What is Homeopathy?

Here’s an introduction to homeopathy—a versatile, but often misunderstood, treatment.

homeopathy

Homeopathic remedies are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, FDA does not evaluate the remedies for safety or effectiveness.

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As a naturopathic physician, I use a variety of tools and strategies to help my patients. One of them—homeopathy—is widely misunderstood. Some people mistake homeopathy as just another word for natural medicine. Rather, it’s a specific technique that uses very small doses of highly diluted substances to stimulate the body’s ability to heal itself.

Some naturopathic doctors, in addition to many other types of healthcare providers in the United States and around the world (including many MDs in Europe, where homeopathy is widely practiced), use homeopathic medicine for wellness and to prevent and treat many diseases and conditions.

Fundamental Principles

Homeopathy was discovered and developed by the German physician Dr. ­Samuel Hahnemann in the 1790s. Through experimentation, Hahnemann learned that small amounts of a substance that causes disease symptoms in a healthy person can cure a sick person who has similar symptoms. Hahnemann also discovered that the lower the dose of the homeopathic medicine, the greater its effectiveness.

He devised a system for making highly diluted medicines from natural substances including plants, minerals, and animals. These substances undergo a process of stepwise dilution and vigorous shaking until some are diluted to such a degree that not even a single molecule of the original substance is left in the remedy. The more a substance has been diluted and shaken, the higher its potency and the stronger it is.

A Bit of a Mystery

Current science cannot fully explain this, nor can it explain exactly how homeopathic medicine works in the body to prompt the body’s own healing response. In fact, no biochemical mechanism of action has been established for how homeopathy works. But evidence shows that homeopathic medicines do have pharmacological effects in the body beyond those of a placebo and researchers are busy at work trying to better explain homeopathy’s effects.[1,2]

Classical vs. Combination Homeopathy

In classical homeopathy, or what is referred to as constitutional homeopathy, there is only one correct homeopathic medicine for each patient. While there may be hundreds of homeopathic remedies that could be used for a single disease or condition, patients are cured from their mental, emotional, and physical ailments by being prescribed the one single homeopathic medicine that acts most similarly to their state of illness at that point in time. Many homeopathic doctors spend one to two hours talking with patients on their first visit to discover the exact set of mental, emotional, and physical symptoms unique to the patient.

Combination homeopathic remedies are also available. These are mixtures of several remedies all in one product. Combination homeopathy is used to address specific health conditions by using a number of remedies that have a strong history of treating that condition all at the same time. More like conventional medicine, combination remedies treat specific conditions rather than the whole person. However, for certain common conditions, combination remedies can be extremely useful, especially for short-term treatment of temporary, mild conditions. For chronic and more serious conditions, classical homeopathy is more indicated.

Homeopathy for Pain and Other Symptoms—The Evidence

The individualized nature of homeopathy makes it difficult to study in randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials. Nevertheless, there have been over 200 such trials, most of which have shown therapeutic benefits to patients receiving homeopathic treatment.

Studies have shown significant benefits of homeopathy over placebo for fibromyalgia and other types of chronic musculoskeletal conditions like osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.[3,4]
The results of a study published in the British Medical Journal concluded that individualized homeopathic medicines are effective in reducing the pain and tender spots and in improving sleep in patients suffering from fibromyalgia.[5]

A large observational study recently conducted in France showed that patients with chronic musculoskeletal pain conditions used 50 percent less conventional pain medication by being under the care of an MD who specializes in prescribing homeopathic medicines.[6]

In some other recently published studies, combination homeopathic remedies have been found to be significantly better than placebo for chronic low back pain,[7] acute coughs associated with colds and bronchitis,[8] insomnia,[9],[10] children’s migraines,[11] eczema,[11] diabetic peripheral neuropathy,[13] and symptoms of benign prostatic hypertrophy in older men.[14]

How to Find a Homeopathic Practitioner

Precisely how homeopathic medicines initiate the healing process is unknown, but over 200 years of experience by hundreds of thousands of clinicians and tens of millions of patients attests to the fact that these medicines can have powerful effects. Further, there is research showing that homeopathic medicines work.

If you want to experience for yourself how homeopathic medicine is individually prescribed, visit a trained homeopath. Look for a practitioner who specializes in homeopathy as the primary therapy and prescribes constitutional medicines, not just remedies for acute or recurrent symptoms. One excellent resource for additional information on homeopathy and how to find a good homeopath is the website of Homeopathic Educational Services.


This article was originally published in 2016. It is regularly updated.

1. Homeopathy. 2014 Jan;103(1):4-21.
2. JRSM Short Rep. 2013 Jul 30;4(9):2042533313490927.
3. Rheumatology. 2004;43(5):577-582.
4. Rheumatic Dis Clin N Amer. 2000;26(1)117–123.
5. BMJ. Aug 5, 1989; 299(6695): 365–366.
6. Pharmacoepidemiol Drug Saf. 2012 Oct;21(10):1093-101.
7. MMW Fortschr Med. 2012 Jun 28;154 Suppl 2:48-57.
8. Pulm Pharmacol Ther. 2014 Feb;27(1):102-8.
9. Altern Ther Health Med. 2013 Sep-Oct;19(5):38-43.
10. J Altern Complement Med. 2013 Feb;19(2):161-9.
11. J Altern Complement Med. 2013 Feb;19(2):119-23.
12. PLoS One. 2013;8(1):e54973.
13. Homeopathy. 2013 Apr;102(2):130-8.
14. Homeopathy. 2012 Oct;101(4):217-23.

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