Homeopathy is a term derived from the Greek words meaning "similar suffering." It is a system in which diluted plant, mineral, or animal substances are given to stimulate the body's natural healing powers. Homeopathy was developed in the late eighteenth century by Samuel Hahnemann (17551–1843), a German physician. Hahnemann conducted experiments to improve standard therapy, which then consisted of bloodletting and administering purgatives made with mercury, which were highly toxic. In one of his experiments he ingested an extract of cinchona, the bark from a Peruvian tree used by the natives to treat malaria. Hahnemann consumed large doses of the bark and developed the symptoms of malaria. From this he concluded that if large doses resulted in symptoms of the disease, small doses should stimulate the body's own disease-fighting mechanism.
Homeopathy is based upon three principles formulated by Hahnemann. The first is the law of similars, stating that like cures like. The second is the law of infinitesimal dose, stating that the potency of a remedy is a reflection of how much it is diluted. Third is the holistic medical model, stating that any illness is specific to the individual who has it.
The law of similars is seen in more traditional medical practice in the use of immunizations. Inoculations of attenuated or dead viruses or bacteria are given to stimulate the production of antibodies to resist a full-scale invasion of the same virus or bacterium. Thus, immunizing a child against poliomyelitis consists of administering a solution containing the dead polio virus; this results in the formation of antibodies that are available to repel the living polio virus if the child is exposed to it.
Homeopathy is much more accepted in Europe, Latin America, and India than it is in the United States. It is touted as a low-cost, nontoxic, effective means of delivering medication that can cure even chronic diseases, including those that conventional medications fail to cure. In France, pharmacies are required to stock homeopathic remedies in addition to regular pharmaceutical drugs. Hospital and outpatient clinics specializing in homeopathy are part of the British health care system and the practice of homeopathy is a recognized postgraduate medical specialty.
In the United States homeopathy has only begun to be accepted by the mainstream medical community. Approximately 3,000 physicians or other health care providers endorse the practice. Though it excites little enthusiasm among practicing physicians in America, homeopathy is an ongoing specialty, and the production of homeopathic remedies is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration to assure their purity, and proper labeling and dispensing.
See also Acupressure.
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