May 5, 2009
Homeopathy was developed in the late 1700s, largely in response to harsh mainstream-medical treatments of the day, which included bloodletting, purging and the use of toxic chemicals such as sulfur and mercury. Compelled to get away from these methods, Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician and chemist, began to explore alternative medicine treatments.
After translating a text that prescribed Peruvian cinchona bark to treat malaria, Hahnemann was wary of the author’s claims that it was cinchona’s astringent properties that helped cure malaria. To test his idea, Hahnemann ingested the bark and subsequently developed malaria-like symptoms. He realized that substances that can cause symptoms may also help relieve them. To wit, the “similia principle,” or the concept of “like cures like,” states that because symptoms of illness are often simply the body’s way of healing itself (coughing expels mucus, for example), a substance can trigger the body’s natural defenses.
Hahnemann began to test the effects of pure extracts in various dilutions, combining careful observations of the medicine’s effects with knowledge about herbs and other medicinal substances. He published his experiences with the law of similars in a German medical journal in 1796, and despite resistance from the medical establishment, began to expand the practice.
In 1825, Hans Burch Gram, a Boston-born doctor, brought homeopathy to the United States after studying the practice in Europe. By 1835 the first homeopathic medical college was established in Allentown, Pa., and 22 similar schools had popped up in the country by 1900. Interestingly, the American Institute of Homeopathy was the first national medical association established in the United States.
But the practice’s popularity would soon wane. Advancements in modern medicine, including germ theory and the use of antiseptics, largely discounted homeopathic concepts. As a result, many of the schools were shuttered, and legislation limited training and practice.
Homeopathy resurged in the United States in the1960s, partly because of its rising popularity in other parts of the world, especially Europe and Asia, where Mahatma Gandhi even promoted the practice. With increased funding toward homeopathic research and a receding opposition to the practice, homeopathic remedies are now widely used by both licensed homeopaths and other members of the medical profession.
Sources: The National Center for Alternative and Complementary Medicine and
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