Allopathic medicine

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Allopathic medicine or allopathy is a pejorative used by proponents of alternative medicine to refer to modern scientific systems of medicine, such as the use of pharmacologically active agents or physical interventions to treat or suppress symptoms or pathophysiologic processes of diseases or conditions.[1][2] The expression was coined in 1810 by the creator of homeopathy, Samuel Hahnemann (1755–1843).[3] In such circles, the expression "allopathic medicine" is still used to refer to "the broad category of medical practice that is sometimes called Western medicine, biomedicine, evidence-based medicine, or modern medicine".[4]


Allopathic medicine and allopathy (from the Greek prefix ἄλλος, állos, "other", "different" + the suffix πάϑος, páthos, "suffering") are terms coined in the early 19th century[5] by Samuel Hahnemann,[3][6] the inventor of homeopathy, as a synonym for the European heroic medicine, the mainstream medicine of the time. Heroic medicine was based on balance of the four "humours" (blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile) where disease was caused by an excess of one humour, and would thus be treated with its opposite.[7] This description continued to be used to describe anything that was not homeopathy.[7]


The practice of medicine in both Europe and North America during the early 19th century is sometimes referred to as heroic medicine because of the extreme measures (such as bloodletting) sometimes employed in an effort to treat diseases.[8] The term allopath was used by Hahnemann and other early homeopaths to highlight the difference they perceived between homeopathy and the medicine of that time.

With the term allopathy (meaning "other than the disease"), Hahnemann intended to point out how physicians with conventional training employed therapeutic approaches that, in his view, merely treated symptoms and failed to address the disharmony produced by the underlying disease.[clarification needed] Homeopaths saw such symptomatic treatments as "opposites treating opposites" and believed these conventional methods were harmful to patients.[3]

Practitioners of alternative medicine have used the term "allopathic medicine" to refer to the practice of conventional medicine in both Europe and the United States since the 19th century. The term allopathic was used throughout the 19th century as a derogatory term for the practitioners of heroic medicine,[9][10] a precursor to modern medicine that did not rely on evidence.

James Whorton discusses this historical pejorative usage:

One form of verbal warfare used in retaliation by irregulars was the word "allopathy." ..."Allopathy" and "allopathic" were liberally employed as pejoratives by all irregular physicians of the nineteenth century, and the terms were considered highly offensive by those at whom they were directed. The generally uncomplaining acceptance of [the term] "allopathic medicine" by today's physicians is an indication of both a lack of awareness of the term's historical use and the recent thawing of relations between irregulars and allopaths.[11]

The controversy surrounding the term can be traced to its original usage during a heated 19th-century debate between practitioners of homeopathy and those they derisively referred to as "allopaths."[12]

Hahnemann used "allopathy" to refer to what he saw as a system of medicine that combats disease by using remedies that produce effects in a healthy subject that are different (hence Greek root allo- "different") from the effects produced by the disease to be treated. The distinction comes from the use in homeopathy of substances that are meant to cause similar effects as the symptoms of a disease to treat patients (homeo - meaning similar).

As used by homeopaths, the term allopathy has always referred to the principle of curing disease by administering substances that produce other symptoms (when given to a healthy human) than the symptoms produced by a disease. For example, part of an allopathic treatment for fever may include the use of a drug which reduces the fever, while also including a drug (such as an antibiotic) that attacks the cause of the fever (such as a bacterial infection). A homeopathic treatment for fever, by contrast, is one that uses a diluted and succussed dosage of a substance, usually containing no actual particles of that substance, that in an undiluted and unsuccussed form would induce fever in a healthy person. Hahnemann used this term to distinguish medicine as practiced in his time from his use of infinitesimally small (or nonexistent) doses of substances to treat the spiritual causes of illness.

The Companion Encyclopedia of the History of Medicine states that "[Hahnemann] gave an all-embracing name to regular practice, calling it 'allopathy'. This term, however imprecise, was employed by his followers and other unorthodox movements to identify the prevailing methods as constituting nothing more than a competing 'school' of medicine, however dominant in terms of number of practitioner proponents and patients."[13] In the nineteenth century, some pharmacies labeled their products with the terms allopathic or homeopathic.

Contrary to the present usage, Hahnemann reserved the term "allopathic medicine" to the practice of treating diseases by means of drugs inducing symptoms unrelated (i.e., neither similar nor opposite) to those of the disease. He called the practice of treating diseases by means of drugs producing symptoms opposite to those of the patient "enantiopathic" or "antipathic medicine".[14] After Hahnemann's death, the term "enantiopathy" fell into disuse and the two concepts of allopathy and enantiopathy have been more or less unified. Both, however, indicate what Hahnemann thought about contemporary conventional medicine, rather than the current ideas of his colleagues. Conventional physicians had never assumed that the therapeutic effects of drugs were necessarily related to the symptoms they caused in the healthy: e.g., James Lind in 1747 systematically tested several common substances and foods for their effect on scurvy and discovered that lemon juice was specifically active; he clearly did not select lemon juice because it caused symptoms in the healthy man, either similar or opposite to those of scurvy.


Use of the term remains common among homeopaths and has spread to other alternative medicine practices. The meaning implied by the label has never been accepted by conventional medicine and is still considered pejorative by some.[15] William Jarvis, an expert on alternative medicine and public health,[16] states that "although many modern therapies can be construed to conform to an allopathic rationale (e.g., using a laxative to relieve constipation), standard medicine has never paid allegiance to an allopathic principle" and that the label "allopath" was "considered highly derisive by regular medicine."[17]

Many conventional medical treatments clearly do not fit the nominal definition of allopathy, as they seek to prevent illness, or remove the cause of an illness by acting on the cause of disease.[18][19]


  1. ^ Roy, Vandana (2015). "Time to sensitize medical graduates to the Indian Systems of Medicine and Homeopathy". Indian Journal of Pharmacology. 47 (1): 1. doi:10.4103/0253-7613.150301.
  2. ^ "Definition – allopathy". The Free Dictionary. Farlex. Retrieved 25 October 2013. Citing: Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine (2008) and Mosby's Medical Dictionary, 8th ed. (2009).
  3. ^ a b c Whorton JC (2004). Oxford University Press US, ed. Nature Cures: The History of Alternative Medicine in America (illustrated ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 18, 52. ISBN 0-19-517162-4.
  4. ^ Xiaorui Zhang (2001). "Legal Status of Traditional Medicine and Complementary/Alternative Medicine: A Worldwide Review" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 26 September 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-12.
  5. ^ Hahnemann S (1810), Organon der Heilkunst, first edition.
  6. ^ Haehl R, Samuel Hahnemann his Life and Works, 2 volumes, 1922; vol 2, p.234
  7. ^ a b Barrett, Stephen; London, William M.; Kroger, Manfred; Hall, Harriet; Baratz, Robert S. (2013). Consumer health: a guide to intelligent decisions (9th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. pp. 34–35, 134, 137. ISBN 9780078028489. OCLC 758098687.
  8. ^ Singh, Simon; Ernst, Edzard (2008). Trick Or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 108. ISBN 978-0-393-06661-6.
  9. ^ Bates, DG (September 2002). "Why Not Call Modern Medicine "Alternative"?". The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 583 (1): 12–28. doi:10.1177/000271620258300102.
  10. ^ Cuellar NG (2006). Conversations in complementary and alternative medicine: insights and perspectives from leading practitioners. Boston: Jones and Bartlett. p. 4. ISBN 0-7637-3888-3.
  11. ^ Whorton JC (4 Nov 2003). "Counterculture healing: A brief history of alternative medicine in America". WGBH Educational Foundation. Retrieved 25 Dec 2007.
  12. ^ Whorton, JC (2002). Nature Cures: The History of Alternative Medicine in America. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-517162-4.
  13. ^ Bynum, W. F. (2013). Companion Encyclopedia of the History of Medicine. Routledge. p. 608. ISBN 9781136110368.
  14. ^ e.g., see Organon, VI edition, paragraphs 54-56
  15. ^ Atwood KC (2004). "Naturopathy, pseudoscience, and medicine: myths and fallacies vs truth". Medscape General Medicine. 6 (1): 33. PMC 1140750. PMID 15208545.
  16. ^ "Participants". Closer to Truth. Archived from the original on 20 April 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-22.
  17. ^ Jarvis, William T. (1996). "Misuse of the term "Allopathy"". National Council Against Health Fraud. Retrieved 2013-02-07.
  18. ^ Berkenwald, AD (1998). "In the name of medicine". Annals of Internal Medicine. 128 (3): 246–50. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-128-3-199802010-00023.
  19. ^ Federspil G; Presotto F; Vettor R (2003). "A critical overview of homeopathy". Annals of Internal Medicine. 139 (8). doi:10.7326/0003-4819-139-8-200310210-00026-w3. Archived from the original on 2003-12-30. Retrieved 2010-12-30.