Developed in the 1790’s by German physician Samuel Hahnemann, Homeopathy appeared at a time when physicians were treating patients with barbaric procedures such as bloodletting and toxic doses of mercury, lead and other substances. Disenchanted with these methods, Dr. Hahnemann closed his practice and began translating medical texts.
While reading about Cinchona, an evergreen tree used to make the medicine quinine, Dr. Hahnemann was curious why it worked for malaria. As an experiment, he ingested Cinchona bark to see what would happen.
Surprisingly, the healthy doctor soon came down with symptoms of malaria, including high fever, chills, shaking and palpitations. Dr. Hahnemann further noted that the toxic metal Mercury, which was used to treat syphilis, caused similar bone destruction, gingivitis, and salivation that is characteristic of the disease.
Although the Law of Similars was mentioned in writings by Aristotle and Hippocrates, Hahnemann was the first to coin the term homeopathy, which comes from two Greek words homeios (same) and pathos (suffering). This principle of similar suffering (like-cures-like) states that when a healthy person takes a substance in large doses, it produces symptoms of illness. This same substance, administered in small (diluted) doses in a sick person with similar symptoms, can be curative. For examples, read the post Understanding Homeopathy.
After identifying the healing properties of diluted Cinchona and Mercury, Dr. Hahnemann began to experiment with a variety of substances from minerals, vegetables, and animals (snake venom, cuttlefish ink, etc.) He gathered a group of medical students who ingested a substance until they experienced symptoms (called a proving), then recorded their reactions in detail over a period of time. The most common symptoms from all subjects were combined to create a profile, or picture, of each substance.
When a patient came into clinic, their symptoms were matched to a remedy that had similar characteristics. A diluted dose of the indicated homeopathic remedy was given and repeated as prescribed. Hahnemann later discovered that the remedy lost any harmful side effects and was far more effective after being diluted even more, then potentized (systematically shaken). Hahnemann also recognized the importance of finding a single remedy for the whole person, and developed a pattern of analysis that included all symptoms – mental, emotional, and physical.
Today there are 3,000 proven homeopathic remedies that address a wide range of acute and chronic conditions, from anxiety to arthritis. While homeopathy can eliminate single symptoms, it has a deeper, more permanent action when treating the “whole person” with a single remedy. This process is called Classical (or Constitutional) Homeopathy.