Homeopathy may possibly be the single most misused and misunderstood word in the entire field of holistic health. It is commonly (but incorrectly) used to mean holistic, alternative health, nutrition, or to apply to vitamin and mineral supplements. It is often used to refer to those who treat illnesses with the use of diet and nutritional supplements. None of these uses of the word homeopathy or homeopath is even remotely correct, accurate, or appropriate. Homeopathy is a separate and distinct medical science and is not a part of the fields of allopathic medicine, nutrition, naturopathy, herbalism, aroma therapy or any other modality excepts its own. It is certainly possible for practitioners in these other fields to have studied homeopathy and even for some of them to have become practicing homeopaths but they are not connected fields.
What is homeopathy? How does homeopathy work? Does homeopathy work? What are homeopathic remedies? How are homeopathic remedies made? What is the difference between classical homeopathy and complex or combination homeopathy? What is a homeopathic “proving”? What is a repertory? What is a Materia Medica?
The preceding questions are the focus of this article and I hope that in these paragraphs, I will be able to provide you with a much better understanding of homeopathy than you may currently possess. Please read on so that you will never again use the word homeopathy in place of the word holistic. Please give this article to your clients, patients, and friends so that they too will begin to better understand homeopathy and reduce their incorrect use of the word.
Let me begin by saying that the purpose of this article is not to teach you homeopathy. If you wish to learn homeopathy, you will need a great deal more time and effort than it will take you to read this article. Thinking you can learn homeopathy from a short journal article would be as silly as reading an article in a medical journal in order to become a physician. Homeopathy is both simple and extremely complex. Most of the best homeopaths will generally admit that if they continue studying for the rest of their lives, they might learn to be as good a homeopath as they would like to become. This might make homeopathy sound so complicated that you don’t ever want to start your training. Nothing could be further from the truth. You can quickly learn enough about homeopathic first aid that you will be able to help your family in ways you never imagined and without the use of toxic drugs. So read on and begin your education. After all, you have to start somewhere.
The founder/discoverer of homeopathy was Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, a physician and chemist. He was born in Germany in 1755 and died in 1843. Dr. Hahnemann received his medical degree at the age of 24, but soon realized that, similar to the medicine practiced today, doctors often created more problems then they helped, and rarely truly cured anyone of disease. (Note: only our bodies can actually cure us of disease)
Dr. Hahnemann discovered and expanded on the principle of “like cures like”, which is the main doctrine of homeopathy. In simplistic form this means that a substance which will cause a certain set of symptoms (often referred to as the symptom picture) in a healthy person, will help heal these same symptoms in the ill person, hence, like cures like. At first examination this may seem preposterous or at the very least, extremely hard to believe. When examined more closely, however, this principle begins to get extremely interesting. Hahnemann first experimented with Cinchona bark, a malaria cure, and found that it produced in him the chills, weakness, and sweats that are common to the actual illness of malaria. Hahnemann found that diluted and potentized concentrations of various substances could indeed cure the same symptoms in the ill person that they would otherwise have caused in a healthy person. His major work on homeopathic philosophy and treatment was (and is) called the Organon of Medicine and was continually updated and republished throughout his life. The final 6 th edition was actually published 75 years after his death and was based on his final notes and writings toward the end of his career.
What is homeopathy? Simply speaking, it is the science of treating any and every health related problem by making use of homeopathic remedies based on the “like cures like” principle. When I say every problem, I am not being over expansive in my description. Homeopathy is being used to treat all manners of dis-ease and un-health. Many homeopaths, for instance, specialize in the treatment of emotional disorders, so homeopathic treatment is not restricted to any particular form of health problem. On the contrary, a homeopath is generally looking for the remedy which is the similimum, or the exactly correct homeopathic remedy for each patient. The premise of homeopathic prescribing is that if the exact remedy or similimum is found and used correctly, the individual will slowly heal on all levels and in all ways. This philosophy is extremely difficult for most non- homeopaths to accept. The idea that a person’s emotional problems and various physical ailments can all be addressed by a single dose of a certain homeopathic remedy is mind boggling. Nonetheless, this is what has occured with many thousands of patients that have sought out and found a good homeopath. For some, the movement towards better health is rapid, while for others it may take many months or even many years. Our bodies do not heal immediately from problems which have plagued us for a long time. Often, during the homeopaths search for the correct remedy, many different remedies may be used over an extended period of time. This could cover many months or many years during which time the patient has generally getting a lot better. No form of medicine is an exact science, but at least with homeopathy, symptoms do not get suppressed, they get addressed and slowly (or sometimes quickly) eliminated or reduced.
There are so many thousands of remedies and numerous intricacies of each, that finding the correct remedy for major health problems takes a great deal of experience and training. Please don’t get discouraged by what I have just said. The use of homeopathy for first aid around the house is a great deal simpler to learn. Treating your family for things such as insect bites/stings, nausea, fevers, bruises, headaches, and much much more, may be learned from some of the books I will reference. More importantly, the knowledge you can gain from reading these books and utilizing homeopathy with your family can be both rewarding, time saving, money saving, pain saving, and possibly even life saving. Just remember not to consider yourself a doctor simply because you have read a book on homeopathy and have helped a number of friends or relatives with various injuries or health problems.
A “proving” is what is carried out in order to determine the “symptom picture” for a particular homeopathic preparation. A number of people are given a particular remedy, and then for a number of days or weeks they must record every symptom that they experience which is not normal for them. This is complicated and would include things like what types of dreams they had, any itches or twitches, vision problems, emotional changes, fevers, temperature abnormalities, headaches and a great deal more.
All of these symptoms from the various individuals are recorded and carefully cross-referenced to form the symptom picture for that remedy. Please do not think it is as simple as I have just described, it is not. In fact, almost every part of this article is in a simplified and condensed form. There will be a number of books and other references listed at the end of this article for those readers interested in gaining more information about the fascinating field of homeopathy.
What are homeopathic remedies? Any substance whether it is of animal, vegetable, or mineral origin can be made into a homeopathic remedy. There must be a “proving” done so that homeopaths understand what to use the remedy for, but the list of possible substances is endless. Bee venom, tarantula, pus, echinacea, lead, mercury, arsenic, common salt, dogs milk, etc, ad infinitum. These are but a tiny number of the remedies listed in the homeopaths master reference book called the Materia Medica.
How are homeopathic remedies made? This is actually done in a very regimented but simple manner. First a mother tincture is made by mixing the substance being used with a diluent such as water, grain alcohol, or a mixture of the two. For example the herb Arnica is often used as a remedy in homeopathy. If the flowering heads of an arnica plant were ground up and soaked for a number of days in an alcohol solution, so as to extract the active ingredients of arnica, this mixture would now be a called a “mother tincture” or herbal concentrate. This concentrate would then be filtered or strained to remove the plant parts. In order to sequentially dilute this herbal tincture into a homeopathic remedy, the following procedure might be followed. One ounce of the tincture would be added to nine ounces of a 50% grain alcohol and water solution. This diluted solution would then be “succussed” (rapped firmly against a surface such as a book) 100 times in order to “imprint” the energetic force of the arnica into the molecular structure of the liquid. This solution is now referred to as being a 1X potency. One, because it is the first dilution from the mother tincture and “X” to represent the decimal or 10 th or one part in nine of the dilution. The same procedure continues in order to get higher potencies. For example one ounce of the 1X solution is then added to nine ounces of the diluent (the 50% alcohol in water liquid). This second dilution is succussed 100 times and is labeled Arnica 2X and so on continually till the 6X or 12X or 30X is reached depending on what homeopathic potency is desired. If, instead, you began by diluting one ounce of mother tincture in ninety nine ounces of diluent then the first dilution would be a hundredth or centesimal dilution and would be labeled 1C for first centesimal dilution. This in turn would be continued to get higher centesimal dilutions.
You can see that although the procedure is both straightforward and simple, it gets extremely time consuming. The fact that we can purchase the necessary remedies pre- made is essential considering how many remedies there are in general use. After the remedy is made, it may be absorbed into small pellets or sugar pills so as to be sold and used in that form or may be kept liquid form. Storage and shipping is easier in pills or pellets and leakage or evaporation is no longer a problem. Both liquid and pellet forms of remedies are used throughout the world. Some homeopathic remedies are referred to as the “polychrest” remedies. These are the ones which are used the most often, have been well proven, and whose effects are the most well documented and understood.
Does homeopathy really work? This is a question which has been discussed, argued about, researched and written about for a very long time. In my view, to ask if homeopathy really works is no longer a valid question. It is as silly a question as to ask whether Acupuncture or Ayurvedic Medicine really work. The answer to all three questions would have to be yes. They have all been used on thousands or more accurately hundreds of thousand (actually millions) of patients around the world. They have all been thoroughly studied and have been instrumental in the healing of many people. Like the field which we today call allopathic medicine, none of these other fields of medicine is able to cure every disease or alleviate every symptom. The difference is that of the four, only modern allopathic medicine is documented to be killing hundreds of thousands of people every year between dangerous and/or unnecessary surgeries and deadly prescription and non prescription drugs and drug interactions. The Hippocratic Oath of “First do no harm” appears to be being violated by the vast majority of medical doctors in practice today. Homeopaths, Naturopaths, Nutritionists, etc., appear to be the health professionals who are actually working within the boundaries of the Hippocratic Oath.
My own personal opinion, and that of many thousands of other health professionals, is that homeopathy works extremely well when used correctly. In addition, homeopathy does not have the deadly side effects of the numerous drugs currently being prescribed by many physicians and which are taken by the handful by many thousand of their patients.
How does homeopathy work? This question is a great deal more difficult to answer. Even in modern times, there are many things which we do not know. It is universally accepted, for example, that we do not understand all of the ways in which aspirin works. Many things about the human body and its plethora of complex biochemical and electrical interactions are still well beyond our grasp. Should people stop living just because we do not yet understand all there is to know? Should we stop using aspirin just because we don’t fully understand it? The best rule will always be “do no harm”. If we actually stick to this rule, then we should continually investigate all possible methods of healing even if we cannot fully elaborate on exactly what is taking place. United States Government studies have shown that over 50% of drugs and surgical procedures have never been proven to do what is claimed for them, but they continue to be used every day.
It is believed by many scientists that all life is energy. Ki, Chi, Qi, Prana, and other words in other languages are used to designate the esoteric term of “life force energy”. If we temporarily accept that we are in fact electrical beings run and effected by energies, then homeopathy becomes a bit easier to fathom. The body, human or animal, (or bird, fish, reptile, etc.) has millions of electrical energetic forces which continually act upon it, help it to live, or in essence actually are its life. Since energies react with one another, then every food, herb, water, sound, emotion, etc., will in some way effect any living thing in its proximity since they are all forms of energy. Homeopathic remedies are made by sequential dilution and succession as previously explained. The energy of the remedy has been imprinted into the molecular structure of the diluent (liquid) and will then be released and begin to act upon the living animal or human which takes or is given the remedy. This is a vibrational energy, so it acts in a more subtle manner than magnetism, infra red heat, or gamma radiation. In fact, many low dose (6 or 12X and 6 or 12C) remedies, do not generally have any noticeable effect unless there is an appropriate problem in the organism for their energy to act upon. In other words, if you take a low dose homeopathic remedy to treat a problem, and you have chosen an incorrect remedy, there will be no corresponding set of symptoms and there will be no detrimental (or beneficial) effect noticed. It is for this reason that homeopathy is so safe to use and to learn. The remedies sold in drug stores and health food stores are generally low potencies and therefore not harmful if you prescribe them for yourself or your family incorrectly.
Two of the most important books for the professional or even serious amateur homeopath are the Materia Medica and the Repertory. There are many different versions of each written by various authorities in the field both past and present.
Materia Medica is a book made up of a compilation of the reported symptoms from the “provings” of thousands of homeopathic remedies. It is arranged by organ system and is used by every homeopath in order to help find the correct remedy for a particular patient’s symptoms. There are quite a few materia medicas and various homeopaths prefer one or more over others. Page through one in a homeopathic pharmacy or bookstore to get a better understanding of just how complex and thorough they are and the kind of information they contain. The first time you try to use a materia medica, it will seem overwhelming, but without one, it is impossible to truly practice homeopathy other than basic first aid. Most good homeopathic first aid books or other beginners books on the subject will have a useable but extremely abbreviated materia medica.
A Repertory is the other important book for the practicing homeopath. While the materia medica lists a homeopathic remedy and then gives every single symptom associated with its use, the repertory is quite different. This equally voluminous work, first lists the symptom (you are looking to treat) and then gives you all the possible remedies which may be associated with the treatment of this symptom. As with the materia medica, there are quite a few different repertories for which homeopaths show their various preferences. You will be just as overwhelmed the first time you try to use a repertory, as you are with your first experience using a materia medica. Many good beginner books and first aid books on homeopathy also will have a very useable but extremely abbreviated repertory.
If you decide to expand your knowledge past what you gain from reading a few beginning books on homeopathy, you will most definitely need to purchase at least one repertory and materia medica. If you truly get into the field, you will end up owning a number of each for their variations, as well as possibly $500 to $5000 dollars worth of homeopathic computer programs. As I emphasized before however, neither of these two special books nor the expensive computer software is needed in order to begin your instruction and make good use of homeopathic first aid for your family.
The LAST thing I want to do is to discourage anyone reading this article from getting your feet wet in this fascinating field and using it in your home to great benefit. Actually, I encourage you to indeed get your feet wet in this fascinating medical field. Just pick up a couple of the beginners books I recommend at the end of this article.
Classical Homeopathy and Complex Homeopathy:
This last part of my article will be a discussion of the difference between Classical homeopathy and what is often referred to as complex homeopathy. I will try to be as open minded and accurate as possible, since I am in the business of education as well as in the practice of helping people get well. This topic is often one which promotes heated discussions, since most professional homeopaths feel that complex homeopathy is either bogus, incorrect use of homeopathy, misuse of homeopathic principles, or not homeopathy at all. I will venture to stay somewhat clear of this argument as I explain the differences. I will however give some of my observations as well as the observations made and expressed to me by some of my mentors and teachers.
In general, the standard practice of homeopathy is that of Classical Homeopathy. This is to say that if you see a professional homeopath, he or she will be practicing classical homeopathy. You will generally have a one to three hour intake or first consultation, which will give the homeopath a tremendous amount of information about yourself. With this information, a symptom picture will be developed and either at that time, or a day or two later, the homeopath will determine what remedy he or she believes is correct for you. Most often, you will be instructed to take a single dose of this remedy in a particular potency, and wait to see how it affects you and the symptoms for which you sought help (as well as many additional symptoms which came up during the initial consultation but which may not have been part of your reasons for seeking help). The amount of time which may pass during this waiting and reporting period may be as short as a few days, but is more often a number of weeks and could easily be many months. Homeopathic remedies can continue working and balancing the body’s energies for a very long time before they cease to be effective (unless they get antidoted). During this time, the homeopath will generally not want to switch you to another remedy.
When working with a classical homeopath, you will probably be instructed not to consume any foods or participate in any activity which it is felt might “antidote” the effects of the remedy you will be taking. There is some disagreement as to what can, may, or will “antidote” (stop or interfere with) the curative effects of homeopathic remedies. A few of the things on this list include coffee, menthol, strong mint flavored foods, and radiation or chemotherapy, and acupuncture treatments.
Complex Homeopathy is the use of remedies which contain more than just a single homeopathic substance. Often they may contain a combination (and are also called combination remedies) of as many as 4-15 or more different single remedies together in one bottle. There may even be a number of different potencies of some of these remedies. (Note: a product containing a number of different potencies of the same homeopathic substances is called a homaccord). Complex or combination homeopathic remedies have been formulated for many different uses. Health food stores and pharmacies generally carry remedies labeled for colds, headaches, nausea, constipation etcetera. If you looked up any of these symptoms in a repertory you would find numerous different remedies listed as possible treatments for the problem. Since someone’s headache, for example, might be different in many ways from the headache that another person has (different type, area of head, quality of pain, time headache is felt, etc.) a different remedy might be correct for each headache. The combination remedies try to include many of the possible substances for a wide variety of possible headaches. The premise is that the correct one will help effect a cure or alleviation of symptoms. The incorrect substances, when used in low potencies, are thought to simply not do anything since there is no similar vibratory problem for them to act on. In many cases these combination remedies may work very well. In others, they will not work at all. The classical homeopath might say that the correct remedy simply was not there or that the other remedies got in the way or altered the effects.
Another common use for complex (combination) remedies is for drainage and detoxification. I have been to numerous seminars regarding the use of homeopathic drainage formulas and they are all complex or combination remedies. An example might be the use of potentized (homeopathically formulated) dilutions of pesticides or possibly cleaning chemicals which are then used to slowly help prompt the cells of the body to release these same toxins which have built up from prior environmental exposure.
It has been my own experience that this is one of the best ways to help slowly reduce the toxic load for those who are environmentally sensitive. Being able to aid the body in prompting the slow and controlled release and elimination of these toxins gets me the best results when working with this particular ailment in my practice.
Complex Drainage Remedies:
A number of medical doctors who are practicing homeopaths have all made similar observations regarding complex drainage remedies. I have personally been at professional seminars when they passed on the following information. Their observations were that when seemingly properly prescribed homeopathic remedies did not seem to be working, it was often due to some form of toxic energetic blockage in the patient. After using some homeopathic drainage products first, a number of their remedies would then have the desired effects and healing would begin. Each of these physicians related to us (the seminar participants) that as classical homeopaths they had been warned against the use of combination remedies. They all admitted that when they finally opened their minds and became willing to at least try the complex drainage remedies, their treatment results increased exponentially.
Always remember, the mark of a great practitioner is the willingness to admit they don’t know everything and that in fact they may even be wrong regarding one of their main principles or beliefs. After making this admission, they must then be willing to stretch their beliefs and try new ideas or products. While keeping the “first do no harm” requirement in the forefront, many new products and procedures can be investigated. I must keep my open mind seated firmly beside my scientific and skeptical mind. I must also be careful to not allow my ego or assumed knowledge to prevent me from experimenting with new products that I do not believe will work or I will no longer find those few which actually do.
Having recently completed a three year program in classical homeopathy, I have a much greater respect for its abilities than I had previously. Although I continue to practice mostly Naturopathic Medicine and all its variations, I often recommend patients to a classical homeopath if I feel it may be helpful. Possibly one day I will begin to use some classical homeopathy in my own practice.
Please learn about and begin to practice homeopathic first aid for you and your family. It is a fascinating science that may change your life.
Reading List with brief descriptions:
Impossible Cure, by Amy Lansky PhD
This extremely fascinating book is the only book ever written which thoroughly and accurately describes and explains homeopathy. This is not an instruction manual but rather a rare look into what we know about homeopathy, how we believe it works and what research has been done to prove it works. Included is the author’s story of how homeopathy cured her child of autism.
Family Guide to Homeopathy, by Lockie.
Easy to understand. My new favorite for general family information
Homeopathic Remedies, by Asa Hershoff, ND
Another excellent beginners or intermediate book on using homeopathy.
Homeopathic Medicine at Home, by Maesimund Panos M.D. & Jane Heimlich
This is an excellent beginners book. It is well indexed so that you can immediately find the symptoms and the descriptions of possible remedies. A very good first book especially for someone who is not interested in learning all about homeopathy, but would like to try using it with their family.
The People’s Repertory, by Luc De Schepper M.D., PhD., Lac
This is one of my favorite beginners books, but only if you want to learn a bit more about homeopathy. There is no index and the table of contents is brief and inadequate. With that said, it is a great book. Luc is a well respected, though sometimes controversial, homeopath. He is also a teacher and seems to have laid out the book with that in mind. In order to get the great benefits that this book has to offer, you need to put in a little time. You should take a pen and a colored highlighting marker and read through the book. Highlight anything you want to be able see quickly, and make your own index at the beginning of the book with the important page numbers and the information to be found on those pages. This may sound like a nuisance, but it will teach you a great deal and this book will then become a treasured reference.
Everybody’s Guide to Homeopathic Medicine, by Stephen Cummings & Dana Ullman.
Another good beginners book with a great deal to offer.
Homeopathy for the Modern Pregnant Woman and Her Infant, by Sandra Perko (Expensive professional book)
The best I have found on the subject.
Homeopathic Medicine for Children and Infants, by Ullman. An excellent parents guide to using homeopathy.
Homeopathy for Pregnancy, Birth, and Your Baby’s First Year, by Miranda Castro
Because this is one of the few excellent books on this particular area of homeopathy, I felt I needed to list it for those readers for whom it is currently appropriate.
David Getoff, CCN., CNC, MACN, FAAIM is a Traditional Naturopath and Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Price- Pottenger Nutrition Foundation and is a member of the American College of Nutrition. He teaches classes and seminars and has a busy private practice in El Cajon, CA, San Diego County California.
A version of this article was printed in the Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation Journal in 2000. It has been lengthened and revised for The Original Internist and now is shared on Elite Alternatives, Inc. website.