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What is Homeopathy?

The past two decades or so have seen a significant rise in the popularity of the homeopathic system of medicine. To a large extent, the spurt in the popularity of homeopathy stems from some disillusionment with the harsh treatments of the orthodox methods of medicine, the rising costs of conventional medications and more.

Though homeopathy is rooted as far back as the late 1700s, its contemporary relevance is best judged from the fact that the World Health Organization deems it as “the second largest therapeutic system in use in the world.”

As per figures quoted by the Homeopathy Research Institute (HRI), over 200 million people use homeopathy regularly all across the globe. The homeopathic system of medicine is included in the national health programmes of countries spanning continents, from Switzerland and the United Kingdom to India and Pakistan to Brazil, Chile, and Mexico.

HRI figures further cite that 100 million EU citizens, constituting about 29 percent of the EU’s population, apply homeopathic remedies in their daily lives. Homeopathy is practiced in 40 out of the 42 European countries.

The data quoted by the HRI also says that over 6 million people in the United States (according to research conducted by the National Institutes of Health) apply homeopathic cures for common ailments. Of these,1 million are minors and more than 5 million are adults. On similar lines,10 percent of UK’s population subscribes to homeopathy, which amounts to around 6 million people, as per data cited by the HRI. In Britain, the market for homeopathy is expanding at about 20 percent a year.

However, it is India which is the frontrunner with regards to the number of people subscribing to homeopathic remedies. India currently boasts over 2,00,000 registered homeopathic doctors.

Understanding Homeopathy

Broadly speaking, homeopathy can be defined as a system of treatment that entails the administration of minuscule doses of natural substances, which if otherwise delivered to a healthy person could manifest signs of disease. What this loosely translates into is that homeopathy is an alternative system of cure that employs a holistic approach riding on and rooted in the defining philosophy of “like cures like.”

This is the defining principle that makes homeopathy an alternative medicinal practice that it administers the smallest possible amount of some active ingredient as a remedy, though paradoxically, larger doses of this same ingredient can contribute to that very ailment in the first place.

History of Homeopathy

This defining principle of “like cures like” – which forms the bedrock of homeopathy is traced back to the Greek physician Hippocrates, who gave a shining example of this philosophy in his application of the root of Veratrum Album (white hellebore) for the cure of cholera.

Though this “like cures like” philosophy is traced back to Hippocrates, the man credited with founding and popularising the more than 200-year-old practice of homeopathy is German doctor Samuel Christian Hahnemann.

It was around the year 1796 that Hahnemann, inspired by the principles of ancient Greek philosophers, propounded his theory of homeopathic medicine, which was a reaction to the harsh medical systems and drastic doses of medications administered in his times.

Samuel Christian Fredrick Hahnemann’s birth anniversary falls on April 10. He was born in 1755; he died in 1843. To describe Hahnemann and his impression on the modern medical world epitomizes our endeavor to learn and propagate the teachings of the great medical iconoclast.

Hahnemann started a movement called homeopathy. The movement was so powerful that it rocked the edifices of the then medical ideology and left an impression much deeper than anyone could have imagined. Hahnemann did more than introduce homeopathy. He shaped the way in which the medical world would perceive the fundamentals of health forever. It was through his teachings and application that one could realize the significance of a safe cure and the body’s innate capacity to heal itself.

It is clear from the many changes in allopathic practice (1800 to 1900) that Hahnemann’s critique must have gone deep into the heart of allopathy. Allopathy reduced its high doses and moved to simpler mixtures of drugs as the century progressed. The allopaths of the time even adopted many of the drugs proved and introduced by Hahnemann and regularly used in homeopathy. The system then moved to single drugs and abandoned its distressing practices by 1900. In many ways, allopathy stole Hahnemann’s ideas and brought the two sects closer together. By 1900, it was harder to distinguish between them in the medical marketplace. Undoubtedly, this worked out to the advantage of the allopaths.

Homeopathy, the whole movement, began as a medical heresy – as a deviation from the accepted medical teachings (group norms) of allopathy. It started as a rejection of the approved medical ideology of the day. Hahnemann received the usual treatment meted out to any other heretic in history – ridicule, ostracism and emphatic expulsion from the group of the medical peers. He spent the rest of his life on the margins of medicine as a deviant heretic. His work consisted very clearly of this combined disenchantment with, and rejection of allopathy, and the gradual construction of a new medical identity or ideology, which would serve as the uniquely new norms for a new medical movement. Hahnemann did not start with a completely new system developed overnight in the twinkling of an eye. He had to create it painfully – piece by piece. He started with a profound disenchantment with allopathy and then launched into increasingly vociferous attacks upon its more barbaric practices.

Then he began to formulate, through his research and experimentation, definite medical ideas, or what we today might regard as “glimpses of the full system.” He was in an awkward position, to begin with, and proceeded with caution as it is one thing to criticize something but quite another to have a better alternative. He most certainly did not have an alternative, initially, but he pretty soon formulated the bare bones of one.

Founded on a series of “provings,” starting with what is famously called the “First Proving” (relating to natural bark quinine for the cure for malaria), Hahnemann’s theory was not rooted in too many scientific studies or facts, but rather in his “provings” and his observations of patients.
The core principles of his theory were drawn from the belief that the body has the innate ability to heal itself naturally, and that symptoms are its manifestations of what’s ailing a person. Symptoms are meant to be perceived as “messengers” that are to be first decoded and then cured.

The laws of homeopathy propounded by Hahnemann find the application by medical practitioners all across the globe.

Defining Principle

A set of cardinal principles define the bedrock on which the homeopathic system of medicine rests. These core principles, established way back in the 18th century, hold good even in contemporary times. These cardinal tenets were defined and laid down by the founding father of homeopathy, Hahnemann, in his tome, “Organon of Medicine” (Organon of the Healing Art).
Some of the dynamics and defining principles on which homeopathy operates and works are as follows:

The Principle of “Like Cures Like”

The Law of Similars /Similia Similibus Curentur, which translates into “like cures like,” is the defining tenet on which the homeopathic remedies are built.

A shining example of this “like cures like” principle is the case of treating bee stings, puffiness, stinging sensations and swollen tissues and other such inflammations with Apis Mellifica (a homeopathic remedy derived from honeybee venom). This applies the Law of Similars by using minuscule doses of processed bee venom to cure ailments springing from it.

Another application of the principle of “like cures like” is the application of Arnica Montana as the most reliable and dependable cure for tissue or muscle injuries resulting from tumbles or bruising. It is a cure inspired from popular wisdom; wherein mountain goats are seen to show a tendency to go scouting for Arnica leaves post suffering a tumble. Hahnemann found that too much consumption of Arnica triggers toxic effects, but paradoxically when applied in minuscule doses this same substance facilitates the healing of injured tissues or muscles.

The Principle of Minuscule Doses

Another defining principle of homeopathic cure is that of ‘potentizations” and “dynamizations”. This means that the strength and potency of a tincture are different from each other. Hahnemann called his diluted medicines as ‘potentization’ since he found that not only did diluted medicines produce less “aggravations” but, also seemed to have a greater impact than concentrated mixtures. In simple terms, this core principle means that it does not necessarily mean that a “potent” tincture is a better remedy, for a less potent tincture or “potentizations” are seen to work better.

Hahnemann advocated the use of the minimum dose to evolve a system of remedies that entails the administration of microdoses rather than large doses, quite unlike the orthodox systems medicine.

Hahnemann through his “provings” arrived at the conclusion that highly diluted concentrations (potencies) triggered a better and faster healing process in the patient. This broadly translates into the fact that as a tincture’s potency is amplified with dilution, its safety profile also gets magnified. This is in sharp contrast to conventional systems of medicine, wherein increased potency entails greater toxicity of a cure.

The Principle of Integrated Causality

Being a holistic system of cure, the bedrock on which its line of treatment rests is that all aspects of causality have to be taken into consideration while diagnosing as well as treating a patient – physical, emotional as well as mental. This means that homeopathy does not segregate the physiological causality from the psychological causality, and instead takes an assimilated approach to causality.

This further defines the core approach of homeopathy that often it is the emotional, socio-cultural or mental causality that can be more crucial to diagnosis as well as treatment of a disease. For instance, a digestive disorder could be rooted in emotional stress, or a grief or bereavement could trigger certain cancers or asthmatic ailments.

Types of Homeopathic Remedies

Myriad homeopathic remedies exist, and they are derived primarily from plant, mineral or animal extracts. The substances employed by homeopathy practitioners could range from mountain herbs, garlic, caffeine, and crushed bees to activated charcoal, white arsenic, poison ivy and even stinging nettle extracts. These natural substances are extracted or processed in various ways to transform them into remedies in the form of tablets, skin ointments, gels, drops or creams.

The natural extracts are then processed or diluted in varying degrees so as not to trigger any side-effects. The process of deriving and diluting remedies is very calculated and precise.

For remedies derived from soluble animal or plant extracts, the ingredient is dissolved in an alcohol or water mixture, usually in the proportion of 90 percent pure alcohol and 10 percent distilled water. This concoction is then made to stand for 3-4 weeks, thereafter strained through a press to derive what is known as the “mother tincture.”

As for insoluble substances like gold, calcium carbonate, etc., they are first made soluble through the method of trituration. This entails grinding them again and again until they become soluble. They are then diluted in the same way to get the tincture.

Hahnemann found that some of the tinctures produced the opposite reaction in patients, meaning that they reported a worsening or aggravation of their symptoms than their betterment. In order to avoid these “aggravations,” as he termed them, Hahnemann devised a two-step formula for diluting the concoctions to improve their effectiveness.

This entailed diluting each concoction through the process of “succussing,” which meant shaking it thoroughly and even banging it on a hard surface at every step of dilution since this triggers the release of energy from within the substance. Hahnemann, thus, found that remedies diluted through the process of “succussing” were not only free from “aggravations” but were also more effective and faster in curing an ailment.

Over his lifetime, Hahnemann experimented to ascertain the effectiveness of more than 100 homeopathic remedies, and he propounded that only a single minuscule dose should be administered for the shortest possible period of time to unleash the body’s defense mechanisms and healing powers.

Some of the popular homeopathic remedies that a layperson may be familiar with are chamomile, calcium carbonate, potassium, silica, etc.

How Homeopathic Remedies are Applied?

Practitioners of homeopathy first appraise a patient for symptoms, grade these as per regularity or intensity, and then try to match the manifestations of the ailment to a suitable remedy.

The names of homeopathic concoctions are generally ascribed Latin nomenclature, based on the species of animal, mineral or plant from which they are derived. Then they are allocated a number and ratio that denotes the strength or potency of the solution.

As mentioned earlier in the article, homeopathic medicines are usually referred to as “tinctures” or “mother tinctures.” These tinctures are derived from the processes of trituration, distillation or extraction of natural substances and their dilution with water or alcohol.

Further, depending on the strength of the tinctures, decimal potency numbers or ratios are assigned to them, which denote the ratio of active chemical substances in proportion to the water or alcohol contained in the tincture.

Since many tinctures are derived from plant or animal extracts, the flipside is that if taken in strong doses they could trigger side-effects. Since some remedies are derived from poisonous substances like poison ivy, stinging nettle extracts etc, they are administered in minuscule doses to prevent side-effects like toxicity.

Advantages of Homeopathy

1. Holistic Approach

The USP of homeopathy is its holistic approach to diagnosis the symptoms, factoring in not just the physiological triggers but also taking into account the psychological, emotional and other parameters when assessing the cause of an illness. Homeopathy’s most significant advantage is that this holistic line of treatment is based on an assimilation of physiological as well as psychological causality.

2. Gentle Remedies

Another plus point of homeopathy is the soft line of treatment based on gentle yet strong tincture remedies that are administered in small doses such that they are generally devoid of side-effects. It was, after all, in reaction to the strong medication entailed in orthodox systems of medicine that Hahnemann developed homeopathy as an alternative and more gentle method of cure.

3. Effect on Allergies

Paradoxically, homeopathy is an ideal cure for problems like allergies and asthmas as it works on the principle of ‘like cures like,” which involves administering the patient with tiny doses of those very substances that may be triggering their allergies. This was also borne out by Hahnemann’s “provings” or experiments with quinine that is believed to cure malaria.

4. Ideal cure for Anxiety, Stress or Depression

Owing to its holistic line of treatment, homeopathy is considered the ideal cure for psychosomatic disorders like depression, stress, anxiety, digestive disorders, insomnia, fatigue etc. Along with certain psychological treatments for such problems, homeopathy complements conventional cures for disorders rooted in emotional or mental traumas or tensions.

5. Softer Cures for Pain

In contrast to the conventional systems of medicine that entail using heavy or strong medication over prolonged periods for patients afflicted by chronic pain, homeopathy offers remedies that do not entail strong or prolonged medications.

Ailments for Which Homeopathic Remedies Work Best

Though homeopathy is broad in its reach and addresses and cures a whole spectrum of diseases, it is particularly thought ideal and most effective for certain disorders. These disorders range from allergies and asthma to stress, fatigue, depression or lack of sleep to more severe ailments like arthritis, thyroid, skin problems, digestive disorders, and autoimmune afflictions.

The Long and Short of Homeopathy

To sum up, homeopathy can be described here thus:

It is a holistic system of medicine that dates back to the 18th century, and its founding father was German doctor Samuel Hahnemann.
It is holistic in its approach as well as cure. Its approach takes an assimilated view of causality, factoring in physiological as well as psychological triggers for an ailment.

Also, it is holistic in terms of its remedies since it is devoid of strong medication and entails only minuscule doses of natural substances that bring into play the body’s own defense mechanisms and healing powers.

Owing to remedies derived from natural substances, homeopathy is a system of medicine whose remedies are gentler compared to conventional cures and without any significant side-effects. Its remedies are practically non-toxic, safe, softer and sans side-effects.
It is an ideal cure for people afflicted by common disorders like asthma, allergies, arthritis, stress, lack of sleep, chronic fatigue or pain, digestive or skin disorders, or depression.

Hence, if you suffer from any such forms of common sickness and are also sick of the conventional systems of medicines entailing harsh medication and side-effects, a homeopathic physician can help you find a holistic treatment.

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