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  • Writer's pictureRuth Hull

What is Homeopathy?

I've noticed that a lot of people don't really understand what homeopathy is. When I tell people I'm a homeopath I often get met with a blank stare, or worse, a laugh - "oh, you're one of those". So I thought I would try to explain what this beautiful form of medicine really is all about and why more than 500 million people choose to use it.


Wha tis homoeopathy?
Homoeopathy is a gentle medical system used by millions of people wordwide.

History and principles of homoeopathy


Principle 1: Like cures like

Homeopathy was founded by the German physician Samuel Hahnemann at the end of the 18th century. In addition to being a doctor, Hahnemann was an expert in chemistry and noticed that some poisons caused symptoms similar to those found in common diseases. For example, symptoms of quinine poisoning were similar to symptoms of malaria; and arsenic poisoning induced symptoms similar to cholera. This intrigued him so much that he started experimenting with these toxic substances, diluting them first to minimise their toxicity, and thus was born the first principle of homoeopathy: "like cures like".


"Like cures like" was not a new idea and had already been introduced by Hippocrates in the 5th century BC and espoused by Paracelsus, a 16th century physician who according to Joseph Borzelleca is sometimes called the 'father of medicinal chemistry' or the 'founder of modern chemotherapy'. Paracelsus believed in the principle of similitude in which “a poison in the body would be cured by a similar poison” and he wrote that depending on the dose "what may be harmful in our hands can be transformed into a medicine" (Bellavite et al., 2005).


Principle 2: The minimum dose


I emphasised the words 'depending on the dose' because the idea of the minimum dose, the smallest dose possible, is central to homoeopathy and is the difference between a substance being harmful or helpful.


Hahnemann discovered that the more dilute a substance is, the more effective it is as a medicine and he was able to turn poisonous substances into homoeopathic medicines through the processes of dilution and potentisation.


Although Hahnemann lived more than 200 years ago, his insights into the workings of the human body are astounding. Before immunology was even a science, Hahnemann believed that our bodies have an inbuilt system of healing. He called this the 'life force' or 'vital force' and believed that the symptoms of a disease were caused by the body reacting to a causative agent.


We now know, through the study of immunology, that this is true. For example, the symptoms of inflammation (heat, redness, swelling) are the body's immunological response to whatever has caused that inflammation (eg. a bee sting or a twisted ankle). Similarly, Hahnemann's focus on the importance of diluting substances are seen in the biological concept of hormesis in which the body has an adaptive response that is dose-dependent. For example, low doses stimulate while high doses inhibit. In homoeopathy, we use low doses to stimulate the body's inbuilt system of healing.


In their fascinating article, Immunology and Homeopathy, Bellavite et al. write:


It is likely that no thought has had a more profound effect on medicine than Hippocrates' observation that the manifestations of disease consist of two groups of events: the first being the direct effects of the damage, the second the reaction of repair. The corollary to this is that the direct effects must be removed whenever possible, but the reparative reaction must be promoted in order to imitate nature....By giving a remedy that resembles the disease, this instinctive natural force (in analogy to the hippocratic ‘physis’) is driven to increase its energy to a point at which it becomes stronger than the disease itself, which finally disappears.

Principle 3: Treat the person, not the disease


The first time you visit a homoeopath you'll probably be surprised at how they'll spend ages asking you about your hobbies, fears, dreams and even food preferences when in fact you've gone to find something to fix your daily headaches! You may feel a bit frustrated and only want to talk about your headaches, but it is your answers to these other questions that help them get to know you, discover the real cause of your headaches, remove it and find a remedy to help stimulate your body's own unique healing mechanisms. This is what we mean by 'treat the person, not the disease'.


Homeopaths see symptoms of a disease as signals from the body telling us that the vital force is out of balance. We believe it is important to not suppress but instead 'listen' to these signals - see them as messages that there is an underlying problem that needs to be addressed.


In conventional medicine we see states such as pain or inflammation as being a problem and so take painkillers or anti-inflammatories. In homoeopathy, we see these states as the vital force's attempt to correct an underlying problem in our body. In the Organon of the Medical Art, Hahnemann wrote:

"If even the minutest splinter penetrates a sensitive part, the life principle, which is omnipresent in our body, does not rest until the splinter is carried away through pain, fever, suppuration or necrosis."

From Hahnemann's words you can see that the pain, fever, suppuration or necrosis are not the problem - they are the body's way of trying to get rid of the problem, which in this case is the splinter.


Although scientists today are studying concepts that may be considered applicable to homoeopathy, such as micro-dosing and nanotechnology, it will always be difficult to prove homoeopathy according to western scientific criteria. This is because homoeopathic medicines are chosen on how the person presents with the disease rather than on the disease itself - in other words, it treats the person and not the disease.


In allopathic or western medicine, if three people have the same bacterial throat infection they will receive the same antibiotic while in homoeopathy those three people may get a different remedy each depending on how their body is reacting to the infection. This makes it difficult to do controlled clinical trials on individual homoeopathic medicines, but it doesn't mean that homoeopathy doesn't work.


Homeopathy and the vital force


Before you go, take a moment and think about yourself - what makes you you? What is it that when you are alive makes you who you are? Makes you vibrant and unique.


Is there a life force that makes you who you are? An energy within you? Something which at death leaves and your body becomes nothing more than a mass of organs and cells? Personally, I think there is! Homeopaths call it the vital force - you may know it as qi, chi, ki, prana or soul.


Homoeopathy life force
Life force is universally recognised and different cultures have different names for it - the soul, prana, chi, ki. As homoeopaths we call it the life principle or vital force.

The way I think about health and healing is that you wouldn't kick a man when he is down, now would you? So when you are sick, when your body's energy is low and not really coping, then isn't it a good idea to stimulate its natural healing mechanisms instead of suppressing them? I love what Eckhart Tolle wrote about homeopathy in his book A New Earth:

"According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, medical treatment is the third-leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer in the United States. Homeopathy and Chinese medicine are two examples of possible alternative approaches to disease that do not treat the illness as an enemy and therefore do not create new diseases."

If you're interested in reading research into homoeopathy please take a look at The Faculty of Homeopathy's website.

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