The extraordinary science of homeopathy emerged early in the 19th century. This well described system of medicine is now the second most used system in the world and its growth throughout the past 200 years has been rather extraordinary, especially in North America.
The founder, Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, began experimenting with the potential of homeopathy shortly after graduating from medical school. At the time (mid 1700s), the common medical practices of purging, bloodletting and administering toxic chemicals left him quite disillusioned and unsettled. His investigations brought forth the fundamental Principle of Similarity “like cures like” which states that a given substance can cure the same symptoms in a diseased person that it produces in a healthy person. For example, in 400 BC Hippocrates prescribed mandrake root to treat mania which incidentally was known to cause mania in a healthy person. In homeopathy, highly diluted substances are selected to treat health conditions based on the same set of symptoms produced when the crude form of that product is consumed by a healthy person. Take the example of a person presenting with insomnia associated with a racing mind and uncontrollable thoughts. Homeopathic coffea would typically be prescribed. Coffee consumed in excess is well-known to cause these symptoms, yet as a homeopathic preparation these are the symptoms it cures. This concept is not unfamiliar to the medical profession although it is not used in the same capacity. In 1983, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that vitamin B6 can treat nerve damage but can also cause nerve damage in large doses.
Dr. Hahnemann continued to refine his philosophy to establish a highly systematized method of medical therapeutics that provide gentle solutions, by stimulating the body’s own natural healing powers. From the late 1700s and into the 1800s, the effectiveness of homeopathy continued to grow, gaining most of its early popularity in the treatment of acute and epidemic disease throughout the world. During the cholera epidemic in the 1830s, the mortality rate for patients of homeopathy ranged from 2.4% to 21.1% while the rate for conventional medical care was over 50%. The first homeopathic hospital was opened in 1832 and subsequently homeopathic medical schools opened all over North America. By the early 1900s, there were 22 homeopathic medical schools in the United States, 100 homeopathic hospitals and over 1,000 homeopathic pharmacies. Boston University, Stanford University, University of Michigan, University of Iowa and New York Medical College were all institutions that taught homeopathy. Many well respected members of society were strong advocates of homeopathy including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Nathanial Hawthorne, Daniel Webster, Louisa May Alcott, John D. Rockefeller, Charles Dickens, W.B. Yeats and Pope Pius X. Britain’s Royal Family have been dedicated patrons since the early 1830s.
The success of homeopathy in treating infectious epidemic diseases contributed immensely to its popularity. Mortality (death) rates in homeopathic hospitals were often 50% to 88% less than those in medical hospitals. Only 3% of the 1,116 homeopathic patients of Cinncinati died during the 1849 cholera epidemic, as opposed to 48-60% of medical patients. The statistics for the yellow fever epidemic of 1878 showed 7.7% mortality for homeopathy patients in New Orleans and 16% for patients of conventional medical practitioners. The American Medical Association journal later estimated that allopathic mortality rates were actually 20-25%.
Homeopathic care was effective for a variety of acute and chronic illnesses. Patients had longer lives, prompting insurance companies to offer a 10% discount to homeopathic patients. The London Life Assurance Office announced in 1865 that “…persons treated by the homeopathic system enjoy more robust health, are less frequently attacked by disease and recover more steadily…medicines prescribed by homeopaths do not injure the constitution, whereas those employed by allopathists not unfrequently entail the most serious, and in many instances, fatal, consequences”. Homeopathic life insurance companies were also being created. In 1870 the Homeopathic Manual Life Office of New York reported selling 7,927 policies to homeopathic advocates and 2,258 to non-homeopathic patients in less than 10 years. Of the two categories there had been 84 deaths (1%) in the first and 66 (3%) in second, further justifying the lower premiums offered to homeopathic patients.
At the beginning of World War I in 1914, 300 homeopathic physicians had commissions in the National Guard or regular army. By the end of the war in 1918, 1,862 homeopathic physicians had received commissions. Unfortunately, a decline in practice of homeopathy occurred in connection with new regulations from the American Medical Association and a decline in funding. The Flexner Report of 1910, released in Canada and the US enforced higher admission and graduation standards for medical schools. In addition, a strict adherence to mainstream science was required in their teaching. According to the report, too many doctors were being trained and too many medical schools existed. As a repercussion, many schools either amalgamated or closed and females were restricted from admission. Only graduates of these schools were permitted to write the medical licensing exams. Of the 20 homeopathic colleges in 1900, only 2 remained by 1923.
Today, homeopathic resurgence has become more apparent with nearly all French pharmacies selling homeopathic remedies and medicines. Homeopathy has a particularly strong following in Russia, India, Switzerland, Mexico, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, England and South America. Homeopathy has maintained a consistent tradition throughout the world. For example, homeopathic hospitals and outpatient clinics are part of England’s national health system. There are over 120 homeopathic medical schools in India with four and five year programs. An article in the World Health Forum stated that “in the Indian subcontinent the legal position of the practitioners of homeopathy has been elevated to a professional level similar to that of a medical practitioner”.
Homeopathy has been experiencing resurgence since the 1970s. The F.D.A. Consumer magazine reported a 1000% increase in homeopathic medical sales from the late 1970s to the early 1980s. The Western Journal of Medicine observed that patients of homeopathy tend to be better educated than the average citizen. Despite the oppression from the medical profession, homeopathy has survived. Mark Twain’s eloquent words in 1890 continue to hold meaning today “The introduction of homeopathy forced the old school doctor to stir around and learn something of a rational nature about his business… You may honestly feel grateful that homeopathy survived the attempts of the allopathists (orthodox physicians) to destroy it”.
Homeopathy is a remarkable therapy. Its non-invasive capability of stimulating the body’s inherent defense and self-regulatory mechanisms is significantly effective. In homeopathy, disease is believed to arise from a weakness in a patient’s defense mechanisms. It is a way in which our regulatory process can express what is happening inside the body, in response to multiple forms of stress. Homeopathics, derived from plants, minerals or chemical substances, attempt to maintain homeostasis. Homeopathy works in cooperation with the body’s regulatory functions.
Homeopathy is a complex system of medicine. At Nature Medicine, we prescribe homeopathics on an individual basis to ensure that the appropriate substance is given. We seek to prescribe those that incorporate all your symptoms and will help your body to repair its defenses.
- Pizzorno & Murray. Textbook of Natural Medicine. 3rd ed. Vol. I. Churchill Livingstone. 2006.
- Trattler. Better Health Through Natural Healing. McGraw-Hill, 1985.
- Beck, Andrew H. (5). The Flexner report and the standardization of American medical education. The Journal of the American Medical Association. 2004. 291(17): 2139-40.
- Coulter, H. Divided Legacy: the conflict between homeopathy and the American medical association. 1973. 2nd edition. North Atlantic Books. Berkeley, CA.
- World Health Organization (WHO). Legal Status of Traditional Medicine and Complementary/Alternative Medicine: A Worldwide Review. 2001. http://apps.who.int/medicinedocs/pdf/h2943e/h2943e.pdf