A homeopathic physician is a specialist who focuses on homeopathic medicine, one form of alternative medicine. Homeopathic remedies are composed of water, alcohol, sucrose, lactose, and herbs or minerals. Homeopathic remedies are used for a wide variety of symptoms and are described as safe, natural, and effective for the whole body, as opposed to traditional medicine that targets specific symptoms. Homeopathic remedies are designed to activate the body’s natural capacity to heal itself. The effectiveness of homeopathic remedies is contested by many physicians and researchers. Nonetheless, homeopathic medicine is still practiced in many areas all over the world. Homeopathy comes from the Greek words “homois”, meaning “like”, and “patheia”, meaning “suffering”.
A homeopathic physician’s education is very similar to the other education of physicians from other fields. An aspiring homeopathic physician must first obtain any bachelor’s degree with credits for required courses for medicine, such as chemistry, biochemistry, biology, anatomy, and physiology. Following a bachelor’s degree is a degree in medicine. For areas that do not license homeopathic physicians, a degree in medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, chiropractic, osteopathy, or other related disciplines is recommended. Following a medical degree is a graduate level degree in naturopathic medicine. Similar to other medical disciplines, this degree includes lecture work for the first two years and hands-on clinic duty for the next two years. Depending on the location, the requirements that follow may carry. For some states in America, following a graduate level degree is a certification examination for naturopathic physicians called the Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examination. Undergoing a residency program is not required in some states in America, but residency remains very helpful in continuing a homeopathic physician’s education.
A homeopathic physician is usually self-employed. They are responsible for the diagnosis, and treatment of their patients. Diagnostic methods include interviews and observations. The homeopathic physician gathers information regarding the patient’s medical history, lifestyle, and physical condition, while observing the behavior of the sickness and its effects on the patient. Communication skills are therefore important in forming a good diagnosis. Upon completing a diagnosis of the patient, a homeopathic physician will prescribe a single remedy to the patient, in accordance with the principles of homeopathy. This remedy is a small dose of a substance that will produce similar symptoms to the patient when given in a large dose. The effects of the single remedy are then recorded and the prescription may be changed if necessary.
Homeopathic medicine was founded by German physician Samuel Hahnemann, who coined the term in 1807. While translating the “Treatise of Materia Medica” by Scottish physician William Cullen, Hahnemann found Cullen’s claims on the ability of the powdered bark of the Cinchona tree to cure malaria. Cullen accounted the Cinchona bark’s curative ability on its bitterness, which Hahnemann found odd since there were many other materials that were more bitter than Cinchona bark. He then began to test the powdered bark on himself. He found that taking multiple doses of the bark caused chills, fever, weakness, and numbness, which are symptoms similar to malaria. He hypothesized that materials that would regularly cause specific symptoms to a healthy person would cure a sick person who has the same symptoms if given in small doses. The small dose would theoretically activate the body’s natural ability to heal itself. This hypothesis, which is now called “the principle of similars”, was published in 1796 in “an Essay on a New Principle for Ascertaining the Curative Power of Drugs”. The “principle of similars” is one of three key principles of homeopathy as it is practiced today.
Hahnemann would continue to develop this hypothesis by testing multiple herbs and minerals on himself, his family members, and his followers. He would have test subjects take the medicine. He would then record the symptoms that would follow. This process is now called “proving”. Hahnemann published these in “Materia Medica Pura” in 1810. While performing his “provings”, he believed that large doses of homeopathic medicines would only increase a sickness’ severity. He devised a technique for diluting substances to an extreme degree. This would later be called the “principle of minimum dose”. The same dilution technique is still being practiced by homeopathic physicians today.
In 1810, Hahnemann published “The Organon of the Healing Art”. In it, he described chronic diseases in association with a “miasm”. The miasm is the underlying cause of a disease. He claimed that the orthodox method of providing relief from symptoms practiced by physicians does not actually cure a patient. His methods deal with the root of the disease, and therefore serves to completely cure a disease. The Organon’s sixth edition, published in 1921, is still used by homeopathic physicians today.
Homeopathy was popular at the time of its conception for multiple reasons. The orthodox medicine practiced at the time homeopathy was being established was dangerous and gruesome. Bloodletting, forced purging, treatments using arsenic and mercury, and other similar treatments were the norm, which would more often kill rather than cure the patient. Comparatively, homeopathy represents a safe and gentle medical practice, requiring none of the terrors of orthodox treatments and replacing them with natural remedies that can be easily ingested. In responding to the cholera epidemic in Europe in the 1830’s, homeopathic treatments showed better results than orthodox treatments. The reported mortality rates for orthodox medicine in different countries was around 40-60%, while homeopathic medicine reported mortality rates as low as 7%.
Homeopathic practices spread rapidly across Europe and the United States. By the end of the 19th century, 8% of all physicians in the United States were homeopathic physicians and 20 colleges had been built that taught homeopathy. The American Institute of Homeopathy was also formed along this time, followed by the American Medical Association(AMA) a year after. In 1903, the AMA included homeopathic physicians into the association. In 1938, homeopathic remedies were classified as drugs through the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Homeopathy received a sudden rise in popularity in the 1970s that some scholars credit to the New Age movement. Homeopathy remains very popular in the United States to this very day.
Orthodox medicine practitioners are often quick to dismiss alternative medicines as quackery. For many different kinds of alternative medicine, orthodox practitioners have dismissed them as unscientific, while branding alternative medicine practitioners in the 18th and 19th century as uneducated and illiterate. However, unlike most alternative medicine practitioners, Samuel Hahnemann, his followers, and his students were highly educated, with Hahnemann himself being an accomplished physician and chemist already at the time his ideas were being published. While homeopathy was still dismissed as being unscientific, it could not be dismissed from the minds of the general populace as easily due to its origins and its gentle nature.
Orthodox medicine’s biggest criticism against homeopathy comes from Hahnemann’s “principle of minimum dose”. Based on scientific knowledge at the time, which still holds true today, the dilution technique used in the making of homeopathic cures reduces the amount of the active ingredient to nothing. Hahnemann claimed that by shaking the solution violently, a process he called “potenization”, the solution retains the qualities of the active ingredient in a “spirit-like” form. The scientific community dismissed these claims as nonsense. The known minimum limit for a solution to retain one molecule of the original substance is about 12C. That limit is related to Avogadro’s Number, which relates the molar mass of a substance to the mass of a sample. Hahnemann, as well as homeopathic physicians today, are known to use remedies well beyond that limit.
Majority of clinical trials involving the curative powers of homeopathy conclude that homeopathic cures are just placebos. However, homeopathic physicians claim that clinical trials do not fit well with homeopathy. In “A Critical Overview of Homeopathy”, the authors write, ‘the evidence of the effectiveness of homeopathy for specific clinical conditions is scant, is of uneven quality, and is generally of poorer quality than research done in orthodox medicine.’ Better research regarding the effectiveness of homeopathy is required to reach a better conclusion. This becomes difficult due to the concepts of homeopathy, which make the removal of biases impossible. Nonetheless, homeopathy still contributes to a significant portion of health care, whether placebo or not.
Similar to many other alternative medicines, the recommended use of homeopathic remedies is as a complement to orthodox medicine. The World Health Organization warns against the use of homeopathic remedies to treat serious illnesses like HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis. Homeopathic remedies can be used to treat allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, migraines, and many other health issues, so long as its not life threatening or not an emergency situation.
Important in the study of homeopathy is the concept of the “holistic picture”, to which a homeopathic physician will associate a remedy to. To decide on which remedy to recommend to a patient, a homeopathic physician will often conduct an extensive interview with a patient, aimed at determining the patient’s habits and personalities. Orthodox medicine which will consider only the observable and testable symptoms present in a patient. Homeopathy literature and anecdotes will often contain sections regarding the patient’s personality. In homeopathic remedy literature, a section regarding the personality that is best suited for the given remedy is often included. This is not a restrictive limit for first aid and over the counter decisions for homeopathic remedies, but is helpful in the diagnostic methods of homeopathic physicians.
Over-the-counter Homeopathic Remedies
Many homeopathic remedies for minor issues like colds and headaches can be purchased like over-the-counter drugs. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration(FDA) regulates the production of homeopathic remedies like it would for other drugs. However, the FDA currently does not evaluate homeopathic remedies for safety and effectiveness.
The regulations may be found under the ‘Conditions Under which Homeopathic Drugs May be Marketed’ section in the FDA’s Compliance Policy Guide. In the regulations, the FDA requires homeopathic remedies to have active ingredients that are in the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States(HPUS). The HPUS is composed of lists of active ingredients to be used for specific symptoms, as well as the strength, purity, and quality of the ingredient. The remedy must include the specific medical problem to be treated, instructions for use, the list of ingredients used and the number of times the active ingredient was diluted. The dilution method is represented in the packaging of homeopathic remedies in a logarithmic scale.
Hahnemann created the “C” scale, which means that the active ingredient was diluted in a ratio of 1:100. A “D” or “X” scale is also currently used, which means the active ingredient was diluted in a ratio of 1:10. Together with the letter scale is a number which indicates the number of times the process was repeated. For example, a 6D dilution would mean one unit of an active ingredient is diluted in 10 parts of the solution six times over, resulting in an active ingredient to solution ratio of about 1:1000000. Homeopathic physicians assert that the more diluted a remedy is, the greater its potency.
Common Homeopathic Remedies
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