The word homeopathy stems from the Greek words homoios, meaning similar and pathos, meaning suffering. One of the main premises of homeopathy is the principle that if a substance can cause symptoms in a healthy person, then it can stimulate self-healing of similar symptoms in a sick person. Samuel Christian Hahnemann, a German physician, discovered that dilutions of natural substances from plants, minerals and animals that produce symptoms of illness in healthy persons cure those same symptoms in sick persons. Particular remedies specifically match different symptom patterns of illness and act to stimulate the bodys innate, natural healing response. Hahnemann coined the sentence: Similia similibus curentur, which means like is healed by like.
Conventional medical treatments of the 18th and 19th centuries included bloodletting, purging, blistering, and massive doses of mineral and plant extracts. Hahnemann, who was a physician and the author of the standard Apothecary Lexicon as well as the appointed standardizer of the German Pharmacopeia, became thoroughly disillusioned with the widespread medical practices at that time.
Toward the end of the 18th century Hahnemann was eventually inspired to make public his initial formulation of homeopathic principles, when he discovered the properties of Peruvian bark with regards to the symptoms of Malaria. At the time it was believed that the curative action of Peruvian bark (a source of what is known today as quinine) in malarial afflictions was due to its bitter and astringent qualities. Upon reflection Hahnemann realized that many substances of much greater bitterness and astringency had no healing action on malaria which was quite common at that time. He self-administered the bark preparation over several days and recorded his reactions. Much to his surprise he discovered that Peruvian bark, taken by himself as a healthy subject, produced symptoms similar to malaria. This observation, confirmed by repeated re-administration and cessation of the bark, led Hahnemann to think that it was precisely the quality of creating a pattern of symptoms similar to malaria that made Peruvian bark a curative agent in people suffering from the disease. He was thus lead to postulate that a substance that produces symptoms in a healthy person cures those symptoms in a sick person.
Although Hahnemann was the first to clearly formulate the law of similars and first began to use its principals in a systematic way, he clearly states that a number of people before him had very similar ideas. The Law of Similars has a very rich historical basis. Hippocrates (VI century, B.C.) wrote: through the like, disease is produced, and through the application of the like it is cured. Celsus and Paracelsus are known to have used the Law of Similars in their practice. The Delphic Oracle proclaimed: That which makes sick shall heal. In one of the ancient Jewish writings, called Mekilta, we read: Man does not heal with the same thing with which he wounds, but he wounds with a knife and heals with a plaster. The Holy One, blessed be He, however is not so, but He heals with the very same thing with which he smites. Modern medicine uses this principle daily. The father of immunology , Dr. Emil Adolph von Behring, wrote about the origins of immunology: By what technical term could we more appropriately speak of this influence than by Hahnemanns word homeopathy? Desensitization techniques used by conventional allergologists utilize very small doses of allergens to stop a pathological response in the patient.
Hahnemann went on to administer other commonly used medical substances on himself, his family, his medical colleagues and friends. He called these meticulously executed experiments provings, considering them experiments in toxicology in which healthy subjects were given small doses of a substance in order to determine the specific symptoms a substance causes in overdose. Over the course of the following years he created drug pictures for a significant amount of substances tested. During his lifetime, Hahnemann proved the symptom pictures of about 100 substances. Interestingly enough symptoms noticed in provings corresponded to symptoms described by independent authors in reports of poisoning with the same substance. Subsequent generations of homeopaths continued to conduct provings of different substances until the early 1900s. Currently the homeopathic pharmacopeia recognizes more than 2,000 remedies, with more being added all the time. The Homeopathic Pharmacopeia of the United States (American Institute of Homeopathy, 1979) is the official standard for the preparation of homeopathic medicines in this country.
Today an increasing number of patients seem to seek out homeopathic treatment. In the United States and Europe, the sale of homeopathic medicines was reported to increase by 20% to 30% per year for the past 20 years. In Europe, because of the publics interest in homeopathy, the European parliament mandated the European Commission to examine whether homeopathy is beneficial. Based on the report of the Homeopathy Medicine Research Group, it was recommended that homeopathy be integrated into medical practice. In 1998, the French Conseil Nationale de lOrdre des Médicins (the equivalent of the American Medical Association) recommended the official recognition of homeopathy, with the inclusion of homeopathic training in the undergraduate medical curriculum and the creation of a postgraduate degree. Coincidentally, a British Commission formed by the Prince of Wales to examine the possible integration of complementary health care into conventional biomedical practice called for education and training in various complementary and alternative disciplines, including homeopathy with the consequent integration into mainstream health care.
In England, Australia, New Zealand, India, Russia, Brazil and many other countries homeopathy is recognized as a valid mode of treatment. In the United Kingdom, around 42% of physicians refer patients to homeopathic practitioners, and homeopathic training is the most popular post-graduate training program. In France, approximately 36% of the public and 32% of the physicians use homeopathic remedies. Moscow, Russia, has a homeopathic hospital with a large homeopathic outpatient clinic and many homeopathic pharmacies with many people using various homeopathic preparations daily. India has approximately 125 four- and five-year homeopathic medical colleges with over 100,000 homeopathic doctors practicing around the country.