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 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 to conduct a physical exam.
Homeopathic remedies can be formulated for almost any condition. Here are a few common uses:
- Travel ailments
- Emotional trauma
- Motion sickness
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.
Homeopathic products are included under the U.S. Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which means companies producing these products must comply with FDA labeling and good manufacturing requirements. This includes being subject to FDA inspections.
However, homeopathic products do not have to undergo the same safety and efficacy testing as prescription and over-the-counter drugs. This means the content of some products may differ from what is specified on the product label.
Always be sure you buy from reputable brands and sources. You can also check the FDA's MedWatch website for recent recalls and safety warnings.
Also keep in mind that the safety of homeopathy treatment in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established.