Homoeopathy is a system of complementary medicine in which disease is treated by minute doses of natural substances that in a healthy person would produce symptoms of disease.
Homoeopathy is a low-cost, non-toxic system of medicine used by hundreds of millions of people worldwide. It is particularly effective in treating chronic illnesses that fail to respond to conventional treatment, and is also a superb method to self-care for minor conditions such as the common cold and flu.
Homoeopathic remedies are extremely diluted solutions (usually 1 part per million or less) of assorted herbs, animal products and chemicals. Indeed, the vast majority are so diluted that it is impossible to detect the original active ingredient in laboratory tests. This leads to a certain amount of confusion. Many people tend to think of homoeopathic products as herbal remedies when, in fact, they contain little, if any, of the desired herb. According to homoeopathic practitioners, the solutions do continue to hold a 'trace memory' of the original substance. Mainstream scientists, however, find them completely devoid of any meaningful amount of medicine. What, then, can homeopathic remedies do for you? As far as science can determine, the answer is nothing. On the other hand, advocates of this therapy say that clinical research has shown certain homeopathic medicines to be more effective than a placebo (dummy pill) in the treatment of seasonal allergies, asthma and influenza. Proponents also claim verified benefits for a variety of other conditions, from easing labour and childbirth to speeding the healing of a sprained ankle. Still, these claims have yet to be confirmed by the kind of broad-based, carefully controlled testing demanded for other types of medication. There are literally thousands of homoeopathic remedies, and their alleged benefits cover just about every disease symptom imaginable. Since they are as safe as bottled water (in fact, often are bottled water), there's no harm in trying them for relief of annoying conditions such as colds, flu, headache and indigestion. It would be unwise, however, to use them as the sole remedy for any serious medical condition. Not only would you be foregoing the possibility of a speedy cure when faced with an ailment like an infection, you would also be risking dangerous complications when suffering from progressive conditions like heart disease and cancer.
Procedure of Treatment
Homoeopathic medicines are available without a prescription, so anyone can read up on the remedies suggested for a particular symptom, buy them, and try them on his own. If you visit a homoeopathic practitioner, however, you will be introduced to a whole 'through-the-looking-glass' approach to medicine unlike anything in standard health care. A homoeopathic practitioner (who may be a physician, chiropractor, or a unlicensed entrepreneur) typically begins by taking a lengthy medical history, including detailed information on an individual's temperament, preferences in diet and lifestyle, and emotional state. From these findings, a 'classical' homoeopathic practitioner will build a 'symptom picture' against which to match homoeopathy's extensive array of remedies. More eclectic (or opportunistic) practitioners may also employ props such as 'electrodiagnostic devices' that beep and give read-outs when a probe is pressed to the skin. Remedies (in the form of alcohol or water solutions or sugar pills) are usually prescribed one at a time, although they may be combined. Homoeopathic practitioners may rely solely on homoeopathy, or may complement this approach with standard medicine or other alternative therapies such as naturopathy. For instance, a homoeopathic physician might try homoeopathic remedies to relieve a child's ear infection, turning to antibiotics only if the homoeopathic products fail to work a cure.
Homoeopathy was developed around 1800 by Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician. At the time, it was a welcome alternative to the damaging and ineffective practices of traditional medicine, which included blood-letting, application of leeches, and purging with high doses of life-threatening substances, including mercury and lead. At the turn of the 19th century, little was known about the cause of disease, so Hahnemann focussed on the symptoms instead. Noting that cinchona, a malaria remedy, produced malaria-like symptoms when taken by a healthy volunteer, Hahnemann concluded that 'like cures like': a substance that causes certain symptoms should also relieve them. He then proceeded to test a vast number of plant, animal and mineral substances on himself and others in a procedure calling 'proving', observing the symptoms they produced and categorizing them as cures for disorders that cause similar troubles. The idea that like cures like was no new; it had been suggested by the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, among others. But Hahnemann added a twist called the 'Law of Infinitesimals'. Because large doses of many remedies were quite poisonous, he began to experiment with smaller and smaller amounts, ultimately coming to believe that minute doses were actually more effective. Hence it became a tenet of homoeopathy that the more diluted a substance is, the more powerful its healing action will be. To maximize the effect of his remedies, Hahnemann therefore invented a system for 'potentizing' them. Each substance was repeatedly diluted and shaken until, at the 'higher' potencies, not one molecule of the original substance remained. For example, a homoeopathic remedy labelled '12X' has been diluted by a factor of ten, 12 times in a row, to produce a dilution of 1 part in a trillion. Since it is impossible for such a solution to have any physical effect, homoeopaths ascribe the therapeutic action of their remedies of an 'essence', 'memory', or 'energy imprint' that can mobilize the body's 'vital forces'. Medical science, on the other hand, attributes any relief either to coincidence (when an illness runs its course) or the placebo effect (the power of suggestion). Despite the implausibility of homoeopathic theories, results of clinical research have not been entirely negative. In 1997, an international team of researchers reviewed over 100 controlled studies that had claimed positive results from homoeopathy. The team deemed 26 of these experiments to have been designed and carried out according to the most rigorous standards. By themselves, none of these studies showed homoeopathy to be clearly effective. However, when taken as a group, they seemed to indicate that homeopathy produced somewhat greater benefit than placebo. Noting the lack of any scientific theory to explain the results, the team simply said they showed the need for more intensive research. Some baffled scientists commented that if placebo-controlled clinical trials could show some effectiveness for homeopathy, then the trials themselves must be subjected to as-yet-unidentified bias on the part of the researchers. Others simply ascribed the results to luck, noting that if you perform enough trials, a few will deliver positive result merely by chance. Proponents of momoeopathy respond that conventional medicine still uses a variety of drugs that were shown effective by trial and error long before their mechanism of action was understood. Homeopathic practitioners also point to vaccination as an example of 'like curing like', and note that smaller doses of certain standard drugs (such as aspirin to prevent heart attack) are more effective than larger doses. To critics, however, there examples are irrelevant. Neither aspirin nor vaccines would have any effect if diluted to the strengths found in homeopathic products. Furthermore, say opponents, homoeopathy's emphasis on matching remedies to symptoms, and not to underlying disease states, discards the vast body of discoveries made since the time when Hahnemann proposed his theory.
Who Should Avoid This Therapy?
If you choose to experiment with this therapy, you can rest assured that it is safe for virtually anyone, including children. If you need to avoid alcohol, however, you will need to forego homoeopathic remedies with an alcohol base (tinctures).
Even placebos have been known to cause side-effects, so there's always a chance that you could experience an adverse reaction. For practical purposes, however, the odds are very slim. Unlike vitamins and herbal remedies, which are sold as 'dietary supplements', homoeopathic remedies are marketed as over-the-counter medications-but with a unique exemption from standard regulatory procedures. In 1938, U.S. Senator Royal Copeland of New York-a leading homeopath-included a special release for homoeopathic remedies in the landmark Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, allowing them to be sold without proof of safety. Today they continue to be marketed without the evidence of safety and efficacy required of other medications. Their labels must, however, include ingredients, directions, dilution and at least one indication (what the medication is to be used for).