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Homeopathy

Author
Kimball C Atwood, MD
Section Editor
Mark D Aronson, MD
Deputy Editor
H Nancy Sokol, MD

INTRODUCTION

Homeopathy is a pre-scientific practice based on two tenets: "like cures like," which holds that the correct remedy for a patient is a substance that, when given to a healthy person, produces symptoms similar to those of the patient; and "potentization," which holds that serial dilutions and "succussions" (shakings) render a "remedy" increasingly potent. Homeopathic preparations ("remedies") generally begin with minerals, plants, or animal substances that are pulverized, mixed with a water-alcohol solution, and then potentized, usually well past the point at which any of the original substance remains. The resulting diluent is applied to a sucrose pill and allowed to dry.

Current evidence finds that homeopathic remedies are no more effective than placebo [1-4].

This topic will focus on the practice of homeopathy in adults. Other complementary and alternative medicine treatments are discussed separately. (See "Overview of herbal medicine and dietary supplements" and "Overview of complementary and alternative medicine in pediatrics" and "Complementary and alternative remedies for rheumatic disorders" and "Complementary and alternative therapies for cancer".)

BASIC THEORY

Homeopathy is based primarily on two tenets: "like cures like" and "potentization."

"Like cures like" — Homeopathy was invented at the end of the 18th century by the German physician Samuel Christian Hahnemann. While translating William Cullen's Materia Medica into German, Hahnemann was bothered by Cullen's explanation for how cinchona bark (one of the few effective medicines at the time) cured malaria. According to Cullen, cinchona worked by the "strengthening power it exerts on the stomach" [5]. Doubting this explanation, Hahnemann decided to try some himself. He experienced palpitations, anxiety, trembling, and diffuse joint stiffness (but not fever) lasting two to three hours each time he ingested cinchona [5]. He reported feeling well afterwards. It was this experience that led Hahnemann to conclude "similia similibus curentur" or "like cures like." Hahnemann's explanation was that if two diseases with similar symptoms strike a patient, the "stronger" disease will invariably cure the weaker [6]. Thus, by simulating the symptoms of a disease, homeopathic medicines "substitute themselves for the natural morbid affection, and thereby deprive the latter of all influence upon the vital force." Moreover, "all medicines cure, without exception, those diseases whose symptoms most nearly resemble their own."

           

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