Alternative medicine is becoming a familiar part of life for many Americans. Many people take supplements, use herbal remedies for minor illnesses, and visit chiropractors or acupuncturists when the problems warrant it. However, some other forms of alternative medicine are still unfamiliar to them. One form of alternative medicine that many people do not know or have only a vague idea about is homeopathy. Unlike some other forms of alternative medicine, homeopathy is not the product of another culture. It developed in the West along side of conventional medicine. It is a system of therapeutics first proposed by a German physician named Samuel Hahnemann approximately two hundred years ago. It challenged the conventional medical practice of its day and during the Nineteenth Century became the chief opposing medical system to conventional medicine. Many heated battles were fought between the two competing systems, but homeopathy succumbed to the increasing prestige and success of conventional medicine as it reformed itself. By the middle of the Twentieth Century, it nearly vanished from the scene of American medicine. But a growing dissatisfaction with the limitations of conventional medicine led some medical practitioners and lay persons to rediscover homeopathy and today homeopathic medicine is a growing part of the alternative medical scene.
Homeopathy is based on three therapeutic principles. The first of these principles is the law of similars. The law of similars is most easily explained in reference to the opposite and more familiar therapeutic law, the law of contraries. Normally one gives a medicine to reduce or remove the symptoms that a sick person experiences. For example, one gives aspirin for a headache, codeine for a cough, and cortisone for an inflammation. Although this may be successful in the short term, in the longer term there can be problems. The patient's sensitivity to the medicine may decrease with prolonged use or the patient may experience a rebound of their symptoms if the medicine is discontinued. These problems occur because within each person there is a vital force which opposes each change to its natural equilibrium and acts in an opposite way to any change forcibly imposed on it. Homeopathy uses this inner power for healing by giving a medicine which causes symptoms similar to those the patient is already experiencing. When the body's inner vital force acts to neutralize the action of the medicine, it also eliminates the symptoms of the illness which are similar to it. And because the medicine acts in concert with the body's vital force instead of trying to overwhelm it, treatment is much safer and the cure much gentler than when one treats by the law of contraries.
The second therapeutic principle of homeopathy is the use of a single medicine. Every illness is the result of a struggle between the disease agent and the body's inner vital force. This struggle expresses itself as the symptoms that the sick patient experiences. Because the body only possesses a single unitary vital force, there is no such thing as a disease localized in a single part of the body. When a patient is ill, the whole person is ill and all the symptoms the patient experiences are a part of that illness, no matter how unrelated they may seem to the patient's chief complaint. And for the same reason, one prescribes the single medicine that best matches all of the patient's complaints when prescibing according to the homeopathic law of similars.
The third therapeutic principle is the minimum dose. When on prescribes according to the law of contraries, one must prescibe in large doses in order to overwhelm the symptoms that the sick person is experiencing. When one prescribes according to the law of similars only a very small dose is needed because the medicine is only acting as a catalyst to the body's own healing power. In fact, experience has taught homeopathic practitioners that in most circumstances the smaller the dose, the more powerful it is. This idea finds an analogue in some systems of Oriental martial arts such as T'ai Chi, where it is said that the skilled practitioner deflects the blow of a hundred pounds with a single ounce.
Homeopathy is thus a therapeutic system that seeks to match the symptoms of the patient to those of his or her illness. Because of this homeopathy lays great stress on getting a very detailed description of the patient's illness and also emphasizes having a detailed knowledge of the symptoms produced by each homeopathic remedy. Because the symptoms experienced during all illness are never the same for any two patients, treatment must be individualized according to the patient and one cannot prescibe a single medicine for all cases of a disease.
For this reason learning to use homeopathic remedies properly can be a bit difficult for the beginning user. However, there are self care books on homeopathy that give differentials for the homeopathic remedies most often used in treating common illnesses. And there are study groups that are organized to help lay persons learn how to use homeopathic medicines. In the United States the National Center for Homeopathy assists lay persons who wish to learn how to use homeopathy through its affiliated homeopathic study groups. You can contact the National Center for Homepathy at their web site, http://www.homeopathic.org/