The German physician Samuel Hahnemann observed in the 1840s that small, highly dilute, dosages of natural agents produce symptoms similar to disease states in healthy individuals are able to help the vis medicatrix naturae to restore balance in diseased individuals who present the same pattern of symptoms.

Because the preparations used in homeopathy are highly dilute, they have very low toxicity, and hence support the principle of primum non nocere.

How is Homeopathy Used?

The first step in treating a patient using homeopathy is to obtain a diagnosis according to standard biomedical conventions. This will yield a pattern of common symptoms that are to be expected.

The patient is then carefully interviewed to develop a detailed symptom picture, which typically will include both a number of common symptoms, as well as a number of rare, peculiar, or characteristic symptoms that reflect the unique way in which the disease has disturbed the individual's vital force.

The critical step in applying homeopathy is then reached. Compendia of symptoms caused by different homeopathic agents are studied to identify the best pattern match between the totality of the patient's symptom picture and the homeopathic preparation (remedy) which will best help the vis medicatrix naturae (also known as the vital force) restore a healthful balance in the patient. This step is called studying the case or repetorization. Today, the use of computer programs such as Radar have greatly reduced the time required to select the individualized remedy based on the patient's unique symptom picture.

How does Homeopathy Work?

The exact mechanism whereby homeopathy works is unknown. Indeed, there is some controversy regarding how such highly dilute preparations, containing infinitesimally small quantities of active ingredient, can exert any effect at all. Nevertheless, experience shows that some conditions for which conventional medicine has no treatment respond well to homeopathy.

Some scientific studies of homeopathy have been reported, but the results are inconclusive.

It must be noted that homeopathy does not lend itself well to the type of double-blind placebo-controlled studies commonly used in studying conventional pharmaceuticals. This is because the specific homeopathic remedy required to treat a given patient is carefully chosen to match the exact symptom picture of that particular individual. A cohort of patients with the same disease will be expected present different complete symptom pictures, and therefore to respond to different remedies. Experimental designs that work well, for example to show that statin drugs lower cholesterol, are doomed to failure when applied to homeopathy.

In any event, given almost two centuries of successful use of homeopathy in treating a variety of diseases, and its very low toxicity profile, many naturopaths consider homeopathy to be the first-line treatment of choice.