One particular arm of alternative medicine we've been hearing a lot about lately is homeopathy, but weren't really sure exactly what it was — which is where Peter Gold, a practicing homeopath and the communications director for the National Center for Homeopathy, comes in. "Homeopathy is a system of medicine that was organized around 200 years ago by a medical doctor and renowned chemist by the name of Samuel Hahnemann," he says. "The basic concept of homeopathy is like cures like: When you give a substance to a sick person, that is capable of causing similar symptoms in a healthy person, that substance will cure the illness in the sick person."
According to Gold, homeopathy is the second most popular form of alternative medicine and practiced by over 500 million people — most of those being in Europe. Homeopaths use plant, mineral, and animal substances that are "ultra-molecular" formulations (read: nano-particles) to stimulate the body. "What we do in homeopathy is examine the symptom profile," says Gold, "and then go into our database and find a remedy with a similar set of symptoms."
Gold says that a lot of people confuse herbal medicine with homeopathy, but he notes that they are very different. "With herbal medicine, you are using crude doses of substances — sometimes even the whole herb — to try and address a symptom set. Homeopathy is about addressing the underlying causes, not just the symptoms, for a curative effect." He also notes that homeopaths prescribe very differently: Because not everyone expresses the pathological state the same (i.e., your flu and our flu might manifest very differently), homeopaths find a remedy that matches a patient's characteristic symptoms.
So, what exactly can homeopathy treat? Gold says there's really no limit: anything from a simple cold to more complex diseases like multiple sclerosis. He also notes that it can provide some relief to those with ALS, Parkinson's, late-stage cancer, and many end-state diseases. Gold recommends seeking out a well-trained practitioner — which, unfortunately, might be easier said then done. "Homeopathy masters are very small in number, especially in the U.S. Every state has different rules and there is no federal legislation regarding accreditation," he explains. That said, Gold notes that any M.D. or naturopath that also claims to be a homeopath is worth checking out. Look for those who are accredited by the Council For Homeopathic Certification (CHC). That way you know they at least had to pass an exam to show competency, says Gold.
For more acute illnesses like morning sickness, colds, sore throats, teething, colic, and stomach bugs, Gold says you can easily treat those at home using a homeopathic text for reference. "There are a number of how-to and first aid books that give you pointers on how to treat simple, non-life-threatening, acute illnesses," he says. His favorites: Homeopathic Self-Care: The Quick & Easy Guide for the Whole Family , The Complete Homeopathy Handbook , Everybody's Guide To Homeopathic Medicines , and The American Institute of Homeopathy Handbook For Parents .
According to Gold, homeopathic remedies are not only safe, they are regulated by the FDA. You can find the remedies themselves at any health food store, and Gold says many mainstream retailers like Whole Foods, Walgreens, CVS, and even Walmart sometimes now carry homeopathic remedies as well. Most remedies will say homeopathic right on the label, but there are a few labels that Gold says he loves: Boiron, Hylands, Heel, and Hahnemann Laboratories.
Gold also notes that, as per FDA regulations, each remedy has to say exactly what it treats on the label — but that doesn't mean there is just one treatment per illness. "For vomiting alone there are probably hundreds and hundreds of remedies that might work based on your specific set of symtpoms," he says. "So, be sure you are taking the remedy that matches your illness' characteristics and your specific set of symptoms.
Photo: Via Free People