Samuel Christian Hahnemann founded homeopathy in the late 1700s. He was born in Dresden, Germany, in 1755.
Despite an impoverished background, he acquired a good education and studied chemistry and medicine at the universities of Leipzig, Erlangen and Vienna. After qualifying as a doctor in 1779, he set up his practice.
Although Hahnemann worked mainly as a doctor, he supplemented his income by writing articles and books on medicine and chemistry. In these writings, he protested against the harsh medical practices of the time, especially bloodletting and purging, and the massive doses of medicines that were administered to patients, often with terrible side effects.
He argued for better public hygiene and advocated the importance of sensible eating, fresh air, exercise and less cramped housing conditions. At a time when overcrowding was common and standards of hygiene were poor, he advised regular bathing and cleanliness of bed linen.
By the late 18th century, Europe began a period of enormous upheaval and social change. With the Industrial Revolution came widespread technological advances and many new scientific discoveries. In medicine, considerable work was done to identify and extract the active ingredients of herbs and other plants. The first important breakthrough occurred in 1803 in Germany when Friedrich Serturner isolated morphine from the opium poppy.
The first proving
Hahnemann become increasingly disillusioned with conventional medical practice and eventually gave up being a doctor to work as a translator.
In 1790, while translating A Treatise on Materia Medica, by Dr William Cullen, Hahnemann came across a passage about Peruvian bark, or cinchona, which was to change his life as well as the lives of many people throughout the world.
In his book, Cullen stated that quinine, which is a substance purified from the bark of the cinchona tree, was a good treatment for malaria because of its astringent qualities. This made no sense to Hahnemann who, as a chemist, was aware that there were other much more powerful astringents that had no affect whatsoever on malaria.
He decided to investigate further. For several days, he dosed himself with quinine and recorded his reactions in great detail. To his astonishment, he began to develop the symptoms of malaria one after another, despite the fact that he did not actually have the disease.
The symptoms recurred every time he took a dose of quinine and lasted for several hours. If he didn't take any quinine, he had no symptoms. Was this, he wondered, why malaria was also cured by quinine?
To test out his theory, he repeated the doses of quinine, which he called "provings" on people he knew well, again noting the reactions in great detail. He then went on to repeat the process using other substances that were in use as medicines, such arsenic and belladonna.
These provings were carried out under strict conditions, and the provers were not allowed to drink or eat anything that might confuse the results, such as alcohol, tea, coffee, and salty or spicy foods.
Understanding the symptoms
Hahnemann found that the provers’ responses varied from being mildly symptomatic to chronic reactions with a variety of symptoms.
The symptoms that were most commonly found for each substance he called first-line, or keynote, symptoms. Second-line symptoms were less common and third-line symptoms were rare or idiosyncratic. The combination of symptoms made up a “drug picture’’ for each substance being tested.
Hahnemann continued to carry out his experiments and provings, testing a wide range of natural sources. He had rediscovered the principle of "like can cure like" and his work would bring about the establishment of a new system of medicine.
[This article was written by Dr Debbie Smith (M:Tech:Hom). Dr Smith is a qualified acupuncturist and homeopath, specialising in iris diagnosis using high-definition photography. For more information on acupuncture, contact her on (011) 463 8564 or e-mail her.]