While possibly the most counterintuitive of all CAM modalities due to its failure to adhere to generally accepted principles of chemistry and physics, Homeopathy nonetheless continues to be taught and practiced today. Founded by Samuel Christian Hahnemann in 18th century Germany, Homeopathy is based on The Principle of Similars (“like cures like”). “Like cures like” simply refers to the theory that someone with an illness can be cured using substances that produce similar symptoms in healthy people. For example, to cure a fever, you would use a substance that, when administered to a healthy person, causes a fever. The Principle of Similars can be traced conceptually back to Hippocrates and originated from Hahnemann’s finding that when he ingested cinchona bark (an 18th century malaria treatment) he developed the symptoms of malaria.
Perhaps the strangest part of Homeopathy is The Principle of Dilutions, also called The Law of Minimum Dose. This is the part of Homeopathy that appears to conflict with modern chemistry and physics. Homeopathic remedies are created through a series of dilutions, the end result of which is a substance that seems as though it should not contain even a single molecule of the original substance being diluted. All that should remain is the water or alcohol used as solvent. The theory behind why medicine created in this way would be in any way effective is called the “memory of water”. The idea is that despite the fact that none of the original substance remains in the tincture, its “essence” has somehow been transmitted to the water used to dilute it and this essence will trigger the body’s capacity to heal itself. This theory is still highly controversial and the scientific community has yet to conclusively rule one way or another on its veracity.
In the U.S. licensing for Homeopathy varies from state to state (please see National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Homeopathy: An Introduction for details). Typically, Homeopaths are trained under another modality such as Naturopathy or Osteopathy. National certification exists through the Council for Homeopathic Certification, American Board of Homeotherapeutics, and the Homeopathic Academy of Naturopathic Physicians however please note that these organizations are not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Further, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) warns that you should NOT use Homeopathy in place of proven conventional care and, as always, you ought to consult with your licensed primary care provider prior to commencing any homeopathic treatments. Due to the relative lack of scientific research on Homeopathy, safety remains a concern.
DISCLAIMER: This article is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. You should consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making decisions about therapies and/or health conditions.
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4. Fundamentals of Complementary and Alternative Medicine Fourth Edition by Marc S. Micozzi for more detailed information (Ch. 26). Published by Saunders Elsevier, St. Louis, Missouri 2011.
5. Integrative Medicine Second Edition by David Rakel for more detailed information on usage for specific conditions. Copyright 2007, 2003 by Elsevier Inc. Published by Saunders Elsevier, Philadelphia, PA 2007.