Many people don't realize that homeopathy is a complete system of medicine for treating acute and chronic illnesses. Although homeopathy is well-known in Europe and India in particular, it is generally misunderstood by most people in the United States, who confuse it with herbal remedies and other natural healing modalities. In reality, homeopathy is very different from other natural healing methods.
At its fundamental level, homeopathy is also very different from conventional medicine. It works in a completely different way, and, as anyone who has fully experienced constitutional (chronic) homeopathic treatment can attest, homeopathy has very different effects than conventional medicine does. Rather than effecting one specific symptom as conventional medicines do, homeopathic remedies can have positive effects on many different symptoms (including mental, emotional, and physical) all at the same time. What makes homeopathy and conventional medicine so different?
Law-of-Similars vs. Law-of-Opposites
Conventional medicine operates through the Law of Opposites. With the Law of Opposites, symptoms are treated by using medicines that have opposite qualities. For instance, if someone is having a hard time sleeping, conventional medical treatment would be to prescribe a medicine that produces the opposite effect, which would be something that induces sleepiness. If someone is congested with too much mucous, conventional medicine would prescribe a substance that reduces mucous. This method of using opposites was originally begun by Galen, who lived from 130-200AD.
On the other hand, homeopathy works through the Law of Similars, also known as Like-Cures-Like. This is "the principle that a substance which produces certain symptoms in healthy people can cure the same symptoms in the sick" . The Law of Similars was originally described by Hippocrates, who lived from 460-370 BC. Samuel Hahnemann, who lived from 1755-1843, verified the Law of Similars and went on to develop the homeopathic system of medicine over the course of his lifetime. Hahnemann "clearly pointed out that material eliminations of a disease such as pus, mucus, blood, phlegm, bile, and the like, are the products of a disease and not the disease itself" .
When the Law of Opposites is used, as in conventional medicine, there may be "quick palliation of the symptoms for a short period but eventually the underlying disease will return after the medicine becomes less active. This return of symptoms calls for the need to use stronger doses and more frequent repetitions of the same medicine to control the disease.  " This is why, with conventional medicine, prescriptions for chronic diseases are often needed for extended periods of time, and sometimes even for the rest of the life of the patient, to continually suppress the symptoms of the disease. Taking such medicines for extended periods often leads to undesirable side effects, and the underlying disease is not actually cured, but rather the symptoms are just being suppressed.
On the other hand, when the Law of Similars is used, as in homeopathy, the remedy actually stimulates the body to cure itself. The correct remedy is the one that has been proven to produce the same symptoms from which the person suffers when given to a healthy person. So when the body responds to the stimulus of the correct remedy, the body also corrects its own imbalance. This is why, with homeopathic treatment, the amount of remedy needed is actually lessened over time, and the dosing becomes less and less frequent, until eventually no more remedy is needed at all yet the improvements remain.
Body-and-Mind-as-a-Whole vs. Body-and-Mind-as-Separate-Entities
Another fundamental difference between homeopathy and conventional medicine is in how the body and mind are viewed. In conventional medicine, the body and mind are seen as separate entities. This is based on Rene Descartes' (1596-1650) conclusion that "there is nothing included in the body that belongs to the mind, and that there is nothing related to the mind that belongs to the body... Building on the mechanistic philosophy [the followers of Descartes] began to separate the body into various parts to explain each system as a mechanical agent. The bones and muscles were explained as mechanical levers that allowed the body to move like a machine. The inner organs and various systems were seen as chemical mechanisms that digested food and eliminated waste..." . Only recently has conventional medicine started to question this, but these ideas of each body part being separate and unrelated to the other parts of the body are still very firmly entrenched in our culture. This leads to the idea that, if a person has asthma, for instance, then the asthma needs to be treated (suppressed) with an asthma medication. If the same person has depression, that is seen as a completely separate symptom from the asthma, and it is treated separately from the asthma.
In homeopathy, the mind and body are viewed as one, and the selection of the correct remedy involves evaluating each person as an individual, including the totality of their mental, emotional, and physical symptoms. Hippocrates was the first to view people from this viewpoint. "As he observed his patients he noticed that different body types reacted to the same stimuli in a different manner... He recorded a definite linkage between the physical makeup of the body and the mental temperament as well as reactions to the environment" . Descartes' conclusion that the mind and body were separate entities was in direct contradiction to what Hippocrates had learned, and with the rise of the Cartesian view, the Hippocratic view was excluded and suppressed. The founder of homeopathy, Samuel Hahnemann, picked back up where Hippocrates had left off. By viewing the mind and body as a whole, the homeopath is able to select a remedy that can positively effect all areas of health in the mind and body. For instance, in a person who has asthma, migraines, social anxieties, and depression, the correct homeopathic remedy would actually stimulate the body to improve all of those.
Nano-Doses vs. Large Doses
In terms of dosing, here again homeopathy and conventional medicine are fundamentally different. Conventional medicine "[assails] the body with large, often protracted and rapidly repeated doses of strong medicine... The long continued employment of such formulas inflicts new and, in part, ineradicable medicinal diseases [side effects] on the sick body" . Samuel Hahnemann actually started his career in healing as a conventional medical doctor, but gave it up because he felt that he was often inflicting more harm than good upon his patients. To Hahnemann, the side effects and continually degenerating long-term health of his patients indicated that using strong doses of medicine was not the way to heal the sick.
After years spent as a chemist and translating medical texts, Hahnemann later went on to discover the use of very, very small doses, "so small that they exactly suffice to lift the natural malady without causing pain or debilitation. The result is that, without in the least weakening, tormenting, or torturing the patient, the natural disease is extinguished and the patient, while improving, soon grows stronger and thus is cured" . The extremely small doses used in homeopathy are often pointed out by critics who insist that, with doses so small, no healing could possibly result from their usage. In reality, the small doses are one of the cornerstones of homeopathy's success. "How can we understand the action of a remedy which does not contain even one molecule of the original substance? Modern physics is just beginning to catch up with Hahnemann's vision of two centuries ago: that matter is essentially energy, that remedies based on energy can be more powerful than those limited to mere matter, and that remedies are essentially information which can be conveyed to the body's own healing energy by their vibrational pattern imprinted onto the inert carrier substance" .
Hahnemann did not stumble blindly into using such small doses. He experimented in a very logical manner, using his results to guide his progression. Eventually he found that, indeed, such small doses actually had great curative powers without the negative effects that strong doses of medicines can have (such as side effects and the progressive worsening of the disease over time). Homeopathy's small doses which are so often criticized are actually an essential part of what makes homeopathy work so well.
Different Philosophies and Different Outcomes
Conventional medicine and homeopathy are fundamentally different, and their outcomes are fundamentally different as well. When conventional medicines are used, there is temporary relief of specific localized symptoms, and often the relief is followed by a recurrence of symptoms which require even more medicine to be suppressed. This leads to a cycle of chronically degenerating health, as the body manifests the illness at progressively deeper levels of the body.
With homeopathy, the remedies are selected based on the totality of a person's mental, emotional and physical symptoms. Such remedies are then applied with very small doses which stimulate the body to heal itself. Over time, the level of health is increased and the body is able to reach a point at which the homeopathic remedy is no longer necessary for the improvements to remain.
Have you had any experience with healing illness and chronic disease in yourself or your family? Have you tried homeopathy?
 De Schepper, L. (2001) Hahnemann Revisited: A Textbook of Classical Homeopathy for the Professional, Santa Fe, NM, Full of Life Publications.
 Little, D. (2014) The Homeopathic Compendium Volume 1: History and Philosophy, District Kangra, Himachal Pradesh, India, Omnibus Global.
 Hahnemann, S. (1842, 1996) Organon of the Medical Art, as translated by Wenda O'Reilly, Palo Alto, CA, Birdcage Press.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or licensed healthcare professional. I am a homeopathic practitioner whose services are considered complementary and alternative by the state of New Mexico. The uses of homeopathic remedies described herein are provided for educational use only.
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