What Is Homeopathy?
Founded in the late 18th century by German physician Samuel Christian Hahnemann, homeopathy (or homeopathic medicine) is a form of alternative medicine based on the theory that "like cures like" (a principle also known as the "Law of Similars").
What Is the Law of Similars?
According to homeopathic philosophy, an illness can be cured by a substance that produces symptoms characteristic of that very illness. By delivering incredibly small doses of the substance, homeopathic physicians aim to activate the body's inherent self-healing abilities.
What Are Homeopathic Remedies?
Homeopathic remedies are typically derived from plants, herbs, minerals, or animal products. After being crushed and dissolved in alcohol and/or water, the selected substance undergoes a long process of dilution and succussion (a process that involves vigorous shaking of the solution). The solution is then stored.
For homeopathic products sold in pellet or tablet form, the remedy is based on lactose and/or sucrose and then combined with the homeopathic solution.
By the time a homeopathic remedy has been formulated, there will be few molecules of the original substance remaining. (In homeopathy, the more diluted a substance, the more potent it's believed to be.)
How Are Homeopathic Remedies Selected?
Rather than prescribing certain remedies for certain illnesses, homeopathic physicians select remedies based on each patient's unique symptoms. Therefore, when choosing a remedy for a patient, a homeopathic physician will usually conduct a thorough interview to fully determine the patient's individual symptoms.
Likewise, the labels on homeopathic products (often sold in health-food stores) typically indicate the specific symptoms that they're formulated to treat.
What to Expect from a Visit
According to homeopathic medicine, each illness has a mental and emotional element. When visiting a homeopathic physician, you'll likely be asked about your mental and emotional state (in addition to being questioned about your physical symptoms). The physician will also observe your personality traits and overall constitution, as well as conduct a physical exam.
Are Homeopathic Remedies Regulated?
In the United States, homeopathic remedies are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration in the same manner as over-the-counter drugs. For instance, the remedies must meet certain legal standards for strength, purity, and packaging, and only products for minor health problems that typically go away on their own (such as colds or headache) can be sold without a prescription.
However, because homeopathic products contain little or no active ingredients, they do not have to undergo the same safety and efficacy testing as prescription and newer over-the-counter drugs.
Although laws about requirements to practice homeopathy vary from state to state, three states (Connecticut, Arizona, and Nevada) license medical doctors specifically for homeopathy.
The Science Behind Homeopathic Remedies
Several reviews of placebo-controlled clinical trials have shown that homeopathic remedies seem to be more effective than placebo in treatment of various conditions. Furthermore, evidence from randomized, controlled trials suggests that homeopathy may be useful in the treatment of influenza and allergies. However, a 2003 report from Annals of Internal Medicine indicates that there is lack of conclusive evidence on the effectiveness of homeopathy for most conditions.
How to Use Them
Homeopathic remedies may be used in treatment of a number of health problems, including:
Side Effects of Homeopathic Remedies
Since they're so diluted, homeopathic remedies don't usually cause adverse effects. In some cases, however, patients may briefly feel worse after first beginning their homeopathic treatment.
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. "Questions and Answers about Homeopathy." NCCAM Publication No. D183 April 2005.
Jonas WB, Kaptchuk TJ, Linde K. "A critical overview of homeopathy." Annals of Internal Medicine 2003 4;138(5):393-9.