Homeopathy (or homoeopathy) is a holistic system of medicine based on the theory of treating ‘like with like’. It claims to stimulate the body’s own healing response to disease, using specially prepared, highly dilute preparations. Homeopathy claims to treat the symptoms of a wide range of illnesses including allergies, asthma, eczema, hay fever, headaches, stress and respiratory infections.
Homeopathic medicines are not vaccines and are not a replacement for conventional medical treatment of serious diseases or infections. Always seek the services of a registered homeopath and tell your doctor if you are planning to start any new treatment, including homeopathy.
Helping the body to heal itself
The word ‘homeopathy” (also known as homoeopathy) is derived from the Greek words homoios meaning ‘similar’ and pathos meaning ‘suffering’. Homeopaths treat the person with specially prepared, highly dilute preparations designed to stimulate a healing response and strengthen the body’s ability to heal itself. They do this by assessing all of the person’s symptoms (physical, mental or emotional) and identifying the remedy that is capable of producing in a healthy person symptoms most ‘like’ the symptoms the person is suffering from.
Law of similars
The cornerstone of homeopathic philosophy is the ‘Law of similars’. This law or principle is based on a long-held belief (by ancient healers like Paracelsus) that substances that produce symptoms in a healthy individual can be used to treat similar symptoms in a sick person. Modern homeopathy was founded in the 18th century by a German physician, Dr Samuel Hahnemann.
An example of this principle is coffee. Coffee can aggravate some people who are sensitive to its stimulating effects. These people may experience increased mental and physical alertness, along with an exaggerated response to stimuli. People who present at a homeopathic clinic with symptoms of insomnia, headache, irritability and an overstimulated nervous system may be prescribed a dose of Coffea cruda, which has been prepared according to homeopathic principles. Practitioners believe that this will settle the symptoms of insomnia in these people.
Treating the whole person
Homeopathy aims to treat the whole person, taking into account personality, lifestyle and hereditary factors as well as the history of the disease. Since all people are unique, homeopathic medicines are prescribed to treat individuals. For example, headaches are treated with different medicines according to the person’s individual symptoms.
Homeopathy is not a replacement for conventional medical treatment of serious diseases or infections, but aims to help alleviate the symptoms of a wide range of chronic and acute illnesses including:
- Hay fever
- Respiratory infections
Regulation of homeopathic medicines
Homeopathic medicines are made from a variety of sources, such as plants, animals and minerals. They are prepared according to strict guidelines set out in international pharmacopoeias. Homeopathic medicines are considered safe and free from serious adverse reactions.
In Australia, all medicines come under the control of the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). However, homeopathic preparations are not usually registered with the TGA and some may be exempt from the TGA goods manufacturing practice (GMP) requirements.
Very small doses are used
The preparation of homoeopathic medicines consists of repeated dilution and shaking called ‘potentisation’. Homeopaths believe this process renders the remedies capable of stimulating the body’s natural healing forces. After the 12th dilution, there is no discernible chemical trace of the original substance left in the medicine, but homeopaths believe the preparation retains the qualities of the original substance.
The effectiveness of homeopathic preparations is a hotly disputed topic within medical science. Scientists question how a highly diluted substance could retain any biological effect. A precise mechanism for how homeopathy works has not yet been scientifically established, although there have been some studies that support possible efficacy of some selected homeopathic preparations. While not all clinical trials have been negative, the highly regarded Cochrane reviews (which examine the most rigorously conducted clinical research trials) have failed to show a benefit beyond the placebo effect.
Treatments and precautions
Homeopathic medicines can be in the form of liquid, granules, powder or tablets. Your practitioner might also advise general lifestyle and dietary changes as part of a treatment plan.
Sometimes symptoms may temporarily get worse before they get better. This ‘aggravation’ of symptoms can be part of the homeopathic treatment. However, you should tell your homeopath if you have these reactions. Your homeopath may refer you to a doctor or other healthcare practitioner if necessary.
Choose a qualified and registered practitioner
If you want to use homeopathic treatment, you should consult a registered practitioner. In Australia, the Australian Register of Homoeopaths (AROH) is the independent national registration board for professional homeopaths. Practitioners registered with AROH are recognised by all the major health insurance funds for rebates on ancillary benefit tables.
Practitioners are registered according to government-endorsed standards that are outlined in the government’s Health Training Package (HLT07). This set of standards forms the basis of recognised professional training for homeopaths in Australia.
It is important to note that naturopaths are not homeopaths. Naturopathic training does not meet the government standards for homeopathy, although some naturopaths have undertaken additional studies to meet these requirements.
Tell your doctor or homeopath about your medications
You should tell your doctor if you are planning to start a course of homeopathic treatment for your condition. Never stop taking conventional drugs without the knowledge and approval of your doctor. You must also tell your homeopath what conventional drugs you are taking.