Homoeopathy – What is it?

Homoeopathy is a form of alternative medicine developed since 1796 by a German physician and polymath, Samuel Hahnemann, and based on the doctrine of ‘like cures like’ whereby a substance that causes symptoms of disease in a healthy individual will help cure the same symptoms in sick individuals.

Homoeopathic Remedies

Homoeopathic medicines that are prescribed are known as remedies. They are made from a wide variety of substances taken from the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms. Hahnemann’s discoveries took a long lifetime to formulate though he became a renowned if controversial physician across Germany and later France.   His vital realisation that true healing is dependant on ‘like cures like’ came about through his study of scientific papers on the medical use of the bark of the chinchona tree from South America. The medicine, recommended, tried and tested for treating malaria – rife across the continent of Europe at the time – had a reputation for poisoning healthy people who produced exactly the same symptoms as a malarial patient. This coincidence sparked in Hahnemann a drive to understand his observation. Noting that Belladonna (the ‘herbal’ extract of Deadly Nightshade), used to treat scarlet fever in undiluted doses,  caused potentially dangerous reactions  he experimented with dose dilution in order to avoid causing unnecessary symptom aggravations in the sick.

He realised that remedies should be prepared to their lowest effective potential dosage in order to effect the gentlest possible cure. It is here that the most confusion and disinformation about homoeopathy begins. Hahnemann prepared his medicines by diluting a single drop of tincture in 99 drops of pure alcohol and then agitating the liquid violently in a process called ‘succussion’. (He drummed the fist-held test tube on his bible.) If the dilution and succussion are repeated more than six times, very little if any of the original substance remains in the liquid. Hahnemann was very much aware that the dilution went beyond chemistry and into the realm of physics; he discovered that the intrinsic energy or ‘spirit’  – he knew nothing of atomic energy – of the substance maintains and enhances the curative nature of the original material but holds no toxicity.  This has obvious advantages when poisonous substances are used; homoeopaths frequently prescribe such remedies as Belladonna, Arsenic, Aconite or Copper.  However, what works in the preparation of poisons proves true for all materials; chamomile and onion are also common remedies. Even insoluble substances can be turned into homoeopathic remedies: Hahnemann began the preparation of metals by grinding tiny amounts in milk sugar (a process called trituration) until they were soluble in alcohol and then succussed them to the required potency. Today, every homoeopathic pharmacy in the world prepares remedies in the manner Hahnemann laid down. All remedies, homoeopaths believe, are not just ‘dilutions’ but preparations of the intrinsic energy held within the the substances at their atomic and therefore most basic level.

Potency of remedies

‘Potency’ in homoeopathy refers to the number of times a remedy has been put through the process of trituration and succussion. The ‘centesimal’ scale refers to the 6c, 30c, 200c, 1M (1000)c, 10M, 50M and CM (100,000) which are commonly available from the pharmacies. Usually the potencies from 6c t0  200c are made by hand while everything above is prepared with the aid of a machine that measures and agitates the remedy automatically.

Remedy selection

Homoeopathic remedies are tested on people; ‘provers’ are volunteers who take remedies in order to experience their symptomatic effects. The homoeopathic materia medica is the book of remedy descriptions; each remedy is described according to the symptoms that have been recorded by provers though, over the last 200 years, many symptoms have been added from clinical observation. The ‘repertory’ is the book of symptoms with the remedies that are known to cover them. These two books form the backbone of a homoeopath’s practice. Cross-referencing between them reveals which remedies should be considered for the prescription. With many remedies overlapping in what they can cover, differentiation between them is paramount as only the remedy that is most ‘similar’ is likely to effect a curative result.

The homoeopathic consultation

On meeting the homoeopath for the first time, a careful description and history of the problem to be treated is taken. Questions on every aspect are asked: the how, when, where, why, which and what. This is in order to discover the specific nature of the condition and in what ways it is unique to the patient. While there are many patients who suffer from asthma, for example, and many different medicines that are described as asthma remedies, it is important to be able to individualise in order to match patient to remedy. (Some remedies heal ‘wet’ asthma; others, the dry kind.) The practitioner wants to mould the homoeopathy to the patient, not the other way round.

One of Hahnemann’s greatest insights underlies a foundation stone of homoeopathic philosophy. He propounded the theory that humanity was susceptible to a host of different ailments that were hereditary in origin. He called the various different hereditary causes, ‘miasms’. He understood that we all inherit particular forms of disposition to illness which lead to one person being likely to develop gout and another respiratory problems while a third might suffer from psoriasis. He went further: he stated that disease can be ‘generally traced to some latent, deep-seated, underlying chronic or inherited tendency’ and by identifying patterns of symptoms associated with each miasm, he was able prescribe for patients who had come to a standstill in their treatment as a result of the hereditary disposition being stronger than the body’s efforts to eliminate the symptoms.

In homoeopathic prescribing it is not enough to treat symptoms alone. Belladonna does not treat all fevers; Arnica is not suitable for all bruising. In treating a patient, emotional symptoms are as important as physical symptoms. Therefore, seeing a patient as a whole being becomes a vital part of the treatment.

A homoeopath will usually see a patient, on average, once every month or six weeks, with updates between if needed until the condition is eased or healed. More frequent appointments may be needed for those with more chronic complaints. Hahnemann stated that a disease state can be latent and may manifest at any point in one’s lifetime, as is often the case with the many chronic diseases that may come to affect us. The idea of using homoeopathy as a system of maintenance to avoid the worst effects of chronic disease appealed to Hahnemann and his followers right up to the present day.  For some people homoeopathy becomes a way of life. It becomes part of life’s journey during which remedies not only act curatively but are a means of discovering more and more of one’s potential.  Seeing a homoeopath regularly throughout your life helps to maintain and balance a healthy mind and body.

Despite the ridicule Homoeopathy has provoked among scientists in general and the medical establishment in particular, the sheer number of homoeopathic patients, practitioners, colleges and pharmacies around the world speaks volumes for the efficacy of a very gentle healing art. Because the medicines are rendered harmless by trituration and succussion it is safe even when there are curative reactions; usually in the form of elimination of waste or toxicity from one or other part of the body. It achieves its results not by suppression but by provoking the body’s own healing powers into action, an action temporarily suspended by the strength of the condition. Practitioners do not heal this or that disease; they prescribe remedies in order to remind the body of what it needs to do to heal.