Alternative Medicine History of Homeopathy

About the form of alternative medicine known as homeopathy, history of the new science, controversy surrounding it.


Homeopathy is a system of medicine formalized by Samuel Christian Hahnemann, a German physician, beginning with his medical discoveries in 1790 and his subsequent publication of several major works on the subject. The basic premise of homeopathy is "let likes be treated by likes." The homeopath treats the patient with a substance which would produce in a healthy person the same symptoms that the sick person already has. The idea is that the body naturally fights disease and that the symptoms are the manifestation of the body's attempt to throw off illness. The homeopath attempts to cooperate with the body's own cleansing procedure by helping it along and encouraging the acting out of the symptoms rather than fighting and suppressing them. Homeopathy maintains that the body is not being invaded by disease, but is producing the symptoms of disease in order to fight off the illness that is largely the result of poor diet, mental stress and anxiety, heredity, and/or environmental conditions. This is in direct contrast to allopathic medicine, which is considered orthodox today. In the eyes of homeopathy, allopathic medicine fights nature and seeks to cover up symptoms rather than let the body deal with the real problem. It also carries the risk of complications and side effects from the modern drugs it prescribes. Homeopathic drugs come from plant, animal, and mineral sources, and are given in very tiny dosages to avoid side effects and exert a subtle influence on the body. All homeopathic medicines are "proved" before use--that is, they are given to healthy people in small doses to discover the symptoms they produce. Another very important aspect of homeopathy is its belief that every person is a very individual case, and that there is no one medicine for one disease; rather, there are certain medicines which are better for certain people.

Because its views are based on entirely different principles than those of allopathic medicine, there have been fervent and largely successful attempts to suppress homeopathy. According to the homeopath, the modern patient's desire for instant relief, if only from symptoms, and his belief that disease is to be fought, has possibly been created and certainly been nurtured by medical advertising and people's ignorance of how their own bodies work.

Homeopathy grew in worldwide popularity between 1820 and 1900. Ralph Waldo Emerson and William Cullen Bryant were true believers. At its peak, in 1900, there were 22 homeopathic colleges flourishing in the U.S., and a monument to the founder, Samuel Hahnemann, was placed in Scott Circle, Washington, D.C., where it may still be seen.

In the years since, homeopathy has declined in the U.S., where it has been continually denounced as quackery by the allopathic physicians. Today, the remaining homeopathic strongholds in the U.S. and England are Philadelphia and London. Queen Elizabeth II and the Royal Family, following tradition, still have a homeopath on the Buckingham Palace medical staff. Homeopathy also remains as an alternative treatment in such countries as France, Germany, India, as well as in various nations of South America. Many well-known persons believe in homeopathy, among them Marlene Dietrich.

Young people who wish to become homeopaths in the U.S. are faced with one severe problem: In order to practice homeopathy legally, it is necessary to take a full allopathic medical school course before the student begins to study homeopathy.

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