The Many Faces of Homeopathy

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WholeFoods Magazine Staff
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It’s not hard to find information about homeopathy, a fascinating system of natural medicine. Anyone who doesn’t take homeopathic medicine seriously is missing out. Over the past couple of centuries, millions have benefited from this unique form of natural health management.

Principals of Homeopathy
Homeopathy originated in Germany and has been practiced in the United States since the 19th century. The term “homeopathy” is derived from the Greek words homeo (similar) and pathos (disease/suffering). It is centered on the idea of the Law of Similars or “like cures like,” meaning that illnesses can be healed using small amounts of highly diluted natural substances that cause similar symptoms in otherwise healthy individuals (1, 2). Homeopathy stimulates the body’s innate ability to improve symptoms.

Homeopathic medicine is different from herbal supplement programs. Whereas the latter are plant-based, a variety of different natural components can be used in homeopathic remedies such as animal products, herbs and minerals (2). The raw materials are crushed and dissolved in a liquid (often either lactose or grain alcohol), shaken mechanically and, finally, stored as the “mother tincture.” Then, homeopaths dilute mother tinctures with more lactose or alcohol. The tinctures are shaken again, and then homeopaths can dilute the solution even further; two times, three times, you get the idea (1).

Often, homeopathic medicine will indicate the dilution on the label such as “belladonna 4X 75 mg.” A one part to 10 solution is written as 1x. The more dilutions a solution has, the higher potency number it has and the lesser amount of the original material it contains.  Homeopathic professionals believe in using higher dilutions because the therapeutic is thought to be more potent with each dilution (1).

Homeopathy at Home
The 2007 National Health Interview Survey found that nearly 3.9 million adults in the United States and close to 900,000 children used homeopathy in 2006 (2). If you’re interested in trying homeopathic medicine, talk to a trained homeopath first. What should I expect during my first homeopathic visit? Initial homeopathic visits can take as long as two hours or more. The reason? Homeopaths believe that each physical ailment has an emotional and a mental component. They aim to balance a person’s health, instead of masking an illness’s symptoms, which may involve a lengthy interview session involving questions about lifestyle and physical symptoms (1). Also, lab work and a physical examination may be completed.

Some patients have found homeopathy helps with everything from achieving a natural state of calmness, to benefiting the joints to supporting immune health (1). The proper remedy for one’s specific condition involves taking several factors into consideration, thereby individualizing each remedy and diagnosis. Thus, it’s not uncommon for three individuals with the same illness to be given three different homeopathic medicines (2). They may be single remedies with one component or combinations up to 25 ingredients. And, such remedies—available at many natural products stores—are manufactured in various forms, including tablets, ointments and pellets (3).

For the most part, homeopathic remedies are not believed to cause side effects. And, homeopathic remedies are not said to conflict with traditional medication (1). But again, those wishing to use homeopathic remedies should first discuss this option with a healthcare provider (2).  

What FDA Says 
Homeopathic remedies are formulated according to the guidelines of the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States (HPUS), which was written into law in the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938 (2). Homeopathic remedies are available without the need for a doctor’s John Hancock. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that homeopathic remedies meet various standards such as those for packaging, strength and purity. Moreover, in 1988, FDA stated that all homeopathic medicine must list ailments that may be relieved on the label (1, 2). Labels must also list instructions for usage, ingredients and dilutions. WF
  
References
1. University of Maryland Medical Center, “Homeopathy,” http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/homeopathy-000352.htm, accessed Aug. 22, 2011.
2. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, “Homeopathy: An Introduction,” http://nccam.nih.gov/health/homeopathy/, accessed Aug. 22, 2011.
3. P. A. Balch and J. F. Balch, Prescription for Nutritional Healing, (Avery, New York, NY, 2000).

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, October 2011