Homeopathy is an alternative medical practice that aims to trigger the body’s natural system of healing. Homeopathy is mainly based on the principle of "like cures like." According to homeopathy theory, a substance that produces similar symptoms in healthy people can cure a disease. The homeopath prescribes highly diluted substances mainly in the tablet form, as homeopathy follows "law of minimum dose." This means the lower the dose of the medication, the greater its effectiveness.
A German doctor called Samuel Hahnemann in 1790s originated the idea of homeopathy. He developed homeopathy on the basis of experimentation, first on himself, and then with others. Initially, Dr. Hahnemann struggled desperately to make a living as a physician. However, one day he made a discovery with intake of regular doses of cinchona bark (i.e. quinine). He realized that consumption of bark produced all the symptoms of intermittent fever (malaria), but to a mild degree. This led to an idea of treating ‘like with like,’ the principle on which homeopathic practice is based.
Today homeopathy is widely practiced in various regions of the world. According to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, an estimated 3.9 million adults, and 910,000 children used homeopathy in the previous year in the US.
Use of Homeopathy
- According to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey,an estimated 3.9 million adults and 910,000 children used homeopathy in the previous year, in the US.
- A recent survey reported that homeopathy is the most commonly used Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) therapy in the developing world. The study reported that about 53 percent adults from UAE use homeopathy to treat various conditions.
- Another study from Brazil reported that people with higher income and schooling levels tend to use homeopathy more frequently. Most of the people reported the treatment with homeopathic medicines to be satisfactory.
There are two basic principles underlying the working of homeopathy. First principle is 'like cures like.' According to homeopathy theory, an illness can be cured by a medicine if it produces similar, but milder, symptoms in a healthy individual. For example, a medicine that triggers mild nausea in a healthy person may show benefit in a patient suffering from severe nausea. Second principle of homeopathy is dilution of medicinal substances. Homeopathic medicines are prepared using a careful process of dilution and succussion (a specific form of vigorous shaking). As per the homeopathy theory, homeopathic medicines gain greater potency when diluted.
How Are Homeopathic Medications Prepared?
Homeopathic medicines are prepared by dissolving the original substance in water, glycerine, or alcohol by process of dilution and succession (shaking). Homeopathic remedies are mostly formulated as sugar pellets, which are to be placed under the tongue. However, they may also be available in other forms like ointments, gels, and tablets. The original medicinal substances used for preparation can be obtained from plants, minerals, chemicals, animals, bacteria, viruses, human tissue or secretions, and even venoms.
Homeopathy is used to treat an extremely wide range of conditions. However, there is little evidence to support homeopathy as an effective treatment for any specific condition. Following are some condition for which people tend to seek homeopathy treatment
- Allergic conditions, such as asthma and eczema
- Mental health conditions, such as depression, stress, and anxiety
- Skin allergies (e.g. Dermatitis)
- High blood pressure
Risk and Side Effects
- Homeopathic medications, prepared and prescribed by trained professionals, are generally safe and unlikely to cause severe adverse reactions. However, these drugs may pose risks if they are not prepared corrected, incorrectly diluted, or contaminated with microorganisms.
- Some homeopathic medications are prepared from heavy metals like mercury or iron, which can cause certain adverse effects if not properly diluted.
- Homeopathic practitioners expect some of their patients to experience “homeopathic aggravation” (a temporary worsening of existing symptoms after taking a homeopathic prescription). However, there is not much research done regarding the safety of such aggravations. Therefore, it is advisable to contact your health care provided if any changes in symptoms are noted.
Laws regulating the practice of homeopathy in the US vary from state to state. Usually, individuals who are licensed to practice medicine or another health care profession can legally practice homeopathy. Some states include homeopathy within the scope of practice of chiropractic, naturopathy, and physical therapy.
Remember the Following Before Opting for Homeopathy
- Do not consider homeopathic medications as a substitute to your conventional medications
- Although homeopathic remedies are highly diluted, some of them may contain substantial amounts of active ingredients and therefore could cause side effects and drug interactions
- If you are thinking of using any homeopathic remedy, consult your health care provider (HCP) before using it. The HCP may be able to help you determine whether the product might pose a risk of side effects or drug interactions
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- Homeopathy. Available online: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/homeopathy/Pages/Introduction.aspx. Accessed on December 26, 2013.
- Homeopathy: An Introduction. Available online: http://nccam.nih.gov/health/homeopathy?nav=gsa. Accessed on December 26, 2013.
- Mathew E, Muttappallymyalil J. Self-reported use of complementary and alternative medicine among the health care consumers at a tertiary care center in Ajman, United Arab emirates. Ann Med Health Sci Res 2013;3:215-219.
- Rodrigues-Neto JF, Figueiredo MF. Prevalence of the use of homeopathy by the population of Montes Claros, Minas Gerais, Brazil. Sao Paulo Med J. 2009;127(6):329-334.