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What is homeopathy?

    One of my friends noticed that the word "HOMEOPATHY" seems to be made of two other very familiar words "home" and "path".

    As many other people who had positive experiences with HOMEOPATHY, he knew that treatment with a homeopathic remedy very often sets a patient on a path leading to a natural full recovery, bringing everything back home, back to a state of health. No side – effects, no painful procedures, no allergies.

    Although a nice metaphor and a fairly accurate description of the healing process, my friends’ idea does not reflect the reason why this method of natural healing was called HOMEOPATHY.

    A word HOMEOPATHY was coined by Dr. Samuel Hahnemann. It combines the Greek "omeos", meaning "similar", and "pathos", meaning "suffering". In essence, to practice HOMEOPATHY means to treat an illness with something that produces a similar effect in a healthy individual.

    The debate around homeopathy has always focused on the legitimacy of a practice for which a plausible scientific explanation for its mechanism of action has been persistently lacking. Interestingly enough, in 1796 Dr. Samuel Hahnemann published his "Essay on the New Curative Principle", in which he wrote about his experience with the Principle of Similars, the same year Edward Jenner demonstrated that by giving small doses of cowpox to patients it protected them against smallpox. Jennet’s work was eventually accepted into mainstream medicine, thus begetting the era of immunization. At that time no viable explanation for the mechanism of immunization existed as viruses were identified only at the beginning of the twentieth century. This situation is not at all unique, considering that until very recently the majority of medications, including penicillin, lithium, antipsychotics and antidepressants were discovered by chance and have been used empirically with great therapeutic success without an equally successful understanding of their mechanism of action. Controversy around the choice of different treatment approaches is rather a norm than an exception in the daily life of medical practitioners.

    Conventional medical treatments in the 18th and 19th centuries included phlebotomy, calomel induced purging, blistering, and massive doses of mineral and plant extracts.

    Dr. Benjamin Rush, the "father of American medicine", postulated that disease was the result of disordered arteriolar constriction and, as such, endorsed purging and bleeding. Samuel Christian Hahnemann, a Leipzig qualified physician at the age of 24, author of the then standard "Apothecary Lexicon" and the appointed standardizer of the of the German Pharmacopoeia became so thoroughly disillusioned with widespread medical practices that he gave up. While translating Dr. William Cullen in 1789 Hahnemann was inspired to make public his initial formulation of homeopathic principles. Cullen claimed that the curative action of Peruvian bark (a source of what is known today as quinine) in malarial afflictions was due to its bitter and astringent qualities. Upon reflection Hahnemann realized that many substances of much greater bitterness and astringency had no healing action whatsoever on the then quite common malaria. He self-administered the bark over several days and recorded his reactions. Much to his surprise he discovered that Peruvian bark, taken by himself as a healthy subject, produced symptoms similar to malaria. This observation, confirmed by repeated cessation and readministration of the bark led Hahnemann to think that it was precisely the quality of creating a pattern of symptoms similar to malaria that made Peruvian bark a curative agent in people suffering from the disease. He was thus led to postulate that A SUBSTANCE THAT PRODUCES SYMPTOMS IN A HEALTHY PERSON CURES THOSE SYMPTOMS IN A SICK PERSON. Formulated by Hahnemann in Latin it sounds: "Similia similibus curentur" (like is healed by like). Homeopaths call it "A Law of Similars". The Law of similars has a very rich historical basis. Hippocrates (VI century, B.C.) wrote: "Through the like, disease is produced, and through the application of the like it is cured". Celsius and Paracelsus are known to use the Law of Similars in their practice. The Delphic Oracle proclaimed: "That which makes sick shall heal". In one of the ancient Jewish writings, called Mekilta, we read: "Man does not heal with the same thing with which he wounds, but he wounds with a knife and heals with a plaster. The Holy One, blessed be He, however is not so, but He heals with the very same thing with which he smites."

    Modern medicine uses this principle daily. The "father" of immunology, Dr. Emil Adolph von Behring wrote about origins of immunology: "By what technical term could we more appropriately speak of this influence than by Hahnemann’s word ‘homeopathy’?" Desensitization techniques used by conventional allergologists utilize very small doses of allergens to stop a pathological response in the patient.

    There are many other examples of the use of the Law of Similars by conventional physicians. For more information on that please refer to the list of recommended reading.

    Hahnemann went on to administer other commonly used medical substances on himself, his family, his medical colleagues and friends. He called these experiments "provings", considering them experiments in toxicology in which healthy subjects are given continual doses of a substance in order to determine the specific symptoms a substance causes in overdose. These provings were carried out under strict conditions. The subjects were not allowed to drink or eat anything that might confuse the results, such as alcohol, tea, coffee, and salty or spicy foods. All symptoms were meticulously noted in great detail.

    The symptoms that were routinely demonstrated for each substance he called keynote symptoms. The complex of symptoms represented a "drug picture" for each substance tested. After six years of conducting provings of many different substances, as well as collating these findings with the extant case studies of inadvertent poisonings, Hahnemann had accumulated a significant armamentarium of "drug pictures". Hahnemann and his colleagues then began applying his principles in the clinical setting. Each patient was given a physical examination. Hahnemann took a thorough history including any and all symptoms, those circumstances that ameliorated or aggravated individual symptoms or the person’s medical condition, the general conditions under which they lived, various psychological symptoms and characteristics, and their particular outlook on life. In today’s terminology, these might be called "chief complaints, history of the present illness, previous medical and psychiatric history, family history, and social history." Hahnemann was thereby able to build up a unique "symptom picture" for each patient. He would then attempt to correlate the individual’s symptom picture with the pictures of the various substances. The closest match indicated the correct remedy. Hahnemann's experience was that the closer is the match, the more successful is the treatment.

    Initially, Hahnemann prescribed remedies in the accepted (i.e. pharmacological) dosages of the time. Many skeptics of Homeopathy today incorrectly assume that Hahnemann and homeopathy were initially attacked for recommending doses of medicine too small to have any therapeutic benefit. However, for the first twenty years of Hahnemann’s practice he primarily used medicinal doses that were only slightly diluted, commonly using the tincture of an herb or a 1:10 plant or mineral dose diluted two or three times. He found that although patients improved in many cases, the drug often caused a severe initial aggravation of the symptoms. Such aggravation was to be expected since the drug itself was producing symptoms similar to those that had initially brought the patient to treatment! Still, it was understandably uncomfortable and alarming for the patients, and it precluded Hahnemann’s ability to test some of the extremely toxic drugs in common use at that time, such as mercury and arsenic. He began reducing the dosing by one-tenth and, as his patients continued to respond favorably even as their initial aggravations decreased in severity, Hahnemann continued to experiment with further 1:10 and 1:100 dilutions of previously diluted medicines. If there were a match within the framework of the principle of similars, the patient would be specifically sensitive to the remedy itself. As such, the doses necessary and sufficient to obtain a curative reaction were much lower than those needed to cause symptoms in healthy subjects and, as he continued to strive for a subtler, less heroic healing action Hahnemann further observed that progressive dilutions not only were less toxic but, paradoxically, more potent. He wrote in The Organon of Rational Medicine, which has been reprinted in countless languages countless times, but was initially published in 1811: "The powers, which are, as it were, hidden and dormant in the crude drug, are developed and roused into activity to an incredible degree." The early dilution procedures included vigorous shaking or succussion by hand in order to effect complete homogenous dilution of the homeopathic medicine.

    During his lifetime, Hahnemann "proved" the symptom pictures of about 100 substances. Subsequent generations of Homeopaths continued to conduct provings of different substances until the early 1900's. The homeopathic pharmacopoeia currently recognizes more than 2,000 remedies, with more being proved and added all the time. The Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States (American Institute of Homeopathy, 1979) is the official standard for the preparation of homeopathic medicines in this country.



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