By Jean Hofve, DVM

Homeopathy is a system of medical treatment developed in the late 1800s by a German physician and chemist, Dr. Samuel Hahnemann. His system follows the theory that “like cures like” proposed by Aristotle. For example, the substance Ipecac in large doses will cause nausea, salivation, and violent vomiting in a healthy person. In contrast, Ipecac prepared homeopathically can cure those same symptoms in a sick patient.

In addition, homeopathy uses the principle of the “minimum dose”. Homeopathic remedies are made from natural substances such as plants and minerals that are highly diluted (potentized) and shaken (succussed), which eliminates any toxic effects of the natural substance. For instance, many remedies are made from snake venoms, poisonous plants, and toxic substances like arsenic. Other remedies are made from benign substances like salt and milk. The homeopathic repertory contains thousands of remedies that have been thoroughly tested (proven) on healthy individuals.

Holistic practitioners in general and homeopaths in particular, view disease and symptoms in a different light than conventional (allopathic) medical practitioners. Rather than simply being manifestations of a disease or syndrome, symptoms are seen as the body’s attempt to combat an underlying imbalance on a more fundamental, energetic level. In this sense, holistic medicine is supported by research in quantum physics and mind-body medicine, where matter and energy are interchangeable, and emotional and mental states influence physical well-being.

In homeopathy, symptoms are important tools, both for determining which remedy is needed in the case, and for monitoring the healing process. Homeopaths do not use drugs or remedies to suppress symptoms. This is the opposite of most conventional medical treatments, which are mainly directed at getting rid of symptoms: anti-inflammatory, anti-biotic, anti-viral, and so forth. However, homeopaths believe that suppressing symptoms thwarts the body’s effort to heal, and will only drive the disease to a deeper–and more dangerous–level.

As an example of the difference in treatment styles, let’s say that two people both come down with pneumonia, and are diagnosed as having the same type of bacteria in their lungs. In allopathic medicine, both people would be treated with the same antibiotic as well as a cough suppressant. Now, let’s say that Patient #1 has a high fever, and a severe cough that is worse at night and when he is lying down. Patient #2 is mildly feverish, but is coughing up green phlegm, and the cough is better after he drinks hot tea. A homeopath would consider that each patient’s body is processing the infection in a different way, and would prescribe different remedies for each of them. No cough suppressant would be given, since coughing is the body’s way of eliminating infection by forcing out diseased cells and fluid from the lungs.

The principles of homeopathy state that there are three possible outcomes of treatment: suppression, palliation, and cure. Suppression gets rid of specific symptoms, but drives the disease into other channels by denying the body’s expression of the original disease. Often, even though the most troubling symptom is gone, the patient feels worse overall. Palliation means to alleviate symptoms; this is how aspirin treats pain. However, in palliation, the medicine needs to be repeated frequently. By treating only symptoms and not the whole individual, allopathic medicine tends to be limited to the first two outcomes. Cure, the only goal of homeopathy, means that the body eliminates the whole disease, not just symptoms, and rises to a state of optimum health. Health is defined as not just the absence of symptoms, but a feeling of well-being and vitality.

Homeopathy is not a quick fix, nor can it cure every single condition. However, even in terminal cases, it can be helpful. Homeopathy works with rather than against the body’s own energy and natural defenses. In the hands of a skilled practitioner, homeopathy can move the patient along a gentle, steady course toward ultimate cure and good health.