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Alternative Medicine


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.



Cohen, Michael. Complementary Medicine: Legal Boundaries and Regulatory Perspectives Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.

Goldberg, Burton, John W. Anderson, and Larry Trivieri. Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide. 2nd. ed. Ten Speed Press, 2002.

Pierce, Andrea, and John A. Gans. The American Pharmaceutical Association Practical Guide to Natural Medicines New York: William Morrow & Co., 1999.

Rakel, David, ed., and Charles Dickens. Integrative Medicine Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders, 2002.


National Institutes of Health. "National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine" <nccam.nih.gov> (February 4, 2003).

Larry Blaser


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—A form of therapy developed by the ancient Chinese in which needles are inserted through the skin in very specific places to alleviate pain, cure disease, or provide anesthesia for surgery.


—The theory that many human diseases and disorders stem from deviations or subluxations of the spine, which impinge on the spinal nerves, causing pain or disfunction of the affected organs.


—A system in which diluted plant, mineral, or animal substances are given to stimulate the body's natural healing powers. Homeopathy is based upon three principles: the law of similars, the law of infinitesimal dose, and the holistic medical model.


—The clinical use of hypnotism to treat both physical and psychological disorders, whereby the patient is placed in a trance-like state by the practitioner or by the patient and the patient's attention focuses on a single object or idea in order to relax.


—Form of alternative medicine that focuses on the patient holistically and views symptoms such as fever as a natural manifestation of the body's defense mechanism that should not be interrupted. Patients are taught to adopt a healthier lifestyle, diet, or attitude to forestall disease development.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Adrenoceptor (adrenoreceptor; adrenergic receptor) to AmbientAlternative Medicine - Naturopathy, Lifestyle Changes, Relaxation, Chiropractic Medicine, Acupuncture, Homeopathy