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At its most popular in the late 19th century, homeopathy, or homeopathic medicine continues to be a form of Alternative Medicine practiced all over the world to this day. The etymology of homeopathy – from the Greek word homeo, meaning similar, and pathos, which means suffering or diseases – meaning like-suffering, underlies the basic conception of how homeopathic medicine is thought to function. The common concept behind homeopathy is that, as the derivation of the word suggests, like cures like. Using a similar logic to, although not deriving from, vaccination, the methodology behind homeopathy involves treatment through the administration of diluted “remedies.” Although dilution would presumably make a substance less potent, through a concept known as potentization, homeopaths believe that the essence of a substance can be extracted. The process, involving vigorous shaking after each and every dilution, it is believed, increases the potency of the remedy, rather than lessening it. Furthermore, for homeopaths, dilutions to the level where not even a single molecule of the original substance remains are still considered therapeutic treatments as it is thought that the homeopathic remedy retains a memory of the original substance. The remedies in question would, in larger doses potentially cause illness in healthy individuals. However, in their diluted form these remedies are thought to stimulate the body’s defences, acting either as a treatment or prophylactic, a preventative measure. Homeopathy contains similarities to other alternative medicines in that its focus extends beyond a narrow focus on the disease in question and its symptoms. Instead, homeopathic practitioners tailor homeopathic remedies to the individual based not only upon the condition from which they are suffering. The remedy administered is also based upon a variety of factors ranging from the individuals mental and emotional states to potentially include dietary information and other lifestyle related factors. This more comprehensive approach has become known as classical homeopathy, which uses only one remedy at a time. This is in contrast to increasingly common uses of a number of homeopathic remedies in proprietary mixtures catered to specific problems. As the buying public often makes use of over-the-counter preparations, this approach has increasingly become synonymous with homeopathic treatments in general. However, there still remains a divide between classical and non-classical practitioners of homeopathy.

History of Homeopathy

Developed in Germany in the 18th century by Samuel Hahnemann, homeopathy was conceived as an alternative to contemporary medical treatments such as bloodletting, which were rarely effective due to the state of medical knowledge at that time. Hahnemann’s original experiments involved using himself as a test subject for pure substances and more dilute forms of those same substances on volunteers who were not ill. The responses of the volunteers and the results of his experiments were recorded in detail and used in combination with his own clinical practice and existing knowledge regarding the substances he used to develop a specifically homeopathic clinical practice. Homeopathy was first brought to the Unites States in 1825 by the Hans Burch Gram, who encountered homeopathic treatments in his studies in Europe before making this treatment option available in America. Ten years later, Allentown, Pennsylvania saw the establishment of the first medical college dedicated to homeopathic medicine, the practitioners known as homeopaths. The further history of homeopathy involves both a decline in its importance as a branch of medical treatment and a later, though not equivalent, resurgence. By the turn of the twentieth century, developments in medical technology and knowledge regarding the mechanisms of diseases, including their transmission and novel modes of treatment created a sea change in both the public and professional conceptions of medical education. Unfortunately for practitioners of homeopathy, the discipline fell out of favor, reaching its nadir in the depression era when homeopathic educational facilities had by that time either converted to more conventionally accepted medical establishments, or had closed down all together. In the United States, by the 1960s homeopathy’s fortunes improved somewhat as its popularity ascended back into more widespread use that had recently been the case by the general public if not the medical establishment.

Scientific Research on Homeopathy

According to the National Institutes of Health, the results of individual, controlled clinical trials of homeopathy have not yielded consistent results. At times, homeopathic treatments have no appeared to be more effective than the administration of a placebo. However, other studies have demonstrated benefits that those involved in the research felt to be greater than one might expect from placebo alone. Reviews of some of these studies have routinely criticized the quality of evidence presented. The National Institutes of Heath summary of these findings suggest that those reviewing prior studies found problems in the design, reporting and the measuring techniques, as well as the inability at times to replicate the results. It is as a result of the difficulties with these trials of homeopathic remedies that consistent and unproblematic conclusions have yet to be made with regard to the effectiveness of homeopathic treatments. More recently, in a 2005 study in the Lancet, an analysis of 110 placebo-controlled homeopathy trials were set against 110 conventional medicine trials. The conclusion of this analysis was the suggestion that the clinical effects of homeopathy are in all likelihood placebo effects. The prediction of those conducting the study, which was confirmed by the results was that regardless of the sample size (the number of patients treated), conventional medicine consistently showed a real effect, whereas the studies of homeopathy did not. According the American Medical Association, adherents to homeopathy have proposed that new trials take place, including reviews of the pharmacologic agents that are subject to homeopathic dilutions and their therapeutic application, as well as further investigations into the efficacy of homeopathic treatment.