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An Introduction to Homeopathy

Art12_HomeopathyIt's a beautiful spring day. The trees are blooming, the birds are singing, and it's warm and the air is fresh. A mother and her 3-year-old child are walking the neighborhood. The child is gleefully learning to run when he loses balance and scrapes his knee, nothing a few plastic bandages won't fix. At the same time a few blocks away, an elderly woman walks outside and slips on the sill of the door. She catches herself, but not before she scrapes her elbow. On the surface, both scrapes are identical, but why would the child's scrape heal in 1 or 2 days when it takes 1 or 2 weeks for the elder's wound to heal?

Our bodies know how to heal themselves. But our bodies can also get stuck in ruts so that they have difficulty getting out of uncomfortable situations. Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy, believed that people have a spring of healing ability within their bodies and that, in illness, the flow of this spring becomes hindered.

Homeopathy Goes Unnoticed

Hahnemann developed homeopathy in the late 1700's. But his contributions were overlooked during his time because he obstinately told other medical doctors that they had it wrong using mercury, arsenic, calomel, and bloodletting. And his contributions continue to go unnoticed by most people. In the 20th century, Hahnemann's ideas were overshadowed by surmounting germ theory.  And today's  "evidence-based medicine" yet again disregards the wisdom of homeopathy . Homeopathy, as defined by Hahnemann, places more importance on reducing an individual's susceptibility to illness rather than on illness inflicted by outside forces, such as germs. His healing method does not use harsh substances to overpower the body. Moreover, the evidence supporting homeopathy is not found in the laboratory, but in the repeated clinical successes observed over a span of more than 200 years.

Like Cures Like

Hahnemann was a medical doctor in Germany starting out in practice. After a short while he realized that he was making his patients more ill than he was curing them. So, he decided to research medicine rather than practice it. During his research Hahnemann found that symptoms of cinchona poisonings were similar to malaria symptoms. (Cinchona is the herb used to make quinine, a drug used to treat malaria.) After taking cinchona himself and coming down with malaria symptoms, Hahnemann conceived of the principle of like cures like. The roots of this principle were grounded in early Greek medicine and Paracelsus of the 1400's. But we owe to Hahnemann and many early homeopaths, most of whom were medical doctors themselves, a complete system of medicine built on healing through the principle of like cures like.

Homeopathic medicine stimulates a person's healing ability. This ability is part of the body's innate intelligence. The story that began this article shows how readily available this healing potential can be in a child. As we age, however, our healing potential becomes subdued and requires more time and more effort to stimulate.

The word "homeopathy" translates into "same disease." And as the name implies, it rests on the principle that whatever substance produces symptoms in a healthy person could also be used to heal those same symptoms in an ill person. The greater the similarity between the symptoms produced in a healthy person and the symptoms of illness being treated, the greater the likelihood of the substance curing the illness. Likewise, the less similar the substance-induced symptoms are to the symptoms being treated, the less possibility of a cure. So, if you've ever taken a homeopathic medicine based on a single symptom and it didn't work, it's not because homeopathy doesn't work, but rather the similarity between the symptoms was not sufficient.

Primary Reactions and Secondary Reactions

When we think about how the body reacts to treatment, we can think of primary reactions and secondary reactions. A primary reaction is a substance's effect on the body; side effects are an example of this. The secondary reaction is the counter-response the body has when thrown off equilibrium by the primary reaction; the secondary reaction is the body restoring equilibrium. With homeopathy, we intend to stimulate the secondary reaction while minimally, if at all, stimulating the symptoms of the primary reaction. For this reason, homeopathic medicines are diluted to miniscule levels. The ingredients used to make homeopathic medicine range from plant, mineral, animal, and man-made materials.

True Healing

Another important founding principle of homeopathy is to provide true healing, rather than a suppression of symptoms. Suppression occurs when specific symptoms disappear but the overall state of the person is worsened. True healing, according to the homeopath, occurs when specific symptoms disappear while the overall state of the person is made better. For this reason homeopathic visits take more time than a typical medical or naturopathic visit. It is important for a homeopathic specialist to know the totality of symptoms so that he or she can determine the direction of cure.

Managing a person's treatment plan can be complicated, which is one reason to seek professional assistance. Homeopathy provides an organized system of principles and theory as well as a full repertoire of nearly 5,000 homeopathic medicines.

New Licensing May Bring Greater Access

Today there are no licensed homeopathic doctors in the United States because it's not a medical profession all to its own. What you have, instead, are homeopathic specialists who are licensed by other means but earn special credentials in homeopathy. For example, naturopathic medicine incorporates homeopathy in its scope of license. Many naturopathic doctors utilize a dozen or so homeopathic medicines in their practice, and they follow homeopathic principles loosely because homeopathy is only part of their overall treatment plan. Seeing a homeopathic specialist, however, awards a person with greater access to the full breadth of homeopathic treatment so that "true healing" is more likely to occur.

Arizona has recently passed a law allowing for the first licensed homeopathic doctor in the United States. The American Medical College of Homeopathy is in the first year of producing such doctors. I expect the number of homeopathic practitioners to continue to rise, making homeopathic treatment easier for patients to find.

Dr. Jennifer White, ND, CCH(cand)/FHANP) is a naturopath and homeopathic specialist in Seattle, Washington. She has been practicing medicine since 2008. Dr. White can be reached at Seattle Homeopathy at 206.721.5121.

Photo credit: rosmary