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  » Alternative Medicine  »  Homeopathy

What is homeopathy?

In the late 18th century, a German physician named Samuel Hahnemann came upon a passage claiming that the quinine-containing Peruvian bark (chinchona) cured malaria. Using himself as a subject, Hahnemann swallowed a dose of Peruvian bark. He began to feel feverish, drowsy, desperately thirsty, and agitated—all of which he recognized as symptoms of malaria. This caused Hahnemann to experiment further and form his theory that like cures like, or the Law of Similars. This law states that when a substance in large doses causes certain symptoms, in small doses it can cure these same symptoms. Some treatments in conventional medicine rely on this like-cures-like principle; vaccines, for instance, introduce small doses of an illness-causing agent to prevent disease.

Other important principles of homeopathy are dilution and succussion. Remedies are diluted and then "succussed," or shaken, in order to increase their potency. The process of successive dilution and succussion is called potentization.

How does homeopathy work?

Homeopathic remedies start with simple substances, such as herbs, minerals, or animal products. These substances are first crushed and dissolved in a specified amount of a substance—usually grain alcohol or lactose, mechanically shaken, then stored. This is the "mother tincture." Homeopaths further dilute tinctures with alcohol or lactose, either 1 part to 10 (written as "x") or 1 part to 100 (written as "c"), and then succusse these tinctures, yielding a 1x or 1c dilution. Homeopaths can even further dilute these tinctures two times (2x or 2c), three times (3x or 3c), and so forth. In clinical practice, any dilution may be used, but the most common are the 6x, 12x, and 30x and 6c, 12c, and 30c. The more diluted the substance, the more potent its healing powers are thought to be.

Rather than simply suppressing symptoms of a disease, homeopathic remedies act as catalysts that aid the body's inherent healing mechanisms. Moreover, homeopaths believe that any physical disease has a mental and emotional component. The homeopathic diagnosis is threefold, including physical symptoms (e.g., feverish), current emotional and psychological state (e.g., anxious, restless), and overall constitution of the individual (this includes more enduring qualities related to a person's creativity, initiative, persistence, concentration, physical sensitivities, stamina). The right remedy for a particular condition addresses all of these aspects and requires a highly individualized diagnosis.

Homeopathy is also used like other remedies, that is, according to symptoms. Health-food stores and some pharmacies sell homeopathic remedies for a variety of problems. These store-bought remedies are very safe; users have reported no side effects. Remedies are usually taken for no more than 2 or 3 days, though some people require only one or two doses before starting to feel better. If a remedy fails, it may be because it was the wrong substance for the set of symptoms.

What happens during a visit to the homeopath?

An initial visit to the homeopath can take from 1 to 1˝ hours. Because homeopaths treat the person rather than the illness, the practitioner interviews the person at length, asking many questions and observing personality traits as well as unusual behavioral and physical symptoms. Determining the person's condition also includes a physical examination and possibly laboratory work.

What illnesses and conditions respond well?

Conditions that respond well to homeopathic treatment include asthma, diarrhea, eczema, depression, anxiety, Crohn's disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, and otitis media.

How can I find a qualified practitioner?

About 25 homeopathic schools and training programs exist in the U.S., most of which offer 2- to 4-year programs. However, no diploma or certificate from any school provides a license to practice. Many homeopaths are also medical doctors, although there are homeopaths licensed in virtually every health-profession category, including veterinarians. In most states, practitioners must be licensed healthcare providers to legally practice homeopathy. Several respected certification agencies exist. The American Board of Homeotherapeutics certifies MDs and DOs (doctors of osteopathic medicine) who have specialized in homeopathy (DHt is the indicator of a doctor of homeopathy). Naturopaths study homeopathy extensively as part of their medical training and are certified by the Homeopathic Academy of Naturopathic Physicians (DHANP). All homeopathic practitioners, including chiropractors, nurse practitioners, and acupuncturists, can apply for Certification in Classical Homeopathy (CCH).

There are a number of directories listing homeopathic providers. To locate one in your area use the web directory located at http://www.homeopathicdirectory.com/ or the directory of the National Center for Homeopathy at http://www.homeopathic.org/. You may also contact the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians at 877-969-2267 or visit their website at http://www.naturopathic.org/ to find a qualified naturopath who specializes in homeopathy, or the North American Society of Homeopaths at http://www.homeopathy.org/. Other useful sources of information on homeopathy include Homeopathic Educational Services in Berkeley, California, located on the web at http://www.homeopathic.com/.

How much does a treatment cost?

The average visit lasts 60 to 90 minutes and costs $150 to $300. Follow-up visits cost $50 to $80. Remedies, however, are often less expensive than conventional drugs.

Does my medical insurance usually cover homeopathy?

Insurance companies are more likely to cover homeopathy when the person providing the service is a licensed healthcare professional, such as an MD or DO wĐo also practices homeopathy.

Supporting Research

Cucherat M, Haugh MC, Gooch M, Boissel JP. Evidence of clinical efficacy of homeopathy: a meta-analysis of clinical trials. Eur J Clin Pharmacol. 2000;56:27-33.

Dietz V. Homeopathic and herbal preparations of Arnica montana for treatment of musculoskeletal injuries. In: Micozzi MS, ed. The Physician's Guide to Alternative Medicine. Atlanta, Ga: American Health Consultants; 1999:269-271.

Ernst E, Kaptchuk TJ. Homeopathy revisited. Arch Intern Med. 1996;156:2162-2164.

Fisher P, Greenwood A, Huskisson EC, Turner P, Belon P. Effect of homeopathic treatment on fibrositis (primary fibromyalgia). BMJ. 1989;229:365-366.

Freise KH, Kruse S, Moeller H. Acute otitis media in children: a comparison of conventional and homeopathic treatment. Biomedical Therapy. 1997;15(4):113-122.

Jacobs J, Moskowitz R. Homeopathy. In: Micozzi MS, ed. Fundamentals of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. New York, NY: Churchill Livingstone Inc.; 1996:67-78.

Kleijnen J, Knipschild P, TerRiet G. Clinical trials of homeopathy. BMJ. 1991;302:316-323.

Kondrot EV, Nauman E, Rowe T. Homeopathy. In: Novey DW, ed. Clinician's Complete Reference to Complementary and Alternative Medicine. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby; 2000:258-273.

Linde K, Melchart D. Randomized controlled trials of individualized homeopathy: a state of the art review. J Altern Complement Med. 1998;4(4):371-388.

Linde K, Clausius N, Ramirez G, et al. Are the clinical effects of homeopathy placebo effects? A meta-analysis of placebo-controlled trials. Lancet. 1997;350:834-843.

Micozzi MS (ed.) Fundmentals of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. New York, NY: Churchill Livingstone;1996.

Reilly D, Taylor M, Beattie NG, et al. Is evidence for homeopathy reproducible? Lancet. 1994:344(8937):1601-1606.

Reilly D, Taylor M, McSharry C, Aitchison T. Is homoeopathy a placebo response? Controlled trial of homoeopathic potency, with pollen in hay fever as model. Lancet. 1986;2(8512):881-886.

Schwartz GER, Russek LGS, Bell IR, Riley D. Plausibility of homeopathy and conventional chemical therapy: the systemic memory resonance hypothesis. Med Hypotheses. 2000;54(4):634-637.

Ullman D. The Consumer's Guide to Homeopathy. New York, NY: GP Putnam's Sons; 1995.

van Haselen RA, Fisher PA. A randomized controlled trial comparing topical piroxicam gel with a homeopathic gel in osteoarthritis of the knee. Rheumatology (Oxford). 2000;39(7):714-719.

Weiser M, Strosser W, Klein P. Homeopathic vs. conventional treatment of vertigo: a randomized double-blind controlled clinical study. Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 1998;124(8):879-885.

Whitmarsh TE. When conventional treatment is not enough: a case of migraine without aura responding to homeopathy. J Altern Complement Med. 1997;3(2):159-162.