Understanding the love for homeopathy in Germany

Understanding the love for homeopathy in Germany

by Sandra Köktaş

Updated July 13, 2023

Homeopathy is quite popular in Germany. Your friends or colleagues might recommend homeopathic treatments for certain ailments, or they might even suggest visiting a homeopathic practitioner. But what exactly is homeopathy? 

Spoiler alert: Homeopathy is an alternative form of medicine with little to no scientific proof of effectiveness. This may not align with your expectations of a “Made in Germany” method of healing. Who would put their health into the hands of practitioners espousing unscientific methods? Believe it or not, many Germans would. To get to the bottom of this contradiction, let’s take a closer look at the cultural phenomenon of homeopathy and see if the benefits outweigh the risks for you.

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What is homeopathy?

“Like cures like” is the guiding principle behind homeopathy. The word itself comes from the Greek homoios (same) and pathos (condition), as in pathein (to suffer). The idea is that a substance that causes symptoms of sickness or disease in a healthy person can potentially be used to cure similar symptoms in a sick individual. In other words: “Like cures like” or “what makes you ill could also cure you”.

Homeopathic remedies are oftentimes highly diluted substances derived from plants, minerals or animals. According to homeopathic theory, these remedies stimulate the body’s vital force to heal itself. 

Homeopathy: a German invention

Homeopathy was invented in the late 18th century by Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician and scientist. While translating a book about Peruvian bark, a treatment for malaria, he became intrigued by the bark’s effects on his own body. This experience led him to formulate the principle of “like cures like.” 

Hahnemann didn’t stop there. He combined this thought with a belief that dilution would make a curative substance more potent while at the same time reducing its side effects. In fact, he developed an algorithm for dilutions so high that no molecules of the original substance were left. Despite this intense dilution, Hahnemann still believed that the substance would still have its intended effect when applied.

Why are Germans so fond of homeopathy?

To this day, there is no empirical proof of the effectiveness of classical homeopathy. Still, more than 50% of Germans have used homeopathy and up to 70% are open to homeopathic treatment. 

Why? One explanation: Homeopathic remedies are generally thought to be harmless — so harmless, indeed, that they are freely available on the internet or in pharmacies. And if even the pharmacist sells them, they can’t be completely ineffective, right? 

For many people with minor ailments, the pharmacist — not the doctor — is the first stop in the German health system. So, if you have a cold, you could buy a homeopathic tincture with a click of your mouse and treat yourself with no risk of side effects. Alternatively, you could make an appointment, go and see the doctor, get a prescription for a chemically derived medicine, and read about all the side effects said medicine can cause. 

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a lot of people opt for the “safe” and easy solution first. But how safe is homeopathy, really? 

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Benefits and risks of homeopathy

Apart from the minimal risk of adverse effects, the holistic and personalized approach of homeopathy doctors in Germany is perceived as a major benefit compared to conventional medicine. Additionally, some individuals report positive outcomes, further bolstering belief in the efficacy of homeopathy for various ailments.

On the downside, the perceived success of the treatment might be due to the placebo effect. If a person believes a treatment will heal them, it may do so as long as their body can manage the issue without intervention. The main risk of homeopathy lies in believers potentially delaying or rejecting conventional medical treatment, which can worsen their condition. This is especially true for serious conditions and emergencies

So, while the treatment itself may not be harmful, the lack of proven effectiveness is a concern. Germany’s current health minister, Karl Lauterbach, sees no place for subsidizing a non-scientific approach like homeopathy in a science-based healthcare system. Discussions are underway to reevaluate whether homeopathy should remain a benefit of statutory healthcare.

How to find a homeopathic practitioner in Germany

If you wish to explore homeopathy, you may start with recommendations from German friends. Alternatively, you may have luck searching online with keywords like Homöopath (homeopathic practitioner) or Homöapathie, along with your city or region. Professional directories, such as the German Central Association of Homeopathic Physicians (Deutscher Zentralverein homöopathischer Ärzte), provide lists of registered homeopathic practitioners.

Germans and classical homeopathy

Homeopathy, invented over 200 years ago in Germany, continues to be embraced by the majority of Germans as an alternative form of medicine. While there is generally no scientific proof of its efficacy, many Germans strongly believe in its success. However, it is essential to exercise common sense when using an unscientific approach to treat oneself. In persistent, urgent or serious cases, consulting a doctor is always advisable. To make sure you know all the words you may need to communicate, consider signing up for German lessons.

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Sandra Köktas

Sandra lives in Istanbul, together with her kids, cat and dog. As a historian she thrives exploring this ancient city with her two- and four-legged loved ones. Together, they also love to go on adventures through all of Turkey and its neighboring countries. If she’s not on the road, Sandra is busy putting her experiences into writing as a freelance copywriter for the travel industry and everything related to language, culture and family. Her particular interest lies in providing information on animal welfare with her website.

Sandra Köktas

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