Homeopathy, or homeopathic medicine, is a philosophy and holistic health practice that is centered around the body’s ability to heal itself. Homeopathic practitioners (or homeopaths) use specially prepared, and highly diluted natural substances that are derived from plants, minerals, or animals. These remedies are used to heal and provide relief for a variety of ailments.
The Homeopathy Origins
Homeopathy originated in Germany in the late 1800s and was founded by Samuel Hahnemann. The word homeopathy is derived from the Greek words ‘homoeo’ (meaning similar) and pathos (meaning suffering). Dr. Hahnemann was an experienced physician, chemist, mineralogist, and botanist. His discovery of homeopathy came from experimenting on himself. One of his experiments consisted of taking regular doses of cinchona known as ‘the bark’. He started to develop an intermittent fever, alike to the type experienced with malaria. The symptom was mild and was not accompanied by other symptoms or characteristics. He used this experiment to construct one of the major principles that homeopathy is based around – ‘like cures like’ or the ‘principle/law of similars’. He found that he could cure a patient by using a medicine that would produce similar symptoms of their disease in a healthy person. For example, if a patient was experiencing dizziness, he would give them a medicine that would cause a healthy person to become dizzy.
After many years of experimenting on himself, family, and a group of followers, he and his colleagues established over 200 remedies that originated primarily from plants, minerals, and animals. He tested these remedies on healthy volunteers and documented the results. Those results solidified the foundation for the basic principles of homeopathy.
Like other unorthodox medicines, Dr. Hahnemann received a lot of opposition and disagreement from the medical community. Despite this, homeopathy continued to grow in popularity, largely in part due to the never-wavering support it received from royalty and the aristocracy. Homeopathy is most popular in Europe and Asia. However, with the increase in interest surrounding complementary medicine in North America, a rise in the use of homeopathic medicine isn’t unlikely.
How does Homeopathy work?
As mentioned previously, homeopathy is based around the principle of ‘like cures like’. Another major principle is the ‘law of minimum dose’ meaning the lower the dose, the greater it’s effectiveness. Homeopaths practice this principle when they make their remedies by diluting the ingredients with water or alcohol to a point where they typically no longer contain any molecules of the original substance. This is achieved by vigorous shaking and mixing, called “potentization”, which transfers the healing essence. The level to which the medicine has been diluted is printed on its bottle. A typical dilution is 30X, ‘X’ symbolizes 10. At this dilution level, the medicine begins by containing one part of the natural substance mixed with 10 parts of water or alcohol. This mixture is then shaken, and one part of it is then mixed in with another 10 parts water or alcohol, and this process is repeated 30 times. Homeopathic remedies can come in liquids, powders, creams, gels, sugar pellets, and pills.
The first appointment with a homeopath will typically take about an hour. During this initial appointment, the homeopath will go over your health history, lifestyle, diet, sleep patterns, and personality. They will ask questions about symptoms you are experiencing with the goal of analyzing how they affect you uniquely as opposed to matching them directly to an illness or disease. The practitioner will choose a remedy to prescribe based on all of the symptoms you are experiencing. Follow-up appointments will be briefer and usually only last around 30 minutes, but this depends on the practitioner. Every patient is treated specifically, and treatment plans are created for them and only them.
Homeopathy vs naturopathy
Both naturopathy and homeopathy share the same beliefs in terms of providing non-invasive treatments that focus on finding the root cause of a health issue. Furthermore, they can both treat all types of conditions. The differences lay in their philosophies, methods of treatment, and certifications.
The primary goal of homeopathy is to find a remedy that can facilitate healing and treat the sick whereas naturopathy uses homeopathy as one of many tools. In terms of philosophies, they each stem from different foundations. Homeopathy believes in ‘like cures like’ and symptoms are the body’s way of expressing what it needs to cure itself. Naturopathy follows six basic principles and has no limits for what medical means can be used, so long as treatment follows the principles.
Homeopathic practitioners and naturopathic doctors (NDs) typically go through the same type of questioning during an initial consultation. However, homeopathic practitioners can only prescribe homeopathic remedies and NDs can do much more. Naturopathy can include a variety of alternative and general medical tools like hydrotherapy, diet and nutrition, lifestyle counseling, botanical medicine, and more. NDs can start treatment the same way that a general physician can because they require a clinical degree and license to practice. You do not need a medical degree to use homeopathy and certifications to be a homeopathic practitioner differ depending on the country. The primary difference between these two practices is that naturopathy is a health system that uses more than one form of treatment and homeopathy is a tool that can be used exclusively or by other medical practitioners.
Is Homeopathy safe?
Yes, generally speaking, homeopathy is safe. Homeopathic remedies are non-addictive and do not have any of the typical, dangerous side-effects associated with some conventional drugs. It is also safe to use in conjunction with conventional treatments but should never be used to replace them. Homeopathy faculty members are physicians, or otherwise regulated healthcare practitioners, who are expected to uphold the integrity of their discipline and their homeopathy training and certification. Therefore, if conventional treatment is a better option for a patient, homeopathic medicine would not be prescribed in place of it. Homeopathic remedies are regulated by the Natural Health Products Directorate of the Health Products and Food Branch of Health Canada but in Ontario only. Health Canada has a database of over 8,000 homeopathic products that have been approved.
It is important to note, however, that while “nosodes” are a homeopathic product regulated by Health Canada, they are not and have never been approved as a vaccine alternative. Some complementary health care professionals and anti-vaccination advocates have promoted the use of this product as an alternative but there are no substitutes for vaccines.
While homeopathic remedies are generally safe, it is important to always check with a general physician before choosing to use them. Homeopathic remedies may, in some cases, cause side-effects or interact with conventional medicines.
Homeopathy: Qualification and certifications
While you do not need a degree or certification to use homeopathy, it is important to choose a certified and licensed homeopathic practitioner. Homeopathic practitioners do not require a four-year degree in science. They can have varying levels of education, licensure, and certifications, this is all dependant on what country/region you live in. The Council for Homeopathic Certification (CHC) states that there are five prerequisites to be met to take a certification exam. The five prerequisites are:
- U.S. or Canadian residency
- 500 hours of homeopathic training (minimum)
- A background in classical homeopathy
- 250 hours of clinical observation and analysis (minimum)
- 73 hours of medical coursework (minimum)
While they can obtain certification from the CHC or other credible organizations, only states and provinces can grant licenses to practice. In Ontario, the College of Homeopaths of Ontario is the regulatory body for homeopathy.
Popular homeopathic remedies
Here are five examples of some popular homeopathic remedies and their uses:
1. Magnesia phosphorica
This is a combination of magnesium and phosphorous and is used to alleviate pains associated with menstrual cramps and relieving edginess and oversensitivity. It can also be used to help calve cramps, sciatica, and bloating.
This is one of the most well-known remedies and is frequently used by people who don’t actively use homeopathy. It is derived from the most prevalent form of the arnica montana plant and is infamous for its ability to aid in the healing of contusions, bruises, and aches. It can come in a pill or pellet form and can be applied topically in a gel, ointment, or spray form.
Commonly referred to as ignatia amara or St. Ignatius’ Bean, this remedy is said to provide relief for acute anxiety, depression, or grief. It is most often used and prescribed after the sudden death or separation of a loved one, or for otherwise urgently-felt anguish. It can also be used to treat PMS symptoms, headaches, fevers, and insomnia.
4. Allium cepa
This remedy is derived from onions and is used to treat colds, allergies, or a runny nose.
5. Nux vomica
This remedy is great for hangovers, digestive troubles, and general consumption. It originates from evergreen trees found in Northern Australia and Southeastern Asia and is considered to be the best remedy for symptoms associated with recreational or conventional drugs. It can also be beneficial for back pain, stress, insomnia, and motion sickness.