By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
The development of homeopathic principles dates back to hundreds of years ago.
In the 16th century, pharmacology pioneer Paracelsus claimed that reduced doses of “what makes a man ill also cures him.” The basic principle of homeopathy is based on this idea that “like cures like” and practitioners believe that a substance that triggers a certain illnesses can also be used to treat that illness.
The principles of homeopathy were developed and expanded by German physician Samuel Hahnemann. When Hahnemann first named the discipline in 1807, mainstream medicine involved ineffective practices such as bloodletting and purging. Complex mixtures such as Venice treacle which comprised 64 substances including opium, myrrh, and even viper’s flesh were also being used.
Hahnemann thought these methods were irrational and dangerous and instead promoted the use of single drugs at reduced doses. He also encouraged a vitalistic perspective on how living organisms function and believed that the cause of disease had both spiritual and physical aspects.
Hahnemann developed the basic principles of homeopathy while translating a medical paper by William Cullen into German. Cullen had written that eating cinchona bark could cure malaria, which led Hahnemann to ingest some of the bark and investigate its effects. Hahnemann developed symptoms similar to those seen in malaria such as fever, joint pain and chills. He then began to promote the “law of similars” that ancient physicians had proposed, believing that effective drugs lead healthy individuals to develop symptoms similar to those seen in the illnesses they are used to treat.
Later studies showed that cinchona does indeed cure malaria, but this is because the bark contains quinine and the therapeutic mechanism is unrelated to the presence of symptoms.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc
Last Updated: Sep 10, 2014