The word homeopathy comes from the Greek words for “suffering” and “similar.” Homeopathy is the practice of treating diseases and conditions with the substance or circumstance that caused them. The best example of the basic concept of homeopathy in regular use is allergy injections which use small amounts of the allergen to immunize the patient against later exposure to the allergen.
A homeopathic remedy is created by mixing minute amounts of substances with insoluble substances like oyster shell or quartz. The theory is that the medicine created by this process will trigger the body’s natural immune system to fight the condition being treated. Scientists note that the amounts are often so minute that the statistical likelihood of the compound containing any of the original substance is minute.
Homeopathy was one of the earliest techniques of modern medicine. Homeopathic remedies have been used to treat such diseases as cholera, smallpox, scarlet fever and syphilis. Early physicians, for example, noticed the similarity of the symptoms of mercury poisoning to those of syphilis and treated patients with tiny doses of mercury. Doctors in the early 1800s used a homeopathic remedy including tiny amounts of the plant sarracenia to successfully treat smallpox. Homeopathy reached its peak in the United States in the mid-1800s but fell out of favor due to advances in modern medicine.
Many people have the misconception that homeopathic remedies are only comprised of plant ingredients. However, homeopathic medicines can use many different types of ingredients including salts, animal products and substances of human origin like scrapings from skin or hair clippings.
In the United States, homeopathic remedies are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Companies producing homeopathic remedies are not required to provide proof that they work, nor do they have to provide information on their active ingredients since they are made up almost entirely out of inactive ingredients. Remedies for ordinary complaints such as headache, stomach problems or colds are sold over the counter, However, homeopathic remedies for serious diseases are sold only by prescription.
Homeopathy is more widely practiced than other forms of alternative medicine, but it is still controversial. Scientists say there is no scientific basis for the efficacy of homeopathic remedies. They ascribe any benefit received from homeopathy to the placebo effect. The main concern among scientists and doctors is that patients with serious conditions will rely on homeopathy instead of seeking more traditional treatments.