Homeopathy: Does It Really Work and How?
Homeopathy was founded by a German doctor Samuel Hahnemann at the beginning of the 19th century. It is a holistic complementary treatment that seeks to stimulate the body’s own healing forces, such as its immune system, to repair injury and illness and maintain good health. Homeopathy does this with remedies that contain a tiny amount of a substance that has been shown to cause similar symptoms in a healthy individual.
For instance, if a homeopath was treating someone with a migraine, they might use an extremely diluted version of a substance that would normally cause a migraine in a healthy individual. This principle is called treating like with like. It was discovered in the early 19th century when the treatment for malaria, called quinine, was found to cause malaria-like symptoms when given to a healthy person.
In the eyes of conventional science, there is no logical explanation of how homeopathy works. Despite that many people have found that homeopathy works for them. Since the risks associated with this therapy are small, it certainly has the potential for doing more good than harm.
Homeopathy, as a very gentle form of treatment, needs lots of time to work, especially when treating long-standing health problems. Patients are often treated for years and sometimes even for life. However, short-term problems usually get better faster.
How Homeopathy Works
Even though there are many theories and much research has been done into it, the simple truth is, nobody really knows how homeopathy works. Nonetheless, there are two cornerstones of homeopathic thinking:
- Like cures like. The idea behind homeopathy is that if some substance causes a symptom in a healthy individual, such as a migraine, then that substance can be used in diluted form to treat someone who already has that symptom. This idea came about when it was observed that quinine, which was then used to treat malaria, caused malaria-like symptoms if given to someone who was not ill.
- Dilution increases potency. The second line of thought is that a homeopathic remedy actually gets stronger if it is watered down and shaken vigorously again and again until there is none of the original substance left. This method of preparing homeopathic remedies by diluting and vigorously shaking (a process called succussion) the remedy in a mixture of alcohol and water is known as potentiation. Homeopaths believe that it does not matter if little of the original substance is left in the mixture. This is because when a remedy is diluted in the homeopathic way, energy is transferred from the original substance to the liquid it is being diluted in, and it is this energy that is responsible for the beneficial effect. The liquid is then either used as is, or made into pills. Generally, the more a remedy has been “potentized” (diluted), the more active it is believed to be.
However, many experts object that the energy homeopaths talk about cannot be measured or defined and the “like cures like” principle certainly cannot be applied to all situations. Therefore, from a scientific point of view, homeopathy seems to have no logical basis.
Types of Homeopathy
Unlike ordinary doctors, homeopaths do not treat specific symptoms or disease. They believe in treating the whole person in such a way that stimulates the body’s self-healing forces and the symptoms subside. This means that two patients with the same diagnose can receive two different treatments when seen by a homeopath.
There are three different schools of homeopathy including classical homeopathy, complex homeopathy and isopathy. Classical homeopaths use single remedies, while complex homeopaths use combinations of remedies. In isopathy, modern drugs and pollutants are diluted to make remedies to treat the same diseases as the drugs or the symptoms that the pollutants cause.
Conditions Treated with Homeopathy
Homeopaths claim that they treat the whole body to stimulate its own healing forces, not just treating one symptom or diagnose alone. Nonetheless, a whole range of individual conditions is treated with homeopathy, often alongside conventional treatments, including acne, allergies, anxiety, asthma, arthritis, cuts, bruises and stings, eczema, fibromyalgia, headache and migraine, heartburn and other digestive problems, infectious diseases, insomnia, osteoarthritis, pregnancy complaints (e.g., constipation, morning sickness, healing after birth), premenstrual syndrome, psoriasis, rheumatism and warts.
Potential Risks and Side Effects of Homeopathy
Most experts agree that the risks associated with homeopathy are small and side effects are not a big problem. Remedies are so much dilute that they can do virtually no harm. However, it is considered normal that about a fifth of patients who are treated with homeopathy find their symptoms initially get worse when the right remedy has been given. In some cases, this deterioration can be dramatic. Homeopaths usually see this as a sign that the body has begun to heal itself.
Sometimes, but rarely, homeopaths may tell patients to stop taking prescribed medications because they could interfere with the homeopathic treatment. Patients should know that it is not safe to stop taking prescribed medicines and should speak to their prescribing physician first about having homeopathic treatment.
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