Curious about homeopathy? Our guide to this alternative system of medicine will introduce you to its fundamental principles.
Homeopathy has been practised for hundreds of years, yet confusion still abounds about what homeopathic remedies really are and how we can benefit from them. Welcome to Homeopathy 101—your crash course in everything you wanted to know about this unique system of medicine.
Homeopathy in a nutshell
Homeopathy isn’t just another natural way of treating conditions—it’s a complete system of medicine that deserves its time in the spotlight.
Although it’s again receiving much attention, homeopathy is hardly new. Samuel Hahnemann, a German doctor and chemist, is credited with developing the concept of homeopathy—way back in the 1800s.
The Law of Similars
Homeopaths believe in the Law of Similars, which states that “like cures like.” By this rule, a substance that would normally create symptoms in a healthy person can help treat a sick person with those same symptoms, when given in a very small dose.
The practice of homeopathy sees the body as intelligent and able to heal itself given the opportunity. Symptoms are not covered up—as they are with some conventional medicines—but rather, the body is given a gentle push to heal itself.
A common example is onions. Normally, contact with raw onions makes our eyes sting and water and can irritate our noses. In homeopathy, therefore, a remedy from onions (Allium cepa) may be given to those with hay fever who experience stinging and watering eyes, plus nose irritation.
Dilution and succussion
Like other natural health products, homeopathic remedies can be made from a host of natural ingredients, including plants and minerals. However, homeopathic remedies differ in that they are always diluted in liquid and then shaken vigorously (in what is known as succussion) with each dilution. Although it may appear counterintuitive, in homeopathy The Law of Minimum Dose states that the smaller the dose of original substance, the more effective it is.
Although studies are still being done to understand how homeopathy works, there’s a growing body of research demonstrating its potential benefits. For instance, studies have suggested that homeopathic remedies can help improve disease severity and quality of life in patients with long-term chronic diseases.
How—and who —homeopathy can help
Although Western medicine typically treats specific ailments, this notion is contrary to that of homeopathy, which seeks to treat states of ill health by targeting the underlying cause of the symptoms.
This being said, since consumers are familiar with treating conditions, natural health retailers stock homeopathy remedies formulated to treat a wide variety of simple conditions. Some popular remedies include those for
- seasonal allergies
- strains, sprains, and bruising
- colds and flu
For a more specialized approach, or for chronic conditions, it’s best to see a professional homeopath. Often, homeopaths can step in when conventional treatments haven’t proven effective, or when the patient would like a complementary approach. Homeopaths assess the individual’s symptoms and prepare specialized remedies—so two people with the same general concern may be given two different remedies. (See sidebar “Visiting a homeopath”.)
Professional homeopaths treat the conditions previously mentioned, plus more. Some examples include PMS, anxiety, fibromyalgia, fatigue, skin conditions, headaches, and irritable bowel syndrome.
Safe and complementary
Unlike many medicines and treatments, homeopathic remedies are generally considered safe for children and pregnant women, and aren’t thought to have side effects or interactions with other medicines. For this reason, they’re a perfect complementary—rather than alternative—medicine, and can typically be used alongside other types of medicine.
Nevertheless, it’s always a good idea to let your health care practitioner know everything you’re taking, and to double check to make sure a product is right for you.
Homeopathy best practices
Understanding the label
Homeopathic remedies are labelled with their potency in the form of a number and letter after the remedy name—such as 6X or 6C.
The number refers to how many times the original substance (such as the “mother tincture” of the herb) has been diluted.
The letter refers to the scale on which the dilution was done. Of these, the decimal and centesimal scales are most common. Here, “X” is the decimal scale (meaning a total of 10 parts), so 1 part mother tincture is added to 9 parts dilution liquid, while “C” is the centesimal scale (meaning a total of 100 parts), so 1 part mother tincture is added to 99 parts dilution liquid. Therefore, C is stronger than X, because each dilution followed by succussion is said to increase the potency. To recap, a 6C remedy would have been diluted in a total of 100 parts, six times.
Of course, the remedies are also shaken vigorously during this process. These two procedures, performed properly, turn the original substance into a homeopathic remedy.
Taking the remedies
Your homeopath can give you personalized instruction for taking remedies. Some remedies may also come with instructions. Nevertheless, general guidelines exist.
- Let the pellets dissolve under your tongue, so as to directly enter your bloodstream.
- Avoid handling pellets, as they’re very delicate. Instead, gently tip them into the bottle cap and then into your mouth.
- Remedies can be affected by strong tastes such as mint or coffee. Avoid eating, drinking, and brushing your teeth 15 minutes before and after taking them.
- Because homeopathic remedies are meant to prompt the body to heal itself, you can generally stop taking them once you feel better.
Homeopathy myths and facts
Myth 1: Homeopathy is herbal medicine
Herbal medicine and homeopathy are not the same thing. In herbal medicine, remedies are tinctures made from various botanicals, which can be very strong and may interact with other supplements or medicines. Homeopathic remedies, on the other hand, are made from “micro doses” of substances. Possible interactions aren’t thought to be a concern. And while homeopathic remedies are often made from botanicals, not all are.
Myth 2: Homeopathy is relatively obscure
This myth is completely false, says certified classical homeopath Nicole Duelli. While homeopathy is still growing in popularity here in North America, it’s very common in parts of Europe, India, and Latin America. The National Center for Homeopathy estimates that more than 250 million people around the world have used homeopathy successfully.
Myth 3: Homeopathy is all the same
There are two major approaches in homeopathy: classical and complex. In complex homeopathy, individuals use prepared formulations that contain more than one homeopathic remedy to treat the symptoms of a specific concern.
In classical homeopathy, a homeopath works with a patient and only one remedy is used at a time. Duelli advocates for classical homeopathy, explaining that it “is a way of treating each person individually and as a whole, so that remedies build core health rather than just helping symptoms superficially. It is based on clear principles and has withstood the test of over 200 years of practice.”
First time visiting a homeopath? Certified classical homeopath and alive Editorial Advisory Board member Nicole Duelli gives us the rundown.
How do I choose a homeopath?
Duelli recommends asking about a homeopath’s education and whether or not they are affiliated with a professional organization. “While not all homeopaths are certified,” she says, “if they have these designations you’ll know that they have to meet certain standards.”
Some widely recognized organizations in North America include:
- Council for Homeopathic Certification
- North American Society of Homeopaths
- Canadian Society of Homeopaths
Other provincial associations also exist.
What will my first visit be like?
A first visit can be anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours, allowing for a highly personalized consultation.
According to the European Committee for Homeopathy, since homeopathy regards the body, mind, and emotions as integrated, homeopaths may ask many questions, such as about stressors and mood.
Duelli adds, “To accurately choose a remedy that sparks healing, homeopaths must gather symptoms as clues. Because these clues are unique to each person, homeopaths ask many questions about the exact nature of these symptoms, when and how they appear, et cetera.”
Do I return for a follow-up visit?
“The initial and follow-up appointments are essential,” says Duelli. The follow-up is typically conducted a few weeks after the consultation. Further appointments are determined on a case-by-case basis.