Dr Samuel Hahnemann, father of homeopathy, was one among a few of his time to step into the portals of a university and graduate in medicine with an MD. It was the pre-antibiotic era and consisted of many barbaric practices. Conventional doctors routinely used bleeding and excessive purging to treat diseases on the presumption that the disease was caused due to bad blood within the body. Dr Hahnemann was disappointed with this and, therefore, gave up his medical practice.
He dreamed and pondered over a new idea - making medicine safe, effective, sane, humane and gentle.
To support himself, Dr Hahnemann started translating medical books in different languages, as he knew over a dozen languages. When he was once engaged in the translation of William Cullen’s classical work, Lectures on the Materia Medica, in 1790, he could not resist his analytical excitement. Cullen’s statement that cinchona [quinine] bark possessed specific febrifugal [fever-relieving] properties – because it was one of the most aromatic and bitter substances known – aroused his scientific mind and curiosity.
Hahnemann felt that there were many more substances, not just barks, with extremely bitter and fragrant properties. None of them had the strength to cure fevers, especially malaria-like fevers. He was eager to test the idea. He drank a decoction of cinchona bark to test the results. He developed a malarial fever with chills. This laid the foundation for homeopathy. Hahnemann then expounded his principle: like cures like.
From this experiment, Dr Hahnemann derived a hypothesis - “a substance that can artificially produce certain disease-like symptoms on a healthy person; only that substance can cure a similar disease when it is given to the patient in the form of homeopathic medicine.”
For example, when you chop onions, you have watery eyes and a runny nose; you sneeze and cough, and all of it happens due to exposure to the tuber’s active substances. The homeopathic remedy, Allium Cepa, made from red onion can help you overcome a cold or allergy attack in which you may have similar symptoms – watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing, coughing or throat irritation.
Dr Hahnemann started studying the effect of various substances on humans, and systematically recorded the symptoms produced by these substances. These records were then used as reference guide to select a similar remedy for his patients. Cures achieved in this way further confirmed his hypotheses about the concept of ‘like cures like’. Dr Hahnemann thus evolved homeopathy as a scientific system of alternative medicine based on his research and clinical experience of over 12 years.
Homeopathy became widely popular during the 19th century with its success in treating patients during epidemics like cholera. Death rates in homeopathic hospitals were lower than conventional hospitals.