History Allopathic medicine, or allopathy, is a term which refers to science-based, modern medicine, such as the use of medications or surgery to treat or suppress symptoms or the ill effects of disease. There are regional variations in usage of the term. In the United States, the term is used to contrast with osteopathic medicine, especially in the field of medical education.
The expression was coined in 1810 by the creator of homeopathy, Samuel Hahnemann. As originally used among homeopaths in the nineteenth century, it was a derogatory term used to refer to traditional medicine of the time which attempted to cure disease by attacking the symptoms, rather than treating their underlying cause. Among homeopaths and other alternative medicine advocates, 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.
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 underlying disease.[clarification needed] Homeopaths saw such symptomatic treatments as “opposites treating opposites” and believed these methods were harmful to patients.
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 dosage of a substance that in an undiluted form would induce fever in a healthy person. These preparations are typically diluted so heavily that they no longer contain any actual particles of the original substance. 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.”
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.” 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 the medical practices of his time, rather than the ideas of the present. Conventional physicians of the 19th century had never assumed that the therapeutic effects of drugs were necessarily related to the symptoms they caused in the healthy (e.g. James Lind systematically tested several common substances and foods for their effect in treating scurvy in 1747 and discovered that lemon juice was specifically effective. He did not conduct any studies of these substances in healthy volunteers).
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.William Jarvis, an expert on alternative medicine and public health,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.”
Most modern science-based medical treatments (antibiotics, vaccines, and chemotherapeutics, for example) do not fit Samuel Hahnemann’s definition of allopathy, as they seek to prevent illness, or remove the cause of an illness by acting on the cause of disease.
The term is used in the modern era to differentiate between two types of US medical schools (both of which teach aspects of science-based medicine and neither of which teach homeopathy): Allopathic (granting the MD title) and Osteopathic (granting the DO title).