By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Homeopathy is a branch of alternative medicine that was first developed and described by German physician Samuel Hahnemann in 1796.
The basic principle of this form of alternative medicine is based on the idea that “like cures like.” Homeopathy practitioners believe that a substance that triggers a certain illness can also be used to treat that illness. A second principle is based on the idea that shaking and diluting the treatment increases its potency.
The treatments are prepared through repeated dilution with alcohol or water, followed by striking against an elastic body to shake the formulation. Substances are often diluted many times until almost none of the original substance remains. Each dilution is called a “succession” and the increased potency homeopaths believe this yields is referred to as “potentization”.
Before deciding on which remedy is most suitable to treat a patient, a homeopath assesses factors such as the patient’s general wellbeing, lifestyle, diet and emotional state as well as asking about any specific health issues. Homeopaths also refer to books called “repertories” in order to select a remedy. The homeopath then decides on a treatment course, which is usually given in the form of pills or a tincture. The patient is then asked to attend follow-up appointments to assess their progress.
This branch of alternative medicine is generally considered harmless, but has been criticized for lack of effectiveness, with no known evidence existing to support that the remedies are any more effective than placebo. Another concern is that the therapy may indirectly put a patient at risk by deterring them from seeking medical advice and using conventional medicines that have been shown to work.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc
Last Updated: Sep 16, 2014