What is homeopathy? In the late 18th century, a German physician named Samuel Hahnemann came upon a passage claiming that the quinine-containing Peruvian bark (chinchona) cured malaria. Using himself as a subject, Hahnemann swallowed a dose of Peruvian bark. He began to feel feverish, drowsy, desperately thirsty, and agitated - all of which he recognized as symptoms of malaria. This caused Hahnemann to experiment further and form his theory that like cures like, or the Law of Similars. This law states that when a substance in large doses causes certain symptoms, in small doses it can cure these same symptoms. Some treatments in conventional medicine rely on this like-cures-like principle; vaccines, for instance, introduce small doses of an illness-causing agent to prevent disease.
Other important principles of homeopathy are dilution and succussion. Remedies are diluted and then "succussed," or shaken, in order to increase their potency. The process of successive dilution and succussion is called potentization.
How does homeopathy work? Homeopathic remedies start with simple substances, such as herbs, minerals, or animal products. These substances are first crushed and dissolved in a specified amount of a substance - usually grain alcohol or lactose, mechanically shaken, then stored. This is the "mother tincture." Homeopaths further dilute tinctures with alcohol or lactose, either 1 part to 10 (written as "x") or 1 part to 100 (written as "c"), and then succuss these tinctures, yielding a 1x or 1c dilution. Homeopaths can even further dilute these tinctures two times (2x or 2c), three times (3x or 3c), and so forth. In clinical practice, any dilution may be used, but the most common are the 6x, 12x, and 30x and 6c, 12c, and 30c. The more diluted the substance, the more potent its healing powers are thought to be.
Rather than simply suppressing symptoms of a disease, homeopathic remedies act as catalysts that aid the body's inherent healing mechanisms. Moreover, homeopaths believe that any physical disease has a mental and emotional component. The homeopathic diagnosis is threefold, including physical symptoms (e.g., feverish), current emotional and psychological state (e.g., anxious, restless), and overall constitution of the individual (this includes more enduring qualities related to a person's creativity, initiative, persistence, concentration, physical sensitivities, stamina). The right remedy for a particular condition addresses all of these aspects and requires a highly individualized diagnosis.
Homeopathy is also used like other remedies, that is, according to symptoms. Health-food stores and some pharmacies sell homeopathic remedies for a variety of problems. Remedies are usually taken for no more than 2 or 3 days, though some people require only one or two doses before starting to feel better. If a remedy fails, it may be because it was the wrong substance for the set of symptoms.
How does acupuncture work? The effects of acupuncture are complex and how it works is not entirely clear. Research suggests that the needling process, and other modalities used in acupuncture, may produce their complex effects on a wide variety of ways in the brain and the body. For example, it is theorized that stimulated nerve fibers transmit signals to the spinal cord and brain, thus activating parts of what is called the central nervous system. The spinal cord and brain then release certain hormones responsible for making us feel better overall and, more specifically, feel less pain. In fact, a study using images of the brain confirmed that acupuncture increases our pain threshold, which may explain its ability to produce long-term pain relief. Also, acupuncture may increase blood circulation and body temperature. It may also affect white blood cell activity (responsible for our immune function), reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and regulate blood sugar levels. In general, acupuncture appears to transmit its effects via electric, neurologic, hormonal, lymphatic, and electromagnetic wave pathways.
What happens during a visit to the homeopath? An initial visit to the homeopath can take from 1 to 1½ hours. Because homeopaths treat the person rather than the illness, the practitioner interviews the person at length, asking many questions and observing personality traits as well as unusual behavioral and physical symptoms. Determining the person's condition also includes a physical examination and possibly laboratory work.
What illnesses and conditions respond well? Conditions that respond particularly well to homeopathic treatment include asthma, diarrhea, eczema and other types of skin rashes, depression, anxiety, hot flashes, chronic fatigue syndrome, and otitis media (ear infection).
How can I find a qualified practitioner? About 25 homeopathic schools and training programs exist in the U.S., most of which offer 2- to 4-year programs. However, no diploma or certificate from any school provides a license to practice. Many homeopaths are also medical doctors, although there are homeopaths licensed in virtually every health-profession category, including veterinarians. In most states, practitioners must be licensed healthcare providers to legally practice homeopathy. Several respected certification agencies exist. The American Board of Homeotherapeutics certifies MDs and DOs (doctors of osteopathic medicine) who have specialized in homeopathy (DHt is the indicator of a doctor of homeopathy). Naturopaths study homeopathy extensively as part of their medical training and are certified by the Homeopathic Academy of Naturopathic Physicians (DHANP). All homeopathic practitioners, including chiropractors, nurse practitioners, and acupuncturists, can apply for Certification in Classical Homeopathy (CCH).
Does my medical insurance usually cover homeopathy? Insurance companies are more likely to cover homeopathy when the person providing the service is a licensed healthcare professional, such as an MD or DO who also practices homeopathy.
This article is used under license from Naturally Living, LLC.