One of the oldest Western systems of medicine, Homeopathy was established by German physican Samuel Hahnemann (1755 - 1843), whose early practice (which included purging, bloodletting, heroic doses of mercury, arsenic and the like) made him increasingly disillusioned with the medical theories and treatments of his day.

In 1790, while translating a Materia Medica into German, Hahnemann challenged the author's explanation of how a certain medicine (Peruvian cinchona bark, later identified as a source of quinine) cured malarial fever, and decided to experiment with it on himself.

Repeating this type of experiment with other healthy volunteers (these experiments were called "provings") led him to observe and describe the basic principles of homeopathic medicine. Hahnemann established the theory that the symptoms of sickness were a reflection of the unbalanced life force thought to differentiate organic from inorganic matter. Working from the principle Similia similibus curentur, "like cures like", Hahnemann developed his ideas into a practical system of treatment, which he called homeopathy. Hahnemann himself was subjected to professional attacks, but homeopathy steadily grew in popularity in Europe.

Students of Hahnemann founded the first homeopathic medical school in the United States in 1835, and by the early 1900s, approxinately one tenth of all American medical practitioners were homeopaths, and there were over 20 homeopathic medical colleges and more than 100 homeopathic hospitals in the United States. However, in the early 1920’s many of the schools closed or converted to conventional medical ones — mostly due to the decline of homeopathy’s popularity which was greatly effected by the American Medical Association and changes in medical education. Other influences negatively affecting homeopathy at the time were medical developments such as the recognition of the mechanisms of disease and Pasteur's germ theory.

Although the United States experienced a dwindling interest in homeopathy in the 20th century (to be revived in the 1960s), other nations, including countries in Europe and Asia, were experiencing a steady growth of homeopathic teachings and interest.

The World Health Organization noted in 1994 that homeopathy had been integrated into the national health care systems of numerous countries, including Germany, France, the United Kingdom, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Mexico. Homeopathy has a strong following also in Russia, Switzerland, Netherlands, Italy and South America.

Interest in homeopathic products, research and educational initiatives are nowadays rising rapidly, also in Israel. What was a small number of homeopaths in the 1980s grew substantially within a few years. In 1993 the Israeli Association for Classical Homeopathy was established, a body which, among others, represents homeopathic interests in relation with government authorities. As yet, there is no formal recognition of homeopathy as an accepted form of medicine here, but in recent years the legal regulation of homeopathic practice is worked on vigorously. Over the past 12 years homeopathy has been integrated into a few allopathic hospitals and national health care system. There are quite a few pharmacies specializing in homeopathy, and OTC homeopathic remedies are dispensed in almost all pharmacies and drugstores. Two Israeli colleges meet the standards of the ICCH (International Council for Classical Homeopathy) regarding homeopathic education. The local homeopathic community consists of several hundred practitioners, enjoying a few seminars each year by local as well as international homeopathic lecturers, and a jounal, Homeopathic Times.

Principles of homeopathy

Like cures like

Philosophically, homeopathy is based on the the Principle of Similars, i.e., a substance capable of evoking certain symptoms in an essentially healthy human being, may become a potentially effective therapeutic agent when prepared according to the specifications of the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia and prescribed in accordance with homeopathic principles.

In other words, by best matching the symptoms that are caused in healthy people by a substance with the picture of the patient’s symptoms, it will be found that that substance has the best chance of producing a curative response in the patient.

Minimum dose

Hahnemann’s observation regarding the repeated reduction of the chemical quantity of the curative substance arose from the desire to minimise the harmful effects of the drugs which doctors were using. What surprised him in using these preparations was that the more stages of dilution and succussion (shaking) the drug had gone through, the greater its potential to cure quickly and gently.

This latter observation is still the most controversial one. How can a medicine be more effective in a greater dilution? Indeed, many homeopathic preparations have been subjected to so many stages of this process that it is highly unlikely that any single molecules of the original substance remain.

Current research is focusing on the ability of water to retain an imprint of substances which have been dissolved in it. Whatever the mechanism, the body of evidence that homeopathy works safely and effectively is substantial and unquestionable.

The patient, not the disease : totality of the symptoms

The principles of the homeoapthic therapeutic system differ from those of conventional medicine, as does its approach to the patient and to the concepts of health and disease. Homeopathy emphasises the importance of treating individuals as individuals and of understanding the whole person as opposed to only understanding a single "diseased part". Homeopathy maintains that disorder or disease is expressed by a complex of symptoms, which involve emotional and/or mental symptoms as well as physical symptoms. The totality of the symptoms gathered from these planes are what will guide the homeopath to the correct diagnosis.

Thus, the homeopathic practitioners consider a wide range of aspects of the patient's condition in order to evaluate his situation and make a prescription - personality traits, physical features, the effects of a variety of environmental influences, patterns of disease within families, and family and social relationships.

Single remedy

By choosing to give only one remedy at a time, the classical homeopath can determine what results it will have. Whereas by combining several therapies or remedies at one time, not only is it unclear which one of the substances is causing a cure, but it may cause a drug interaction with negative side-effects.

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