Whether we’re suffering from seasonal allergies or painful PMS, many of us feel frustrated knowing the OTCs we take can only temporarily blanket our symptoms—and sometimes come with a slew of side effects.
Here, we answer your biggest questions about homeopathy—and may even convince you to give it a shot.
What IS Homeopathy, Exactly?
The philosophy of homeopathy: to help the body relieve and heal itself naturally.
Like typical Western drugs, homeopathic medicines are regulated by the FDA. (So, yes, they’re legit.) However, homeopathic medicines are made from natural substances and formulated to support the body systems in need of relief. Because of this, they have none of the side effects that come along with many Western treatments.
Though homeopathy is incredibly popular in Europe, it’s still somewhat fringe in the U.S. (Hence many of the misconceptions out there about it.)
The Origins Of Homeopathic Medicine
In Greek, the word ‘homeopathy’ means ‘similar suffering.’
In fact, the concept of homeopathy dates back as far as Hippocrates, says Christophe Merville, D.Pharm, director of education and pharmacy development at homeopathic medicine brand Boiron.
However, homeopathy as we know it today was developed in Germany over 200 years ago, based on two theories.
First: the Law of Similars, which states that ‘like cures like.’ This law suggests a condition can be cured by a substance that would produce similar symptoms in healthy people.
Second: the Law of The Minimum Dose. This law suggests that the lower the dose of a medicine, the greater its effectiveness will be.
It all started with German physician Samuel Hahnemann, who believed that 18th century medicine hurt patients more often than it helped them.
Hahnemann began experimenting with small doses of homeopathic medicines that, in larger doses, would cause symptoms similar to various illnesses. After experimenting with continually smaller doses of various natural substances, he soon began treating patients.
Making Homeopathic Medicine
The natural substances used to make homeopathic products come from plants, minerals, and animals. Examples include red onion, arnica (a mountain herb), poison ivy, belladonna (also referred to as ‘deadly nightshade’), white arsenic, and even crushed whole bees. (Yes, bees…)
These ingredients are diluted with alcohol or distilled water and shaken (a process called ‘succussion’) over and over again to create homeopathic medicines of varying potencies, according to the National Center for Homeopathy.
Typically, you’ll see potency listed on homeopathic medicines as ‘X’ (which means a 1:10 ratio), ‘C’ (1:100 ratio), and ‘LM’ or Fifty Millesimal (1:50,000 ratio). These ratios reflect how many times a medicine has been diluted, with 1:10, for example, indicating that a medicine contains one part of the original substance per 10 parts diluent.
You’ll find homeopathic medicines in a number of forms. Perhaps the most common: pellets and tablets made of sugar and lactose that are saturated with the liquid remedy. They may also come in ointments, gels, drops, and creams.
Single vs. Combination Remedies
Classical homeopathic medicines are often made of a single substance.
Take Nux Vomica, for example. It’s made from the seeds of the poison nuts of an Indian-native tree. In tiny doses, it helps relieve heartburn, acid indigestion, and/or stomach upset caused by overindulgence.
Another popular single remedy Wagner recommends we all keep handy: Arnica montana, which is made from a plant in the daisy family. Consider it your go-to for “pain, swelling, and bruising from injuries,” says Wanger. “Arnica can be especially important after surgery or any injury to the head, such as a concussion.”
It’s also a must for anyone who participates in sports or tends to bump into things.
You’ll find Arnica in two forms:
- Topical cream or gel (for bruising, joint pain, or muscle soreness)
- Ingestible pellets (for head injuries and post-surgery)
However, you can also find combination formulas made with several homeopathic extracts. A combination formula for cold and flu symptoms, for example, may contain five homeopathic extracts for various issues involved. Genexa’s Cold Crush, for example, includes a variety of homeopathic ingredients to help you tackle everything from nasal congestion to constant sneezing when cold season strikes.
“Combination medicines offer a convenient way to address many symptoms at once,” Merville explains.
Homeopathic Medicine vs. Western Medicine
While Western (or ‘conventional’) medicine tends to focus on addressing a patient’s symptoms, homeopathic medicine promotes more holistic self-healing.
“If you have eczema, for example, Western medicine would give you a steroid to suppress its symptoms, whereas homeopathy would try to stimulate health and promote rebalancing,” says classical homeopath Lynn Wagner, C.C.H., RSHom(NA), member of the National Center for Homeopathy Board of Directors.
Think of homeopathic medicines “like perfectly camouflaged, completely natural, infinitesimal, and brilliantly-selected custom ‘vaccinations,’ intended to mimic what ails you, such that your system is enticed to more actively correct itself,” says Norma Gairdner, former president of the Ontario Homeopathic Association.
“The body is designed to heal itself, always—and, given the correct information, will automatically use it for self-healing. A well-selected homeopathic remedy is a way of getting that correct information to the body,” she says.
Another difference between homeopathic and Western medicines: “We don’t take homeopathic remedies for a specified length of time,” Wagner says. “[Conventional physicians] will give you an antibiotic and tell you take it for 14 days. I say take a homeopathic remedy as needed or once a day, and if the [symptom] gets better, reduce your dose.” Since homeopathic medicines are used as stimuli, you only need to take them until your body can take over and heal itself.
Because they work with your body, homeopathic medicines are some of the safest medicines out there. First of all, they don’t interact with conventional medications, supplements, or herbs. And, second, they aren’t contraindicated with pre-existing conditions.
Plus, since homeopathic medicines don’t ‘mask’ symptoms, physicians can detect and respond to more serious conditions, should they arise.
Both single and combination remedy homeopathic medicines are available at The Vitamin Shoppe—and cost no more than your average OTC medicines.
How to Use Homeopathic Medicine in Your Daily Life
If you’re dealing with issues like cough, cold, flu, muscle pain, occasional sleeplessness, or seasonal allergies, homeopathic medicines are an affordable, widely-accessible, and natural way to deal.
Since all homeopathic medicines sold in the U.S. must be manufactured to Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States (HPUS) standards, just look for the HPUS label on a product and rest assured that it’s high-quality.
From there, simply follow the instructions on whatever medicine you choose and let your body do the rest!