What Is Homeopathy and How Does It Work?


What Is Homeopathy?

Homeopathy (Old Greek: ὅμοιος, homoios, similar and πάθος, pathos, suffering or disease) is a therapy based on the ideas of the German physician Samuel Hahnemann. The most important of these is the principle of similarity, which means that according to Hahnemann a homeopathic remedy is suitable for the treatment of a disease if the remedy induces the same symptoms of illness in a healthy person as those from which the sick person suffers.

The homeopathic treatment consists of prescribing homeopathics, i.e. potentiations (stepwise strong dilutions in combination with shaking) of substances that in their pure form would evoke the same symptoms as the disease to be fought. Although homeopathy is one of the most researched alternative therapies, the attributed clinical efficacy has not supported by scientific evidence. Homeopathy is therefore considered to belong to the pseudo-sciences by the mainstream medical profession.

The Three Main Currents in Homeopathy:

Homeopathy has three major movements, namely classical, clinical and complex homeopathy.

1. Classical Homeopathy:

Classical homeopathy works according to the teachings of Hahnemann: the classical homeopath accurately records all the symptoms that are noticeable to him, including all kinds of symptoms that are usually ignored by doctors. This also includes the characteristics and the (disease) history of the individual patient. A single drug is then administered in dilution, which is believed to give the same symptoms undiluted. For example, a child with a high fever, red cheeks, and dilated pupils would receive belladonna.

Basic Tenets

The treatment method of classical homeopathy is based on the following assumptions which within classical homeopathy are considered to contribute to effective treatment:

  • Potential therapeutic substances should be carefully tested in healthy subjects to determine their ‘pure' direct effect;
  • It is assumed that the agent capable of inducing a similar state in a healthy subject causes a counter-reaction in a patient that is stronger than the pathological stimulus of the disease itself;
  • The disease should be described as a whole (and not just in terms of its main symptoms or pathology). It is then assumed that the disease and the drug interact in as many aspects as possible.
  • The choice of drug should be based on the complexity of individual symptoms rather than on the name of the disease;
  • The dosage should be as thin as possible and adjusted for individual sensitivity;
  • In acute conditions affecting specific organs, the dose should be higher;
  • Chronic conditions should be treated with high dilutions (‘potencies') separated by much longer intervals. It is assumed that chronic conditions are more sensitive to pharmacological stimulation.

2. Clinical Homeopathy

Clinical homeopathy tries to connect to regular medicine. It is mainly based on a patient's clinical picture and applies a remedy on that basis. There is much less emphasis on the physical and mental characteristics of the patient, as is the case with classical homeopathy. Lower potencies are also often used, in which at least some traces of the active substance can still be found, and the use of high potencies is often rejected.

3. Complex Homeopathy

Complex homeopathy or complementary homeopathy uses preparations in which a range of agents, which would act on the same organ or symptoms, are mixed into a ‘ready-made' combination. It is assumed that if the individual ingredients are selected correctly, they can reinforce each other's effects.

Many homeopathic preparations available to the consumer are composed in this way. These preparations, therefore, do not comply with the principles of classical homeopathy, i.e. that a remedy should contain only one component that is, moreover, precisely tailored to the individual patient and the exact symptoms.

The History of Homeopathy

The idea that evil could be eradicated with evil was suggested by Paracelsus in the 16th century. He is known to conclude that the toxicity of a substance is determined by its dose. He also stated that small doses of “what makes man sick, also heals man”. This line of thought seems to be continued in homeopathy.

It was the German physician and chemist Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843) who laid down the principles of homeopathy and called this systematic method homeopathy in 1807. Hahnemann was partly motivated by the sad state of medical aid in his time, in which, for example, bloodletting was still considered as a treatment. In 1790, while translating A Treatise on Materia Medica by Dr. William Cullen, Hahnemann came across a passage about Cinchona as a cure for malaria.

Hahnemann – who had had malaria in his youth – wanted to test Cullens' thesis that the bitter taste of cinchona had an effect on the stomach by taking the substance himself. After ingestion, Hahnemann noticed that he developed symptoms similar to those of malaria. When he stopped ingesting the malaria-like symptoms disappeared again. By ingesting kinabark he made himself seemingly ill.

He didn't get malaria, but he got something that looked like it. He developed the theory that by ingesting kinabark, an artificial second disease could be added to the sick person. After experiencing this ‘artificial drug disease', the patient would also be cured of malaria, based on the interaction of similar diseases. In 1796, Hahnemann outlined his idea in an article in Hufeland's Journal, the journal of the German physicist Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland.

In it, he distinguished three ways of healing: an approach in which the cause of a disease was fought and two principles based on symptoms of disease (contraria contrariis and the extremely opposite principle similia similibus curentur [“the like is cured by the like”]). Hahnemann criticized the principle contraria contrariis as a dead end that could only produce a short-lived effect. This principle states that a disease can be cured by prescribing a remedy that causes symptoms as similar as possible.

After his first experiment, Hahnemann used family and friends to chart the effects of all sorts of existing drugs on healthy subjects. A special feature of his approach was, in addition to listing all the symptoms as extensively as possible, to try a single drug in a moderate dose. In the Fragmenta (1805) Hahnemann published the test results (provings) of 27 of these drugs. Hahnemann thus laid a basis for homeopathy.

Hahnemann diluted the toxins that he chose as starting material before applying them to his patients. The dilution naturally reduced the dangerous effects of the starting material. Hahnemann himself preferred to use C30, a dilution of 1 in 1 with 60 zeros at which there is evidence that nothing remains of the starting material. By shaking, Hahnemann thought to transfer the essence of the starting material to the solvent. More shaking movements meant, in his opinion, greater amplification, “potentiation”.

He recorded his ideas in the “Organon of Medicine”, the first edition of which was published in 1805 and the last (sixth) in 1842. In the fourth edition (1829) he introduced “chronic miasms” as the “infectious principles” of chronic diseases. Hahnemann associated each miasma with a specific disease and thought that contact with miasms caused local symptoms, such as skin or venereal diseases; if these symptoms were suppressed with medication, the cause would deepen and manifest as disease on the internal organs.

Hahnemann found three different miasms, namely psora, sycosis, and syphilis, which would be revealed by different types of skin rashes. In the first two parts of Chronic Diseases (published in 1828) Hahnemann discusses the theory of miasms and describes (in the first edition) 23 “antipsoric drugs”.

Early Students

Hahnemann spread his ideas among a number of students, including test subjects. Well-known names are Gustav Gross, Johann Stapf, and Franz Hartmann.[33] In 1832 the Allgemeine Homöopathische Zeitung came out for the first time. In 1833 the first homeopathic hospital was opened in Leipzig. Also in 1833 the Leipzig-born homeopath Constantin Hering settled in Philadelphia and became the “Father of American Homeopathy”.

In addition to the teachings of Hahnemann he stated that the healing process goes from important to less important places in the body, while the healing is visible in the opposite order from that in which the symptoms appeared. These hypotheses are now known as the “laws of Hering”.

John Martin Honigberger, a Romanian doctor who had worked in Lahore for twenty years, met Hahnemann in Paris and took homeopathy back to India in 1838. A certain Samuel Brooking established the first homeopathic hospital in Tanjore in 1847.

At the end of the 19th century there was a split in homeopathy, with on the one side the English homeopath Richard Hughes (1836-1902) and on the other side the American James Tyler Kent (1849-1916).

The latter classified his patients on the basis of so-called constitution types (state of health) and allowed this to be taken into account in the choice of medication. Hughes felt that only the symptoms of the disease were taken into account and that they also had lower potency. Kent's approach has been preserved in what is now known as classical homeopathy.

Homeopathic Treatments

The homeopathic treatment method is based entirely on the prescription of homeopathic remedies, homeopathic. The collection of remedies and the way in which one chooses a particular remedy differs per movement within homeopathy.

In the first place, one pays attention to the symptoms of the disease. In principle, the homeopath chooses a remedy based on a substance that would cause similar symptoms in healthy people. In classical homeopathy, however, attention is also paid to all kinds of characteristics of the patient himself, the constitution type.

In the end, the homeopath prescribes an extremely diluted solution of a single (in classic homeopathy) or different raw materials. In practice, patients often choose a remedy themselves from the shelves of the pharmacy or chemist.

Preparation of Homeopathic Remedies

Homeopathic remedies are prepared on the basis of a so-called primordial tincture, or on the basis of friction of substances in milk sugar with a mortar. A primary tincture is a concentrated extract of mineral, vegetable, animal, or even human origin (the so-called nosodes). The tincture or friction is diluted in stages, with each dilution being shaken vigorously, the so-called ‘potentiation'.

This is called ”potentiating” because in this process the agent is supposed to gain in strength: the energy signature increases. In addition, toxic substances, such as arsenic, can also be used as agents. Shaking takes place by beating the bottle with the solution vigorously against a springy surface.

Hahnemann used his leather-bound notebook for this purpose, nowadays this is usually done mechanically by manufacturers who have to follow the rules of good manufacturing practice.

Hahnemann experimented a lot with the number of shaking strokes, eventually, he advised 10 strokes because he had discovered that he achieved better results. Modern homeopathic laboratories use between 10 and 100 strokes. The liquid obtained is divided over grains or tablets. After drying, the homeopathic remedy is ready.

Simplex And Complex Substances

In classical homeopathy, one uses potencies of a single substance called simplex remedies, in contrast to complex homeopathy which uses complex remedies composed of a mixture of potencies.

Three Types of Homeopathic Prescriptions

There is little difference between how the different schools of homeopathy prescribe remedies. Each school of thought looks at the person and disease in a different way.

1. Classic Homeopathic Prescriptions

Classical homeopaths prescribe only one remedy at a time, based on a large number of patient characteristics, such as the individual characteristics of the main complaint (one patient's type of headache may differ significantly from another), reactions to temperature, weather types, foods, movement/rest, and emotional and mental characteristics. Since the renewed impulse in homeopathy by the Greek George Vithoulkas, there has been a worldwide tendency to apply homeopathy by means of the classical lines. A number of schools can be distinguished, for example, according to James Tyler Kent, Vithoulkas, and Sankaran. With some currents, different remedies are given in alternation, but never at the same time.

2. Clinical Homeopathic Prescriptions

Clinically active homeopaths usually prescribe on the basis of the diagnosis with only a few individual characteristics of the patient. Thus, fewer individual characteristics are taken into account than is customary in classical homeopathy, which in the eyes of classical homeopaths reduces the chance that the homeopathic remedy is appropriate. This simplified method is also found in self-care medication (chemists), where people try to find homeopathic remedies for their complaints themselves.

3. Complex Homeopathic Prescriptions

Complex “homeopathic” mass products, which can be bought at the chemists and pharmacies without a prescription, are composed of a number of homeopathic remedies that are relatively often indicated for a particular diagnosis. They would be particularly suitable for simple, acute complaints, where the individual characteristics are less important.

Using Homeopathic Remedies

Homepathic remedies are provided in a solid form, or in a solution.

    Pellets or tablets are taken once or repeatedly. The lower potencies are often repeated, and the higher potencies are often intended for a one-time intake. Usually, it is advised to let the granules or tablets dissolve under the tongue.
  • Dissolved in water. The medicine is dissolved in a small amount of water, a part of which is then ingested.
  • Solution for repeated use. The remedy is dissolved in a bottle, containing water to which some alcohol may have been added. From this bottle, a small amount can then be taken several times for ingestion. In between, shakes are used, or the liquid is briefly stirred. This method is also called ‘plussing'.
  • Olfactory, or olfactory dose. LM potentials are often ingested by smelling a solution for repeated use. Variations in repetition, shaking and method of smelling are believed to give better control over the dosage. Hahnemann sometimes made patients smell a bottle of granules. This method is hardly used anymore nowadays and comes across as unbelievable to many.

A Homeopath's View of Illnesses and Healing

Classical homeopaths say that their aim is to strengthen and re-balance the individual who has the disease, rather than directly combat the pathogen or the pathological process. One is thus aimed at strengthening one's own immune system by stimulating the inherent self-healing capacity, the vis medicatrix naturae.

The homeopathic view is that one is not only interested in the pathology and diagnosis of the disease, but also in the way the disease is expressed in a particular individual, in other words, how one patient differs from another. The symptoms that a patient has, both those that can be perceived externally and those that the patient feels, are, in his view, an expression of the disease state. For the homeopath, in principle all symptoms are relevant. They are all involved in the homeopathic diagnosis, even if no pathological changes can be detected with current diagnostic tools. Hahnemann mentions in the Organon that in his opinion a patient is not cured until the general well-being has returned and all symptoms, in the broad sense considered by homeopathy, have disappeared.

Homeopathy is based on three elementary levels: a physical ( bodily) level, an emotional (feeling) level and a mental level. These three levels form one whole, i.e. body, soul and spirit are one whole, and are unique to each individual. Moreover, all living beings are governed by their own life force (vitalism). According to homeopathy, health and disease arise on this energetic level. When the life force functions normally there is health on all levels. When a disturbance arises in the life force, this results in a disturbance on one or more levels. The homeopathic remedy is chosen individually on the basis of similarity between the total of the patient's symptoms and the drug picture. In this view, the disturbance is restored if the energy stimulus of the remedy is similar to the disturbance in the life force. According to homeopaths, this means that the patient's symptoms as a whole disappear.

Hahnemann writes in his Organon: “mach es nach, aber mach es genau nach” (imitate it, but imitate it exactly). The Organon still forms the basis for classical homeopathy. The following three points give a brief description of some important principles as described by Hahnemann in his Organon.

Interaction Between Diseases

Hahnemann not only studied the effect of substances on the body, but he also studied how diseases behave in the human body. He noticed that something happened when a new, second disease occurred in a patient. If this new disease was stronger than the first one, the first one seemed to disappear temporarily as long as the second one was active. If the second disease disappeared, then the first one came back and followed its natural course, as if there had never been a second disease.

However, if the second disease was weaker than the first, it would not affect the sick person. Hahnemann noticed that in certain cases, after experiencing a temporary second illness, the original illness did not return at the end of it, not even much later. The patient seemed to be cured of the first disease. This situation occurred in cases where the second disease had symptoms that resembled the first disease.

Minimal Dosis

From his observations of diseases, he had already concluded that the second disease had to be stronger than the first. Hahnemann had assumed that long-term high doses of medication kept the patient artificially ill with a drug-induced disease, making it seem that the original disease had disappeared, whereas in reality it had been suppressed and waited until the drug-induced disease had disappeared in order to continue to proliferate. Hahnemann investigated how he could make the dose of the drug-disease just strong enough to be stronger than the patient's disease, yet so light that the patient hardly suffered from the artificial drug disease.

Education and Profession

The legal status of homeopathy varies greatly from country to country and even among states. So does the system of reimbursements by insurers.

Homeopathic Remedies Regulation

Registration of Homeopathic Remedies in Europe

All member states of the European Union are obliged to register homeopathic medicines, for both human and animal use. The registration of homeopathic medicines within Europe is subject to a simplified procedure that differs from the registration for regular medicines. In this procedure, the efficacy or safety of the product does not have to be demonstrated. However, the pharmaceutical quality and safety of the product must be assessed before the product can be placed on the market. This procedure only applies to homeopathic medicinal products intended for oral or external use that are diluted more than 1 in 10,000 and do not mention a specific therapeutic indication on the packaging and package leaflet.

How Are Homeopathic Products Regulated In The United States?

Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, homeopathic products are subject to the same requirements related to approval, adulteration, and misbranding as other drug products. There are currently no homeopathic products approved by FDA. (Read more: https://www.fda.gov/drugs/information-drug-class/homeopathic-products)

According to the Medicines Act Regulation, homeopathic medicines must submit clinical and pre-clinical data if there is a claim of the therapeutic indication on the packaging or package leaflet. If the Medicines Evaluation Board is of the opinion that the data are inconsistent with the claim, it may revoke the marketing authorization, as happened with the drug Rinileen tablets.

Criticism Of The Homeopathic Principle

Scientific Critique

Criticism of homeopathic doctrine focuses mainly on the lack of evidence for a positive effect of the treatment method (see: scientific evidence). In addition, a number of homeopathic ideas conflict with scientific theories or lack a scientific foundation. The overarching advisory board of science academies advises that homeopathic remedies, just like regular medicines, must meet the same requirements.

Criticism Of The Similiar Principle

The idea that a disease can be cured by a drug that causes similar symptoms lacks a scientific foundation. There are no known physiological mechanisms that can explain this. However, regular medicine does have vaccinations that stimulate the human body preventively to produce antibodies against viruses. This is done in a different way than the homeopathic hypothesis.

Criticism of Active Substance Dilution

At a dilution of about 12C (24D), the limit of Avogadro is reached. This means that the solution is so diluted that statistically at most one molecule of the original primal tincture is present in the solution. Each further D dilution reduces the chance that a molecule is present by 90% and each C dilution even by 99%. Many homeopathic preparations are further diluted, such as Hahnemann's favorite 30C. The chance that there is still a molecule present is only 10-26 The solvent is indistinguishable from a pure solvent.

Criticism Of Potentiation

According to homeopathic doctrine, the effect of the primordial tincture is transmitted to the solvent by shaking – in the manner Hahnemann explained. Hereby the activity of the substance is seen as transmittable, such as energy. The homeopathic doctrine has no physical explanation for this idea. The homeopathic doctrine also states that the shaking increases the efficacy of the substance so that the healing power of the primordial tincture is maintained or even strengthened despite the dilution. This too lacks an explanation that is in line with scientific findings. According to the regular chemical laws a solution cannot contain properties of non-existent molecules.

Criticism Of The Transmissibility Of The Active Substance

In addition, by analogy, there would be a problem when the solvent comes into contact (or has come into contact) with other substances. The water and/or alcohol with which the solutions are diluted naturally contains small amounts of contamination. Even very pure water or alcohol still contains billions of molecules of all kinds of substances. By potentiation, these molecules would also pass their “energy” onto the solvent, so that it is never known exactly how the solvent is contaminated and the potentiation would therefore give unpredictable results.

The above leads to two significantly different points of view:
In medicine, a medication contains an active substance that acts on the human body. Since homeopathic remedies no longer contain any part of the raw material due to the far-reaching dilution, they can therefore have no effect on the human body. Homeopathy cannot work, because there is nothing in it. According to homeopathic doctrine, by repeated dilution and shaking, the raw material would be converted into medicine. The fact that the molecules of the raw material are no longer present in the medicine is not considered important.

Alternative Explanations

There are known mechanisms that can explain the positive effects, if any, of homeopathic treatments. These effects are not based on the treatment itself but on one or more of the following mechanisms and circumstances:

    The placebo effect of the prescribed drug is enhanced by the careful labelling, the encouraging leaflet (the aureole of medication) and the sufficiently high price.
  • The therapist's attention to the patient can also in itself give a (temporary) positive effect against all kinds of psychosomatic disorders (compare this with the effect of reassurance by doctors)
  • The commonly used solvent ethanol has a pharmacological effect: it is the same alcohol as can be found in drinks. It is therefore not recommended to give homeopathic remedies to infants. Something similar applies to ointments: the fatty substance itself prevents dehydration and irritation due to environmental influences and, because of its thermal insulation, promotes blood circulation; Some homeopaths treat an infant by administering the remedy to the (nursing) mother.
  • Many ailments fluctuate (allergies for example) or heal untreated by themselves. If in such a case an ineffective remedy is taken, the image may arise that the cure is due to the remedy (cause-and-effect confusion). Statistically speaking, the chance of this misunderstanding is high: on average, halfway through the course of the disease, one reaches for the medicine cabinet, so that the second half of the course of the disease, the healing, coincides with the use of the medicine. Remarkable in this context is that the leaflets of homeopathic medicines state that the symptoms may first worsen: this makes the chance that the spontaneous healing is attributed to the homeopathic remedy even greater. You can read more about fighting allergies with homeopathic remedies.
  • Homeopathic remedies are often mixed with, or sold under the guise of, medicinal products or herbs that are effective. It is then no longer about homeopathy but for example herbal medicine.


According to the homeopathic doctrine, obtaining results by means of double-blind and other objective scientific research methods is not possible. The classical homeopathic treatment method does not treat the symptom, but the patient as a whole (holistic) in which the remedy has to be specifically tailored to a patient. However, homeopathic remedies are often not tailored to the person at all, but only to the symptoms, as is the case with clinical homeopathy.

The Homeopathic View – The Body Out Of Balance

According to homeopathy, disease is a sign of disturbance in the whole human being. It has not only physical causes, but also psychological and emotional ones. Like other forms of alternative medicine homeopathy does not consider man as an isolated being, but as a part of total creation. Thus man cannot do without earth, cosmos, fellow man and other living beings, such as plants and animals.

Disease and health must therefore be considered from the point of view of the laws of nature. Homeopathy assumes that every human being has a non-tangible life force, which provides the necessary balance. All kinds of influences can bring the body out of balance. Then the body first tries to restore the balance itself. If this does not succeed, symptoms of illness indicate that something is wrong.

Homeopathic medicines can then give the body and mind the necessary push to tackle the cause of the complaints and restore the balance.

Conclussion and Some Good Advice

Alternative therapies can, in certain cases, alleviate complaints. However, you should always see them as a supplement to regular treatment methods and not as a replacement for them. A proper diagnosis by a qualified doctor is necessary in all cases. That is why you should always first consult your general practitioner on how to deal with your health problems. You can discuss with him whether and how alternative medicine can make a contribution in your case.

Further Reading and Research:

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