Homeopathy Primer – Frequently Asked Questions
What is 'Classical Homeopathy'?
Classical homeopathy is a complete system of medicine based on the central organizing principle of “like treats like”, also called the law of similars. Homeopathy is identifiable both through its unique mode of diagnosis and prescription as well as through the nature of the actual medicines (the homeopathic remedies) that it utilizes in treating illness. The following is a brief detailing of these major characteristics:
1) The Law of Similars: The central principle of homeopathy is that the set of symptoms caused by a medicine (animal, mineral, botanical, etc) when taken by a healthy individual can also be cured by that medicine when given to someone who is ill with the same set of symptoms.
This law was elucidated when Hahnemann explored the use of the medicine quinine, which is used to treat malaria at a certain dosage. However, if a healthy person consumes the medicine quinine at a sufficiently high dose, it can cause the same symptoms present in malaria, including alternating chills and fever, sweating, etc. In other words, a plant that can cause a fever may be used to treat a fever if the larger symptom picture is similar in both cases.
This is opposite of the basis for much of conventional biomedicine, where the law of opposing action – going against a group of symptoms or a process – is exemplified by the use of the prefix “Anti” – as in anti-inflammatory, anti-biotic, anti-viral, anti-pyretic. Anti-medicines, predominately used in conventional medicine, are often used to slow, oppose, block, reverse, or alter biological processes within the body. The perspective of homeopathy is that this opposing action, used in excess over time, serves to suppress the body’s natural healing ability, weaken the body, and promote chronic disease (see the question on suppression).
In fact, the term “allopathic medicine”, which is applied to conventional medicine, means the use of opposites to treat disease. The term allopathic was actually coined by homeopaths to strike a distinction, as homeopathy means the use of “similar” medicines to treat disease.
2) Potentization of Remedies: Another defining principle of homeopathy, although one that is often improperly understood, is the use of highly diluted substances. Homeopathic remedies are, like other forms of medicine, created from plants, minerals or other chemicals, and animals. These substances may be complex, as in the case of remedies made from whole plant extracts, or simple, as in the case of remedies made from a single substance such as calcium carbonate. The remedies are prepared through a series of dilutions in which the original preparation, most commonly in the form of a tincture in alcohol, goes through repeated steps of dilutions and vigorous mixings known as succussion. The final “potency” is dependent on how many dilutions occurred and what the ratio of dilution was at each step (see lower question on potencies).
3) The Use of Single Remedies: A third important principle within classical homeopathy is that only one remedy (not a combination of remedies) be given at a time. There are at least three important reasons for this principle. First, the law of similars implies that there is always a single best remedy to address the existing state of health and illness in a person. In other words, in comparing any two remedies, one always fits the whole case at least a little better than the other, and therefore that one should be used. Second, homeopathic remedies are tested one remedy at a time, so the understanding that guides their clinical use is based on giving single remedies. Because of this, the added complexity of giving multiple different remedies at once (which increases the number of possible homeopathic treatments exponentially) is to be avoided in favor of a situation that is better understood. Finally, because remedies can be antidoted by other homeopathic remedies, it might be deleterious to give a combination of similar remedies (see the question on antidoting of remedies for more information).
What is a proving?
Basically, a proving involves giving a homeopathic remedy (usually at a 30c or 200c) to a healthy person, and diligently observing and recording the reactions and symptoms they generate as a result. The list of all these symptoms is what makes up part of the homeopathic materia medica for each remedy. These symptoms are then looked for in a patient who is ill as an indication to choose that same remedy (based on the similarity of symptoms, aka the law of similars).
A homeopathic proving can be complex since even a healthy person has many identifiable “symptoms” within the mental, emotional, and physical realms. The first step of the proving is for a qualified homeopath to record all these pre-existing symptoms in the “prover”, so that once the remedy is given the new symptoms can be differentiated from the additional ones. During the proving, the homeopath conducting the proving is looking for three things:
1) New symptoms that the healthy prover did not have before
2) Worsening of symptoms that the healthy prover already had
3) Improvement or elimination of the symptoms that the healthy prover already had
All three of these symptoms (new, improved, and worsened) are recorded and attributed to the remedy being “proven”. These symptoms are entered into the materia medica to form the basis for understanding when to give this same remedy.
Ideally, a proving is done on a large group of people in order to capture as much of the potential diversity of symptoms of the remedy as possible. Because each person in the proving is a unique individual with their own individualized sensitivities, not all the “provers” will develop symptoms as a result of taking the homeopathic remedy being proven. Those that are more sensitive to the remedy are expected to have more and stronger proving symptoms. Often, a first round of the proving might be used simply to identify those who are more sensitive to the remedy, and then a second or even third round of the proving would be done just on the highly sensitive subgroup in order to elicit stronger and more easily confirmed symptoms.
There is much debate on the appropriate methodology for organizing and executing these provings, but the main principle is simply the recording of symptoms produced by a single remedy in relatively healthy people. This forms the core method of developing the homeopathic understanding of remedies.
How does homeopathy work?
The exact mechanism through which homeopathy works to bring about the healing response is not known. However, even in contemporary biomedicine there are drugs for which the exact mechanism of action is not known in the body. Like many other forms of medicine, homeopathy has been primarily developed on the basis of empirical evidence, in other words, what is observed over time as many people, both ill and healthy, take homeopathic remedies. Furthermore, this empirical evidence forms the basis on which homeopathic prescription is made, where it is the constellation of signs and symptoms of disease that must match a similar known set of symptoms associated with a remedy.
When homeopathy was first developed, it was assumed to work under the popular contemporary theory of vitalism, which attributes a sort of essential, fundamental, and unique energy signature to every plant, animal, mineral, etc. This theory was in stark opposition to the also prevalent, and increasingly popular, theory of mechanism in which it is thought that an entity could be best understood by breaking it down into its smallest component parts. Although both of these perspectives still have many proponents, the last century has seen the development of much more integrative approaches, such as organismal biology and systems theory which seek to look at the larger gestalt and find patterns that repeat across traditional disciplines that can help explain or model various phenomena.
Not unlike ASD, the inner workings of homeopathy are complex, layered, and likely highly dependent on context like most things. There are ongoing scientific efforts to discern how homeopathy works, and a significant amount of research is available on how diminishingly small quantities of a substance can cause reactions in biological systems. Furthermore, other experts are at work on topics like the potential role of the “memory of water”, in other words the ability of water to form and maintain micro-structures that may be able to transmit information, and other related issues.
As to the law of similars, the mechanism for how a substance that can cause a symptom might also be able to cure or ameliorate that symptom is not exactly known. In this one case, however, vaccination may prove to be a useful analogy in that it utilizes a small amount of a substance (often a piece of the disease causing organism or virus) to promote an immune reaction in the body that then leads ideally to heightened immunity. The important point is that both of these approaches rely on a very small amount of something to send a signal, a piece of information, to the body. This is in contradistinction to many pharmaceutical medicines that act by literally forcing a biochemical reaction on a large scale by flooding your system with a sufficient quantity of a given drug in order to reach some quantitative end result.
Though homeopathy is not understood, the empirical evidence is that it acts as an information signal capable of eliciting a useful response by the body. This basic understanding also helps explain why homeopathy is so specific to the individual; the less strong and more specific the signal, the more likely it is that the only ones who will respond are those who are particularly sensitive to that signal.
Imagine you are in a crowded room filled with a few hundred people. Now pretend you want to cause everyone to leave as quickly as possible, how do you do it? Probably calling out “Fire, Fire!” at the top of your voice would have the desired effect, and perhaps you add to it by beginning to physically push those closest to you. You can be sure that this would start a reaction by just about everyone in the room. A medical analogy to this situation would be the use of Tylenol to reduce a fever – the majority of people respond in a fairly predictable manor regarding the reduction of fever (side effects are a different matter).
Now let’s say you only want to get half the room out without overly disturbing the other half. A good bet here would be something like “All the men outside now!” for a direct option, or perhaps “There is a black car with its lights on outside!” for a smaller group. In either case, the use of more specific information results in only a portion of the population being affected. Many medicines work in this kind of way; they are still broadly acting but within a significant portion of the population who can be easily defined by a particular characteristic, such as being male or female perhaps, or having a certain genetic makeup, etc.
Finally, perhaps you see someone across the room that you would like a private chat with outside. The “Fire!” approach would be disastrous, and getting everyone of one gender out the door would be little better. Of course we already have an easy social mechanism to accomplish this – our names. You call out the person’s name, and if it happens to be common a few heads turn. Add the last name and it’s pretty unlikely you’ll end up with anyone but that person leaving the room. In either case you’ll end up with one or perhaps a few, of hundreds, leaving the room. In essence this is homeopathy. It is the use of specific information to affect a reaction in a person sensitive to that information.
This brings up another important point: dosing in homeopathy. One of the reasons for using such a small dose of a substance is that it makes it more likely that only someone very sensitive to that substance will respond. One nice benefit of that is the lack of “side effects” when given the wrong homeopathic medicine; it did not help the illness because you weren’t sensitive to the medicine, but because your lack of sensitivity also meant there were not other side effects either.
We are currently working on adding a resource page to the website that compiles and references some of the work being done on elucidating the possible mechanisms responsible for how different aspects of homeopathy work, keep an eye on our news page for updates.
Is homeopathy the same as herbal medicine?
No, homeopathy is separate and considerably different both in diagnosis, prescription, and how it uses medicinal substances than other forms of herbal medicine such as Chinese herbal medicine. Homeopathy is herbal medicine only in the sense that “whole” plants or plant parts are used to make many of the remedies, rather than synthetic derivatives or isolated ingredients. When a homeopathic remedy is made out of a plant, the whole plant part (whether the root, leaf, flower, pollen, etc) will be used to produce the remedy. However, homeopathy utilizes more than just botanical ingredients – see the next question.
What are homeopathic remedies made from?
Classical homeopathy is not well defined by what type of substances are used to make remedies, and in fact it uses a greater diversity of fundamental ingredients for medicine than just about any other system of medicine. The main categories of substances used as starting materials for homeopathic remedies are whole plant components, whole animal components (including insects, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, birds, arachnids, worms, and every other major group), whole fungal components, whole bacterial components, minerals, metals, organic and inorganic chemical compounds, pharmaceutical drugs (limited use), diseased tissue products, vaccines, and other materials.
Interestingly the most commonly prescribed remedies relate to very familiar substances in the body, including calcium, salt, sulphur, phosphorous, carbon, and many others. However many plant and animal substances are very commonly given, so this is not a hard and fast rule.
One important note is that many homeopathic remedies are made of substances that would be considered toxic at higher doses. One of the reasons that the early developers of homeopathy favored such low doses of these substances, many of which were used at high doses in the conventional medicine of the time, was to avoid toxic and deleterious effects. For further discussion on this question of toxicity, see the following question on the toxicity of homeopathic remedies.
Can homeopathic remedies be toxic?
The short answer is that the exact physical makeup of a homeopathic remedy at a given dilution, including the aspect of that makeup responsible for the biological activity of a homeopathic remedy, is unknown. However, many studies have failed to identify any of the original material used to create the remedy past a certain potency/dilution. Theoretically, this cutoff would be the 12C remedy potency for the C scale dilutions, which represents a serial dilution process of 12 1/100 dilutions; In other words, a dilution factor of 10^60.
At 200C potency, this dilution factor reaches 10^400. Calculations based on these dilutions demonstrate that this creates a high likelihood of diluting out the last molecule of the original material substance used to create the remedy. Potencies labeled with “M” are even more dilute, so the same logic applies.
However, it is not a settled question that NO starting material or derivative thereof remains in an extreme dilution. For example, the following article demonstrates that even at extreme dilutions such as 200C some of the starting materials may still be present as “nanoparticles”.
Chikramane, PS, Suresh, AK, Bellare, JR, Kane, SG. “Extreme homeopathic dilutions retain starting materials: A nanoparticulate perspective.” Homeopathy, 2010: 99: 231-242.
This is the only evidence of this kind we have seen for particulate remnants in high dilutions. Other proposed mechanisms for how homeopathic remedies retain biological activity in high dilutions include theories on the memory of water, epitaxic structure, clathrate formation, quantum physical aspects of solutions, and others proposed mechanisms.
The reason homeopathy moved towards dilute substances to begin with was to avoid acute poisoning during the “proving” phase of remedies. No medicine can be guaranteed to be safe, and homeopathy is no exception. However, 100s of years of clinical experience in homeopathic treatment show that it is not the toxicity of remedies that should be the main safety concern with high potencies. Rather, the main concern should be the over-reactive response of a person who is, by definition of fitting the picture of the remedy to be prescribed, extremely sensitive to that prescribed substance. In these sensitive individuals, a higher (i.e. MORE dilute) dose can actually be more problematic than a lower (i.e. LESS dilute) dose for the simple reason that it can cause a stronger response in the body. Generally in homeopathy, the more weak or unbalanced someone’s health is to begin with (such as their immune health for example), the more we tend to use a lower potency (i.e. less dilute) remedy in order to avoid too strong a reaction – even with remedies based on plants or substances with known toxicity.
Another important point with homeopathy is that, with a 30c or 200c remedy, the dosing of the remedy is infrequent, usually anywhere between 2 weeks and 1-2 months between doses, sometimes even longer. This, coupled with the extreme dilution of the starting material, makes toxicity, from a conventional understanding, a low priority issue for most practitioners of homeopathy.
Ultimately, one should do their own research – and we hope the same care will be applied to the use of pharmaceuticals, vaccinations, or other substances that contain very well-quantified amounts of known toxins in a frighteningly large number of cases. Even some of our drinking water may be of greater concern from a standpoint of toxicity. The USGS has surveyed sources of drinking water in at-risk areas and found measurable quantities of nicotine, hormones from birth control pills, fire retardants, pesticides, and other potentially toxic substances, not to mention problems with known drinking water treatment such as chlorination and fluorination.
In other words, homeopathy is designed and built, is actually fully dependent on, avoiding the toxicity reaction. Is it completely safe? No, but we believe the main concern lies in the over-reaction of the ill body when it’s not able to support such a reaction, not the toxicity of the dose given – thus it is very important to pick the right dose for the right patient. Fortunately we can always start with a moderate potency, given a single time, and observe the reaction before continuing.
It is hard to escape the toxicity mindset, especially in this day and age, and frankly most people aren’t near as concerned as they should be about the state of the milieu around them. However, the focus in homeopathy has always been the patient, not the medicine. We are giving a substance to elicit a reaction, and this reaction ultimately comes from the person not the medicine. Thus we concern ourselves with the mode of reaction of this person – how they respond to the stresses of their life, where they focus their energy, etc. In giving a homeopathic remedy, we give the person a gentle but highly targeted ‘push’ hoping for a healthy response. It is not pharmaceutical medicine – we are not giving a material dose to elicit a quantitative biochemical reaction. We distinctly want to avoid that. In this sense, homeopathy is not even akin to most traditional botanical medicine in which material doses can be used for their distinct biochemical mechanism of action.
In the homeopathic diagnosis, the whole goal is to come to understand what stresses in life a child is particularly susceptible to – is it infections? Or is it emotional stress like anxieties or fears? Or perhaps it is allergens in foods… We are virtually mapping out the ways in which a patient is most sensitive, and the ways in which they respond when these sensitivities are tested. To an ASD child for example, a great portion of the world may be “toxic”, at least in the sense that it causes a reaction that is in itself both harmful (pain, debility) and helpful (escape or avoidance of the stress, calming of anxiety, etc). Major acute poisoning symptoms are mostly a result of the body trying to rid itself of the toxin, just like many symptoms of autism are purely a child’s way of dealing with the incredible stress of the environment around them.
We are biased towards seeing some sorts of material toxicity as more damaging to a person than other types of stress in their lives. However, for the right person, a crowded room is a much greater danger to health than a cigarette. Yes, homeopathy ultimately utilizes potentially toxic substances, but it uses them at demonstrably safe dosages (200+ years of clinical use for the initial remedies used) with low repetition. More importantly, it focuses on that very concern of toxicity – but on the whole person level, the susceptibility to stress and the reactions to those stresses.
What is a 'constitutional' remedy?
A term you will frequently hear in classical homeopathy is “constitution”, or “constitutional remedy”. This is because a central tenet of homeopathy is that at any given time there is one remedy which best matches the totality of your mental, emotional, and physical symptoms. Therefore the goal in classical homeopathy is to find this remedy that fits your whole picture, the whole constellation of symptoms and signs that are related to your current state of health or illness.
What people don’t often realize, and perhaps what some homeopaths don’t agree on, is whether there is only one constitutional remedy that a given person will ever need. Our opinion is that it is a mistake to make a one to one correlation between a remedy and a person, such as “person X is a sulphur”. Rather, we think a better term than constitution remedy might be “chronic” remedy; in other words, the remedy that most closely matches a persons ongoing constellation of symptoms. In this sense, the “chronic remedy” can change over time as the stresses they are under and their response to those stresses changes. While one person who remains quite healthy most of their life and maintains a stable environment, etc, may never need a different remedy, someone who undergoes more significant changes in health, lifestyle, location, and stresses may need different remedies at different times. See the next question for an important continuation of this discussion.
What is an acute remedy?
An acute remedy commonly refers to the homeopathic remedy needed during an “acute illness”, such as the flu, etc. However, this terminology can be misleading. Often times an “acute remedy” is not needed when a person has an “acute illness” if the illness, such as a cold, is recurrent and fits within their normal pattern of symptoms, or is generally mild.
Overall, it is easiest to discard the notion of acute and constitutional remedies when talking about classical homeopathy, and instead focus on a more important point: A person who is ill needs the remedy which best matches their most debilitating and problematic symptoms at a given time. Here’s an example: Say you have an autistic child whose most debilitating chronic symptoms are strong fears leading to strong OCD and repetitive behaviors. Those symptoms are literally ruining the child’s ability to be free in her life, to grow, develop, and live without major impediment. Now let’s say the child gets a head cold with mild sniffles and head congestion. What are they most limited by at this time?? If your answer is “the fear, OCD, and behavioral issues” you might make a good homeopath! The point is that homeopathy is most effective if directed at where the most debilitating problem actually lies. Now, what if this same child had a severe high fever from an infection, during which they were on the verge of unconsciousness and completely out of it, with no fears or OCD being expressed. Yes, this child could very well need a different remedy than before because the symptoms have shifted for the time being, and center very clearly around the acute illness.
Homeopathy is all about following the most severe, limiting, and debilitating symptoms that the patient has. These may be on the physical, emotional, or mental level, but no matter where they are, that’s where the major homeopathic focus should be. Often times acute illnesses can be dangerous, even life-threatening, and in these times it’s likely that the preponderance of strong symptoms will be around that acute illness itself, perhaps even with a significant diminishment of other chronic symptoms during the illness. This is the time to look for a new remedy, though it may be that after this “acute” remedy is given the child goes back to needing their previous remedy, which will be judged by the return of the chronic symptoms to the forefront.
What is the history of homeopathy?
Though its roots and foundation reach much further back into the history of medicine, homeopathy as a cohesive medical practice first began in the last decade of the 1700’s in Germany. Interestingly, homeopathy came about as a result of Dr. Samuel Hahnemann’s long experience in the conventional medicine of the time, which led him to explore the idea of natural substances treating the same set of symptoms in disease that they could cause if given to a healthy person. From early in its history, homeopathy utilized plant, animal, and mineral substances to treat both the acute epidemic diseases prevalent at the time, as well as chronic disorders. Homeopathy went on to become very popular in the United States, with the first homeopathic medical schools appearing in the late 1800’s. At this time, and in to the early 1900’s, many of the largest medical schools in the country taught homeopathic medicine, including the New York Medical College, Boston University, and Stanford University. The utilization and teaching of homeopathy declined in the U.S. during the early to mid-20th century, both because of external pressures like the powerful American Medical Association, as well as an internal lack of unification and shared goals. Despite this decline in the U.S., homeopathy has seen steady growth in Europe and Asia over the last century, and represents a popular medical modality in many parts of the world today. More recently, homeopathic use in the U.S. has risen; in 1996 Americans spent 230 million dollars on homeopathic remedies. Currently in the U.S. there are many homeopathic schools with programs that provide years of training and clinical experience, and these programs are likely to form the backbone of future professional licensing in homeopathy.
How are homeopathic remedies made? What are potencies?
Homeopathic remedies are generally made in one of two ways depend on the original substance. For anything soluble in alcohol/water, such as most plant and animal parts, a liquid tincture in alcohol is made, and then a portion of this tincture is combined with a certain number of parts alcohol for the first dilution. In the most common potency form, labeled “C” or sometimes “K” (such as 30c, 200c, etc), one part of the original tincture would be diluted with 99 parts alcohol, creating a 100-fold dilution. After this dilution step, the resulting solution would be put through a step of vigorous mixing (called succussion) in which the solution is shaken a set number of times. Then, one part of this new mixture would be added to 99 parts alcohol, and then succussed again. Each time this process of dilution and succussion occurs, it increases the “potency” number by one. So, in the case of a 30C remedy, the original tincture has gone through 30 steps of 1 to 100 dilution and then succussion. Similarly, for a 200C, 200 steps. The other common homeopathic dosage form is the “X” dilution, such as a 6x, 30x, etc. These potencies are like the C’s, except each dilution step is only a 1 to 10, rather than 1 to 100, dilution. Another potency form is the LM, which is a 1 to 50,000 dilution in each dilution step. Regardless of the remedy type, the number tells you how many steps of dilution and succussion the remedy went through, and the letter denoting the potency tells you how much dilution occurred at each step. Finally, after all the dilution/succussion steps are complete, the resulting liquid is either used directly (by dropping into water and taking), or used to medicate small pellets of lactose that are then taken orally.
The second common form of homeopathic remedy preparation is called trituration, and is commonly used for base materials that are insoluble in water/alcohol, such as many metals like platinum, gold, etc. For these remedies, one part of the starting material is added to a certain number of parts lactose depending on the potency (1 to 100 for C, 1 to 10 for X, etc). The lactose and starting material is then vigorously ground together using a pestle and mortar (this is equivalent to the succussion step with liquid). Then, one part of the resulting powder is used to repeat the process for the next “dilution” step.
Again, the most common types of potentization are as follows:
X: Every step of serial dilution is 1 part to 10, so a 6x has been diluted to 1/10 a total of six times resulting in a final dilution of 1 part to 1,000,000. These potencies are generally the least dilute; a 3x should have appreciable quantities of the initial substance for example. In between each 1/10 dilution step is a succussion step. The X potencies are less commonly used in classical homeopathy by professional homeopaths, but are frequently found in consumer combination homeopathic products (like homeopathic teething tablets, etc.).
C/M (Also labeled K sometimes): The C and M potencies both follow the same process; the M is just used after a certain dilution factor to make the notation easier. In a C/M potency, each step of the serial dilution is 1 part to 100, so a 12C has been diluted 1/100 a total of 12 times resulting in a total dilution factor of 1 part to 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. The M potency is prepared in the same way as the C, but the M notation means the cycle has been repeated 1000x the number in front of the M. For example, a 1M means the remedy has undergone a 1 to 100 dilution a total of 1000 times. A 10M would mean 10,000 1/100 dilution steps, etc. In both the C and the M, in between each dilution step is a succussion step. The C and M potencies are commonly used by professional homeopaths practicing classical homeopathy – they are the most common dosage form for single homeopathic remedies.
LM: The LM potency, like the C and X, goes through a similar series of dilutions and succussions but the dilution factor each step is much larger. Each step of LM dilution is a 1 to 50,000 dilution instead of the 1 to 100 used with C dilutions. All LM remedies are prepared using a 3C remedy initially, so they have a slightly different preparation process. An LM3, for example, has undergone three steps of 1 to 50,000 dilution and three steps of succussion. Note that despite the higher dilution each step, LM potencies are NOT necessarily more dilute or “higher potency” than C potencies. The low LM potencies (like LM1, LM2, etc) are less dilute than a 30C, for example. Overall, LM potencies are unique in their dosing, and often used in an escalating fashion. They should not be considered stronger or weaker from C potencies, but they should be considered different and are used differently by homeopaths.
How many homeopathic remedies are there?
There are thousands of homeopathic remedies available from homeopathic pharmacies. The U.S. Homeopathic Pharmacopeia, the official compendium of homeopathic medicines regulated in the United States, includes over 1400 individual medicines. Practitioners world-wide use an ever-expanding array of homeopathic remedies, however, many of which are not in the U.S. pharmacopeia. However, what we have in homeopathy is a situation in which a core group of very well known and understood remedies receives the majority of use, while new remedies slowly become more important as they gain in cumulative clinical experience and provings.
Furthermore, there are literally millions of substances that could be tested for homeopathic use. However, there are reasons why some potentially medicinal substances might have a stronger impact on human health than others. For example, homeopathy utilizes many substances that are themselves an integral part of biological functioning, such as the basic minerals and elements. In any case, it is important to remember that homeopathy is a living science – one that is never finished but that must continually build on its foundation. The very act of taking homeopathy is a contribution towards its greater understanding, as each new patient who responds to a given remedy, especially one with less known about it, adds to the collective understanding of how that remedy can be used.
What is a 'materia medica'?
Materia medica is a term for the category of homeopathic literature that is a collection and compilation of known information about a given remedy. When one reads through a “materia medica” chapter for a given remedy, one is reading a list of symptoms known to be both caused and cured by the remedy. Actually, a materia medica is built from two major sources: cured cases and provings. In a proving, a healthy person takes the remedy and all the symptoms brought on, worsened, or removed by taking the remedy are recorded and placed in the materia medica. In addition to this information, if a homeopath uses a remedy to cure a set of symptoms in a person who is ill, these “cured symptoms” are also put into the materia medica. Therefore the materia medica represents a growing collection of all the symptoms that have been cured or caused by a certain remedy.
The materia medica also provides some indication of how strongly a certain symptom is associated with a remedy. If you see a symptom that is in bold or italic type, it indicates that the evidence for this symptoms connection to the remedy is quite strong, having been verified multiple times in many different situations. Think of these as the most well supported characteristics of the remedies.
As you can imagine, a materia medica of one remedy may have thousands of listed symptoms, and many of these symptoms might be identical to those of other remedies. This is exactly the case, and for this reason it is rarely successful to base a homeopathic prescription on just one symptom. A remedy must be confirmed by many different symptoms, and the evidence for a remedy is strongest when the confirming symptoms cover all the major aspects of illness, including physical, mental, and emotional symptoms.
What is a 'repertory'?
A repertory is the category of homeopathy books that compile and collate all the remedies known to cure a given symptom. It is basically the opposite of a materia medica, which lists all the symptoms for a given remedy. In the repertory, it lists all remedies for a given symptom, and furthermore it organizes these symptoms by body systems, such as symptoms of the head, breathing, sleep, mind, etc.
Most categories of a repertory are physical body systems or areas, such as extremities, back, head, mouth, etc. Others are related to certain bodily functions, such as urination, sleep, perspiration, fever, etc. The largest section of the repertory is called the “mind” section – it contains all the symptoms related to emotions, behaviors, cognition, memory, learning, basically everything that western medicine relates to the central nervous system. Another large and important section of the repertory is called the “generalities” section; it contains such general symptoms as body temperature, food and drink cravings and aversions, and other generalities such as energy, etc.
Each symptom has a list of a variable number of remedies known to include that symptom. As in the materia medica, a remedy marked in bold or italics is particularly strongly associated with the given symptom. Understanding how to effectively use the repertory is a real learning process, because one often must translate a patients words into the closes possible symptom in the repertory. This matching process is very important for accurate prescribing because the repertory, when used properly, shows a homeopath all the potential remedies a person might need, narrowing the search from thousands to hopefully just a few strong candidates.
Is homeopathy safe? Are there any side effects?
Homeopathy is generally a very safe and gentle medicine because of the low dosages and potencies used and the specificity of the prescription. Furthermore, the dosage can be tailored to the individual in order to minimize the chance of any adverse reaction.
Homeopathic clinical practice is built around the dual foundation of finding a remedy that is quite specific for the individual and giving them the medicine in a dilute form. The elegance of this combination is that because we are only giving a medicine once we know the patient is particularly sensitive to that substance, we only need to give a small dosage, and in giving a small dosage we do away with the potential for the kind of drug-induced side effects commonly seen in pharmaceutical prescribing. As well, the low dosage ensures that if the prescription is wrong for the person, there is a very low chance of them reacting adversely to it.
However, homeopathic prescribing and dosing should by no means be considered as something that “can’t hurt you no matter how hard you try”. The emphasis on finding a medicine that a patient is extremely sensitive to goes both ways: like other things they are overly sensitive to they can overreact to a remedy as well, especially if dosed improperly in potency or timing. Often these overreactions or seemingly negative reactions are transient, and, as in the case of an aggravation (see the next question), may precede major improvement. In other cases, for instance when a remedy is given that is not the best match for the patient but is close, some short lasting worsening of symptoms could occur. It is important to remember that the very way these remedies are tested in the first place is by observing what symptoms they cause in a healthy person. In these “provings” as they are called, the symptoms are expected to be temporary, and like the effect of a well-prescribed remedy will fade with time if not redosed.
What is a homeopathic aggravation? What do I do if an aggravation occurs?
A homeopathic aggravation is a general term used to describe the phenomenon of a worsening of existing symptoms after a homeopathic remedy is taken. It is very specific to a worsening, or aggravation, of the existing symptoms, or symptoms that the patient has a history of.
An aggravation can be either a positive or negative sign; determining which is a matter of context and is sometimes difficult to judge. In a positive situation, a homeopathic aggravation can be best understood as the body making a strong reaction – one that is ultimately positive in moving towards better health. It is as if the homeopathic remedy is stimulating the body’s immune system and general ability to respond to the disease, and this strengthened response shows up as an aggravation of symptoms, or an acute illness or fever, etc. Remember that the symptoms of illness that we express are caused by our own body in the first place – a fever or cough are ways for the body to fight or expel disease organisms for example, and pain a way to prevent movement while something heals.
An aggravation can be negative as well, particularly in cases where the wrong homeopathic remedy, but one that the person was still sensitive to, was given, or in cases where the right homeopathic remedy is given but at too strong a dose or too soon after the last dose. In the case of the wrong remedy, it may still stimulate a response by the body but one that ultimately is not helpful and lasting. Even the wrong remedy may result in some transient improvement, but they are likely to last only a short time, and not continue with further dosage. In the latter case, when the dose is too strong or the timing wrong, the aggravation may be caused because the helpful action of the last dose has been interrupted, or because the potency causes a bodily response that the person doesn’t really have the energy or health to sustain.
Sometimes a remedy results in a strong reaction by the body that might look negative from a superficial perspective, but actually represents a movement towards healing. This is often the case when a remedy results in an acute immune response, such as a fever, or results in an acute illness like a cold or infection. This can be a very positive sign that the remedy has stimulated the immune system, which can then respond in a healthier and more appropriate way.
ASD provides a good example: it is common for a parent to say their ASD child is “physically healthy”, by which they mean the child does not get acute illnesses. Often, when these children receive a correct homeopathic remedy they might get a cold, a fever, or some other acute illness for first time in a long time. From our perspective this is great – their body is finally able to mount an appropriate immune response. Of course, with the onset of acute illnesses we want to also see the improvement of their chronic ASD symptoms, but together the two signs are very positive.
Overall, the most important response to what looks to be a homeopathic aggravation is simple: Wait! Whenever possible, it is important to wait out the transient changes that result from homeopathic remedies such as aggravations to see which direction the larger trend is headed in. In addition to waiting, it is important not to over-react to an aggravation that is in no way posing a threat. For example, a homeopathic aggravation resulting in a moderate fever should be watched, not treated. Of course if there is an aggravation of an underlying condition that is in any way dangerous to the patient then precaution must be taken. But when the reaction can be waited out, it is always the best choice. If the aggravation was ultimately negative, it is good information for helping to choose a different remedy. If the aggravation was ultimately positive, it can be an incredibly important step in the road to recovery. In both cases, it can only be understood with the advantage of time. In homeopathy, patience is a great asset and can truly make the difference between an unsuccessful case and a very successful one.
What therapies can I do simultaneously with homeopathy? What can antidote a remedy?
For ASD cases we ask parents to continue all other supplements that the child is taking so that we know that any changes in symptoms are the result of the remedy. In fact many nutritive supplements will be synergistically supportive to homeopathic healing. In our practice, we do not consider concerns over homeopathy being contraindicated or reacting negatively in combination with other medicines to be an issue. In our experience, homeopathy can safely be taken alongside pharmaceutical drugs as well as other herbal medicine, supplements, or other forms of therapy.
However, there are some therapies that can potentially antidote or somehow stop or prevent the action of the homeopathic remedy. Treatment for ASD that we have seen antidote remedies (although not in every case) includes chelation therapy, IVIG therapy, antifungal drug therapy, antibiotic therapy, and anti-fever drug therapy. We ask that, if possible, parents stop or minimize these treatments to decrease the number of factors that can interfere with a remedy.
Other substances that are commonly known as antidoting homeopathic remedies are peppermint, menthol, coffee, recreational drugs, and immune-modulating pharmaceutical drugs such as steroids.
Despite the potential for antidoting remedies, however, there should not be an excessive amount of anxiety about the possibility. The majority of the time, even in cases where patients are doing various other therapies, there is no antidoting of the remedy. When a remedy that was working well is antidoted, the resulting decline in progress should occur rather quickly and precipitously. A remedy whose benefit wears off slowly has most likely not been antidoted, but rather requires a redose or a change in remedy.
What is the difference between CEASE therapy or Sequential Homeopathy and Classical Homeopathy?
There are many sub-branches of alternative medicine that have either grown out of classical homeopathy or share commonalities, including sequential homeopathy, isopathy, homotoxicology, Unda therapy, oligotherapy and CEASE therapy. One way in which classical homeopathy differs from these other methodologies is in its central reliance on finding a single (sometimes called ‘constitutional’) remedy that fits the entire gestalt of the case; the totality of the mental, emotional and physical symptoms. This remedy, when chosen correctly, appears to stimulate the body’s innate ability to heal and rebalance itself in a deep and lasting way. Although homeopathy’s fundamental mechanism of action has not been fully elucidated, what has been repeatedly observed is the ability of homeopathy to systemically stimulate the body’s ability to heal and rebalance itself.
We do not hold a particular position on these other therapies other than to suggest that, because of potential overlap with classical homeopathy, it is best to not try these therapies simultaneously with classical homeopathy treatment. It is of critical importance for us, in practicing classical homeopathy, to be able to observe the result of giving a remedy and know the effect came from that remedy, or that the remedy was not interfered with by another therapy. Therefore, we only ask that parents and caregivers consider limiting therapy to one approach at a time when it comes to these related treatment modalities, as this will improve our ability to be most effective with the classical homeopathy.
What are the different methodologies within Classical Homeopathy?
As discussed earlier, classical homeopathy is defined primarily by the law of similars and the use of single, high dilution remedies. If a homeopath is working within these guidelines, then they are practicing classical homeopathy. However, this still leaves a very wide range in which homeopaths actually go about the business of taking a case, selecting a remedy, selecting a potency, dosing the remedy, and then doing patient follow up. The number of different methodologies that exists within this general framework is very large, but much of the variation is not as important or fundamental as some homeopaths might have you believe.
One of the most major variations you will find amongst homeopaths is in their methodology for case taking. A review of all these different styles could fill a whole web page of its own. The most important thing to consider is whether a given methodology is focused on the “whole person” – the entire constellation of symptoms that are most problematic for the patient. Remember, classical homeopathy is about matching the entire picture of a person to the entire picture of a homeopathic remedy – it is not about isolating one single symptom or disease diagnosis of a person and prescribing upon that. One methodology you may here reference to in homeopathy is “keynote prescribing” in which a remedy is prescribed on the basis of just one highly specific symptom, such as burning pain in the left foot at 3 a.m. Just think how contrary this is to the basic idea of homeopathy in which the last thing we want to do is separate the part from the whole. Let’s say you have an ASD child whose most debilitating symptoms are around fear, anxiety, and violent reactions when in fearful situations. The intake goes on for three hours and it is just more and more symptoms piling up on how overwhelming the fear and reactivity is. There’s fear of this thing, fear of that thing, fearful nightmares, and then this incredibly strong violent reaction to fear. Then, as an afterthought, the parent mentions that the child once complained of burning pain in their left foot in the middle of the night. Do they have lots of other pains that are burning? No. Do they have other problems with the feet? No. This is just one isolated symptom. What would you say the homeopathic prescription should be based on, a remedy known to have extreme fears of all kinds and violent reactions to those fears? Or a remedy that had the exact symptom of burning pain in the left foot at 3 a.m.? Ideally, you choose the remedy that fits the vast majority of the important aspects of the case (the fear, anxiety, and violent reactions), and ignore the outlier symptom that is not mirrored in other analogical ways.
Other practitioners use different methodologies, but in addition gather all the information needed to make a classical homeopathic prescription. These practitioners may have some specialized tools, but they are still considering the whole, the gestalt, that homeopathy requires. For instance we spend a lot of time on the pregnancy and labor of the ASD child, a piece of history that other homeopaths may spend very little time on, but we do not consider this information in exclusion or isolation – we look to see how and where it coincides in meaningful ways with other aspects of the child.
In conclusion, we cannot give a description of all the different methodologies of homeopathy out there, although we address some of the most popular ones in other questions, such as the “sensation method”. What we would rather do is educate our patients enough so that they can see for themselves how one methodology differs from another, and when these methodologies stray from the classical homeopathic approach. That is not to say that classical homeopathy can be proven to be a superior methodology of homeopathy, but in medicine the only way to accurately assess and improve upon a methodology is for that methodology to have a certain amount of consistency to it in the first place. Classical homeopathy has the added benefit of over 200 years of clinical experience, and if we completely discard its core methodology we can no longer depend on those 200 years of experience for accurate guidance going forwards.
What is a 'miasm'?
Miasms are a concept originally introduced by Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy, as underlying causes for known diseases. Each miasm was originally associated with multiple specific diseases, and the miasm was seen as the root cause of these diseases. The theory goes on to say that if these miasms, which initially cause local and superficial symptoms, are suppressed through the use of medication or improper treatment, then they are pushed deeper and cause more serious diseases of the internal organs. The original three miasms were known as the psoric, sycotic, and syphilitic miasms.
Beyond causing disease and moving deeper into the body to cause more severe disease, the miasms were also thought to be heritable over generations; thus representing a disease entity that could propagate and grow more serious over time and generations.
In these ways, the miasms are seen as layers of underlying disease causes, which can be pushed deeper and made more serious through improper treatment, but can also be cured through proper treatment with homeopathy, resulting in improvements in health over successive generations. Since Hahnemann’s time, other miasms have been proposed, including the cancer miasm and the tubercular miasm. Again, these miasms are thought to be larger in scope than their namesake, but are related to the underlying causes of these diseases.
Over time, the major miasms have been characterized as to specific traits, symptoms, and characteristics, and individual remedies have been described as fitting within one or multiple “miasms”. Based on these characteristics, any given patient could be assessed as fitting more closely into a particular miasms, and this might help narrow the remedy selection, but ultimately the chosen remedy still must fit the entire picture of the person. Sometimes homeopaths will give a particular remedy in order to try to clear a patients “miasm”, in essence trying to peel away a layer of disease, after which the patients overall indicated remedy is still needed. Overall, this miasm theory is understood and acted upon in different ways depending on the practitioner.
In reality, miasms probably represent a complex set of heritable traits, predispositions, and complex results of chronic disease – some aspects of which were not well understood in the time of Hahnemann let alone today. Regardless, they can serve as a useful indicator to narrow remedy selection, or, in cases where a patient does not seem to respond to a well-chosen remedy, the patients “miasm” can be used to suggest a miasmatic remedy aimed at clearing that very specific layer. The remedies associated strongly with these miasms are called the nosodes (see the following question).
What is a 'nosode'?
Nosodes are homeopathic remedies made from specific diseases or diseased tissues, and many of the major ones correspond closely to the “miasms” described above. The most common nosodes include carcinosinum, tuberculinum, psorinum, syphilinum, and medorrhinum. In many ways they are no different than all other homeopathic remedies – they are proven on healthy patients and known to address a complex set of symptoms that is much broader, and may have nothing to do with, the disease they are made from. However, they have one additional use and that is to address miasmatic disease layers. There are also nosodes made from vaccines (which themselves are made from disease organisms or derivatives thereof). Sometimes, if there are particular signs of injury or symptoms from a given disease, disease miasm, or vaccine, and if the patient does not respond to the best indicated homeopathic remedy, a nosode might be given because of its relation to the specific disease/miasms/or injury that is present.
At other times, nosodes are given simply because they are the best indicated remedy. For example, carcinosinum is a very commonly given homeopathic remedy but most of the people it is given to do not have cancer. Carcinosinum is associated with a wide array of physical, mental, and emotional symptoms, just like other remedies made from plants, minerals, or animal substances. It is most useful to think of nosodes as mostly being in a separate category because of their source, not because of how they should be utilized in homeopathic prescribing.
As to the safety of these nosodes, it is true they are made from disease organisms or diseased tissues, but they are not given at dosages that contain significant material amounts of these substances, certainly far less than would be found in any vaccination. However, because they are based on human disease organisms, it should be expected that patients may be sensitive to them, and thus they should not be used lightly, and certainly not without input from a knowledgeable homeopath. These nosodes are generally only available to practitioners, and most of them cannot be found over the counter.
What is the sensation method?
The sensation method was developed in the last few decades by the Indian homeopath, Rajan Sankaran, as a method of case taking that allows the homeopath to delve deeply into the case and get the patient to describe their deepest experience. For ASD, we use this methodology to get parents to speak for their children as if they were the children. For example, if a small child has pain, but can’t describe it, but there is an obvious painful expression on the face, we ask the parents to put themselves in their children’s shoes, to empathize with their child and help elucidate something of what the child is experiencing. The parent will say “I am scared, I have pain in the head, it feels like pressure, like its about to explode”. Or if a child has a common stim, we ask the parents to do the same stim and tell us what the child is experiencing.
Rajan Sankaran has also elucidated a methodology for finding a constitutional remedy through a system of understanding a series of miasms, as well as differentiating among large groups of remedies, such as minerals versus plants versus animal remedies. One important use of this methodology is in considering less well-known remedies that lack extensive information in the homeopathic literature.
How do I know if my child is improving?
This is probably the most important question in any medical modality, and also one of the most difficult and hotly debated. To even discuss the topic you first need general agreement on what constitutes health (i.e. the end goal of medical treatment) in the first place. Ultimately, improvement is more usefully defined as a movement towards health rather than a movement away from symptoms, because if a patient is moving away from one set of symptoms but simultaneously moving into another set that is worse, they are certainly not improving! This movement towards health is something every parent and caregiver should do their best to assess in their child, and a helpful place to start is to write down a list that you think makes up the components of health in the first place.
In addition, an important part of the homeopathic treatment process is to have a clear understanding of which major groups of symptoms the homeopathic remedy is aimed at helping. For example, if we see an ASD child and their most overwhelming and debilitating health concern is a deep and dark depression, and we give a homeopathic remedy that covers this depression among other symptoms, then the most important place to look for improvement in the case is in this depression. If, on the other hand, we give the remedy hoping to see improvement in their worst symptom, the depression, and instead they get some improvement in their bowel movement which was not a big problem in the first place and simultaneously their depression worsens, we will have to consider that we have chosen the wrong remedy.
In other words, we need to look for improvement, first and foremost, in the most severe, debilitating, and health-limiting symptoms of the child; and this is exactly where the homeopathic remedy should be aimed. To consider the case to be making progress, we need to see movement in these symptoms, not in peripheral symptoms that are less important or less problematic. However, that is not to say that the worst symptoms will be first to change. So in addition to focusing in the right place, we also need to give a sufficient amount of time to look for the positive change before declaring failure of the remedy that was given.
How long does the healing process take?
There is no simple rule to predict how long the healing process will take, and it certainly varies widely for each specific case in homeopathy. From a homeopathic perspective we see different cases as having different levels of complexity. Sometimes a case has many layers to it that need to be peeled away one at a time – this can be the case in complex ASD cases where the child is so sensitive and reactive that new stresses can put them into whole new states of illness. In addition, the most important part of the “healing process” in autism is often the renewal of the normal development and learning process. A child who has basically had his mental development on hold for years and years will not be able to make up that lost time any faster than if he had developed normally, and so recovery can be agonizingly slow in this regard. On the other hand, what seem like deep and severe neurological conditions such as epilepsy can sometimes change rapidly as the internal physiology of the child changes quickly.
In homeopathy, our main concern is the positive direction of healing and making sure we are seeing that. Because homeopathy relies on the body’s own healing process, we cannot force this to be faster. However, it is very important to make sure that the body has all that it needs to optimize the speed of the healing process – including sufficient rest, sufficient nutrition, and of course sufficient family support, educational resources, etc. In other words, homeopathy potentiates the body’s ability to heal itself but other factors may be more influential in the actual speed of that healing.