Homeopathic medicine describes a range of strongly diluted alternative medicines that work through the process of causing the same symptoms. The concept was developed by a Stuart Hahnemann, who in 1976, noted that a popular malaria remedy, cinchona bark, created the same symptoms as the malaria itself. From this he deduced the ‘Law of Similars’, which dictated that in order for a cure to be effective, it must create those same symptoms. The theory behind this observation was that in causing imitating those symptoms, the substance would encourage the body to drive the illness out. On the other hand, Hahnemann believed that working ‘against’ the symptoms and attempting to fight them with conventional medicine would only drive the problem further inside the patient causing it to affect major organs. A controversial aspect of many homeopaths then is to advise against modern medicine, for example claiming that penicillin will cause syphilis to worsen and become secondary or tertiary affecting the central nervous system; when in fact clinical trials show it to be effective in 90% of cases where homeopathic medicine has no statistical support. Leaving syphilis untreated is obviously highly dangerous and this is not advice that should be followed.
Hahnemann also took a holistic approach to medicine that predated today’s health psychology, in that he viewed illnesses not as simply ‘foreign bodies’ or viruses, but as expressions of the ‘living whole’. Homeopathic medicine then looks at various qualities of an individual, their psychology, their behaviour, their preferences and their history and considers these ‘symptoms’. These then are treated too to help heal ‘miasms’, the deep-routed innate and genetic cause of multiple illnesses (this is ‘classical’ homeopathy, where ‘clinical’ homeopaths opt only to treat the symptoms). This approach is ahead of its time in looking at the health behaviours of individuals as effecting health, and of considering the possibility for psychosomatic and genetically inherited problems. It is also good medical practice to consider each illness a unique interaction within the body of the patient rather than looking at each case of influenza or depression as identical. At the same time however, by denying the existence of infection or virus, the effectiveness of homeopathic medicine is sorely limited. Here the most pragmatic approach would be to take points from both ‘schools’ of medicine to best treat patients.
Looking at both the presenting symptoms then, as well as the individual themselves, a homeopath will look at a long list of homeopathic medicine using a chart to decide which substances to include. These substances are all naturally occurring, mostly with pharmacological properties, ranging from barks and herbs to duck liver (a popular flu remedy). Of course to purposefully exacerbate symptoms could in itself be dangerous (worsening a fever for example could be fatal), and so for this reason Hahnemann advocated the strong dilution of these substances to make them safer.
Homeopathic medicines then are subjected to a process called ‘potentisation’. Here they are diluted to a point at which there is commonly not even a single molecule of the original substance inside the solution. The dilution of the homeopathic medicine is then rated on a ‘C’ scale, with 1C being ‘lower potency’ and anything above 2C being ‘high potency’. The scale goes all the way to 200C at which point the dilution is such that it is many times more dilute than a single atom in the observable universe. Interestingly, in homeopathy the more diluted the substance is, the more potent it is said to be.
This obviously brings about questions as to the effectiveness of homeopathic medicine which has no active ingredients, being made instead almost purely of water and alcohol. Hahnemann described this process as maintaining the ‘vital force’ of the original substance while ridding it of its harmful properties. This concept has lead to homeopathy as being a ‘pseudoscience’ as there is not scientific evidence for such a force existing. More recently homeopathy has attempted to explain this process as working due to a form of ‘memory’ within the water. However there is again no proof of such a memory and the molecular structure of water makes it highly unlikely. Some homeopaths do not condone the use of such highly diluted substances.
Homeopathic medicine claims to be useful for almost any ailment or complaint from restless syndrome, to cancer, to the flu to an ‘itchy nose’, many of which have no known cure (the latter is not even an ‘illness’). Studies of homeopathic medicine have suggested that nothing more is at play than a placebo effect. However this affect should not be understated and homeopathy has its place for those who believe in its effectiveness. It may provide a good cure for psychosomatic conditions in particular and won’t cause dependency or any unpleasant side effects, unlike antidepressants for example which can be potentially dangerous and addictive. However in more severe mental disorders and physical illnesses, it is a dangerous practice to shirk conventional medicine and in doing so you may allow your condition to worsen. If you are an advocate of homeopathic medicine having read everything here, then take a herbal cure but do so in conjunction with traditional medicine.