Homeopathic Glossary

Stephen Barrett, M.D.
August 4, 2015

*Aggravation. Worsening in the patient’s condition after getting a homeopathic remedy. Homeopaths claim this can signify that the remedy was appropriate. Critics note that the concept helps them deny failure when the patient feels worse.

*Allopathy. Derogatory term coined by homeopathy’s founder (Samuel Hahnemann) to refer to harsh practices of his day that supposedly balanced body “humors” or “conditions” by treating them with their “opposites.” Nonmedical pracitioners often misrepresent physicians as “allopaths.” Although some modern therapies can be construed to conform to an allopathic rationale (e.g., using a laxative to relieve constipation), standard medicine has never espoused an allopathic principle.

American Association of Homeopathic Pharmacists (AAHP). A nonprofit organization established in 1923 that represents the interests of homeopathic drug manufacturers, distributors, and and individual pharmacists. In December 2001, the AAHP Web site stated that AAHP had “24 corporate and 16 individual members representing over 70% of the homeopathic community.”

*Arndt-Schulz law. An obsolete law stating that weak stimuli excite physiologic activity, moderately strong ones favor it, strong ones retard it, and very strong ones arrest it. Also called Arndt’s law, it was proposed by a Rudolph Arndt (1835-1900), a German psychiatrist [1].

Avogadro’s number. The number of molecules in a mole of a substance, approximately 6.023 x 1023. (A mole is the number of grams of a substance equal to its molecular weight.)

Case taking. The process of eliciting and recording the patient’s history.

Centesimal potency. The designation “C,” which is the Roman numeral for 100, represents dilutions that are manufactured by mixing one part of the starting material with 99 parts of the diluting solution. Each subsequent dilution repeats the process of 1:100 dilution. A 6C dilution, for example, has gone through the process 6 times and contains 1 part of starting material per 1 trillion parts of final solution. Dilutions of 12C or greater are unlikely to contain a single molecule of original substance.

Classical homeopathy. Use of a single remedy prescribed according to the individual’s presentation and history.

Complex homeopathy. More than one remedy used concurrently.

*Constitutional prescribing. Choice of phomeopathic prescription based on study of the patient’s “constitution” rather than the patient’s symptoms.

Decimal potency. The designation “X,” which is the Roman numeral for 10, represents dilutions that are manufactured by mixing 1 part of the starting material with 9 parts of the diluting solution. Each subsequent dilution repeats the process of 1:10 dilution. A 6X dilution, for example, has gone through the process 6 times and contains 1 part of starting material per 1 million parts of final solution. Dilutions of 24X or greater are unlikely to contain a single molecule of original substance.

*Electrodermal screening (EDS). Quack diagnostic procedure in which a galvanometer is claimed to detect alleged “electromagnetic energy imbalances” that are treated with homeopathic remedies or other substances. The procedure is also referred to as Electroacupuncture according to Voll (EAV) or electrodermal screening (EDS), but some practitioners call it bioelectric functions diagnosis (BFD), bio resonance therapy (BRT), or bio-energy regulatory technique (BER).

FDA Compliance Policy Guide 7132.15. Guidelines that express the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s regulatory policy toward homeopathic products. The guidelines state that (a) each product must bear adequate directions for use; (b) products intended solely for self-limiting disease conditions amenable to self-diagnosis (of symptoms) may be marketed without a prescription (OTC); (c) products offered for conditions not amenable to OTC use must be marketed as prescription products. The guide also states that compliance with its guidelines does not establish that a product has been shown by appropriate means to be safe, effective, and not misbranded [2].

Homeopathic Pharmacopeia of the United States (HPUS): A compilation of standards for source, composition, and preparation of homeopathic drugs. It contains more than 1,300 “monographs” of ingredients used in homeopathic products. It is recognized as an official compendium under Section 201(j) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The Homeopathic Pharmacopeia provides no information about the alleged uses of these substances. It merely states how plants, minerals, or other substances are processed into “medicinal” form.

*Hering’s Law of Cure. Three observations made by Constantine Hering, M.D. (1800-1880), who is considered “the father of American homeopathy”:

  1. The human body seeks to externalize disease–to dislodge it from more serious internal levels to more superficial external levels. Thus, someone with asthma may develop an external skin rash as part of the curative process.
  2. Healing progresses from the top of the body to the bottom. Thus, someone with arthritis in many joints will generally notice relief in the upper part of the body before the lower part.
  3. Healing proceeds in the reverse order of the symptoms. Thus, the most recent symptoms will generally be the first to be healed, and in the process of cure a person may re-experience previous symptoms.

*Homotoxicology. A system developed by German homeopath Hans Heinrich Reckeweg, who claimed that symptoms are the result of the body’s attempt to use “homotoxons” to detoxify the body. Reckeweg developed many homeopathic mixtures said to enhance “homotoxon” production. He also claimed that his remedies activate a “greater defence system'” that can neutralize and excrete homotoxins [3].

*Homotoxins. Substances (chemical/ biochemical) and nonmaterial influences (physical, psychic) that can cause all forms of ill health in humans [3].

*Homotoxons. Compounds resulting from chemical reactions that neutralize the poisonous property of homotoxins [3].

*Hormesis. The concept—based on the (obsolete) Arndt-Schulz law—that concentrations of potentially toxic substances below the amount that cause inhibition (toxicity) will cause stimulation. (It is well known that substances can have different effects at different concentrations, but they do not follow the general pattern proposed by homeopathy advocates.)

Isopathy. Preparation based on causal agent.

*Law of Similars (“Like cures like”). Homeopathy’s fundamental concept, which alleges that: (a) any pharmacologically active agent will create a characteristic set of symptoms when administered to healthy individuals; (b) sick individuals will display a specific set of symptoms that express their illness; and (c) administration of the “similar” medicine to the sick patient will initiate a curative response [4].

Materia medica (homeopathic). Compilations of the symptoms reported during homeopathic provings. Each substance has a separate section that lists the various symptoms.

*Mother tincture (also called tincture). The initial homeopathic preparation made from source material that can be further potentized (also called “liquid stock”), sometimes used as homeopathic medicines, is the most concentrated form of a finished homeopathic medicine. Mother tinctures are obtained classically by maceration or percolation (sometimes also by digestion, infusion, decoction or fermentation) techniques from source materials according to a procedure prescribed by a recognized homeopathic pharmacopoeia. Sometimes a mother tincture corresponds to the first decimal dilution (“1X”), mostly when dry plant material is used as starting material.

*Nosodes. Homeopathic products made from pathological organs or tissues; causative agents such as bacteria, fungi, ova, parasites, virus particles and yeast; disease products; or excretions. Some homeopaths falsely claim that nosodes are effective as vaccines.

*Potency. The degree of serial trituration or dilution and sucussion.

*Proving. Experiment in which substances are administered to supposedly healthy persons who report what happens afterward. Most “provings” were done 100 to 200 years ago.

Repertory (homeopathic). Compilations of the homeopathic remedies for various symptoms. Each symptom has a separate section that lists the relevant products. (A homeopathic materia medica in reverse.)

Succussion. Vigorous shaking after each dilution during the preparation of a liquid homeopathic products. Proponents claim that this “releases energy” that “potentizes” the mixture for each dilution and that the process and outcome differ from that of ordinary serial dilution.

Trituration. Preparation of a remedy by grinding.

Ultramolecular potency. Homeopathic product which is so dilute that the original substance is absent.

  1. Forman EL (AAHP secretary). Elemental mercury in homeopathic products. Letter to Mike Benson (FDA), April 20, 1999.
  2. FDA Compliance Policy Guide 7132.15 for Homeopathic Products, revised 1995.
  3. Biotherapeutic Index, 5th revised English edition. Baden-Baden, Germany: Biologische Heilmittel GmbH, 2000, p 4.
  4. Stedman’s Electronic Medical Dictionary. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins, 2000.
  5. Glossary. In Safety issues in the preparation of homeopathic medicines. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization, 2009.

This article was revised on August 4, 2015.