Family doctor


Alternative Health

HOMEOPATHY - a patient's guide


Homeopathy is a complimentary medicine that is used by some doctors. This article examines the evidence and theory behind its use.


  • Homeopathy uses the technique of curing people with a small dose of what they've already got -"like cures like".
  • Homeopathic medicines are tailored to suit the individual patient, taking account of the illness, medical history and personality profile.
  • Common ingredients include chamomile, belladonna, arnica, mercury, sulphur and snake venom.
  • There is evidence that homeopathic remedies may work better than placebo tablets. But no clear evidence that remedies are effective for treating any one medical condition.
  • Homeopaths are often consulted about chronic conditions like asthma, eczema, migraine and irritable bowel syndrome.

What is it?

Homeopathy is an alternative medicine which uses the theory that a small dose of what the patient is suffering from will help to cure the condition. This is termed: "Like cures like".

For example, the homeopathic remedy, allium cepa, is a derivative of the onion, and this could be prescribed for cases of hay fever when patients suffer from a stinging nose and eyes.

Homeopathy was discovered by German physician Samuel Hahnemann who began his experiments in the 1790s.

Homeopathists will tailor a medicine to suit an individual's "make up" including factors such as the illness, patient history, and personality profile.

A consultation typically involves an in depth discussion about symptoms, and whether they change at different times of the day or with seasons. Patients are also asked about their diet and stress reactions in order to find the best medicine.

Homeopaths often see patients with chronic health conditions like asthma, eczema, arthritis, menstrual problems, irritable bowel syndrome, urinary tract infections, depression and migraine.

There is a wide range of opinion on the type of health conditions which respond to homeopathic medicines, with medically-trained homeopathists having the most conservative views of what can work.

An estimated 1000 British doctors incorporate homeopathy into their practices, and it is popular in Europe where more than 10,000 French and German doctors prescribe homeopathic medicines.

What ingredients are used in homeopathic medicines?

Homeopathic medicines are made from plants such as chamomile, belladonna, arnica, and animal products like squid ink and snake venom. Minerals such as mercury and sulphur are also used.

The medicines are prepared by diluting and shaking the items - this process may be repeated several times.

The following are examples of homeopathic medicines used to treat specific conditions:






Bruising and injuries






Infant colic


Leg cramps

Rhus tox.

Joint pain (arthritis)

Does homeopathy work?

There have been strong, double blind, randomised trials which show homeopathic medicines work better than placebo tablets. Laboratory experiments on animals also show that homeopathic medicines are effective.

Some scientists and medical practitioners remain unconvinced by these studies and claim there must be another explanation for the results.

Others maintain that the evidence is strong, and that homeopathy must work by some undefined process.

Some homeopathic remedies are diluted to the point that no trace of the original substance can be found so it is hard to understand how the therapy works. One explanation is that the water molecules, used in the dilution process, hold the key to how homeopathy may help cure disease.

There is continued debate over whether homeopathic medicines can cure or ease the conditions that homeopaths usually treat, and there is not enough evidence to show that homeopathy is effective for any one medical condition. There have been no controlled studies of depression, eczema or chronic fatigue.

Safety issues

Side effects from homeopathic remedies are uncommon, although symptoms can become worse. However, homeopaths believe that this can be a positive sign of recovery.

Some doctors are concerned that some homeopaths oppose the use of conventional medicines with their own remedies. And some homeopaths are also against child immunisation because they believe it can do more harm than good.

Homeopathic medicines can be bought over the counter at pharmacies and health food stores, and tablets may be given to patients at the consultation.

See also:

Did this article meet your requirements/expectations?