Homeopathy has the dubious distinction of being the most controversial of the alternative healing systems. It defies the known laws of chemistry, physics, and pharmacology. How and why it works cannot be explained by homeopaths, who swear by it, or mainstream doctors, who mostly swear at it. Although homeopathy is more than 200 years old, only recently have its medicines been subjected to rigorous scientific evaluation. Some studies have shown no effect whatsoever–making them perfect fodder for skeptics. But the naysayers usually fail to mention that many others have shown significant benefits. What’s more, homeopathic medicines rarely cause side effects, and they’re almost always less expensive than pharmaceuticals. Despite the mystery surrounding it, homeopathy is definitely worth a closer look. In fact, for several conditions, it may be among your best choices in healing.
Homeopathy developed during the late eighteenth century, a time when little was known about the causes and cures of disease. Physicians treated most conditions with bleeding, powerful laxatives (called cathartics), drugs that caused vomiting (emetics), and mercury, which had evolved from a remedy for syphilis into a veritable cure-all. These therapies were called heroic measures-but the heroism was entirely on the part of the patients, many of whom suffered more from the treatment than from the illness.
Over time, many physicians realized that heroic measures did more harm than good. Among them was a German doctor named Samuel Hahnemann. He became so disgusted with heroic medicine that he closed his practice and worked as a medical translator to better acquaint himself with healing arts from around the world.
Homeopathy arrived in the United States in the 1830s and quickly won many supporters, including statesman Daniel Webster, oil magnate John D. Rockefeller, psychologist William James, and writer Mark Twain. In an 1890 issue of Harper’s Magazine, Twain wrote that homeopathy “forced the old school doctor to stir around and learn something of a rational nature about his business.”
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