Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Health & Balance

Font Size

Homeopathy

What is homeopathy?

Homeopathy, or homeopathic medicine, is a medical philosophy and practice based on the idea that the body has the ability to heal itself. Homeopathy was founded in the late 1700s in Germany and has been widely practiced throughout Europe. Homeopathic medicine views symptoms of illness as normal responses of the body as it attempts to regain health.

Homeopathy is based on the idea that "like cures like." That is, if a substance causes a symptom in a healthy person, giving the person a very small amount of the same substance may cure the illness. In theory, a homeopathic dose enhances the body's normal healing and self-regulatory processes.

A homeopathic health practitioner (homeopath) uses pills or liquid mixtures (solutions) containing only a little of an active ingredient (usually a plant or mineral) for treatment of disease. These are known as highly diluted or "potentiated" substances. There is some evidence to show that homeopathic medicines may have helpful effects.

What is homeopathy used for?

Historically, people have used homeopathy to maintain health and treat a wide range of long-term illnesses, such as allergies, atopic dermatitis, rheumatoid arthritis, and irritable bowel syndrome. They have also used it to treat minor injuries, such as cuts and scrapes and muscle strains or sprains. Homeopathic treatment is not considered appropriate for illnesses, such as cancer, heart disease, major infections, or emergencies.

Homeopathy has been widely used in India, England, and other European countries.

Is homeopathy safe?

Homeopathic remedies have been regulated in the United States since 1938 and are considered to be safe.

Some critics of homeopathy believe that there is so little active substance in a solution that any benefits from treatment are likely not because of the substance but because you are thinking it is effective (placebo effect).

Supporters of homeopathy believe that although homeopathic solutions are highly diluted, they contain a "memory" of the substance in water. The body recognizes the substance and reacts to it. Studies have tried to determine whether effects from homeopathic treatments are placebo or whether some other action occurs. Although these studies could not identify how homeopathic solutions work, there was evidence that homeopathic dilutions differ from placebos.1

It is important to tell your medical doctor if you decide to use homeopathic remedies. He or she should have full knowledge of your health to help you make wise decisions about where to purchase homeopathic dilutions and what homeopathic practitioner to see. Homeopathic remedies should not replace conventional treatments for serious health concerns.

You can buy some homeopathic medicines at health food stores without a doctor's prescription. But preparations from different suppliers and practitioners may vary.

Always tell your doctor if you are using an alternative therapy or if you are thinking about combining an alternative therapy with your conventional medical treatment. It may not be safe to forgo your conventional medical treatment and rely only on an alternative therapy.

Citations

  1. Taylor MA, et al. (2000). Randomised controlled trial of homeopathy versus placebo in perennial allergic rhinitis with overview of four trial series. BMJ, 321(7263): 471–476.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerAdam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerMarc S. Micozzi, MD, PhD - Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Last RevisedJune 29, 2011

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: June 29, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

Today on WebMD

Hands breaking pencil in frustration
Quiz
Dark chocolate bars
Slideshow
 
teen napping with book over face
VIDEO
concentration killers
Slideshow
 
man reading sticky notes
Quiz
worried kid
fitArticle
 
Hungover man
Slideshow
Woman opening window
Slideshow
 
Woman yawning
Health Check
Happy and sad faces
Quiz
 
brain food
Slideshow
laughing family
Quiz