People are often confused by the terms and ask: what is the difference between naturopathy and homeopathy? As I have outlined above, naturopathy does not describe a specific form of treatment, but an overall philosophy of health. If treatment is necessary, the naturopath is trained to choose from the key areas of natural therapies, one of which is homeopathy.

Homeopathy was developed over 200 years ago by Samuel Hahnemann, a doctor disillusioned with the medicine of his day. He was actually an early naturopath, for he believed in the healing power of nature and he also believed that health was a dynamic balance of body, mind and emotions. But he realized that sick individuals often needed medicine. Acute diseases could kill even healthy individuals, and chronic diseases were not only caused by the patient’s lifestyle, but also influenced by inherited factors that lifestyle improvement could not eradicate by itself.

He noticed two things about medicine. Firstly, their toxicity was dependent on dose. Secondly, they had side effects. Maybe the doses could be greatly reduced, and maybe, if we knew more about medicines, we could prescribe them to patients who needed all of their effects. Then there would be no side effects! In other words, they would be prescribed to the whole patient, holistically, and would stimulate true healing. He developed homeopathy, which fulfilled these ideals remarkably.  

“The physician’s highest and only calling is to make the sick healthy – to heal, as it is called….”

“The highest ideal of therapy is to restore health rapidly, gently and permanently; to remove and destroy the whole disease in the shortest, surest, least harmful way, according to clearly understandable principles.” - Samuel Hahnemann, “Organon of Medicine”

Giving up the practice of medicine for the time being, in order to do no harm, he earned a living translating medical texts, and focused his attention on the philosophy of medicine, but in a practical way: he wanted to experiment and discover a true system of medicine. His mission was no less than to uncover the laws of nature as they applied to health and healing.

He knew, in principle, what true medicine should do. He understood how the body healed itself. This system should stimulate the body's responses and without side effects. In other words it would aid what the body was trying to do and not work against it or impose symptoms of its own. It would be rational and not based on fanciful speculation, like most of the remedies of his day. To properly be able to apply such remedies, each medicine should be understood in detail, through all its potential effects on the whole person: mental, emotional and physical.

What Hahnemann was searching for was no less than an entire system of medicine and a principle of healing, not just a few new remedies. As a true system, these medicines should act through some underlying single principle. In Hahnemann’s time and even today in orthodox medicine, there is no single rationale for treatment or an underlying principle of healing. Each drug acts in a different way through chemical action, with a full spectrum of side effects.

The Scope of Modern Homeopathy

Most importantly, homeopathy has proved itself, in the hands of dedicated practitioners throughout the modern world, as living up to Hahnemann's original ideals. It is a complete system of medicine, which works through a single natural law to bring about true healing. It is completely without side effects and can be safely used by pregnant women and babies.

It works on the whole person, balancing on all levels, including the emotional and mental planes, so purely mental problems are treated by homeopathy; most patients experience a general improvement in mental calmness and an increased sense of vitality when they receive their constitutional remedy. This is the name that we give to the homeopathic remedy that is chosen on the basis of the full pattern of health disturbance in a patient.

Because it stimulates the healing forces in the body enduring symptom relief is possible for most chronic complaints, such as psoriasis, eczema, allergies like hay fever, problems like irritable bowel syndrome, menstrual disorders and chronic fatigue. In many cases symptoms can be permanently eliminated and health fully restored.

What many people often fail to understand, however, is that homeopathy is very effective in treating acute problems, like colds, influenza, bronchitis, ear infections, tonsillitis, glandular fever and infections like impetigo (school sores) and boils, and childhood epidemic diseases like chicken pox, measles and roseola. It must be remembered that the first great success of homeopathy was in the acute cholera epidemics of Europe in the nineteenth century.

The Law of Similars

The first principle of this ideal medical system, known as homeopathy, was discovered when Hahnemann inquired into the full effects of the drugs of his day on a healthy individual. Peruvian bark, which contains quinine, was used to treat malaria, as derivatives of quinine still are to this day. He decided to try some on himself, and he came down with many symptoms similar to malaria.

He discovered that many of the most effective medicines could cause similar symptoms in the healthy to the same pattern of symptoms that they could treat in the sick. This was the first principle of homeopathy: the Law of Similars. (The name homoeopathy comes from the Greek, homoeo meaning similar and pathos meaning suffering.) In homeopathy, we give a minute but energized dose of a substance which in a normal, material dose can cause a similar pattern of symptoms in a healthy individual.

If all medicines were tested on the healthy and all their effects noted, they could be rationally applied to the sick, matching the full pattern of effects, not just the one wanted. In this case, there could be no side effects, so homeopathy could only assist the body and never harm it. To this end, and to rationally apply the Law of Similars, Hahnemann and his colleagues started experimenting with medicines on themselves, calling the results provings.

Provings were extensive. They noted the effects of medicines on all parts of the healthy person: the mind, the emotions and all the body’s systems. The emotional symptoms were recorded in extensive detail together with the times of day everything occurred and all incidental features, such as response to weather and temperature, sleep patterns and menstrual symptoms.

This means that to choose and apply a homeopathic medicine, the homeopath takes a very extensive case history that enquires into the patient’s emotional experience and the symptoms of every part of their body in great detail. This pattern of the patient’s disturbance in their health is known as the totality of symptoms.

To the homeopath this totality is the sum and reflection of the Vital Force or life force, homeopathy’s name for the self-regulating and healing principle in the body. Symptoms themselves are the body’s response and attempt to heal, and the Vital Force at all times produces a pattern of symptoms to prevent more serious change that may affect deeper organs. The totality of symptoms is the true indicator of what needs to be healed, not a named disease diagnosis.

In his or her choice of the indicated remedy, known as the simillimum, the homeopath assesses the pattern and gives a remedy that truly assists the body in its attempt to restore balance and harmony. It is medicine for the person; it is not prescribed to a specific disease but to why the person has that disease. As you can see, homeopathy requires great skill, insight and dedication – and experience is important.

The Law of the Minimum Dose and the Principle of Potentisation

Hahnemann went further. Although side effects were reduced, these medicines were still active chemical substances, and large doses could be toxic. He experimented with smaller and smaller doses and found them still effective, in this way further minimizing toxic effects.

Through a stroke of genius, he discovered what we call today serial dilution. He diluted smaller and smaller amounts of the substance with water and alcohol. Unlike normal serial dilutions he added what he called succussions at each dilution, striking the bottle firmly on a book one hundred times before the next dilution.

Provided the succussions were done, the medicine would still be active– even more so – and completely without side effects. This became known as the Law of the Minimum Dose.

The absence of side effects is not surprising. After dilution and succussion, chemically there are few or no molecules of the original substance remaining. This means the homeopathic remedy, at this stage of dilution, no longer has a chemical or pharmacological action. So what remains, if anything?

It is believed that the turbulence of the succussions imparts a memory of the original substance on the water molecules between each dilution and that what is left is information that is stored in the molecular arrangement of the water molecules. As an analogy, if you analyze a CD that you use in your computer, chemically you will find it is just plastic; but your computer is designed to read the physical information contained, in the same way we believe the body uptakes the information message contained in the homeopathic medicine. This is why homeopathy has been called physical medicine.

Because the body responds only to physical information in homeopathic medicine, if it is the wrong information, nothing happens; no harm is done; but drugs have effects through chemical action regardless. If it is the right information, the body learns how to remove the blocks that stop it from rebalancing. In homeopathy, it is the body's innate healing wisdom that cures, not the medicine, which is only a catalyst.

History of Homeopathy

Homeopathy spread rapidly throughout the world in the nineteenth century. There were many instances of miraculous cures in the many epidemics that ravaged Europe at that time, including those of cholera, where homeopathy saved more than 5 times the patients than those treated by orthodox medicine.

Homeopathy only went into decline in the 1930's, when the "wonder drugs" like antibiotics were temporarily seen as the answer to all disease. Since the 1970’s homeopathy has experienced a worldwide resurgence, as the limitations of wonder drugs and the medical approach of treating diseases in isolation from the whole person has become apparent.

Homeopathy is seen as safe, effective and inexpensive by the World Health Organization, which notes that it is the most used system of natural medicine in the world after traditional Chinese medicine; it is certainly the most popular and respected form of alternative medicine in the western world. In many countries such as South Africa, India, Germany and France it is studied at university level and graduates have the same status as medical doctors.

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