History of Homeopathy

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Homeopathy History - Origins of the modality and a few of the many people that played a role.

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Many Homeopaths regard Hippocrates (of the Hippocratic oath) as the father of Homeopathy as he preached the most fundamental Homeopathic belief that Like Treats Like in the development of the use of his Law of Similars . In other words substances that cause symptoms in healthy people that are similar to the symptoms of a disease should be used to treat the disease.

Hippocrates developed his theory of similarity in a time (some 400 years BC) when the medical profession had almost exactly the opposite philosophy, prescribing substances that caused opposite and conflicting symptoms.

Although Hippocrates managed to get many of his ideas accepted there were some that were not that well received. Hippocrates believed that disease was natural and a consequence of environment and nature and this totally went against the belief in the time of the Roman Empire that ailments were a punishment imposed by the gods or God. This belief would survive that of Hippocrates for a further 500 years.

In the first five centuries, despite the belief that disease was as a result of divine intervention, physicians like Galen (Claudius Galenus) still managed to progress the Roman development of medicine. During this time several herbs were introduced as medicinal substances and public hygiene was improved. The study of the human body was hampered by cultural belief that human bodies may not be dissected but despite that Rome made progress and many herbal remedies developed. Galen recorded much of the medical practices of the time and also adopted the Greek belief that the four humours (blood, choler, melancholy and phlegm) had to be in balance to maintain good health.

The fall of the Roman Empire was mirrored by a virtually equal decline in the furthering of understanding of health and disease.

In the beginning of the sixteenth century a Swiss physician named Paracelsus argued that ailments and diseases were caused by external factors and that natural substances were fundamental in the treatment of disease. He endorsed the belief that "like cures like" and that the source of the cures are found in nature. He also suggested in his "doctrine of signatures" that the substances in, and appearance of plants, were indications of their healing powers.

During the sixteenth and seventeenth century the practice of using herbs or plants for their healing properties became more common and the practice spread. Nicolas Culpeper wrote The English Physician in which he described many medicinal herbs and their interaction with astrology. His work is still referred to by herbologists today.

Despite the accumulation of considerable knowledge of the healing powers of herbs and other natural substances medical practice became increasingly violent and invasive. Purging and blood letting became extreme and extremely toxic substances like mercury and arsenic were described for relatively minor conditions. Seeing a physician was frequently more dangerous than letting a disease take its course.

Samuel Christian Hahnemann, born in 1755, started practicing as a doctor in 1780. He soon became disillusioned by the harshness of medical practice at the time and, although he continued his role as a physician for almost a decade, started writing against practices of the day proposing better hygiene, nutrition, living conditions and exercise as a better option.

Hahnemann started developing (or "proofing") in 1790 medication based on substances that will create the same symptoms in a healthy person as the disease treated. This was initiated by his studies on quinine (a substance extracted from Chinchona Officinalis), which was proving to be effective against Malaria. Hahnemann discovered that a healthy person (using himself as the guinea pig) will develop the symptoms of Malaria, without getting the disease, if they take quinine.

This led him to the conclusion that "like treats like" a concept developed by Hippocrates about 2,300 years earlier, reinforced by Paracelsus 200 years before Hahnemann was born.

By 1796 he started publishing the outcome of his work, which almost a decade later led to him teaching his theories (named Homeopathy by him to incorporate similarity and symptoms in one word) At Leipzig University.

By the time of Hahnemann's death in 1843 he had proved more than 100 remedies and Homeopathy had spread throughout Europe, The Americas and parts of Asia. The Materia Medica was expanded by many others during the 19th century and, despite the opposition of conventional medicine, became firmly established in the Western World by the start of the 20th century.

During the 20th century Homeopathy weakened against conventional medicine mostly due to the American and British Medical associations but also because Homeopathy itself became divided between two major schools of thought: those believing that both emotional and physical conditions should be taken into account and those believing that only the pathological symptoms should feature in diagnosis.

It was only late in the 20th century that homeopathy became more popular again, ironically for the same reasons that once motivated Hahnemann - modern medicine was becoming too invasive. Again it was disenchantment with current medical practices that caused people to look for a gentler alternative.

In Europe, Asia and South America homeopathy never lost popularity to the extent that was seen in the United States and United Kingdom, but it did evolve into several different forms of practice. 

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