There are alternative therapies that stimulate the body’s own healing mechanisms to promote good health. Homeopathy is one of these types of alternative therapies.
What is Homeopathy?
The basis for homeopathy is the principle that states that curing disease involves giving the patient a substance that will produce the symptoms of that disease in a healthy person.
Treatments are given by a homeopath. Licensing requirements for homeopaths vary from state to state. In general, most homeopaths are licensed in a medical specialty in addition to being homeopathic practitioners.
The treatment itself is customized to the individual patient and is based on a number of factors:
- Genetic history
- Health history
- Body type
Homeopathic therapies are created from natural substances like plants. Office visits are usually lengthy and the patient may require a number of treatments to cure/manage the condition.
How did Homeopathy Originate?
Dr. Samuel Christian Hahnemann, a German physician, created the therapy in the late 18th Century. He based this therapeutic method on two principles:
- The principle of “like cures like” – This is the belief that a disease can be cured by a substance that produces the symptoms of that disease in a healthy individual. This idea originated with Hippocrates, but Dr. Hahnemann took it a step further by experimenting on himself. When he continuously ate cinchona bark, a common treatment for malaria at that time, he observed that he developed the symptoms of malaria. This led Hahnemann to conclude that if a substance could cause the symptoms of the disease in a healthy person, then small amounts could cure a sick person who already had the symptoms.
- The principle of the “law of minimum dose”- This is the belief that the lower the dose of a medication that is given, the more effective it becomes. Substances used in homeopathic remedies are diluted in a progression of steps and thoroughly shaken between each dilution. This is called “potentization,” and homeopathic practitioners believe that this process transfers a form of energy from the original substance to the final diluted remedy. The completed version of the remedy has been so significantly diluted that little or none of the molecules of the original substance remain. However, homeopathic practitioners believe that the original substance’s essence has been left behind and this is what promotes healing.
How are Homeopathic Remedies Regulated?
The Homeopathic Pharmacopeia of the United States, which is part of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, forms the basis for homeopathic remedy oversight. These therapies are regulated in a manner that is similar to the regulation of over-the-counter drugs. However, the major difference between homeopathic products and over-the-counter drugs is that because homeopathic products generally do not contain chemical ingredients, they are not subject to the same safety and effectiveness testing that new over-the-counter drugs are.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does require that homeopathic products meet certain standards for strength, purity, and packaging. The law mandates that the labels on these remedies state:
- One medical problem the remedy is designed to treat
- A list of ingredients
- The dilution
- Safety instructions
All homeopathic remedies that are created to treated serious illnesses must be sold by prescription.
How Safe are Homeopathic Remedies?
These products taken under the supervision of a licensed homeopath are considered safe. However, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine adds these words of caution:
- Liquid homeopathic remedies may contain alcohol. The FDA allows higher levels of alcohol in these remedies than it allows in conventional drugs. However, no adverse effects from alcohol levels have been reported to the FDA.
- Homeopaths expect some of their patients to experience homeopathic aggravation (a temporary worsening of existing symptoms after taking a homeopathic prescription). Researchers have not found much evidence of this reaction in clinical studies; however, research on homeopathic aggravations is scarce.
- Homeopathic remedies are not known to interfere with conventional drugs; however, if you are considering using homeopathic remedies, you should discuss this with your health care provider first.