History of Homeopathy: Why Scientists Dismiss It!

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Key Learning Points

  • The history of homeopathy probably anticedes the life of its founder
  • It spread when doctors saw it treating serious diseases successfully
  • Modern scientists cannot believe that the dilutions used can have any medical effect
  • There is considerable research in support of it

When was homoeopathy discovered, and who did it?

In the history of homeopathy, one man stands out. He was bright, conscientious, and a polymath. He spoke and translated many languages – a qualified doctor and a licensed pharmacist.

He wrote about living conditions that made people sick 150 years before the world caught up with him. His book, the ‘Organon of Medicine’ is one of the major intellectual achievements of the 19th century.

He was very articulate. And outspoken. He made many enemies. The medical professions hated him! Who was he?

Hahnemann, main mover in the history of homoeopathy
Samuel Hahnemann

Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843), a German doctor, introduced homoeopathy 200 years ago.

He became dissatisfied with the orthodox treatments he had trained in and which he had a licence to practise.
These included blood-letting, harmful medications and purging. He evolved his system of homoeopathy over the next 40 years. It has become an important system of medicine in many countries.



Classical homoeopathy doesn’t claim to treat diseases. (For a homeopathy definition, click here.)

Instead, it sees symptoms as disturbances in the VITAL FORCE.

These disturbances you experience as symptoms. Certain patterns of disturbances occur in healthy people after giving them a homoeopathic “remedy.

Your homoeopath will try to assemble everything you tell him into what would have been similar to the disturbance in the Vital Force caused by a particular homoeopathic remedy in someone healthy. In other words, he is trying to match your pattern with that of a remedy.

Finding the remedy for you is not always easy! He intends your remedy to change the pattern of disturbances in your Vital Force. If successful, your pattern of symptoms will begin to improve.

The problem is that this means individualising every patient. No two patients are the same, even if they have the same ’disease’ according to their doctor. So homoeopathy usually takes longer than a consultation with your orthodox doctor.

The British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) imposes strict rules on what we may say when making claims for treating diseases. The exception is those diseases where there is robust scientific evidence. The cost of obtaining this evidence is beyond the financial means of homoeopathic organisations. In any case, as pointed out above, homoeopathic remedies don’t treat diseases: they treat the Vital Force.


Other Homoeopaths

The history of homeopathy began when he published his ideas about it, starting in 1796. Later he lectured at the university of Leipzig. His students helped him discover and prove remedies. Hahnemann trained a number of doctors who spread the word across the world.

It’s a feature of homoeopathy that its practitioners fall out with one another, as in science and religion.

Many of them fell out with Hahnemann too, though he fell out with just about everyone he could find, sooner or later.

One of the earliest fallings-out was with a Dr Fickel who managed to deceive everyone, for a while.

Dr Fickel actually practised allopathic medicine (the kind your doctor practises) disguising it as homoeopathy. His deception was uncovered only when his hospital’s former high success rates from using homoeopathy went down and people started dying. The statistics pointed to the failure of homoeopathic medicine until his methods were exposed: he was actually using allopathic medicinenot homoeopathy.


How Hahnemann ‘discovered’ homoeopathy

Hahnemann was a medical student in 1777. While in what is now Romania he saw cinchona (from which we derive quinine) being used for swamp fever. (From this we get the homoeopathic remedy China.)

Later, translating William Cullen’s herbal Materia Medica into German, he added a footnote contradicting Cullen’s remarks about the effects of fever remedies.


Cinchona - 'China' - an important remedy in the history of homeopathy
A bottle containing China Officinalis 200
He experimented with cinchona on himself, inducing a kind of fever like swamp fever. (I expect his wife and children also received it, to complete the experiment. After all, isn’t that what spouses and families are for? No, don’t write to me, that’s supposed to be a joke.)
From that, and with the background of vitalistic medicine coming down to him from Islamic alchemy via Paracelsus, he evolved his ideas on homoeopathy.


The history of homoeopathy continues today, suffering occasional ups and downs. Currently in the UK it is on a mild ‘down’, but this is balanced when you realise that Switzerland now allows homoeopathic medicine to be supplied on its NHS.


History of Homeopathy and Hahnemann’s later life (and wife)

Hahnemann ended up in Paris, with a beautiful second wife, Melanie, whom he married when she was 35 and he was only 80. (His first wife bore him 11 children and then died, in 1830.)

In Paris he held court for the rich and famous from all round the world, including from the highest backgrounds.
He kept detailed notes of what he did (or rather, Melanie wrote them out) and he continued revising his Organon until he died.
This Organon remains an extraordinary achievement. He left the 6th edition for his wife to publish after his death. For many reasons including poverty and Melanie’s fear of reprisals from established homoeopaths, the book wasn’t published until 1921, long after she died in 1878.
It wasn’t translated into English until the 1950s. So Hahnemann’s last thoughts didn’t become public knowledge until well over a 100 years after he died! These included how, at the end of his life, he was using homoeopathic remedies in a completely new way.

The history of homeopathy is full of the ‘strange, rare and peculiar’.


History of Homeopathy in America

Homoeopathy arrived in New York with Dr Hans Gram (1786-1840). After success treating Asiatic Cholera in 1832, many orthodox doctors converted to it, leading to the formation of the American Institute of Homoeopathy in 1844.
Orthodox physicians got alarmed and in 1846 their adherents founded the American Medical Association. So began a battle between homoeopathy and orthodoxy which continues today.

United Kingdom

It reached Britain with Dr Frederick Harvey Quin (1799-1878) who had graduated from Edinburgh university in 1820. He saw homoeopathy in Italy getting better results than orthodox medicine.
While travelling in Moravia in 1831 Dr Quin succumbed to a cholera epidemic. Homoeopathy cured him, convincing him that it worked. In 1832 he brought it to London where he started to practise.
Dr Quin’s results were so good that they aroused the suspicion and wrath of the medical establishment. This was a not uncommon consequence for homoeopaths in the history of homoeopathy, it must be said.
Dr Quin trained others and it spread all over the UK. The history of homoeopathy in Scotland began after it was evangelized by Sir William Henderson, Professor of General Pathology at the University of Edinburgh.


International Spread of Homoeopathy

The history of homeopathy as it moved from country to country is quite extraordinary. Spread always by fervent advocates, it has attracted huge numbers of followers. In some countries such as India it is one of the most frequently-used forms of medicine.


Public Records of Success in the History of Homeopathy

In the history of homeopathy there are a very large number of diseases, and a very large number of potential homoeopathic remedies, any one of which may be appropriate for any individual with a disease.

So it is unlikely that much research on this acceptable to the ASA (the Briotish Advertising Standards Authority) will be forthcoming for some time. However, the history of homoeopathy as written at the time by reporters and statisticians includes the following.



As a matter of historical record, one of the most outstanding accomplishments in the history of homeopathy was in Leipzig, Germany in the 1800’s. During the scourge of the plague in Leipzig tens of thousands of people died because of this awful disease.

Reports say that Hahnemann saved 183 people who were ordered to the “dead house” being considered un-treatable.



During the Second World War soldiers in the United States and in its army overseas experienced disastrous epidemics of the Flu. The history of homeopathy reports that homeopathic physicians treated this, while other orthodox physicians did not understand what was going on and what to do with this type of illness.



Mastitis is a disease that affects many cattle throughout the world. A survey conducted in the major-milk producing countries shows that each year clinical mastitis affects 15% – 20% of cows.

Antibiotics are not the best way to treat mastitis

  • antibiotics have not reduced the incidence of mastitis since their introduction
  • placing antibiotics in the food chain leads to super-bugs, resistant to important antibiotics
  • cows on antibiotics are often withdrawn from milking, losing the farmer money.


Not surprisingly, many farmers use homoeopathy. With homoeopathic treatment, milking may continue. Farmers – usually practical people – often say that when they have tried it, homoeopathy works for them.


Scarlet Fever

Scarlet fever spread through Germany during the 1800’s; one of the most contagious maladies then affecting children. It particularly affected children living in dirty and damp conditions, not uncommon in those days.

Homoeopaths claim that this dangerous fever was very much helped and healed by homoeopathy in marked distinction to other systems of medicine at that time.

We should, however, point out that other systems of medicine at that time were themselves very deficient, even dangerous. How homoeopathy would fare against other modern systems of medicine today is now gradually being tested


FURTHER, more specialised, REFERENCES


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Disease Process

OK – now we come to a ‘heavy’ bit. Theory! The history of homeopathy has plenty of people who dipped their oar into it.

Whether you believe in homoeopathy or not, (let alone in the history of homeopathy!) many of the health matters it raised (usually written about by Hahnemann himself, starting from around 1790 – no wonder he made enemies!) are now accepted or beginning to reach into the consciousness of health providers:

  • hygiene
  • environmental health
  • nutrition (for Chinese ideas on this click here)
  • disease process (WHAT?)


Disease process? As you get ill and start to produce more chronic symptoms or symptoms of a more serious nature, the disease moves inwards towards your ‘centre’.

Put another way, the body’s attempts to resist it grow weaker OR where it maintains the illness is at more ‘restricting’ levels. This restricts you because you move with more difficulty and need more medication (eg painkillers) to keep going at the same rate as before you got ill.

So, whereas the disease process was originally at the level of your first line of defence, your skin or nose – as when you get a ‘cold’ and start sneezing, and your skin is alternately hot then cold, say – next it penetrates to your lungs. 

In your lungs, your cough and phlegm mean you can’t speak easily, your voice is muffled or weaker, you can’t run so easily and so on. The disease process is now held at the ‘level’ of your lungs.


The Disease process goes deeper

What if your body can’t stop the inwards march of the disease? Your doctor may diagnose asthma. Without drugs for this you can’t breathe at times: the disease process has become more serious.

… and each of those medications would of course have a primary and secondary action ..!

Continue taking those asthma medications and all may seem well for years, but those secondary actions will eventually take their toll, perhaps causing insomnia and tiredness, with more susceptibility to other diseases. 

Gradually the disease process slips deeper.

Antihistamine for allergic rhinitis

The above example is a simplified explanation.

History is full of experienced homoeopaths who have thought about this deeply using concepts in homoeopathic philosophy designed to
  • consider the matter and 
  • recognise how a disease process may be energised or stimulated to rise outwards away from the more dangerous inner levels. 


Margaret Roy

For another ‘take’ on this, read what Margaret Roy, a well-known author and lecturer on homoeopathy, says on the disease process.

Few allopathic doctors think about disease quite this way.

Chinese Medicine and Homeopathy

Chinese medicine theory has somewhat similar ideas – see Suppression and remaining pathogenic factor.
Chinese medicine also explains how disease penetrates with its theories of the Four Levels and the Six Stages.
A modern take on 5 Element theory, which has deep roots in Chinese medicine, is rather like the concept of the ‘constitutional’ remedy in homoeopathy.


Randomised Controlled Studies of Homoeopathy vs Placebo

Understanding the disease process helps to explain why some people get a series of symptoms that seem worse than before.
For instance see a recent randomised controlled study of homoeopathy versus placebo in which one of the trials produced more aggravations.
Possibly these aggravations might have been treated had there been more understanding of the disease process. Of course, there may have been other reasons, such as environmental or patient resistance to change or … but the history of homeopathy is full of difficulties! For more, click on aggravations.


As I said, you don’t have to believe in homoeopathic efficacy to use some of its ideas. The history of homeopathy is full of situations where it forced others to re-consider their positions.


More information on Homoeopathy

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