Homeopathy uses very dilute substances to stimulate the body’s healing power. Its basic principle is treat ‘like with like’. This involves treating a patient’s symptoms with minute amounts of a substance that would cause similar symptoms in a healthy person. This practice contrasts with conventional allopathic medicine, in which treating ‘like with opposite’ prevails; that is, a disease is treated with a substance that opposes it.
The first person to practise the healing principle of treating ‘like with like’ was Greek physician Hippocrates (c.460-377BCE). His method went against the thinking of the time, which held that the gods were the main force behind a disease, and that a cure could be found by treating with a substance that had an opposite effect in a healthy person.
German doctor Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843) was the modern-day founder of homeopathy. He proved the principle of ‘like curing like’ with his experiments with quinine, known to be an effective treatment for malaria. He found he developed malarial symptoms after taking doses of quinine (he was otherwise in good health). These effects lasted hours after each dose.
He tested other substances in the same way, in a process known as ‘proving’. He ‘proved’ more than 100 homeopathic remedies in his lifetime, publishing his findings in ‘The Organon of Rational Medicine’ in 1811. He believed that the remedies worked by activating a person’s ‘vital force’, that is, the body’s own healing potential. Having conducted tests on many volunteers, he came to realise the importance of taking into account the personality traits of each person receiving the treatment. He found that particular ‘types’ of people manifested different symptoms to the same disease and so required treatment with different remedies in accordance with their ‘type’.
American doctor James Tyler Kent (1849-1943) furthered Hahnemann’s work on the different ‘types’ of people and the matching of a remedy to their emotional and physical characteristics. These ‘types’ became known as ‘constitutional types’.
Remedies can be made from many different substances. The most common sources are flowers, plants, roots, trees, poisons, minerals and metals. Certain insects are also used. Hahnemann used the smallest possible amount of a substance to trigger a healing effect. This was to minimise side effects. He realised that the more a substance was diluted, the better the results, provided it was also vigorously shaken (in a process known as succussion) at each stage of dilution. Counterintuitive though it seems, the less of the original substance that remained in the remedy, the greater its potency and effectiveness. The process of diluting a remedy to render it effective is called potentisation. First an alcohol/water extract is made from the substance. This is the mother tincture. The extract is diluted to the required potency.
The main potencies are denoted by x, c and m: x means the remedy has been diluted one part mother tincture in 9 drops of water; c means one part of mother tincture in 99 drops of water; and m means one part of mother tincture in 999 drops of water. A 1c potency is one part in 99 parts of water. A 2c potency is created by taking one part of the previous dilution (i.e., the 1c potency) and diluting it in 99 parts of water. The most common potencies used are 6c, 12c and 30c.
Once the required potency is reached, a few drops of the substance are applied to lactose (milk sugar) tablets. The tablets must be kept dry and away from direct sunlight. For the purposes of self-treatment as detailed here, it is suggested that the 30c potencies are used, as these are commonly available. To obtain the best results, consult a homeopath. They may prescribe higher potencies depending on the initial consultation and the presenting problem. This is particularly the case if the ailment has a strong emotional or mental aspect.
1857 painting by Alexander Beydeman showing historical figures and personifications of homeopathy observing the brutality of medicine of the 19th century
Hippocrates, in about 400 BC, perhaps originated homeopathy when he prescribed a small dose of mandrake root – which in larger doses produced mania – to treat mania itself; in the 16th century the pioneer of pharmacology Paracelsus declared that small doses of “what makes a man ill also cures him.” Samuel Hahnemann (1755–1843) gave homeopathy its name and expanded its principles in the late 18th century. At that time, mainstream medicine used methods like bloodletting and purging, and administered complex mixtures, such as Venice treacle, which was made from 64 substances including opium, myrrh, and viper’s flesh. These treatments often worsened symptoms and sometimes proved fatal. Hahnemann rejected these practices – which had been extolled for centuries as irrational and inadvisable; instead, he advocated the use of single drugs at lower doses and promoted an immaterial, vitalistic view of how living organisms function, believing that diseases have spiritual, as well as physical causes.