It was 1779 and the German physician Dr. Samuel Hahnemann must have been very excited. Having graduated with honors from the Protestant based University of Erlangen medical school in Bavaria; he would soon begin as the village doctor in the copper mining area of Saxony. Marriage was not far off, along with the eleven children he would father. Although he was about to immerse himself in his new medical profession, it would not be long before he denounced it.
Doctors of 18th to mid-19th century medicine sought to cleanse, purify and balance the body in order to cure illness. They would do this by altering the four humors: blood, phlegm and black and yellow bile, in order to restore humoral harmony. It was believed that these humors were tempered by four bodily conditions; hot, cold, wet and dry in accord with the four elements, fire, earth, water and air.
Hahnemann invented the term allopathy to describe the style of medicine he employed to address these humors. ‘Allos’ means opposite, and ‘pathos’ means suffering. Doctors believed that they could aid the healing process by creating opposing suffering and distract the patient from their current suffering. This was accomplished using harsh medical interventions including bleeding, leeching, cupping, blistering, plastering, purging, puking, poulticing, sweating, fumigating, dehydrating and rubbing with toxic ointments such as mercury.
Bleeding was the most common treatment. Several methods were used, including leeches that would suck out blood, cupping in which a glass vacuum suctioned lacerations, and cutting of veins with a lancet. Bleedings ranged in volume from just a few ounces up to four fifths of the body’s total blood supply, often resulting in death.
The practice of blistering was performed to distract the patient from the suffering of their initial ailment. With blistering the doctor would deliberately cause a second degree burn and then drain the resulting sore. Paste-like plasters made from substances such as cow manure also caused blistering. Poultices made of bread and milk covered topical wounds, and fumigating involved the inhalation of a host of substances including opium, deadly nightshade, iodine and arsenic.
It was not long before Hahnemann became disillusioned with the harmful treatments he’d been taught, as indicated by this autobiographical statement of his:
“My sense of duty would not easily allow me to treat the unknown pathological state of my suffering brethren with these unknown medicines. The thought of becoming in this way a murderer or malefactor towards the life of my fellow human beings was most terrible to me, so terrible and disturbing that I wholly gave up my practice in the first years of my married life and occupied myself solely with chemistry and writing”.
Although of a poor artisan family, Hahnemann was rich in intellect. He was a skilled chemist and proficient in a number of languages including English, French, Italian, Greek, Latin, Arabic, Syriac, Chaldaic and Hebrew. Having abandoned the conventional medicine of his day, he travelled around Germany for a number of years before finally moving to Paris. Chemistry and translation afforded him an income, and it was during one of his translations that the concept of homeopathy was born.
The bark of the Peruvian tree Cinchona was then, as well as now, a treatment for malaria. In the course of translating a scientific article on this subject, Hahnemann became curious, and formulated the question that birthed homeopathy. What would happen if a healthy person (himself) ingested this bark (quinine)? In doing so, he developed symptoms quite similar to malaria. The next step in his reasoning invited a question; what would happen if a very small dose was given to a person sick with malaria? His findings led to the fundamental law of homeopathy, called the “Law of Similars,” Let likes be treated by likes, which Hahnemann described in this manner:
“Any substance which, when given in a strong dose, produces specific symptoms in a healthy person, is likely, if given in an infinitesimal dose, to cause those same symptoms to disappear in a sick person.”
This marked the beginning of the science of homeopathy, as denoted by the Greek words homios—“like or similar,” and pathos—“suffering.”
Here are three examples of “likes treated by likes”:
1. A large dose of Ipecac causes vomiting, while a small dose (homeopathic) controls nausea and vomiting.
2. Coffee generally causes sleeplessness, but in very small amounts treats insomnia.
3. A large dose of belladonna will induce a throbbing headache, heat flushes and lack of thirst, while a small dose resolves these symptoms.
Homeopathy, since Hahnemann’s time, has grown internationally, offering a safe, effective and non-toxic form of medicine for both acute and chronic health concerns: the subject of next month’s newsletter. I hope you have enjoyed this introduction to homeopathy. Questions and comments are always welcome.
Jon Dunn, ND