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The History & Mystery of Homeopathy

by Julian Jonas, CCH, Lic.Ac.

Throughout the history of medicine it is possible to trace a long-standing conflict between two fundamentally different traditions. One of these, the Rationalist school, is very familiar to us. Conventional medicine as it is practiced today is a prime example of it. The other, the Empiricist school (based on experimentation and observation, as opposed to theory), is not at all familiar to most people. Let’s take a closer look at empiricism through a system of medicine closely identified with it: homeopathy.

What follows is not just an academic exercise in history. Homeopathy was once extremely widespread in this country. Not so long ago homeopathy was the treatment of choice for one in every five physicans and, at one point, it even challenged to become the dominant form of medicine in the United States.

But about eighty years ago, economic and political forces relegated it to a position of relative insignificance. For several generations afterward, this system seemed destined to become a mere footnote in the history of American medicine. But in the last twenty years, there has been yet another reversal in the fortunes of this school. Today, it is again being recognized, by an ever-increasing number of healthcare providers and lay people, as a very effective way of treating disease.

Homeopathy began in Germany during the late 1700’s. A physician by the name of Samuel Hahnemann had become discouraged with the state of medicine as he saw it being practiced around him. Despairing of being able to help the ill with what he had been taught, he stopped practicing and supported himself by translating medical texts.

Hahnemann came across a passage in one of those texts, which dealt with the bark of a tree that was used to treat malaria. It stated that the efficacy of the bark rested in the fact that it had "bitter properties". This explanation did not make sense to Hahnemann because there were many other bitter herbs that had no effect at all against malaria. So he decided to conduct an experiment by ingesting a small amount of the bark to see what kind of effect it would have on him.

The result was that Hahnemann came down with the symptoms of malaria. He did not actually contract the disease, but just had symptoms that mimicked it temporarily. This experiment led to the discovery of the first principle of homeopathy, called the Law of Similars. It states that a substance which produces a symptom or a group of symptoms in a healthy person will be an effective remedy for treating a sick person who has a condition or disease with those same or similar symptoms .

Hahnemann began to test out other substances on himself, then his family and colleagues, to see what kind of symptoms were produced in healthy subjects. He carefully noted all these symptoms, from very gross ones like rashes and pains to subtle ones like changes in mood, sleeping habits or desires for certain types of foods. After experimenting and studying a sufficient group of substances, he began to treat patients by matching their symptoms with substances that had produced similar ones during his experiments.

Based on this principle, homeopathy (meaning "similar disease", i.e. treating disease with substances that produce symptoms similar to that of the disease) proved to be a very successful method and began to gain great popularity.

The second principle of homeopathy, the Minimum Dose, is also a fundamental concept that had not been fully understood before the work of Hahnemann, and it became the cornerstone of this system.

Hahnemann researched into the nature of a large number of medicines using the Law of Similars. He used plant, mineral and animal substances, many of which were common medicines of that period. A good percentage of them were very toxic substances such as arsenic or mercury. When taken in even small doses, they produced very strong poisonous reactions. To avoid the harmful effects and overly violent reactions in his experiments, he began to dilute the medicines.

He discovered that this dilution process not only made the medicines less toxic, but surprisingly, they seemed to be more effective when given to patients. They acted deeper and longer than the more crude doses. So Hahnemann continued to experiment with the medicines by making them more and more dilute.

The method by which he diluted his remedies was to take one drop of a tincture of the substance, mix it with ninety-nine drops of a water and alcohol solution, and then shake it up. This was called the "first centesimal" or 1C potency. The next dilution, or 2C potency, was made by taking a drop out of the 1C, mixing it with another ninety-nine drops of water and alcohol, and shaking it up again. Subsequent dilutions were made in the same way.

Now, it doesn’t take very long before the remedy is extremely dilute. Do this process five times (that is, make a 5C potency) and you get one part of the original tincture to ten million parts of water and alcohol. And to a homeopath, that is considered a relatively undiluted remedy (a low potency). Generally, remedies that have been diluted from six to one thousand times are commonly used.

This process of creating homeopathic remedies has always been a stumbling block for a great many people of a scientific (read "rationalist") background. It has caused a great deal of scorn and allegations of quackery to be heaped upon homeopath practitioners. The problem is that at such great dilutions, there is not a possibility that even one molecule of the original tincture is floating around in the remedy. If you make a chemical analysis, all that will be found is alcohol and water. It fits no scientific model, no rational theory. How can it work?

It is only in the modern era of advanced nuclear physics, quantum mechanics and the energetic nature of reality that some scientific ideas may come forward that might explain this phenomenon. Today researchers in Europe and South America are endeavoring to solve this paradox within the context of modern scientific thought.

But Hahnemann was not aware of this two hundred years ago, and being an empiricist, it did not really matter. He was an extremely astute observer and meticulous experimenter who was not concerned with theoretical underpinnings. His research proved that medicines created in such incredible dilutions were in fact wonderful healing agents.

Over two centuries later, homeopathy has developed into a global system of medicine effective for a wide variety of conditions: acute as well as chronic illnesses, epidemic as well as degenerative diseases. It is equally applicable to the very young and the very old - and everyone in between. Sometimes dismissed as antiquated or unscientific, homeopathy is, in fact, built on a very strong empirical tradition of experimentation and observation as well as the positive experience of countless persons around the world.

Julian Jonas, CCH, Lic. Ac. is a homeopathic prac-titioner and teacher with office hours and classes in Brattleboro, VT. He also sees patients in Rutland, VT and Keene, NH. For more details, contact him at 802-254-2928, via e-mail at jjjonas@sover.net or visit his website www.julianjonas .net

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