5 million Americans used homeopathic remedies and 800,000 patients visited homeopaths in 1990, and it has continued to grow. Homeopathy is much more popular in Europe than in the United States. French pharmacies are required to make homeopathic remedies available along with conventional medications. Homeopathic hospitals and clinics are part of the national health system in Britain. It is also practiced in India and Israel, among other countries.

A visit to a homeopath can be a different experience than a visit to a regular physician. Surveys have shown that homeopathic doctors spend much more time during initial consultations than conventional doctors spend. This is because a homeopath does a complete case-taking to get a complete picture of a person's general health and lifestyle, as well as particular symptoms, on the physical, mental and emotional levels. Some symptoms can be so subtle that the patient is not always completely aware of them, and the doctor must spend time getting to know the patient.

The initial visit often includes a long questionnaire about a patient's medical and family history, and then a long interview with the doctor, who prompts the patient with many questions. Sometimes a homeopathic doctor will use lab tests to establish a patient's general level of health. The initial interview usually lasts between one and two hours.

The purpose of homeopathy is the restoration of the body to homeostasis, or healthy balance, which is its natural state. The symptoms of a disease are regarded as the body's own defensive attempt to correct its imbalance, rather than as enemies to be defeated. Because a homeopath regards symptoms as positive evidence of the body's inner intelligence, he or she will prescribe a remedy designed to stimulate this internal curative process, rather than suppress the symptoms.

In homeopathy, the curative process extends beyond the relief of immediate symptoms of illness. Healing may come in many stages, as the practitioner treats layers of symptoms that are remnants of traumas or chronic disease in the patient's past. This is part of Hering's Laws of Cure, named for Constantine Hering, the father of homeopathy in America. Hering believed that healing starts from the deepest parts of the body to the extremities, and from the upper parts of the body to the lower parts. Hering's Laws also state that homeopaths should treat disease symptoms in reverse chronological order, from the most recent to the oldest, restoring health in stages. Sometimes, the patient may feel worse before feeling better. This is called a healing crisis.

When prescribing a remedy, homeopaths will match a patient's symptoms with the proper remedy in a repertory or materia medica that has been compiled throughout the history of homeopathy. Classical homeopaths prescribe only one remedy at a time. However, it is becoming more common, especially in Europe, to use combination formulas of several remedies for the treatment of some combinations of symptoms.

The cost of homeopathic care can vary. The cost of visits will be comparable to conventional medicine, with initial visits ranging from $50 to $300. Non-M.D. homeopaths can charge from $50 to $250. Follow-up visits are less, at about $35 to $100. Homeopathic medicine is significantly cheaper than pharmaceuticals, and most remedies cost between $2 and $10. Some doctors provide remedies without charge. Homeopaths rarely use lab tests, which reduces the cost of treatment further. In general, homeopathy is much more economical than conventional medicine. In 1991, the French government did a study on the cost of homeopathic medicine, and found that it costs half as much to treat patients, considering all costs involved.

When homeopaths are licensed professionals, most insurance companies will pay for their fees. Consumers should consult their insurance policies to determine individual regulations. Insurance usually will not cover homeopathic medicine, because it is sold over-the-counter.

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