For over two centuries, homeopathy has been successful in treating illness. Its value is well known in many countries around the world and in some countries (South America and India to name a few) it plays a major role in the national health care system. It is one of the most frequently used complementary and alternative medicine systems in many European countries and has been part of the NHS ever since it was founded in 1948.
It was a German medical doctor, Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843), who coined the term ‘homeopathy’. Dr Hahnemann had given up his conventional practice as he felt that conventional medicine at the time caused the patient more harm than good. After extensive research he began practising his new form of medicine with astonishing results, and attracted a great number of followers.
The word homeopathy is derived from Greek and means ‘similar suffering’. The concept of treating with similars (“like cures like”) as opposed to treating with opposites (“allopathy”) is over 2000 years old, as it has been formulated by the Greek physician Hippocrates. According to Hippocrates, there are two ways of treating illness, either with a medicine that acts in a way opposite to the body's reaction or with a medicine that acts in a similar way. Dr Hahnemann re-discovered the efficacy of remedies (or medications) chosen due to their symptom similarity. He then worked out a complete scientific system of prescribing, producing and administering remedies to act in the most effective yet least harmful way.
Homeopathic remedies are derived from natural sources, e.g. plants and minerals. They are prepared in a way that makes them absolutely non-toxic so that they don't cause harmful side effects (great for pregnancy and small babies). In a process of dilution and shaking (“succussion”), all harmful chemicals are gradually removed from the substance whilst its healing properties are enhanced.
A homeopath will prescribe a remedy that in its material dose will produce symptoms similar to those the patient is suffering from. For example, somebody suffering from hives (also called urticaria or nettle rash), e.g. due to an allergic reaction, may be prescribed a remedy made from stinging nettles, Urtica urens. The homeopathic remedy will stimulate the immune system to deal with the causes of the symptoms. Once these causes are addressed and removed, then the symptoms, i.e. the hives, can disappear. An allopathic prescription, on the other hand, for a case of hives would most commonly be an antihistamine. The antihistamine will remove the local swelling and itching but does nothing to address the underlying causes for these symptoms.
The homeopathic prescription is not based on a disease name but on the assessment of the patient as an individual. Homeopathy is a holistic therapy, and the homeopath will take into consideration not only the presenting symptoms but also how the patient is affected by them on a mental and emotional level. Each patient is seen as an individual and patients with the same named disease will need different remedies according to the way they are affected by their illness.
The process of making a homeopathic remedy does never involve animal trials. Information about homeopathic remedies is derived from knowledge about the original substance and possibly accidental poisonings, as well as from carefully managed trials with volunteers, called “provings”. The volunteers in a proving (called “provers”) receive a completely harmless dose of the substance to be tested. The symptoms then experienced by provers are noted and collated. This information provides the homeopath with a basis to prescribe the substance as a remedy.
For more information on scientific research please visit the research pages of the different homeopathy organisations as listed on the links page.