What is Homeopathic Medicine?

What is Homeopathic Medicine and How Does it Work?

table with many homeopathic remedies in bowls
What is homeopathic medicine and what is the science behind its use?. Istockphoto.com/Stock Photo©JanPietruszka

Definition: Homeopathic Medicine

Homeopathic medicine or homeopathy is a form of alternative medicine that uses very small amounts of natural substances, which in higher amounts would cause a disease. This branch of medicine came into being in the 19th century and was used frequently at the time. Interestingly, the first studies using homeopathic remedies were done on healthy volunteers—similar to many clinical trials done today.

While the use of homeopathy has fallen off with the advent of newer conventional treatments, there are over 2000 substances that have been utilized as homeopathic treatments.

The Theory Behind Homeopathic Medicine

The theory behind this form of medicine is that "like cures like," and that a substance that causes an illness in a healthy person might cure those symptoms in someone who is ill. The theory is that a small amount of the substance which causes a disease will stimulate the body to heal itself. Though this sounds far-fetched, the theory is somewhat analogous to the basis of vaccination in modern day medicine, in which exposure to a small amount of a killed or inactivated microbe can result in protection against developing the disease.

Principles of Homeopathic Medicine

There are 3 main principles of homeopathic medicine:

  • The law of similars - Referring to the  like cures like theory above.
  • The principle of the single remedy - Meaning that a single remedy should cover the physical, emotional, and mental symptoms of an illness combined.
  • The principle of the minimum dose - Only a small amount of substance is first used in a few doses, followed by an infinitesimal amount over time.

The Science Behind Homeopathic Medicine

Results on the effectiveness of homeopathic remedies have been inconsistent, primarily due to the lack of any widespread regulation of the practice.

This makes the “dosage” or amount of a homeopathic medicine present in any particular formulation variable.  A recent review of the literature evaluated the study design and results of studies involving homeopathic remedies to date. The conclusion was that individualized homeopathy may have small specific treatment effects. It's likely that further "evidence-based" studies will fill in more details on both the safety and efficacy of homeopathic remedies in the future.

Side Effects and Safety

Homeopathic remedies generally have a reasonable safety profile since only a small amount of an active substance is used in high dilution. Individuals who are pregnant or receiving treatment for a serious medical condition should talk with their physicians before using these remedies, as well as any other form of alternative medical care. It is extremely important to point out that homeopathic remedies do not replace the need for conventional medicine for most medical conditions. For example, with regard to cancer treatment, there is no evidence that these substances have any effect whatsoever.

Contrast with Conventional Medicine

Homeopathic medicine differs from allopathic medicine (or mainstream, traditional, or conventional medicine) which uses agents (medicines, chemotherapy, surgery, etc.) that produce a different effect than the disease.

Check out this article to learn more about homeopathic remedies.

Also Known As: homeopathy

Examples: The cancer center Joe chose for his treatment, offers homeopathic treatments to help with symptoms, combined with traditional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy.  When conventional treatments are combined with alternative treatments by cancer centers, it is referred to as an integrative approach to cancer.


Mathie, R. et al. Randomised placebo-controlled trials of individualized homeopathic treatment: systematic review and meta-analysis. Systematic Reviews. 2014. 3:142.

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