A holistic form of medicine which aims to help the body to heal itself by administering very small doses of substances which in larger doses would produce the relevant symptoms in a healthy person; it is based on the theory that ‘like cures like’.
Homeopathy (from the Greek omoios, similar, and pathos, feeling) is a holistic therapeutic system based on what is referred to as the Law of Similars. It operates on the theory that very small doses of a substance which would produce a given symptom in a healthy person can be used to cure the same symptom in a sick person, and that the substance which produces the symptoms which most closely resemble the illness in question is the one most likely to trigger a curative response. The principle of homeopathy is that every person’s body has an energy or vital force, and a self-healing mechanism. When the energy is disrupted or put out of balance, this results in the development of health problems, and homeopathy seeks to stimulate the body’s natural self-healing capacity.
Homeopathy as we know it today is almost 200 years old. It was developed by the German physician and chemist Samuel Hahnemann at the beginning of the 19th century, and became popular, particularly in the USA, from around 1825, reaching its peak between 1865 and 1885. By the 1930s, its popularity had waned, partly because of advances in conventional medicine, but it enjoyed a revival in the 1970s, and the general rise in alternative medicine in the last few decades has brought it back into prominence.
In homeopathy, health is seen as a person’s ability to adapt their equilibrium in response to external and internal changes, and illness as an imbalance of the vital force. The balance of energy requires adequate nutrition, exercise, rest, good hygiene and a healthy environment. The symptoms of illness are in fact the body’s attempt to heal itself, so that, for example, a fever is the body’s way of creating a physical environment which is not conducive to bacterial or viral growth. Working on this assumption, the homeopath seeks to help the body adapt to the illness by administering small doses of a substance which will stimulate the immune and defence responses. It is believed that this will lead to the spontaneous resolution of the symptoms, although these may get worse before they get better.
A homeopathic diagnosis is a holistic one in which the practitioner considers the whole person, including all aspects of their lifestyle and their mental and emotional state. The patient is closely questioned about subjective symptoms such as pain and fatigue, the location of the symptoms, whether certain factors – such as heat and cold or the time of day – affect the symptoms, whether they are sudden or gradual, and so on. After building up this composite picture of the person, as opposed to the disease, the homeopath may try several remedies, one at a time. These remedies are natural healing compounds which are prepared through a process of serial dilution. The compound is first left to dissolve in a mixture of water and alcohol to produce what is known as the mother tincture. One drop of this tincture is then mixed with ten drops of water and alcohol, and the same process repeated hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of times, until it has been diluted to the point where the chance that even one molecule of the original substance can still be found in the liquid is infinitesimally small. The more diluted the original substance, the more powerful a remedy it is believed to be. Belladonna is used for fevers; monkshood for colds and flu; and poison ivy for arthritis, sprains and strains. There are over 3,000 homeopathic remedies, which may be bought over the counter in most countries.
Homeopathy cannot cure illnesses resulting from structural conditions such as diabetes and cancer, but is sometimes used to relieve their symptoms. Research into homeopathy’s effectiveness has produced contradictory results, and its critics claim that there is no evidence to prove that it works. See also alternative medicine; holistic medicine.
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