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Table of Contents > Articles > What Is Homeopathy?
What Is Homeopathy?

The German doctor Samuel Hahnemann's tombstone reads "Dare to taste, dare to understand." And Hahnemann certainly did dare—in the late 1700s he managed to give himself the symptoms of malaria in order to test one of his medical theories. The test proved successful and his theory gave birth to homeopathy.

Hahnemann noticed that when he took low doses of quinine he experienced the symptoms of malaria although he did not have the disease. He also knew that quinine was an effective cure for malaria. Intrigued, he tested other substances and soon developed one of the foundational principles of homeopathy: the idea that "like cures like." The same substance that causes a disease's symptoms to appear in a healthy person was able to cure a person suffering from a disease with the same symptoms.

Hahnemann also figured out that minute amounts of a substance proved to be the most effective treatments. He dissolved extracts derived from natural ingredients in water and alcohol, leaving them to stand for several weeks, shaking them occasionally, and, finally, straining them. This end product was then diluted into different potencies. He began a collection of homeopathic remedies that has been added to ever since, and today numbers over 3,000. Homeopathic remedies are considered to be very safe treatments because the concentration of the active ingredient in each dose is so small.

Many illnesses and diseases have responded well to homeopathy. Particularly responsive are attention deficit disorder, anxiety, and depression, as well as arthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and Crohn's disease. Other ailments that have been successfully treated with homeopathy include migraines, asthma, eczema, ulcerative colitis, multiple sclerosis, back pain, gastritis, peptic ulcers, ear infections, and strep.

There is a growing body of practitioners, called homeopaths, practicing homeopathy today. Most homeopaths are medical doctors. There are about 25 schools in the United States that train homeopaths, and in most states, homeopaths are required to be licensed health care providers.

If you are thinking of visiting a homeopath, it is also important to understand one principle belief held by homeopaths: treatments are determined not only by the disease but also by the unique qualities that make up an individual. Hahnemann had found that the more he knew about his patients the better he was able to administer an effective remedy. Today's homeopaths follow in his footsteps. They work with the assumption that, in addition to physical symptoms, there is also a mental and emotional aspect to every disease. Therefore a homeopath asks a lot of questions. He or she will observe your personality traits as well as your behavioral and physical characteristics. After extensively talking with and carefully observing you, a homeopath will be able determine an herb, mineral, or animal product to match your composition and to effectively treat your symptoms. Homeopathic remedies are available in pill form, liquid drops, syrups, or ointments. A remedy is usually taken for two or three days, although sometimes only one or two doses are needed before you start to feel better.

Insurance companies are more likely to cover homeopathic treatment if the practitioner is a medical doctor or an osteopath. The average first visit costs between $150 and $300 and lasts 60 to 90 minutes. Follow-up visits cost from $50 to $80. Remedies are usually less expensive than conventional drugs—on average, they run at about $5 to $10 per treatment.

Before you visit a homeopath, however, speak with your physician. Some conventional medical treatments may influence a homeopathic remedy.Your doctor may be able to refer you to a qualified homeopath, but if not, there are many resources available to direct you. Good credentials to look for in a homeopath include certification by the American Board of Homeotherapeutics, the Homeopathic Academy of Naturopathic Physicians, or the Council on Homeopathic Certification (confers a Certification in Classical Homeopathy). These certifications are indicated by the letters following the practitioner's name: D.Ht., D.H.A.N.P., or C.C.H., respectively.


Suggested Resources

To check out homeopaths online, visit the National Center for Homeopathy's site at www.homeopathic.org.

You can also find information in the following books:

Ullman, Dana. The Consumer's Guide to Homeopathy : The Definitive Resource for Understanding Homeopathic Medicine and Making it Work for You. New York, NY: G.P. Putnam's Sons; 1995.

Jonas, Wayne B. and Jacobs, Jennifer. Healing with Homeopathy: The Complete Guide. New York, NY: Warner Books; 1996.

Cummings, Stephen and Ullman, Dana. Everybody's Guide to Homeopathic Medicines: Safe and Effective Remedies for You and Your Family. 3rd rev. ed. Published: New York, NY: G.P. Putnam's Sons; 1997.


Glossary

Osteopath: A practitioner who believes that the structural integrity of the whole body is the key to good health; it is jeopardized by things like muscle tension due to anxiety or misaligned bones due to sports injuries. He or she believes that restoring structural integrity by manual manipulation, medicine, or surgery will promote healing from disease. Osteopaths have comprehensive conventional medical training in addition to training in manipulation techniques.

Quinine: A bitter crystal substance derived from the bark of the cinchona tree that has been used medicinally.


References

Patient Information Sheet: Homeopathy, The Integrative Medicine Consult, July 15, 1999

Editorial by Dana Ullman, M.P.H, The Integrative Medicine Consult, July 15, 1999

Shealy, CN. The Complete Family Guide to Alternative Medicine: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Natural Healing. New York, New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc.; 1996.


Review Date: October 1999
Reviewed By: Integrative Medicine editorial

Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc

The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts) regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed herein.

 
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