Proponents of homeopathy believe its remedies can cure or improve many forms of acute and chronic disease, including earaches, colds, flu, allergies, migraines, fibromyalgia, arthritis, depression, anxiety, hyperactivity, and chronic fatigue. And because no two people are exactly the same, homeopathy takes into consideration just about every aspect of a patient. "We really are treating the whole person," says Amy Rothenberg, N.D., a naturopathic physician and specialist in classical homeopathy in Enfield, Conn. "In my eyes, it's a very elegant way of practicing."
The concept behind homeopathy was first recorded by Hippocrates in the fifth century B.C., but the practice as we know it is traced to Samuel Hahnemann, an 18th-century German physician who disdained the medical procedures of his day—which included bloodletting, blistering, and toxic overdoses. Intrigued by another doctor's successful treatment of malaria with quinine, Hahnemann found that quinine itself produces signs of malaria. After further research, he theorized that dilutions of natural substances causing symptoms of illness in a healthy person could cure those same symptoms in an ill person.
Particular remedies, Hahnemann came to believe, could be matched to different symptom patterns to stimulate the body's natural healing response. He called this principle similia similibus curentur ("like is healed by like"), and modern homeopaths still adhere to it. Another tenet of homeopathy is that any symptoms must be analyzed in the context of the entire person and the totality of his or her systems.
"A symptom of disease does not represent something wrong with the body," says Dana Ullman, M.P.H., co-author of Everybody's Guide to Homeopathic Medicine. "It represents the defenses of the body in its effort to fight infection or adapt to stress."
By 1900, one out of five U.S. doctors used homeopathy, and the country had 22 homeopathic medical colleges and more than l00 homeopathic hospitals. The therapy fell out of favor by the 1930s, but began to revive in the 1960s. The number of U.S. practitioners jumped from less than 200 in the 1970s to about 3,000 in 1996. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 7 million Americans have used homeopathy; its popularity in countries like France and Germany, where homeopathic remedies are sold in virtually every pharmacy, is even higher. (continued)