An introduction to Homeopathy
Homeopathy is a system of medicine developed in the 18th century by Dr Samuel Hahnemann, which approaches good health in a holistic way – taking account of the whole person and not just the symptoms or ‘disease’. The fundamental principle is that ‘like cures like’ – leading us to select a remedy made from a natural substance which would usually produce the very symptoms being shown, but in a tiny dose which has been ‘potentised’ to be effective. A simple example might be that a homeopathic dose of Allium cepa (made from onions) could help someone who has watering eyes and a streaming nose – exactly the symptoms we experience when we chop an onion.
The homeopathic approach
Homeopathic medicine approaches disease and remedies from a totally different standpoint to conventional or ‘allopathic’ medicine. It can be practised by qualified medical professionals including doctors, dentists and veterinary surgeons. It can also be safely used in the home and many people choose this approach for everyday family ailments, with a homeopathic ‘first aid kit’ or remedies bought at health stores and pharmacies.
Conventional or allopathic medicine works against the disease and its symptoms using ‘anti’ drugs – you’ll be familiar with vocabulary which talks about ‘fighting’ disease or ‘killing’ pain. Using homeopathy, by contrast, we observe the symptoms as the body’s attempt to heal itself. Homeopathy treats an individual with a specific set of symptoms, rather than battling a disease generally. Put simply, the symptoms define the appropriate homeopathic remedy.
How does it work?
Homeopathy works by stimulating the body’s own natural healing capacity. The remedy triggers the body’s own healing forces and so a remedy is prescribed on a very individual basis. A homeopath will note physical, mental and emotional symptoms, together with all the factors that make the person feel better or worse. Is the pain better with cold or heat? Does the person feel worse if they move or sit still? From an extensive picture of the person, a homeopath can then select a remedy which best matches the picture.
Of course, this is a very simplified explanation – the theory and philosophy of homeopathy is far more complex. But such extensive knowledge is not essential for people to use a selection of popular over-the-counter homeopathic medicines at home and for simple ailments. If you do experience complex, persistent or worrying symptoms then please seek the advice of a doctor who specialises in homeopathy.
How did homeopathy start?
The word homeopathy derives from two Greek words meaning “similar suffering”. The Greek physician Hippocrates first wrote of the medical practice of treating like with like in the 5th century, making him probably the first doctor to explore this approach to healthcare.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, the principle similia similibus curantur, (like cures like), was quoted by many physicians, including Paracelsus, often regarded as the father of holistic medicine. Dr Christian Friedrich Samuel Hahnemann (1755 - 1843) took the principle to create ‘the law of similars’, subtly altering the Latin to similia similibus curentur – ‘let like be cured by like’. Hahnemann was a doctor who, after qualifying in 1779, became disenchanted with medicine as it was practised at that time. He was a powerful advocate for much that we now recognise as good common sense in healthy living – proper diet, regular exercise and improved social conditions. He was also very concerned about large doses of noxious substances being prescribed as medicines.
In 1790 Hahnemann became interested in the work of eminent Edinburgh doctor, William Cullen , who had explained how Cinchona Bark extract could cure what was then known as ague – today recognised as malaria. The bark had been used for centuries in South America for the treatment of malaria and was successfully introduced into Europe by missionaries. Cullen credited this success to the bark’s toning action on the stomach – but Hahnemann noted how similar the effects of the poisoning were to the symptoms of the disease that it cures. He took a dose of Cinchona Bark himself and carefully observed and noted the effect that it had on him, saying: "With this first trial broke upon me the dawn that has since brightened into the most brilliant day of medical art; that it is only in virtue of their power to make the healthy human being ill that medicines can cure morbid states."
Hahnemann then went onto test many other substances in the same way – giving doses to healthy people, noting their symptoms and later using the substance to treat a disease when symptoms matched the “poison” picture.
Many of the substances used were in fact highly poisonous, so Hahnemann spent years trying to find the smallest possible dose which could still be effective. He eventually developed a method of “potentising” the substance, making the dose infinitesimally small. He found that the newly potentised substance not only cured without undesirable side effects, but was even more effective in treating the symptoms. This was the breakthrough that created homeopathic medicine as we now use it.
The success of Dr Hahnemann’s methods, especially with endemic diseases that had resisted earlier treatment methods, meant that homeopathic medicine was quickly adopted throughout Europe and soon spread across to America. Dr Frederick Harvey Foster Quin introduced homeopathy into Britain in the late 1820s and in 1849 founded the London Homeopathic Hospital.
Homeopathic treatment today
Homeopathy is now one of the most widely used and trusted alternative systems of medicine in the world. Globally over 200 million people use homeopathy on a regular basis, including an estimated 6 million people in the UK. Homeopathy is practised in 40 out of 42 European countries. Over 400 doctors in the UK use homeopathy in their practice, regulated by the Faculty of Homeopathy, and a further 1,500 professional homeopaths are working as complementary therapists around the UK, regulated by the Society of Homeopaths, Homeopathic Medical Association and Alliance of Registered Homeopaths. *
What can I use homeopathy for?
Homeopathy can often be used to treat the same wide range of illness as conventional medicine, and may even prove successful when all other forms of treatment have failed. For minor, self-limiting conditions, use a self-help guide or website guidance to choose a remedy at the counter of a health store or pharmacy. For more serious conditions, professional advice should always be sought.
Homeopathic medicine has stood the test of time, used for over 200 years and the fact that the remedies are widely used on animals dismisses the idea that the success of a treatment is all in the mind, or a placebo. Animals treated homeopathically cannot ‘believe’ in the remedy or will themselves better. It is simply an effective system of medicine.
What’s in the medicines?
Over-the-counter homeopathic medicines are made using natural plant, mineral and, occasionally, animal substances. Prescribed remedies may also originate from biological, chemical or synthetic sources.We grow over 45 medicinal plant crops at our Derbyshire herb gardens for use in our UK made tinctures, which are the start point for most of our homeopathic remedies.
Generally speaking there are very few side effects with homeopathic medicines (which is one reason for their popularity) – their active elements are in infinitesimally small quantities. Occasionally symptoms become worse on first taking a homeopathic medicine. This is called an ‘aggravation’ or sometimes referred to as ‘proving the remedy’ and is usually a good sign that the remedy is working. Generally advice is to stop taking the remedy until the aggravation has passed and only resume if necessary. Aggravations are most common with skin disorders, as the body “throws out” the disease.
Why are there homeopathic remedies for specific conditions?
Even though homeopathy treats the individual, and not the disease, some homeopathic remedies will successfully treat many people with the same symptoms. For example, Arnica is usually used for muscular bruising and Thuja for warts. These remedies have become so firmly established that they can be given without question and the condition only needs to be looked at more closely if the remedy does not work well.
Other remedies have become linked to specific illnesses because the ailment itself often follows a common pattern. For example, Rhus Tox is for pain which feels better for movement - and is taken by thousands of people to ease rheumatic aches and pains.
What does the X or C potency mean?
Homeopathic medicines are made following a precise process of successive homeopathic dilutions, to create a micro-dose. They are typically made by crushing a plant substance and creating a ‘mother tincture’ or extract with a mixture of alcohol and water. The extract is then further diluted in a mixture of alcohol and water, which creates the potency. After each dilution the mixture is vigorously shaken, which is called succussion. The process of succussion is critical to assuring the therapeutic effect of the remedy.
Whilst the concept may feel counterintuitive, homeopathic medicine is based on the idea that a remedy becomes more powerful the more the active ingredients have been diluted.
Homeopathic medicines come in different ‘potencies’. At Weleda we have been using homeopathic potencies for 100 years, sometimes in the X potency and sometimes in the C potency. Our anthroposophic medicines sometimes combine both homeopathic and herbal ingredients, and contain X potencies.
X is the Roman numeral for 10, and a 6X potency has been diluted at a ratio of 1 to 10 and succussed for a total of six times. For C potencies, the dilution ratio is 1 to 100 (C is the Roman numeral for 100).
The most widely available homeopathic remedies are 30C potency which can be bought over the counter at health stores and pharmacies, and are suitable for self-help in time-limited conditions. Higher potencies, such as 200C, should be left to qualified prescribers.
How do I take homeopathic medicines?
Most homeopathic medicines come as small tablets or granules, which should be allowed to dissolve or chewed half an hour before or after eating rather than taken with food. It is best not to handle the tablets, but to tip them into the bottle cap and then drop them in the mouth. In the case of our Chamomile Teething Granules, a small measuring scoop is provided to dispense the remedy to the baby or child.
Some homeopathic medicines are formulated as oromucosal sprays, which can be sprayed into the mouth - on to or under the tongue or the side of the cheek in a very fine spray - where the remedy is absorbed by the mucosa lining the oral cavity. Due to the alcohol content of the spray, it is usually advised to change the site of application each time, to minimise any potential irritation. Ideally doses should be taken half an hour before or after food or drink.
Strong substances such as peppermint and coffee may occasionally affect the effectiveness of the remedy on some people. For low potencies take the remedy half an hour before or after eating, drinking or cleaning your teeth. If your homeopathic medicine was prescribed by a practitioner, follow their advice.
Low potency homeopathic medicines can be increased in effect by simply increasing the frequency of the dose. This has the same effect as taking a higher dose of conventional medicine. Carefully read the pack to see how often and how large the dose should be.
Gradually stop taking the medicine when you notice improvement in the symptoms, by spacing out the doses to wider intervals. When there is a marked improvement, stop altogether. If the symptoms recur, resume dosage. If the symptoms change, stop dosage and seek advice.
Can homeopathic medicines be taken with other drugs?
There is no known report of any cross-reaction with conventional medical treatments, although powerful drugs such as antihistamines or steroids may slow down or negate the action of homeopathic medicines. Additionally, the side-effects of conventional drugs can make it harder to judge whether homeopathy is acting effectively or needs to be changed. At Weleda we always advise you to tell your doctor if you are taking a homeopathic medicine together with a prescribed drug.
Can more than one homeopathic medicine be taken at the same time?
It’s usually better to avoid taking more than one homeopathic medicine at a time because it makes it harder to judge what is working. For some specific situations and illnesses including hayfever, eczema, muscular pain and stress, mixed remedies are formulated.
Are Homeopathic medicines suitable for children?
Homeopathic remedies are suitable for children, and indeed young children often respond better to homeopathic medicines than adults. As with all treatment regimes, we advise that children under two should be seen by a doctor except in very mild cases such as teething or colds.
The law prohibits any medicine manufacturer from claiming that a medicine is safe during pregnancy and thus the official Homeopathic statement is that it is best to avoid all medicines during pregnancy. Homeopathic medicines, however, have never been shown to be unsafe during pregnancy.
Homeopathy – a trusted friend for a healthy life
Weleda has been making homeopathic medicines for a century, and the system of medicine devised by Dr Hahnemann has been trusted by millions of people in that time, with many reporting improved health, recovery, symptom reduction and relief from chronic conditions. It is a system of medicine which respects the body’s power to heal itself, supporting the process with a gentle hand. We hope to have answered many questions you may have here, but we are always available to answer specific queries and to offer guidance on our remedies. Click here for our full contact details.