What Is Homeopathy?

Homeopathy, also known as homeopathic medicine, is a medical system that was developed in Germany by Samuel Hahnemann more than 200 years ago. It’s based on three theories:

  • “Like cures like”—the idea that a disease can be treated by a substance that produces similar symptoms in healthy people.
  • “Infinitesmals”—the idea that the lower the dose of the medication, the greater its effectiveness. Most homeopathic products are so diluted that no molecules of the original substance remain.
  • “Succussion”—vigorous shaking of a homeopathic remedy to further increase its potency.

Homeopathic products come from plants (such as red onion, arnica [mountain herb], poison ivy, belladonna [deadly nightshade], and stinging nettle), minerals (such as white arsenic), or animals (such as crushed whole bees).

Treatments are tailored to each person—it’s common for different people with the same condition to receive different treatments.

How Does It Work?

A basic belief behind homeopathy is “like cures like.” In other words, something that brings on symptoms in a healthy person can — in a very small dose — treat an illness with similar symptoms.  The word Homeopathy, which comes from the Greek, literally means “like disease”.  This means that the medicine given is like the disease that the person is experiencing.

In addition to his theories of “like curing like,” Hahnemann proposed the theory that a homeopathic medicinal could be improved, “potentized”, by a series of dilutions–the more dilute the remedy, the stronger the remedy will become. As an example, a single drop of a flower extract diluted in ninety-nine drops of water creates what is known to homeopaths as one ‘centesimal’. One drop of this centesimal added to another ninety-nine drops of water produces a two-centesimal, written as 2C. This 2C reduction is 99.99% water and 0.01% extract of the original medicinal. At 3C the dilution is 0.0001% medicinal, at 4C it’s 0.000001% medicinal, and so on. Many homeopathic remedies can reach up to 30C dilution.

Acute vs. Chronic

There are two main types of treatment in Homeopathy; i.e., acute and chronic.  Acute treatment is for an illness of recent onset; it may be self-limited (for example, the common cold), or it may progress if not treated (for example, pneumonia).  Chronic or constitutional treatment is for chronic disease that is a long-standing or recurrent health challenge. Many factors are involved in treating a constitutional health challenge: nature of the problem, the health history, family medical history, previous treatment, and the person’s inherent constitutional strength.  The goal is to help the person to return to a state of balance and wellness through individualized homeopathic treatment.


One of the reasons for Homeopathy’s popularity is its relative safety. With little to no side effects, many people see it as an alternative to modern allopathic medicines.

Use in the United States

According to a 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), which included a comprehensive survey on the use of complementary health approaches by Americans, an estimated 5 million adults and 1 million children used homeopathy in the previous year.