The history of homeopathy is long. Homeopathy was developed by a German doctor, Samuel Hahnemann, in the late 18th and early 19th century. Disillusioned with the cruel and ineffective treatments of his time (blood-letting, purging and poisonous drugs) Hahnemann looked for a more effective form of treatment. After years of research he discovered the homeopathic principles and developed the system of medicine.
Homeopathy rose to prominence in Europe after Hahnemann's successful treatment of victims of the great typhus epidemic in Leipzig that followed the Napoleonic campaigns. The reputation of homeopathy increased in 1831 when cholera swept through central Europe. With cholera, mortality rates varied between 2.4% and 21.1% for homeopathy verses 50% or more with conventional medicine. Far ahead of his time, Hahnemann also stressed the importance of disinfection, cleanliness, ventilation and quarantine. (Pasteur's germ theory of disease had not yet been devised.) Homeopathy continued to out perform conventional medicine in epidemics. During the terrible Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 the mortality rate of conventional medicine was 25 to 30% and that of homeopathy was less than 1%.
Homeopathy arrived in the USA in the 1820s. It flowered in America in the 1860s through the 1890s. By this time, homeopathy had been perfected to the level a true system of medicine. It was being used to treat all forms of illness. During this period in the US there were 22 homeopathic medical schools, 56 homeopathic hospitals, 13 lunatic asylums, 9 children's hospitals and 15 sanatoriums. The first medical society in the US was the American Institute of Homeopathy founded in 1844. By the turn of the century, 20 to 25 percent of all the physicians in the US in urban areas were homeopaths. Most people are not aware that homeopathy had such prominence in the US.
So where did all those American homeopaths go to? Well, as you can imagine, there was great competition between homeopathy and conventional medicine. The AMA, which was founded in 1846, forbid its members to consult with homeopaths. Local and state medical societies were told to purge themselves of homeopaths and their sympathizers. The AMA and the Carnegie Foundation issued a study in 1910 on medical education called the Flexnor report. This report recognized modern medicine and did not recognize homeopathy. Modern medicine received the foundation funding and government support and homeopathy was left to it's own devices. It declined quickly. From 1910 to 1960 few homeopaths entered the ranks in the US or Canada. In Europe, however, homeopathy continued as a viable form of medicine.
Today we are seeing a resurgence of interest in homeopathy. Conventional medicine is not able to address many of the health needs of US citizens. This is particularly true regarding chronic illnesses, both physical and mental. There is a desire for medicines which do not have serious side effects. There is also a desire for holistic medicine which treats the whole mind/body/spirit of the patient. Homeopathy is perfectly designed for these conditions. Homeopathy has advanced greatly in the last 20 years. It is even more effective now than in it's early days.
HOW DOES IT WORK? Homeopathy operates on the principle of "like cures like" or the "law of similars". This law states that any substance that makes you ill can also cure you: anything that can produce symptoms of disease in a healthy person can cure a sick person with similar symptoms. A simple example is coffee. The homeopathic remedy, Coffea, is used to treat insomnia and nervousness - the same symptoms one experiences from drinking too much coffee. Another example is Allium cepa or onion. It is used to treat hay fever and allergy in cases where the patient has profuse nasal discharge and tears. This is just what someone would experience after peeling onions. These are two simple examples, but thousands of other homeopathic remedies follow the same principle when they cure illness.
To find out what each remedy is capable of curing they are tested in a "proving". Healthy volunteers are divided into two groups. One group is given the unnamed substance and the other a placebo. In this double blind trial neither the provers nor the conductor of the proving know what substance is being tested. All symptoms experienced by the provers (mental, emotional and physical) are noted in detail and are written in the Materia Medica. The many books of Materia Medica contain the symptom pictures of all the proven remedies.
The classical homeopath works with one remedy at a time so that the effect of the remedy can be gauged effectively. The great challenge of homeopathy is finding the single remedy out of thousands that matches all the patient's mental, emotional and physical symptoms. Classical homeopaths, literally, treat the "whole person".
Homeopathic remedies can be made from any substance. They are prepared through a rigorous process of dilution and succussion (vigorous shaking). The more the remedies are diluted the stronger they become. Many are diluted far beyond the level where chemistry says there is any of the original substance left. This is the great stumbling block that modern science can't get past. Even when faced with anecdotal evidence of thousands of cured homeopathic cases by thousands of homeopaths for over 100 years, many scientists continue to say homeopathy can't possible work. It may be that science has just not matured enough, yet, to explain homeopathy.
Since remedies are diluted so much and there is little or no chemical substance remaining in them, how can they work? Homeopathic remedies do not cure by acting physiologically, at least not initially. They act energetically, as catalysts, stimulating the body's "vital force" to heal itself. Once the action is taken on the vital force, the physiological processes that need to change begin to change, also. Degenerated organs will regenerate and blood tests will normalize. But, the initial action of the remedy is on the vital force. Other words for the "vital force" that you may be more familiar with are: immune system, chi or prana.
The vital force is that balancing mechanism that energizes us and keeps us in health. It produces symptoms to counteract stress as it makes adjustments moment by moment to keep us healthy and in balance. Disease symptoms are just the body's way of telling us how it is coping with stress in our lives. Disease attacks only when this vital force is weakened.
Health, then, is more than the absence of disease. It is balance and harmony and freedom and a sense of well-being that is resilient in the face of stress. This is our natural state and the state that homeopathy strives to make available to everyone.
The pattern of improvement that is seen when someone is on a good homeopathic remedy follows Hering's Law of Cure. This law states that as someone becomes well his or her symptoms will improve from the inside out, the top down, and in reverse order from their original sequence of occurance. So, cure proceeds from the most important organs to the least important ( the brain being most important, internal organs next in importance and skin least important). So, if a patient suffers from both liver disease and eczema, the liver may begin to heal before the skin does.