This article is from the Alternative Medicine Therapies guide.
Homeopathy is a comprehensive system of medicine in which practitioners use solutions containing minute amounts of animal, vegetable and/or mineral substances to promote healing. Homeopaths believe in what they call the "law of similars." This means that "like cures like" and that illnesses can be treated by giving patients a small dose of a substance that produces similar effects to those of the illness. This is the same principle used in allergy treatments and immunizations.
Homeopaths evaluate and treat each patient as a whole. They consider psychological, behavioral, and genetic factors--not just the immediate physical symptoms of the disease--when prescribing the remedy that will have the most powerful healing effect on the patient.
The system of homeopathy is based on the work of Samuel Hahnemann (1753-1843), a German physician and chemist. Deeply disturbed by practices such as bloodletting and purging, which were mainstream medicine in his time, Hahnemann quit his medical practice and began a quest to understand the healing properties of drugs.
In his research, Hahnemann tried out various substances on his followers and on himself, and carefully recorded the details of their effects. Armed with this information, he then applied them to the treatment of the sick based on the "law of similars." His work led him to conclude that an imbalance in the body's vital energy caused disease and that a slight stimulus from the correct substance could trigger the body's ability to heal itself. Hahnemann also found that by progressively diluting and mixing a drug preparation, he could make an increasingly potent remedy with few or no side effects.
Hahnemann's research and writings were synthesized into a system of homeopathic medicine in the mid-nineteenth century. It wasn't long before homeopathy became an accepted medical discipline in many nations throughout the world, and by the early 1900s it was widely practiced in the United States. Interestingly, the original legislation that created the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1938 included the regulation of manufacturing standards for homeopathic drugs.
Conventional medical doctors and scientists, however, scoffed at the dilution principle of homeopathy, preferring to think that direct chemical actions were necessary for drugs to be effective. After a decline during the middle of the twentieth century, homeopathy regained status and today has a broad following in Europe, South America, and India. With preliminary scientific studies documenting the effect of some homeopathic treatments, along with the widespread interest in "natural healing," homeopathy has once again become a more accepted method of treatment in the United States.