Homeopathy is a form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAT) in which small doses of natural substances, such as plant essences and minerals, are administered to activate the body’s healing processes. While the term “homeopathy” is sometimes used as a catch-all phrase to include all manner of natural medicines, it is a distinct treatment system that dictates the dilution of substances according to the type and severity of the patient’s symptoms.
The word “homeopathy” has its origins in the Greek words “homoios” (which means “like”) and patheia (“disorder”). The discipline is one of the most popular forms of CAT and was created in the late 1700s by Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician-turned-translator. After reading reports of ancient Greek treatments for malaria with a substance that he knew produced malaria-like symptoms in himself, Hahnemann proposed that “like cures like.” His theories dictate that doses of substances that would produce symptoms of illness in healthy individuals can cure individuals exhibiting those symptoms.
Today, homeopathy is widely practiced in the United States, Canada, India and throughout Europe. According to a 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), five million adults and one million children reported that they had used homeopathic treatments in the previous year.
Homeopathy’s popularity can be attributed to its accessibility (many treatments are available without a prescription) and absence of serious side effects. Homeopathic practitioners also consider other aspects of patients’ well-being, such as stress and emotional health, which makes it appealing to patients interested in holistic approaches to treatment. Homeopathic treatments have a loyal following in the brain health community, with anecdotal reports of improved cognition, immune system enhancement, decreased mood disorders.
Homeopathy is most commonly used to treat minor injuries and illnesses, such as scrapes, burns and head colds. Common homeopathic remedies include belladonna to reduce a fever and pulsatilla for sinus congestion.
On the MindBody Network, Dr. Larry Malerba describes several homeopathic treatments for brain injury. Concussions can be treated with arnica montana, which is commonly administered by European sports teams after head injury to prevent swelling. Hypericum perforatum is used to help with nervous system ailments. Anecdotal reports show that helleborus niger prevents psychomotor slowing after injury, and natrum sulphuricum is said to help ease depression and suicidal ideation following traumatic brain injury. Homeopaths emphasize that medicines are more effective the sooner they are administered after injury.
Homeopathy Has Many Supporters in the Autism Treatment Community
Foundational Medicine Review has a comprehensive overview on homeopathy and autism treatment. It reports, “Some of the homeopathic substances that are reported to aid in the treatment of autism include Stramonium, Tarentula hispanica, Calcarea carbonica, Natrum muriaticum, and Carcinosinum. Although there are currently no major research studies examining the efficacy of these remedies, a small 2014 study on 60 children with autism found that they produced statistically significant improvements of multiple autism symptoms, including hyperactivity/restlessness, sensory impairment, eye contact, and speech communication.”
A 2016 University of London study cited positive outcomes of treating ADHD with homeopathy, especially with participants who were also diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
How It Works
Homeopaths have created symptoms of substances over centuries and believe that the most effective treatment comes from the closest match between the substance’s toxic effect (at a high dose) and the patient’s symptoms. For example, a remedy derived from diluted poison ivy might be administered for a patient with a severe rash.
In order for substances not to become toxic, they are significantly diluted with water and/or alcohol. Then, they’re put through a process called “succession.” Succession is a pounding of the diluted substance that is said to safely increase the potency of the substance. The resulting substance is then packaged in a pellet, powder or gel for consumption.
Today, homeopathy is divided into two main practice categories: classical and clinical. According to the American Academy of Clinical Homeopathy, classical homeopathy “matches the totality of the individual’s symptoms and personality with the most similar homeopathic remedy so as to stimulate the body’s own natural healing response. It involves the use of a single remedy at a time and treatment is strictly individualized.”
Clinical homeopathy targets specific diseases that might involve a variety of symptoms. It was developed to use substances to target ailments that the entire population might encounter as it evolves. The Academy of Clinical Homeopathy states, “clinical homeopathy recognizes that the human condition has changed over the last 200 years, partially due to exposure to environmental toxins, steroids, antibiotics, vaccinations, etc., and requires a different approach.”
Homeopathy has a rich history in Europe, where it is often integrated with traditional medical treatment. The FDA has approved the sale of homeopathic medicines over-the-counter due to their lack of adverse effects.
There are exceptions to this, including incidents of heavy metal intoxication. Consumers must also remember to tell their homeopath and medical doctors all of the medications they’re taking, as some homeopathic medicines create toxic side effects when combines with conventional medicines. Some homeopaths believe that homeopathy can replace vaccines and deter patients from receiving vaccines. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, there is no evidence to support this.
Things to Consider
Homeopathy is not governed by a medical licensing board, though several organizations certify homeopaths and require rigorous coursework. In general, Medical Doctors (MDs), doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) and doctors of Chiropractic (DC) do not receive homeopathy as part of their training and must take courses at homeopathic training programs to learn the practice. Many Naturopathic Doctors (NDs), however, do receive some homeopathy training in their required course work. Organizations that certify individual homeopaths include The Council for Homeopathic Certification (CHC), The Homeopathic Academy of Naturopathic Physicians (HANP), The North American Society of Homeopaths (NASH) and the American Board of Homeotherapeutics (ABHt), which requires practitioners to have an MD or DO degree.
In addition, while in 2017 the FDA announced that it would more carefully monitor homeopathic medicines, they have not been subject to the same the same quality assurance testing and regulations as medicines. Thus, consumers should research the reputation of the remedy manufacturers before purchasing products.
Drs. Robert Ullman and Judyth Reichenberg-Ullman are naturopathic physicians specializing in homeopathy and co-authors of several books including A Drug-Free Approach to Asperger Syndrome and Autism. On their website they offer these guidelines on choosing and supporting homeopathic treatment for parents of autistic children: