Founded in the late 1700s by German physician Samuel Hahnemann, homeopathy is based on the concept that “like cures like,” or the idea that the natural extracts and medicinal substances that cause symptoms of illness can also relieve them. In Greek, homeo means similar, and pathos, disease.
As such, normally toxic substances—such as arsenic, which can cause upset stomach in large quantities—can actually help relieve a stomach problem. A homeopathically prepared arsenic remedy provides miniscule amounts of the substance to trigger the body’s natural system of defense until the body can naturally overcome the problem.
Traditional homeopathic preparations are highly diluted substances, derived from plant, animal or mineral sources. Hahnemann used the term “potentization” for the method in which homeopaths increase the effectiveness of a substance by diluting it.
The process is a precise practice in which a substance is diluted, usually with distilled water or ethyl alcohol, in varying amounts. For example, a 30X potency means that a substance has been diluted in a 1:10 ration, with nine parts dilutant to one part substance. The new dilution is then succussed, or shaken, and the process is repeated 30 times.
Hahnemann believed that during vigorous shaking at each stage of dilution, the vital essence or energy of the substance would intensify. As such, the most diluted potencies—up to “LM” in which a substance is diluted at a 1:50,000 ratio—are believed to work most deeply and last the longest. (See the Dosage Chart for more information.)
Critics of homeopathy claim that at this level of dilution, none of the original molecules can remain in the substance. Homeopaths agree, but believe that the essence of the molecules remain. In a perfect homeopathic remedy, this energy “resonates” with the similar symptoms in the body, triggering healing.
Today homeopathic remedies are used to treat everything from common cold and flu symptoms to emotional issues. Many people opt for homeopathic remedies because there are no known side effects and no interactions with other medications.
Homeopaths are trained to look at the whole picture of a patient, and in addition to major symptoms, will ask about any secondary complaints or psychological symptoms the patient is experiencing. For example, two different headache patients may have very different things that give them relief. They also have different temperaments, different responses to hot and cold, etc.
By assessing the entire character of a patient, a homeopath can evaluate which remedies are best for that specific person. While many remedies are available over the counter without doctor supervision, patients should seek the help of a licensed homeopath in dealing with serious illnesses.