Homeopathy is a system of medicine developed nearly 200 years ago by the German physician Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843). After practicing for a brief period, he became so disillusioned with the medical thought and treatments of his time, he left practice and instead translated medical works for a living. During this time, while translating details from a toxicology text, he noted that cinchona bark (known more familiarly as its' extract - quinine), produced an identical malady in overdose to that condition that it was used to cure, malaria. This observation led Hahnemann to conclude that the results of a successful medicine were likely to be based on such similarity. Through numerous experiments performed over years Hahnemann developed guidelines for medicinal experimentation (including the use of control groups, the use of small doses, testing healthy individuals, and testing various population groups to determine the effects on a range of people), and also determined that he could reduce the toxicity of the treatment by diluting and succussing the drug he was using. What he also discovered was that this dilution method also made the curative power of the original substance more powerful. This is the essence of homeopathy (from the Greek words meaning "similar suffering") - the use of diluted and succussed substances matched to the particulars of the disease state in the individual that is experiencing it.
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The Principles of Homeopathy
Like Cures Like
Substances that produce symptoms when given in large doses can cure illnesses with similar symptoms when given in microdoses.
Law of Similars
Medicine that will cause certain symptoms in a healthy patient has potential to cure the same symptoms in a sick person.
Symptoms Indicate Healing
Symptoms represent the body's efforts to heal itself, therefore, they are stimulated to complete the curative process.
Homeopathic remedies are based on provings
Medicinal substances are given to healthy people in small doses to assess their physiological properties. These "provings" continue until there are symptoms and the healing potential of the substance is revealed.
The totality of the symptoms is considered
The individual's complete symptom picture is taken into account, including mental, emotional and physical complaints.The remedy exacting matching those symptoms is known as the simillimum.
A single remedy is given
One homeopathic medicine is chosen to perfectly match the totality of the patient's symptoms.This is also done so that it is possible to determine if the remedy acted, because the effect of more than one remedy may be unpredictable.
A minimum of doses is given
The individual's innate healing powers are encouraged by only a small stimulus. Dose-toxic large doses are to be avoided.
The remedies are microdoses
Homeopathic medicines are "potentized" to minute dosages in which there may be no physical trace of the original substance remaining.
How does homeopathy work?
Homeopathic remedies work by stimulating the body's own healing power. This power is very great and many complaints heal themselves unaided. However, when the healing process is faulty, blocked or slow, the homeopathic remedy acts as a stimulus to the curative powers of the body. To provide this stimulus your physician must prescribe the right remedy and the right dosage for you.
As to the explanation for why homeopathy works, well, we don't know. It is almost as if the dilution and succussion method "imprints" it's action on the water used as a solvent, since there is none of the original substance left in most dilutions. More recent research implies that the preparation of remedies in glass creates nanoparticles of silica (the same material as a computer chip!) along with the substance that have the ability to transmit information. Future research will likely shed more light on the mechanism of action.
What will your naturopathic physician need to know?
There are two general ways to prescribe in homeopathy: acute and constitutional. Acute prescribing is generally a prescription based on the symptoms of an acute malady, eg. the flu. Constitutional prescribing is a more in depth prescription which is intended to resolve chronic complaints, or repeating acute episodes of the same type.
In acute prescribing, the naturopath (or homeopath) will be able to observe you, your symptoms and listen to the symptoms that you have noticed. The prescription is usually quite straightforward.
In a constitutional prescription, in order to find the right remedy, your physician will want to know all about you. The initial consultation can sometimes take as long as an hour. She/he will ask you many questions about yourself as well as your illness and will also want to know about the health of your family, both present and past. Do not be afraid to mention something that is seemingly unimportant or unusual. Remember that anything you say is confidential. Different people react in different ways to the same illness. In order to find the correct remedy, your naturopathic physician or homeopath will need to know not only your physical symptoms but also about yourself and how your symptoms affect you.
Take for example, a case of insomnia. The allopathic way is to treat this by giving a drug to bring on an artificial sleep. This frequently involves the use of large or regular doses of drugs which can sometimes cause side effects or addiction.
The homeopathic way is to treat insomnia by giving the patient a minute dose of a substance which in large doses causes sleeplessness in a healthy person. This will enable the patient to sleep naturally.
How a Remedy is Selected
To select a remedy the prescriber carefully matches the patient's symptoms to the symptom pictures listed in the various "Materia medica" for the more than 2,000 remedies currently in use. These remedies are derived from plant, animal, and mineral sources. This process necessitates getting a full understanding of the patient, therefore, the homeopathic interview will explore areas of a person's life including thoughts, dreams, emotions, physical sensations, habits, preferences in food, temperature, climate, sleep, and anything else that might increase the understanding of the individual.
What will the treatment be like and what do I have to do?
Your naturopathic physician will give you a remedy, often in the form of pills which should be allowed to dissolve under your tongue (these are lactose tablets soaked in the dilution of the substance). Nothing else should be put in your mouth for 30 minutes before or after taking the remedy, including toothpaste or cigarettes. Your physician will usually advise you that while having homeopathic treatment, you should not take any coffee or peppermint, or use eucalyptus oil, camphor, or menthol because these strong smelling substances can antidote the effects of most homeopathic remedies. For the same reason, she/he may ask you not to take any other form of medication without asking first. This may include over-the-counter medications for colds and coughs. If you are given homeopathic pills to take at a later date, be sure to store them in a cool dark place well away from anything with a strong smell.
What can I expect to happen?
After taking your remedy you should notice some changes. For instance, it occasionally happens that your symptoms appear worse for a short time. This is known as aggravation and is considered a sign that the remedy is taking effect. You should feel the beginnings of recovery when this period has passed. Alternatively, patients often experience a period of well being and optimism after taking the remedy.
Another of the founding homeopaths, Constantine Hering, formulated Hering's Law from his clinical experiences with homeopathy. Hering observed that with homeopathy, healing occurs from inside out, most important to least important organs, from above down, and in reverse order of the appearance of symptoms (suppression reverses this law). The organs in order from most to least important are: brain, heart, endocrine, liver, lung, kidneys, bone,muscle, skin.
If you develop a runny cold, rash, or some form of discharge, these new symptoms will pass and should not be treated, as they are an important part of the healing process. Suppressing the symptoms as this point is considered counterproductive.
If you experience new symptoms that you have never experienced before, then you are likely proving the remedy and it is not the correct one for you.
If you feel worried by any changes that you notice, contact your naturopathic physician. Whatever your reaction may be, your physician will need to know. You can help by making a few notes of your changing symptoms as a reminder for your next appointment.
How quickly will I feel a response?
This depends very much on what sort of illness you have. A very slowly developing complaint, such as a stomach ulcer, will not disappear overnight. Acute complaints can get better quickly. Complicated cases are cured from the inside and working outwards. This means that superficial or outer symptoms, such as skin disorders are often the last symptoms to go. Be patient. It is much better for you to be cured of both the cause of your illness and its symptoms than merely to relieve the symptoms. Every case is different, just as no two patients are alike.
Can I treat myself with homeopathic remedies?
You can learn to use some homeopathic remedies at home for acute care. There are a number of excellent remedies which deal effectively with first aid problems such as cuts, stings, burns, bruises, stomachaches and childhood complaints (see further down). If any minor complaint does not respond to your first aid treatment, consult your physician. Constitutional treatment is quite difficult to self-prescribe, since we all have things about ourselves that we don't see very clearly, particuarly about how we appear to others, which is really the essence of constitutional case taking! So I wouldn't recommend it.
Homeopathic remedies may be sensitive to outside interference in some individuals resulting in a relapse of symptoms. Even relatively brief or mild contact with the following can interfere with the remedy: coffee, by itself or in products; camphor found in mothballs, deep rub products like Vicks, Ben Gay, Tiger Balm and Noxema, cough lozenges, and some cosmetics; routine dental work, especially high speed drilling; other medications; electric blankets.