Many people just getting started with homeopathy understandably have questions about what it is and how it works. The list below includes answers to some of the most common questions about homeopathy:
How does homeopathy differ from conventional medicine?
- What is homeopathy’s history?
- What is “classical” homeopathy?
- What are combination remedies?
- Are homeopathic medicines regulated?
- Are homeopathic medicines safe?
- Can a pregnant woman, breastfeeding moms, or a newborn baby use homeopathy?
- Where can homeopathic medicines be purchased?
- Are homeopathic medicines expensive?
- When do I need to go to a professional homeopath?
- Who practices homeopathy?
- What kind of homeopathic training and certification is there?
- What happens during a homeopathic consultation and what does it cost?
- Will my health insurance cover it?
More About Homeopathy
Homeopathy is based on a rule of nature called the Law of Similars. This law states that “like cures like,” or that a medicine can cure a sick person if it can cause a similar sickness in a healthy person. For instance, if you peel an onion, your eyes burn, itch and water. You might also have a runny nose and begin to sneeze. If you had similar symptoms during a cold or allergy attack, such as a runny nose, watery eyes and sneezing, a homeopathic micro-dose of the remedy Allium cepa (red onion) would help your body heal itself.
The homeopath regards symptoms as the body’s healthy attempt to restore itself to balance. That is why a homeopath will choose a remedy that supports the symptoms—rather than opposing them or suppressing them as in conventional medicine. In conventional medicine, a cold or hayfever sufferer is given an antihistamine to dry up the runny nose and watery eyes artificially. But this medication often comes with unpleasant side effects like sleepiness and constipation. With the correct homeopathic remedy, however, there are no side effects and a person is restored to health naturally.
Homeopathy also recognizes that each person exhibits his or her disease in a unique and slightly different way. That is why two people with the same disease will not necessarily receive the same homeopathic remedy. A cold sufferer with a stopped up nose and dry eyes would receive a different remedy than one with a runny nose and watering eyes. Unlike the “one size fits all” approach to prescribing often used in conventional medicine, a homeopath chooses a remedy that matches the unique symptom profile of the individual. Conventional medicine seeks to control illness through the regular use of medications; if the medicine is withdrawn, the person’s symptoms return. For example, the daily use of drugs for asthma (or any chronic disease for that matter) alleviates the symptoms but does not cure the underlying problem. In homeopathy the ideal is that a person needs just enough of the homeopathic remedy to stimulate their healing response. In other words, homeopathy seeks to cure a person so that they do not need any medications—homeopathic or otherwise.
The Law of Similars has been documented since at least the time of Hippocrates (ca. 400 B.C.), but it is Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843), a German doctor and chemist, who is credited with founding homeopathy. He discovered the truth of the Law of Similars by testing small doses of medicine on himself.
By 1900, about twenty percent of doctors in the United States were homeopaths, but due to various political and social changes, homeopathy became relatively unknown in the US until recently. There is wider acceptance of homeopathy in such countries as France, Germany, Mexico, Argentina, India and Great Britain. In fact, the family doctor to England’s Queen Elizabeth is a homeopathic physician. In fact, the World Health Organization estimate that it is currently practiced by over 500 million people worldwide.
Over the last 200 years many definitions of “classical” homeopathy have been used. At the core of nearly all of these definitions are the following key elements:
- The Law of Similars: matching the symptoms of a medicine tested on healthy humans to the individual seeking treatment.
- The Minimum Dose: determining the least amount of medicine needed to effect the needed change.
- Totality of Symptoms: matching the complete symptom profile of the patient to the symptom profile of the remedy.
- Single Remedy: administration of one remedy at a time.
Some homeopathic products combine several different homeopathic medicines, each of which is known to be helpful for a certain condition, in the hope that the combination will contain the medicine needed by any individual with that condition. For example, a combination product for earaches might contain the five most frequently prescribed homeopathic remedies for earaches. These combination remedies are often safely and effectively used for simple acute conditions; however, they do not constitute classical homeopathy.
Homeopathic medicines are considered to be drugs under U.S. federal law, and the Food and Drug Administration regulates the manufacture, marketing, and sales of all homeopathic medicines. Homeopathic medicines are made according to a book of standards called the Homoeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States (HPUS). The HPUS contains all of the information necessary for the proper identification of the raw materials used to make homeopathic medicines, as well as techniques for their manufacture and quality control. Homeopathic medicines are derived from botanical (plant), mineral, and some animal sources.
Because of the minute doses used in homeopathy, the medicines labeled for internal use are non-toxic. When properly administered, the medicines are completely safe for everyone including pregnant women, newborns, children, and adults through the senior years. Many veterinarians use homeopathy in the treatment of animals. There are no known or suspected contraindications or drug interactions between homeopathic and conventional medications.
Since homeopathic remedies are devoid of all chemical toxicity, homeopathy is the ideal system of medicine for people of all ages, even the most sensitive like an expectant mother or a newborn baby. Difficulties during pregnancy and the delivery or its aftermath as well as all the problems experienced by the newborn can be dealt with very efficiently and without side effects with homeopathy.
Most homeopathic medicines are available over-the-counter and can be purchased from natural food stores, many corner drug stores, or directly from the manufacturers or homeopathic pharmacies. Click Find a Homeopath for a list of places to purchase homeopathic remedies and other products.
Homeopathic medicines are less expensive than conventional medicines, costing on average $5–$8 per bottle. Sometimes only a single dose of a medicine is needed to affect a return to health. These medicines have an extended shelf life and each may be used for several different conditions.
Consumers can learn to treat simple first-aid and acute conditions effectively with the aid of homeopathic self-care books or by attending homeopathic classes, but serious, chronic conditions should always be treated by an experienced homeopathic practitioner.
Homeopathy is practiced by a wide variety of health-care practitioners including medical doctors, osteopaths, naturopathic physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, dentists, veterinarians, chiropractors, acupuncturists, nurse midwives, podiatrists, and professional homeopaths. Individual states regulate the practice of homeopathy, and each state’s laws and requirements for practice are different.
In most cases, homeopathy can be practiced legally by any health professional whose license entitles them to prescribe medicines, such as MDs, DOs, NDs, etc. In addition, three states specifically license the practice of homeopathy for medical and osteopathic physicians: Arizona, Connecticut, and Nevada. Two of these states, Arizona and Nevada, also allow the practice of homeopathy by registered Homeopathic Medical Assistants, under the auspices of a licensed MD or DO. Since 2000, Minnesota, Rhode Island, and California have adopted legislation that allows unlicensed complementary and alternative health practitioners (including unlicensed homeopaths) the freedom to practice as long as they give full disclosure of their training and background. Efforts are underway in other states to adopt similar legislation. Learn more about practicing homeopathy.
Independent post-graduate training programs offer professional education in homeopathy. Programs range from a weekend to several years. Learning experiences may be through correspondence courses, lecture, classroom settings, and/or preceptorships with experienced homeopaths. In recent years, the Accreditation Commission for Homeopathic Education in North America (ACHENA) has begun certifying the content and structure of homeopathic courses. Practitioners may be certified by one of several certifying organizations based on their medical professional status and their homeopathic education. Such certification attests that a practitioner has met certain criteria and developed a certain level of expertise in homeopathic practice. A license to practice medicine does not guarantee that a practitioner is a good homeopath. Similarly, a well-trained homeopath may not be licensed to diagnose and treat patients in a given area. If you have questions about a specific category of practitioner, contact the certifying organization directly for more detailed information about the qualifications and standards they employ or for a list of practitioners they have certified.
The first visit usually lasts one to two hours. During the visit, the homeopath will review the patient’s medical history and attempt to elicit a full picture of the patient’s symptoms—mental, emotional, and physical. A homeopathic medicine will be chosen to match the patient’s symptom profile. Scheduling of follow-up visits will vary depending on the needs of the patient and the practitioner’s philosophy; intervals of four to six weeks are typical. A follow-up visit normally lasts 30–60 minutes. The cost of a first visit to a homeopath varies and typically ranges from $150 to $500 depending on the skills and experience of the practitioner and the area of the country in which you live.
Your health insurance may cover part or all of your visits depending on your practitioner’s health-care license or certification qualifications and their participation with your insurance plan.