Homeopathy

Overview

What is homeopathy?

The main idea behind homeopathy is the Law of Similars, which is sometimes explained as “like cures like.” In the late 18th century, a German physician named Samuel Hahnemann read that quinine containing Peruvian bark (chinchona) cured malaria. Hahnemann swallowed a dose of Peruvian bark and began to feel feverish, drowsy, extremely thirsty, and agitated -- all symptoms of malaria. Hahnemann started to experiment more and formed his theory that like cures like, or the Law of Similars: that when a substance in large doses causes certain symptoms, in small doses it can cure these same symptoms.

Herbs and other plants, minerals, venom from snakes, and other substances can be used to make homeopathic remedies. They are diluted again and again and “succussed” or shaken vigorously between each dilution. The process of sequential dilution and succussion is called potentization.

How does homeopathy work?

Homeopathic remedies start with substances such as herbs, minerals, or animal products. These substances are first crushed and dissolved in a liquid -- usually grain alcohol or lactose -- mechanically shaken, then stored. This is the "mother tincture." Homeopaths then dilute tinctures more with alcohol or lactose, either 1 part to 10 (written as "x") or 1 part to 100 (written as "c"). These tinctures are shaken, yielding a 1x or 1c dilution. Homeopaths can further dilute these tinctures 2 times (2x or 2c), 3 times (3x or 3c), and so forth. Many times professional homeopaths will use much higher dilutions, because the more diluted the substance, the more potent its healing powers are thought to be.

Homeopathic remedies aim to stimulate the body's own healing mechanisms. Homeopaths believe that any physical disease has a mental and emotional component. So a homeopathic diagnosis includes physical symptoms (such as feverishness), current emotional and psychological state (such as anxiety and restlessness), and the person’s constitution. A person’s constitution includes qualities related to creativity, initiative, persistence, concentration, physical sensitivities, and stamina. The right remedy for a condition will take all of these aspects into account, so each diagnosis and remedy is individualized. That means 3 people with hay fever could need 3 very different prescriptions.

Health food stores and some pharmacies sell homeopathic remedies for a variety of problems. Remedies are usually taken for no more than 2 - 3 days, although some people may need only 1 - 2 doses before they start feeling better. In some cases daily dosing may be prescribed.

What happens during a visit to the homeopath?

Your first visit to the homeopath can take from 1 - 2½ hours. Because homeopaths treat the person rather than the illness, the homeopath will interview you at length, asking many questions and observing personality traits, as well as unusual behavioral and physical symptoms. The homeopath will also perform a physical examination and possibly order laboratory work.

What illnesses and conditions respond well?

Scientific evidence is mixed. In some clinical trials, homeopathy appeared to be no better than placebo. In other clinical studies, researchers believed they saw benefits from homeopathy. More controlled clinical research is needed.

Preliminary evidence shows that homeopathy may be helpful in treating childhood diarrhea, otitis media (ear infection), asthma, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes, pain, allergies, upper respiratory tract infections, sore muscles, and colds and flu. Some professional homeopaths specialize in treating serious illnesses, such as cancer, mental illness, and autoimmune diseases. In fact, several studies suggest there may be a role for homeopathy in symptom relief and improving quality of life among cancer patients. You should not treat a life-threatening illness with homeopathy alone. Always make sure that all your health care providers know about all the different therapies you are using.

Homeopathic medicines, because they are diluted, generally don’t have side effects. However, some people report feeling worse briefly after starting homeopathic remedies. Homeopaths interpret this as the body temporarily stimulating symptoms while it makes an effort to restore health. Homeopathic medicines are not known to interfere with conventional drugs. However, if you are considering using homeopathic remedies, you should discuss this with your doctor.

Is homeopathy regulated?

The U.S. Congress passed a law in 1938 declaring that homeopathic remedies are to be regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the same manner as nonprescription, over the counter (OTC) drugs. This means that homeopathic medicines can be purchased without a doctor’s prescription. Unlike conventional prescription drugs and new OTC drugs, which must undergo thorough testing and review by the FDA for safety and effectiveness before they can be sold, homeopathic remedies don’t have to undergo clinical trials. They do have to meet legal standards for strength, quality, purity, and packaging. In 1988, the FDA required that all homeopathic medicines list on the label the medical problems they're designed to treat. The FDA also requires the label to list ingredients, dilutions, and instructions for safe use.

The guidelines for homeopathic medicines are found in an official guide, the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States, which is written by a nongovernmental, nonprofit organization of industry representatives and homeopathic experts. The Pharmacopoeia also includes provisions for testing new remedies and verifying their clinical effectiveness.

How can I find a qualified practitioner?

To find a homeopathic provider in your area, contact:

There are homeopathic schools and training programs, although no diploma or certificate from any school provides a license to practice. Many homeopaths are also medical doctors (MDs), although homeopaths are licensed in almost every health profession category, including veterinarians. In most states, practitioners of homeopathy must be licensed health care providers. Several respected certification agencies exist. The American Board of Homeotherapeutics certifies medical doctors and doctors of osteopathic medicine (DOs) who have specialized in homeopathy (DHt indicates a doctor of homeopathy). Naturopathic doctors study homeopathy extensively as part of their medical training and some 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 health care professional, such as an MD or DO who also practices homeopathy.

References

Altunc U, Pittler MH, Ernst E. Homeopathy for childhood and adolescence ailments: systematic review of randomized clinical trials. Mayo Clin Proc. 2007;82(1):69-75.

Bellavite P, Ortolani R, Pontarollo F, Piasere V, Benato G, Conforti A. Immunology and homeopathy. 4. Clinical studies-part 2. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2006;3(4):397-409.

Bellavite P, Ortolani R, Pontarollo F, Piasere V, Benato G, Conforti A. Immunology and homeopathy. 4. Clinical studies-part 1. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2006;3(3):293-301.

Brinkhaus B, Wilkens JM, Ludtke R, Hunger J, Witt CM, Willich SN. Homeopathic arnica therapy in patients receiving knee surgery: results of three randomised double-blind trials. Complement Ther Med. 2006;14(4):237-46.

Cucherat M, Haugh MC, Gooch M, Boissel JP. Evidence of clinical efficacy of homeopathy: a meta-analysis of clinical trials. Eur J Clin Pharmacol. 2000;56:27-33.

Dantas F, Fisher P, Walach H, et al. A systematic review of the quality of homeopathic pathogenetic trials published from 1945 to 1995. Homeopathy. 2007;96(1):4-16.

Dean ME, Coulter MK, Fisher P, Jobst K, Walach H. Reporting data on homeopathic treatments (RedHot): a supplement to CONSORT. Homeopathy. 2007;96(1):42-5.

dos Santos AL, Perazzo FF, Cardoso LG, Carvalho JC. In vivo study of the anti-inflammatory effect of Rhus toxicodendron. Homeopathy. 2007;96(2):95-101.

Ernst E. Homeopathy: what does the "best" evidence tell us? Med J Aust. 2010;192(8):458-60.

Fleming S, Gutknecht N. Naturopathy and Primary Care Practice. Primary Care: Clinics in Office Practice. 2010: 37(1).

Frei H, Everts R, von Ammon K, Kaufmann F, et al. Randomised controlled trials of homeopathy in hyperactive children: treatment procedure leads to an unconventional study design. Experience with open-label homeopathic treatment preceding the Swiss ADHD placebo controlled, randomised, double-blind, cross-over trial.Homeopathy. 2007;96(1):35-41.

Frenkel M. Homeopathy in cancer care. Altern Ther Health Med. 2010;16(3):12-6.

Goossens M, Laekeman G, Aertgeerts B, Buntinx F; ARCH study group. Evaluation of the quality of life after individualized homeopathic treatment for seasonal allergic rhinitis. A prospective, open, non-comparative study. Homeopathy. 2009 Jan;98(1):11-6.

Jacobs J, Herman P, Heron K, Olsen S, Vaughters L. Homeopathy for menopausal symptoms in breast cancer survivors: a preliminary randomized controlled trial. J Altern Complement Med. 2005;11(1):21-7.

Jacobs J, Williams AL, Girard C, Njike VY, Katz D. Homeopathy for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: a pilot randomized-controlled trial. J Altern Complement Med. 2005;11(5):799-806.

Kistin SJ, Newman AD. Induction of labor with homeopathy: a case report. J Midwifery Womens Health. 2007;52(3):303-7.

Mathie RT, Farrer S. Outcomes from homeopathic prescribing in dental practice: a prospective, research-targeted, pilot study. Homeopathy. 2007;96(2):74-81.

McGuigan M. Hypothesis: do homeopathic medicines exert their action in humans and animals via the vomeronasal system? Homeopathy. 2007;96(2):113-9.

Merrell WC, Shalts E. Homeopathy [Review]. Med Clin North Am. 2002;86(1):47-62.

Milazzo S, Russell N, Ernst E. Efficacy of homeopathic therapy in cancer treatment. Eur J Cancer. 2006;42(3):282-9.

Milgrom LR. Journeys in the country of the blind: entanglement theory and the effects of blinding on trials of homeopathy and homeopathic provings. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2007;4(1):7-16.

Mojaver YN, Mosavi F, Mazaherinezhad A, Shahrdar A, Manshaee K. Individualized homeopathic treatment of trigeminal neuralgia: an observational study. Homeopathy. 2007;96(2):82-6.

Mousavi F, Mojaver YN, Asadzadeh M, Mirzazadeh M. Homeopathic treatment of minor aphthous ulcer: a randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Homeopathy. 2009 Jul;98(3):137-41.

Muller-Krampe B, Oberbaum M, Dipl-Math PK, Weiser M. Effects of Spascupreel versus hyoscine butylbromide for gastrointestinal cramps in children. Pediatr Int. 2007;49(3):328-34.

Pilkington K, Kirkwood G, Rampes H, Fisher P, Richardson J. Homeopathy for anxiety and anxiety disorders: a systematic review of the research. Homeopathy. 2006;95(3):151-62.

Ramachandran C, Nair PK, Clement RT, Melnick SJ. Investigation of cytokine expression in human leukocyte cultures with two immune-modulatory homeopathic preparations. J Altern Complement Med. 2007;13(4):403-7.

Rao ML, Roy R, Bell IR, Hoover R. The defining role of structure (including epitaxy) in the plausibility of homeopathy. Homeopathy. 2007;96(3):175-82.

Relton C, Chatfield K, Partington H, Foulkes L. Patients treated by homeopaths registered with the Society of Homeopaths: a pilot study. Homeopathy. 2007;96(2):87-9.

Relton C, Smith C, Raw J, Walters C, Adebajo AO, Thomas KJ, Young TA. Healthcare provided by a homeopath as an adjunct to usual care for Fibromyalgia (FMS): results of a pilot Randomised Controlled Trial. Homeopathy. 2009 Apr;98(2):77-82.

Rossi E, Endrizzi C, Panozzo MA, Bianchi A, Da Frè M. Homeopathy in the public health system: a seven-year observational study at Lucca Hospital (Italy). Homeopathy. 2009 Jul;98(3):142-8.

Rostock M, Naumann J, Guethlin C, Guenther L, Bartsch HH, Walach H. Classical homeopathy in the treatment of cancer patients--a prospective observational study of two independent cohorts. BMC Cancer. 2011;11:19.

Tan G, Craine MH, Bair MJ, et al. Efficacy of selected complementary and alternative medicine interventions for chronic pain. J Rehabil Res Dev. 2007;44(2):195-222.

Thompson EA, Montgomery A, Douglas D, Reilly D. A pilot, randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial of individualized homeopathy for symptoms of estrogen withdrawal in breast-cancer survivors. J Altern Complement Med. 2005;11(1):13-20.

Vickers AJ, Smith C. Homoeopathic Oscillococcinum for preventing and treating influenza and influenza-like syndromes. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006;3:CD001957.

Witt CM, Lüdtke R, Willich SN. Homeopathic treatment of patients with psoriasis--a prospective observational study with 2 years follow-up. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2009 May;23(5):538-43.

Alternative Names

Homeopathic medicine

Version Info

  • Last Reviewed on 10/02/2011
  • Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch)

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2013 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

This page was last updated: May 7, 2013

         
Average rating (123)