Homeopathy may be the most misunderstood of all systems of medicine. The most confusing and controversial aspect of homeopathy is the Law of the Minimum Dose. According to this law, the more diluted the homeopathic preparation, the more powerfully it works. We know that with pharmaceutical drugs, the more one takes, the more powerful the effect. How then could it be the opposite in homeopathy? How can you dilute a substance till it's pretty much all gone, and then claim that it works? The answer to this question is still quite up in the air. Mostly homeopaths and satisfied homeopathic patients tend to respond, "well, it just works. You just have to see it for yourself." But this empirical answer has never satisfied scientists or physicians trained in the scientific model or other scientifically minded or skeptically thinking people.
From water to snowflakes, from water to medicines
Other explanations and hypotheses do exist however. Current thinking is that when one dilutes in the specific homeopathic method of dilution, which involves successive dilution with utterly pure distilled water as well as succussion, or shaking, the water molecules create patterns, like snowflakes, unique and precise, around each molecule of solute. In other words, a homeopathic preparation of sulfur and a homeopathic preparation of maple tree bark are pretty much the same to the casual observer: just water. But that water is very different, in that one has the "imprint" of the sulfur, and the other resembles, in its properties and molecular mega structures or "clathrates," the "imprint" of the maple tree bark. Each is just as precise and repetitive in its own way as the visually pleasing and intricate six-sided symmetry of a snowflake, yet each is as distinct as one snowflake is from another. Yet another snowflake-like imprint could be made of a homeopathic dilution of phosphorus or squid ink or sunflower platinum. Each homeopathic solute or "mother tincture" (the starting substance) is used by homeopathic pharmacists to create the unique homeopathically "imprinted" water, which is then sprayed onto the homeopathic pillules that are then sold commercially. This enables the specific imprint of the mother tincture to be maintained and transferred in such a vehicle that it can arrive to the patient's bloodstream intact.
The Law of Similars
The second most confusing and controversial principle of homeopathy is the Law of Similars. It says that the substance that is most curative, most helpful for a disease condition is the one that produces symptoms most similar to that disease condition. Again, the allopathic world cries out, "How can that be? You homeopaths are crazy!" It does seem that homeopathy flouts conventional thinking when it not only offers the most dilute substance possible, but when it also offers the most unexpected substance possible! In fact, the opposite nature of the two systems of medicine is reflected in their names. "Homeopathy" is from the Greek, meaning similar suffering, or similar disease state. "Allopathy" or conventional Western medicine is also from the Greek, meaning opposite suffering, or opposite disease state. To explain further, whereas allopathic medicine gives opposites to produce relief of symptoms, homeopathy gives a similar substance. Let's look at the example of insomnia: an allopath (a M.D. usually) might offer a sleeping pill for insomnia. This would produce a sedative or sleepy effect to overwhelm the body and mind's desire for wakefulness. In this case, the sedative is somewhat stronger than the wakeful impulse of the patient, and for the time being at least, sleep is achieved.
Can you imagine a homeopathic remedy for insomnia? How about coffee? Although coffee is everywhere considered to be a stimulant, for homeopaths it is actually sedative in its effect, when it is homeopathically diluted, not full-strength coffee (which is certainly simulative). How can coffee possibly cure insomnia? Here is how homeopathic remedies work: homeostasis is the perfect, happy condition of our bodies. Homeostasis involves just the right temperature, the right sweating, the right appetite and thirst, the right energy-rest cycles, the right hormone balance, and so many other mechanisms for our optimal functioning. Our bodies are so constantly striving to achieve, sometimes even desperate to achieve, homeostasis that we are constantly in pursuit of this wonderful and normal condition. Sometimes, however, one or more homeostatic parameters, say sleepiness, is out of whack. Often it needs just a bit of a stimulus to prime our homeostatic mechanisms to come back to optimal levels. Homeopathic coffee, for some insomnia patients, can provide just this push or prompting to bring the system back to homeostasis (i.e., to cure the insomnia.) The cure thus achieved lasts longer and more thoroughly than allopathic treatment, because the homeopathic stimulus caused the body itself to create the cure, rather than simply to suppress the symptoms.
As always, treat the whole person
Naturopaths who practice homeopathy take some of the most thoroughly detailed patient histories of any type of health care practitioner. Whereas allopathic medicine may certainly prescribe certain drugs for certain conditions, i.e., sleeping pills for insomnia, in homeopathy your doctor must know what is happening with all of you. Homeopathic prescription is based on the totality of symptoms, rather than a single symptom. For example, the person who has trouble falling asleep at night would most likely require a different homeopathic remedy than the one who falls asleep easily but then ends up wide awake and restless in the middle of the night. Even the last category could be broken down into one who wakes with bad dreams or wakes hungry or wakes feeling chilly or wakes with a headache. Sure, all of them have insomnia, but each of these point to different homeopathic remedies.
For this reason, it is not very helpful for one to self-prescribe and pick up one's own homeopathic remedy at the local health food store. You are much more likely to get the one suitable remedy, the one that best fits your present state of health vs. illness, if you let your naturopath take your thorough case history and prescribe accordingly. Follow-up is also very important in homeopathy, because symptom pictures often change remarkably after initial intake. Work with your naturopath patiently. Healing occurs in stages (or in layers, as homeopaths like to say). The homeopathic remedy that works well for you now may well give rise to another one before you feel completely cured.