Alternative Medical Systems
medicine, or homeopathy, is a holistic system of treatment that
originated in the late eighteenth century. The name homeopathy
is derived from two Greek words that mean "like disease"
because the system is based on the notion that a medicine capable
of curing a disease will mimic or imitate its symptoms. Samuel
Hahnemann (1755-1843), the founder of homeopathic medicine, used
the Latin phrase similia similibus curentur, or "let like
be cured with like," to summarize the underlying principle
of his system. Homeopaths use the term allopathy, or "other
disease," to describe the use of drugs in conventional medicine
to oppose or counteract the symptom being treated.
Hahnemann was trained in the standard
medical practice of his day and licensed as a physician in 1779.
In 1796, he gave up his practice because he was disturbed by the
poor results of orthodox medical treatment. He supported himself
by working as a translator of medical texts. In the course of
translating an English physician's research on a treatment for
malaria, Hahnemann experimented on himself with small doses of
the drug until he responded to it by developing symptoms resembling
malaria. He concluded that the curative powers of the substance
were derived from its ability to produce symptoms resembling those
of its target disease. Hahnemann's reasoning was similar to that
of Edward Jenner, who discovered the principle of vaccination
in 1798 by observing that exposure to a mild form of pox conferred
immunity against smallpox, a deadly disease with similar symptoms.
Hahnemann followed up his experiment
by studying local records of accidental poisonings from commonly
used medications. He found that when these substances were taken
in overdose, they produced symptoms similar to those of the diseases
for which they were given. For example, mercury was used to treat
syphilis, but could cause syphilis-like ulcers in high doses.
Hahnemann referred to his discovery as "the law of similars"--that
substances that produced specific symptoms when given to healthy
people in sufficient quantity could heal sick people of similar
symptoms when given in highly diluted forms. He then began to
analyze the remedies available in nature by what he called provings.
Provings of homeopathic remedies are still compiled by dosing
healthy adults with various substances and documenting the results,
in terms of the dose needed to produce the symptoms and the length
of the dose's effectiveness. The symptoms are then classified
in three categories, depending on whether they are produced in
all provers, in a majority of provers, or only in a small number.
The findings are collected in large homeopathic reference works
called materia medica or materials of medicine as well as in homeopathic
The purpose of homeopathy is the
restoration of the body to homeostasis, or healthy balance, which
is considered its natural state. The symptoms of a disease are
regarded as the body's own defensive attempt to correct its imbalance,
rather than as enemies to be defeated. Because a homeopath regards
symptoms as positive evidence of the body's inner intelligence,
he or she will prescribe a remedy designed to stimulate this internal
curative process rather than suppress the symptoms.
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