You might have heard the word “homeopathy” pop up in recent news reports or controversial articles circling the internet, but the practice is not a new one. Homeopathy has been around for over two hundred years and is a medical philosophy that believes the body is a powerful, living organism that can heal itself.
Is It Right for Me?
While it has enjoyed some limited popularity in the United States (surveys estimate only a small portion of Americans currently use homeopathy) it has been in active use for hundreds of years in places such as Germany, India, and England. The World Health Organization considers homeopathy to be safe, though it acknowledges that we have not yet been able to conclusively prove its effectiveness by modern standards.
In this guide, we’re taking a thorough look at all homeopathic medicine, including how to find a homeopath, whether or not it’s safe for frequent use, who it can help, and where to buy homeopathic remedies.
How Homeopathy Works
Homeopathic care originated in Germany in the late 1700s and considers the body capable of healing itself. It’s based on the principle that “like cures like.” For example, an herb that causes vomiting in a healthy individual can help cure vomiting in an ill individual when delivered in a very small dose. The idea is that the herbal substance stimulates the body’s innate healing mechanism.
Homeopathy is different than traditional Western medicine in that it considers the health of the whole person, instead of focusing on the curing of a single symptom or set of symptoms. Further, it sees disease or illness symptoms as normal and healthy–not as pathologies in and of themselves.
For example, modern medicine might see a fever as something to be cured, while the homeopathic system of medicine sees a fever as a sign the body is doing what is what designed to do and treats accordingly.
How Do People Use Homeopathy?
Homeopathic remedies can be administered in a variety of ways. Often, they’re administered by the individual himself and not in consultation with a homeopath. In fact, many homeopathic remedies are available at your local grocery store or drugstore!
These include ingredients specifically labeled as homeopathic supplements, but they also include things like chamomile, garlic, vinegar, and caffeine! Remedies are also available in pill or tablet form as well as in creams, tinctures, and teas.
How Do I Find Homeopathic Help?
Homeopathy is largely unregulated in the United States (except in Arizona, Connecticut, and Nevada, which require accredited hours), in that anybody can label himself or herself as a “homeopath.” However, to provide a medical diagnosis or treat an illness, you must be properly licensed as a medical professional.
Homeopaths without a medical license, then, may only “counsel” individuals on health matters, but strictly may not even imply that they can help to diagnose or treat a disease or illness.
That said, the North American Society of Homeopaths (NASH) registers homeopaths throughout North America and can help you find a healthcare professional who meets stringent standards and may also hold additional medical credentials.
What Is Holistic Care and Why Does It Matter?
Homeopathic care falls loosely under the umbrella of holistic medicine. Holistic medicine, also known as alternative medicine, considers the patient’s whole person, including her mind and mental state, her spiritual condition and emotional wellbeing, and her physical wellness apart from whatever specific conditions she’s experiencing.
Allopathic, or Western medicine, tends to be much more symptom-focused and see individuals more as pathologies than as people. At least, this is the typical complaint of people frustrated by modern medicine and looking for alternative answers!
Holistic practices include homeopathy as well as ancient Indian and Chinese healing philosophies such as ayurvedic practices, acupuncture, and Reiki. You can find naturopaths or other holistic care therapists by referring to the American Holistic Medical Association or (as we mentioned earlier) looking for a registered homeopath (there are other registering bodies outside of NASH).
History of Homeopathy
Homeopathy has a fascinating origin story. Where most ancient modalities originate in a combination of legend and tradition, this one has an exact starting point. In the late 1700s, Samuel Hahnemann, a young German physician with an excellent mastery of academics and languages, translated a work by a leading physician in his era.
In his translation, Hahnemann boldly footnoted his assertion that Peruvian bark did not cure malaria because of its bitterness and astringency, as the preeminent physician asserted. Hahnemann had found instead that when he took toxic levels of the root that he became sick with malaria-like symptoms, and his infamous “like cures like” philosophy was born.
Hahnemann when on to experiment widely further developing his new philosophy which he named by parsing together the Greek words for similar (“homoios”) and suffering (“pathos”).
As it turns out, Hahnemann wasn’t the first to recognize this natural law (the Chinese, Greeks, and other cultures used it in their medicinal practices) but he was the first to bring systematic medical practices to bear on it.
It’s also worth pointing at that at about the same time, Edward Jenner discovered that injecting tiny doses of disease into people would cause them to not get the disease later. Ultimately, Jenner’s ideas became accepted mainstream medical practices, and Hahnemann’s did not.
Why Is Homeopathy So Controversial?
Despite its admitted acceptance by the WHO, homeopathy continues to be regarded as highly controversial, particularly in the United States. In fact, some see it as a blatant pseudoscience, utterly incapable of producing any positive results in an unhealthy person. Any move towards recovery, in fact, is explained as a placebo effect, regression toward the mean, or simple recovery that would have happened anyway.
Detractors also point out that homeopathy’s philosophies on how drugs interact with the body and how illnesses work have frequently been contradicted by modern scientific understandings. In fact, it’s often accused of being quackery and a sham. Medical professionals often voice concern when it is used over conventional treatments.
Another common criticism is over how homeopathic remedies are used. In addition to the “like cures like” principle that guides homeopathy, it is guided by a second principle that states that the smaller the dose, the more potent. Many in the scientific community point to evidence to the contrary.
Studies, themselves, have been widely ineffective at proving or disproving homeopathy’s impact, in part because homeopathy addresses symptoms that can’t always be scientifically measured.
How Can Homeopathy Help You?
One of the things that’s unique about homeopathy is how individualized the care is. Different people, in fact, exhibiting the same symptoms, might be treated with different remedies. This is due to homeopathy’s treatment of the whole person, and the fact that a homeopath will take into account more than just the visible, physical symptoms.
That said, there are somewhat universal conditions and treatments that have been found to be highly successful by patients and homeopaths alike.
Allergies and Asthma
Allergies and asthma cause millions of people to suffer every year. In fact, it’s estimated that a third of all adults and almost half of all children suffer from nasal allergies–and those numbers seem to be increasing.
While more and more treatments are being sought for allergy sufferers, what’s surprising is that many of the philosophies that undergird conventional allergy treatments are the same as those that undergird homeopathy. Both work by providing the allergic patient with a very small amount of what he or she is allergic to.
A 1994 study in the UK found that 80% of patients who received individualized homeopathic care for their allergies experienced a significant amount of relief with the first week. This was in comparison the only 38% of patients who received placebo. Study administrators point out that more testing is needed, however, it’s a promising start, particularly for individuals who are more and more frustrated with modern medicine.
Anxiety & Depression
Homeopathy can be especially useful in treating mental ailments, especially when used alongside traditional counseling and therapy. There are numerous anecdotal and studied reports of people finding insomnia, depression, fatigue, migraines, and more relieved through the use of homeopathy.
You can use homeopathic remedies alongside more traditional symptom-based treatments for often favorable results.
Is Homeopathy Right for Me?
Homeopathy is a fascinating alternative medicine that is both controversial and promising. Now that you have a better understanding of what it is and how it works, you can better decide if it’s right for you.