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B.R.Sur. Homeopathic Medical College, Hospital & Research Centre
History of Homeopathy

Homeopathy is made of two Greek words, Homois meaning similar and pathos for suffering. It was in the 19th century that homeopathy started developing scientifically. The credit for this goes to the German physician, Dr Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843). Samuel Hahnemann was a German physician who earned his Doctor of Medicine degree in 1779. At the time of his graduation, scientific advances were beginning to be seen in the fields of chemistry, physics, physiology and anatomy. The clinical practice of medicine, however, was rife with superstition and lack of scientific rigor. The treatments of the day, such as purgatives, bleeding, blistering plasters, herbal preparations and emetics lacked a rational basis and were more harmful than effective.

Hahnemann recognized this and wrote critically of current practices in several papers on topics such as Arsenic poisoning, hygiene, dietetics and psychiatric treatment. Distressed, he gave up medical practice and started translating medical, scientific and botanical treatises. (referred to as provings). While translating William Cullen's A treatise of the materia medica into German, Hahnemann was struck by a passage that dealt with cinchona bark, which was used to treat malaria. Cullen described its mechanism of action as a function of its stomach-strengthening properties. Hahnemann did not accept this explanation and took "four good drams of Peruvian bark, twice a day for several days" to attempt to characterize the action of the quinine-containing bark. Hahnemann reported that he began to develop symptoms identical to those of malaria.

He concluded from this experience that effective drugs must produce symptoms in healthy people that are similar to the diseases they will be expected to treat. Today this principal is known as the "Law of Similars" and is the basis for the use of the term homeopathy ("similar suffering"). Hahnemann and colleagues began to test various substances to determine the types of symptoms they produced. These results suggested to Hahnemann what the drugs would be useful to treat. Hahnemann reasoned that doses of these substances that produced overt symptoms would be inappropriate for treatment of diseases with the same symptoms. Thus he advocated reduction of the dose to infinitesimal levels by multiple serial dilutions of ten or hundred fold. Soluble compounds or liquids were diluted in alcohol; insoluble materials were serially diluted by grinding with lactose. He compiled his results into a treatise called the "Organon of rational therapeutics" which he first published in 1810. The sixth edition, published in 1921, is still used today as homeopathy's basic text. Hahnemann practiced Homeopathic medicine for almost 50 years until his death in 1843.


Thanks to the then barbaric methods of allopathy, homeopathy caught on like wildfire in Europe and America. Besides royal patronage in European countries, it had renowned proponents like Dickens, Disraeli, Yeats, Thackeray, Goethe and Pope Pius X. The discipline received a tremendous boost in the 1830s when a cholera epidemic swept Europe. While conventional doctors had a death rate of 50 per cent, homeopaths cured 80 per cent of their patients. Homeopaths also enjoyed tremendous success in treating cases of yellow fever, typhoid and scarlet fever.

Homeopathy had a large impact on the practice of medicine. The first homeopathic hospital opened in 1832 and homeopathic medical schools opened all over Europe. Homeopathic hospitals and practitioners often had better outcomes compared to their allopathic counterparts. These improved outcomes were undoubtedly due to the harmful nature of allopathic remedies of the time compared to the non-toxic nature of homeopathic remedies. Thus the general public began to tout the benefits of homeopathy and demand better treatment from all physicians.

The new system began taking rapid strides in the New World after Hans Gram, a Dutch homeopath, emigrated to the USA in 1825. In 1844, the American Institute of Homeopathy was formed, America's first national medical society. Alarmed, conventional doctors formed the American Medical Association (AMA) in 1846. Their primary agenda seemed to halt homeopathy in its tracks. Yet, by 1900, 22 homeopathic colleges, a hundred hospitals, over 1,000 homeopathic pharmacies and 29 different journals devoted to homeopathy had sprung up in the USA. And nearly 20 per cent of doctors were practicing homeopaths. Between 1829 to 1869, the number of homeopaths in New York doubled every five years. Besides effectively treating infectious diseases, homeopaths provided care for many acute and chronic diseases. Since patients under homeopathic care lived longer, some life insurance companies even offered a 10 per cent discount to homeopathic patients! Mark Twain was all praise for the alternative remedy in an 1890 issue of Harpers magazine: "The introduction of homeopathy forced the old school doctor to stir around and learn something of a rational nature about his business." The other advocates included William James, H.W. Longfellow, Nathanial Hawthorne and Daniel Webster.


Before long, conventional doctors began a concerted campaign through the AMA, deriding homeopathy as "quackery", "unscientific" and "cultish", since nobody was sure how exactly the system worked. Pharmaceutical companies also joined the fray to pre-empt erosion in their market shares. Worse, they targeted homeopaths through medical journals. A line from the Journal of the American Medical Association says it all: "The medical press is profoundly under the influence of proprietary interests (drug companies)." There were other pinpricks too that grounded the rising star of homeopathy. In 1910, the Carnegie Foundation issued the infamous Flexner Report—an evaluation of American medical schools chaired by Abraham Flexner, in cooperation with key members of the AMA—sanctioning allopathic medical schools, while simultaneously condemning homeopathic ones. Fate dealt another cruel blow when John D. Rockefeller—a strong supporter of homeopathy who called it "a progressive and aggressive step in medicine"—instructed Frederick Gates, his financial advisor, to issue major grants to homeopathic institutions. An advocate of conventional medicine, Gates ignored his boss's orders and $350 million in donations went to orthodox medicine and hospitals.

The discipline gradually buckled under the pressure. By the early part of the twentieth century, homeopathy was in serious decline. The last pure homeopathic medical school in the U.S. closed in 1920, although Hahnemann Medical School in Philadelphia continued to offer homeopathic electives until the 1940's. By 1950, none. And perhaps just a hundred practicing homeopaths still survived, most over 50 years old. There were other causes for the premature decline in America and elsewhere. Homeopathic practice requires individualization of each treatment, demanding more time than allopathy. This meant that there was more money to be made through allopathy—another blow in the solar plexus for the complementary remedy. Moreover, apothecaries disliked Hahnemann because he recommended the use of only one medicine at a time—in limited doses! Which also meant that pharmacists couldn't charge much for them. Besides, each medicine required careful preparation, something that apothecaries did not always do. Hahnemann soon began dispensing his own medicines. Homeopathy began to enjoy resurgence in the US in the 1970's as the public took a greater interest in holistic and natural approaches to medicine.


Homeopathy first entered India in 1810 when German missionaries began distributing the medicines. It received a fillip in 1839 when Dr John Hoenigberger was called to treat Maharaja Ranjit Singh for paralysis of vocal cords and edema. Hoenigberger later shifted to Kolkata, India, and practiced for quite some time. Official recognition began with the passing of the first resolution by the government in 1937, followed by another in 1948. But it was only in 1952 that homeopathy began gaining recognition in the states. In 1973, a Central Act was passed, recognizing this system of medicine. Since its constitution in 1973, the Central Council of Homoeopathy has set minimum standards of education related to graduate and postgraduate courses and only approved colleges can provide education in homeopathy. Correspondence courses are not recognized and any practice on this basis is illegal. Today, it is part of the national network of health services, provided through hospitals, dispensaries and private practitioners. "In 1991, there were just 84 colleges. Today there are 186 degree colleges. India has the largest pool of homeopaths in the world-2,40,000 doctors.

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Last Updated : 01-Dec-2016